FAIRMONT — (Editor’s note: This is the first story in a series about “Marion County’s Most Notorious Crimes.” If there’s an unusual case, unsolved murder or high-profile court case you’d like to read more about, contact Managing Editor Misty Poe at email@example.com.)
For the people living on Gil-Bob Street, a lot of little things just weren’t adding up on that Tuesday in July 1992.
Sadi, the collie belonging to James and Frances Mauro, was running loose in the yard of their comfortable upper-middle-class home. That never happened.
An unfamiliar silver car was parked just down from the home.
James Mauro Sr. had not shown up at his Kingwood pharmacy that day.
The lazy Tuesday afternoon was broken with the staccato sounds of what neighbors thought were firecrackers.
An unfamiliar man was seen driving away from the home in James Mauro’s black Pontiac.
And after 3 p.m., no one saw the Mauro family.
On that day — Tuesday, July 21, 1992 — in one of the most grisly murder cases in Marion County’s history, Nick Mauro stole the lives of his older brother James Mauro Sr., 50; sister-in-law Frances, 48; and nephews James II, 26, and Jeff, 22, — shooting them to death at close range in their own home.Like Cain and Abel
James and Nick Mauro were a study in opposites, a “good brother, bad brother” tale as old as Cain and Abel.
James was the head of a well-respected family. They owned three businesses: The Plaza Drug Store in Kingwood, The Card Gallery in Bridgeport and the A to Z Mart in Meadowdale. They attended St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Fairmont. James and Frances had recently celebrated their 27th wedding anniversary. Both sons were college graduates, with James II set to marry in just a few days.
They worked hard to maintain their comfortable life. And in turn for this life, they gave to many charities.
Just the day before, the family had celebrated James Sr.’s 50th birthday at the Tiffany Room.
In contrast, Nick Mauro was in his third marriage. Although he’d been an elementary school teacher earlier in his life, now he postured himself as a high roller in the Las Vegas-Atlantic City gambling world. He sprinkled his conversations with names like Madonna and Donald Trump. He wore flashy clothing and heavy jewelry.
And he was in constant debt, always going to his big brother for bailouts, even borrowing $2,000 from their mother.
Their father, Tony Mauro, had died in 1987, leaving his entire estate of almost $282,000 for James to manage for their mother, Bertha. It would revert to him after her death. Nick was cut out completely.
He had been the defendant in civil cases in 1989 filed by three Marion County businesses, and had been charged in 1988 and 1992 with the assault and battery of a former wife.
The murders on that day 20 years ago happened in broad daylight, with eye and ear witnesses to the shootings.
No one will ever know exactly what happened and when, or even why, but police investigation and witness testimony in the 1994 murder trial established a story of greed, revenge and murder.
At about 1:30 p.m. Nick Mauro drove to his brother’s house at 132 Gil-Bob St. in their mother’s silver Honda. He parked just down from Jim’s house. Police theorize that Nick had gone to the house that day to once again borrow money, only to be turned down by his big brother.
The Times West Virginian reported that a neighbor sitting on her front porch across the street later testified that she heard Nick yell, “I told you, don’t mess with me, Jimmy!” and then heard bang-bang-bang. She saw Jim Mauro slump over and Nick Mauro drag him into the garage. She heard more gunshots, which she thought were firecrackers. She did not call the police.
Several neighbors said they’d heard what they thought were firecrackers. This wasn’t too long after July 4 and kids were still putting off firecrackers, so no one called the police.
About an hour later, Frances and Jeff returned. She was carrying the dress she planned to wear to the wedding.
As they opened the front door and stepped into the foyer, Nick Mauro shot them point-blank. All four died within minutes of being shot, a medical examiner later testified.
Mauro covered all four bodies with car covers and wrote two checks on his dead brother’s business accounts, for $6,000 and $4,000, dating them for the day before. He gathered up some personal effects and left in his brother’s black Pontiac, stopping at a drive-through bank to cash the $6,000 check and then to his mother’s apartment to repay a $2,000 loan.
Then he headed north to the Econo Lodge in Westover to his third wife and her two young children from a previous marriage.
After a while, neighbors got suspicious. No one had seen or heard from the Mauros all day. And he hadn’t shown up at his Kingwood pharmacy. At some point, someone called Fairmont City Police to check things out.
Police showed up at the Gil-Bob Street home at around 9:30 p.m.
Jim Martin, who had lived with his wife Irene beside the Mauros since 1974 until that day, remembered his former neighbor 20 years after his death.
“Jim was a good neighbor,” Martin said. “He always mowed his grass on Thursdays and wore this big hat when he did.
“When I heard the first two shots, I was in my basement working,” he recalled. “I thought it was firecrackers ... nothing to call the cops about.”
Later that night, two city police officers came to his house. Had he noticed anything unusual? they asked him. No, he said. The officers entered the Mauro house through a back window. A few minutes later, they came out.
“They said, ‘All four are dead,’” Martin said. The house was roped off while the crowd of inquisitive neighbors grew and milled about the street. He said police asked him if he would identify the bodies.
“Which I did,” he said. “I understand Jim (Mauro) was shot in the driveway and dragged into the garage. One of the sons was in the garage beside the car. The mother and other son were shot inside the front door.
“Something like this you’ll always remember.”
‘It was horrendous’
“Inside the house was disturbing,” recalled Ted Offutt, who had been chief of police for Fairmont in 1992. “It was one of the worst homicides.
