WENHAM — On April Fools' Day in 1992, 59-year-old Joseph Kevin Astuccio left his home on Rubbly Road in his 1987 Cadillac Roadster to collect rent from properties he managed in Ipswich.
He was spotted in Ipswich later that day.
Then he vanished.
It has been almost 17 years since Astuccio went missing, and now a new team of Wenham police officers and retired police Chief Peter Carnes are joining forces with hopes of cracking the cold case.
Was Astuccio murdered or was it all just a ruse?
These are questions that police Chief Kenneth Walsh, who was a patrolman when Astuccio went missing, is looking to answer.
"At the end of the day, when you're the chief of police and you have unfinished business out there, I'd like to solve it," Walsh said.
The cold-case unit will get the help of Carnes, who left Wenham to become the chief in Yarmouth in 1995. He is now the chief of Stonehill College campus police in Easton.
He led the Wenham police when Astuccio disappeared.
Earlier this year, Carnes visited Wenham to share his personal knowledge of the case with the unit, which includes Walsh, Capt. Thomas Perkins, Sgt. Jeff Tobey, Detective Sgt. Mark Fraser and Detective Jon Gray.
"I'd like to have this solved for the family's sake and the community's sake," Walsh said. "It's something that's been lingering."
Bullet in the door
The time line of the Astuccio case begins almost two months before his disappearance.
On Feb. 11, 1992, Astuccio walked into the police station to report someone had shot at his home the night before, Walsh said. Police recovered a bullet lodged in the home's door frame.
A few weeks later, Astuccio, a self-employed property manager for properties in Ipswich, Rowley and Merrimack, went to Ipswich, where his office was located. He was last seen in Brown Square in Ipswich wearing a brown coat, black shoes, wire-rim glasses and a wool hat. Walsh said he was trying to collect rent from two individuals.
He never came home that night, and the following day his wife, Sheila, reported him missing.
Walsh said there was a possible sighting from someone who knew Astuccio at Logan Airport on April 9 for a flight to Orlando on Continental Airlines. But the airline has no record of Astuccio flying that day.
An employee at the former Middleton landfill spotted Astuccio's blue Cadillac, the windows smashed and ignition damaged, on April 20, almost three weeks after he disappeared.
His hat, coat and an appointment book were the only items left behind. Investigators dusted for fingerprints but recovered nothing.
But the way the car turned up baffled Walsh.
"If it was a professional hit, why would they do that?" Walsh asked. "What's the incentive to make it look like it was stolen?"
Cadaver dogs were brought in to search the area, but police found no body.
The possibility that Astuccio faked his death received new attention with the help of electronic databases available to police today and not 17 years ago.
Walsh said the unit recovered evidence that Astuccio may have worked at a Peabody bakery after he disappeared.
Walsh didn't want to disclose the name of the bakery and stressed that the database showing that information may be in error. Owners of the bakery, who have no knowledge of Astuccio, are reviewing their personnel records, the chief said.
Databases also show Astuccio, under a known alias of Giuseppi Astuccio, in Holiday, Fla. Authorities in Florida spoke with the building and complex owners who had no knowledge of the missing man.
One possible motive for murder is that Astuccio owed someone money, but police could uncover no major debts. People did owe Astuccio money, however.
"People owed him small amounts of money but nothing of great significance," Walsh said.
Walsh said investigators could not find anything connecting Astuccio to the Mafia.
Following the investigation, Wenham and state police investigators interviewed 140 people, and Astuccio's wife even requested a psychic. The chief did not want to disclose what the psychic told police.
The unit will work on the case when the officers have time and with as "minimal overtime as possible," he said.
Astuccio has been entered in state and national databases for missing people, even though his wife petitioned the state to declare him dead in June 1993.
Astuccio would be 76 today.