Ithaca police official on 1987 murder: 'This case has always been on my mind'

Peter Blanchard, Editor of The Cortland Voice, contributed to this report. 

ITHACA, N.Y. -- When Cornell graduate David W. Malcom was murdered on Feb. 12, 1987, Deputy Police Chief Vincent Monticello was just a young beat cop in the city of Ithaca.

Murders were more frequent back then, he said, with two or three happening a year. Nowadays, the city sees one murder every few years.

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David Malcom (Photo provided by the Ithaca Police Department)

Despite not working on the case back then, Monticello said he remembers it clearly. He was 26-years-old at the time, the same age as the victim.

"This case has always been on my mind. I was just a young street cop back then and I remember it. I wasn't assigned down there to it, but I remember it. I always thought about it over the years  -- that it was never solved," he said.

When he became acting deputy chief last year, he moved into his new office. Sitting in the corner was a box with remnants of the 1987 investigation, along with a few new bits of information gathered in the early 2000s.

"I inherited it, I guess you can say," Monticello said.

He took the opportunity to reach out to New York State Police officials to see if they'd be willing to look at the case again with fresh eyes.

"We started looking at it last fall and basically started, pretty much, at square one," he said.

Officers confirmed older tips and leads and were able to generate new one to make some headway in the case. More than 100 leads have been checked out since September and a new box has been filled with extra information. It sits beside the box filled with information from the 1987 investigation in Monitcello's office.

Police said robbery is still not believed to be a motive in the crime, though official can only speculate as to why else the murder might have happened.

The new evidence though, Monticello said, leads back to the same suspect police pinpointed almost 30 years ago.

Two witnesses said a black male, 5-feet-10-inches tall and wearing a long dark drench coat, scarf and newsboy-style hat was seen near the Red Cross Shelter on 717 W. Court St. around the same time Malcom was killed. He was found dead by a co-worker the following day.

"So based on that description and witness interviews back then,  a suspect was identified but there wasn't enough to charge him," Monitcello said.

The suspect is believed to be 64-year-old now, with ties to the Rochester and Buffalo region. Police said the man has health problems and they do not think he will flee because he's had 29.5 years to do so and has not tried to shake off officials, yet.

But Monitcello  said that since the investigation was revamped -- the case was never closed -- new information has come to light.

"They got the ball down to maybe the 20 yard line into the red zone," he said about the investigation.  "I think we're on maybe the 5 yard line (now), so we've got little bit more work to do before we get it into the end zone."

He said that's one of the reasons the police are turning to the public for help with the case.

"I'm sure there's other people out there that have information -- that we may not have spoken to -- that we want to talk to," Monticello said.

The Cornell University and Tompkins Cortland Community College Police Departments have also helped with the investigation again, chasing down witnesses and anyone with information about the crime.

All of the witnesses are still alive and cooperating with police, helping the investigation move along.

Monticello said that the best case scenario from the media attention -- which Malcom's family consented to -- is that police get the last piece of the puzzle they need to catch the murderer.

"This affected a lot of people, so there were lot of victims here. Not just David but his sister, his friends all had an impact on their lives because of this," Monticello said. "They want some closure... The family the friends -- they need to know what happened."

Monticello said police could end up turning the case over to the District Attorney's office in the next few weeks or months, depending on how the case develops.

"There's no statute of limitation for homicides. So if there are leads to be followed up on, we're going to continue to do that."

The Ithaca Police Department encourages anyone who may have information to contact the Ithaca Police Investigative Division at 607-272- 9973 and press option # 1.