“The youngest looked like my son. The whole family was basically slaughtered in their own home by his brother. It was tough to look at. It was horrendous.”
According to a Times West Virginian article at the time of the murders, Dr. Warren Pistey, Marion County medical examiner, arrived at the house at around 10:30 p.m. He found Frances “right cheek up” on the floor. Jeff was by her side, his knees bent up. In the garage, he found James Sr. pulled face down and James II “part of the way under the car.”
Dr. Irvin M. Sopher, chief examiner for the state, conducted the autopsies July 23-25 and testified at the 1994 trial that “all four died within minutes” of being shot.
James Mauro Sr. suffered four bullet wounds; James II, five; Frances, three; and Jeff, five, one through the cheek.
Times West Virginian editor John Veasey remembers receiving a frantic phone call from his friends the Martins at around 11 that night. “They were shot. Everybody’s dead,” he was told. He immediately went to the crime scene “to get everything I could for the next day’s paper,” he said of the 20-year-old crime.
Reserved for only the most important breaking news stories, the entire front page was redone with the horrifying news as lead story. The paper went to press about an hour late that night.
Jim Mauro was “a wonderful type of person,” Veasey said, the kind who would open his wallet and say “take what you need” to help charities.
Nick Mauro had worked on the sports staff for a while, but then he became “bad news, an unsavory character.”
‘Find Nick Mauro’
“You want to find who did this, find Nick Mauro,” someone in the crowd told Offutt.
Offutt was inside the Mauro house when the phone rang. The caller hung up, so they started to trace the call. A detective who had just talked with Bertha Mauro about her sons said she told him Nick was at the Econo Lodge in Westover. Offutt contacted Morgantown police, who found James Mauro’s Pontiac parked behind the motel.
“This was the fastest trip from Fairmont to Morgantown I ever took,” Offutt recalled. “We went over 120 mph.”
Nick Mauro had checked into the motel as Frank Allevato, the name of a deceased man Mauro once shared office space with. He was with his third wife, Sandra, and her children from a previous marriage.
They went to Shoney’s to celebrate the youngest’s third birthday and then he went to Hills, where he purchased four sleeping bags and two red gas cans. Earlier that day, he’d rented a U-Haul.
“It’s my personal theory he planned to come back to the house and remove the bodies and set the house on fire to get rid of the evidence,” Offutt said.
If Nick Mauro had planned to return to Fairmont, he never got the chance.
Police descended upon the motel. A standoff began that morning, ending 15 hours later when he surrendered without another shot being fired.
Times West Virginian reporter Peggy Edwards said the atmosphere outside the motel that day “was like a carnival. McDonald’s was giving out food and people were taking their kids and pushing them up front to see.”
“I had never covered anything like this,” she recalled. “I’d been to some weird stuff beore but never to a standoff. It was unreal.
“It was incredible that he killed everybody, thinking somehow he was going to inherit the money. That money would have gone to his mother.
“The standoff could have ended tragically. It could have been a hostage situation but it didn’t turn out that way. He was a pitiful person. He had delusions of grandeur.
“He must have had some kind of plan. It was amazing he thought he’d get away with it.”
According to Times West Virginian reports, Mauro was arraigned in Morgantown and then transferred to Fairmont, where he was held without bond. He spent the next two years in the Marion County Jail awaiting trial, which began Aug. 30, 1994, at the Raleigh County Courthouse in Beckley, with Raleigh Circuit Judge Thomas Canterbury presiding.
Mauro was charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Frances, James II and Jeff Mauro, and one count of second-degree murder in the death of his brother, James Sr.
During the week-long trial, the court-appointed defense of Charles Shields and Pat Wilson proposed Nick Mauro’s history of mental illness had caused him to commit the quadruple murders. He filed as a pauper, head of a corporation that existed on paper only.
But the prosecution team of Marion County Prosecutor Richard Bunner and assistant prosecutor James Hearst called the murders “premeditated and malicious,” and presented evidence the jury did not ignore.
A handwriting expert testified that neither James Mauro Sr. nor James II had signed the $4,000 and $6,000 checks.
A ballistics expert said the weapon found at Mauro’s room at the Econo Lodge had fired the fatal bullets.
A bank clerk identified him as the “sweaty, impatient” man who cashed the $6,000 check.
Neighbors testified about hearing what they thought were firecrackers that fateful afternoon. The neighbor who had seen the brothers scuffle in the driveway told the seven-woman, five-man jury what she had witnessed.
Four sleeping bags and gas cans, and a receipt for $127.21 from Hills for those items dated for 8:55 p.m. July 21, 1992; checkbooks and briefcases belonging to the victims; and one .38 caliber bullet were found in his brother’s black Pontiac Nick had stolen and driven to the Econo Lodge.
Guilty of murder
After deliberating for three hours, on Sept. 9, 1994, the jury found Nick Mauro guilty of the premeditated murders of Frances, James II and Jeff Mauro, and the second-degree murder of his brother, James Mauro Sr.
Even as the jury deliberated, drama continued when Mauro leaped from a second-story window at the courthouse, breaking a leg.
He was sentenced to life without mercy at the Mount Olive Correctional Complex in Fayette County. He had been incarcerated there for 15 years until his death in 2009. He died Nov. 26, 2009, at the Charleston Area Medical Center of natural causes. He was 67.
Email Debra Minor Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.