Murder in the Intensive Care Unit
The Bronx, 1977
The investigation of the ICU deaths started one day in September when Mario Merola himself paid a surprise visit to the young ADA's desk on the fourth floor in the Bronx Criminal Court Building on the Grand Concourse, just a foul-tip away from Yankee Stadium. McKeon had been keeping busy in the rackets bureau, running some wiretaps on some local wise guys. Merola was usually a distant boss who had little day-to-day contact with his ADAs. He left that to his senior staff.
Kevin McKeon thought Mario Merola was a very straight, family-oriented guy who still had "a lot of the immigrant in him." He was fair, "as hard-working as he had to be and very Italian." McKeon liked him a lot. Merola was an easy boss to work for, a boss of whom you never had to ask anything.
The rank and file and brass of the police department, though, had a different take on the high-profile, long-sitting district attorney: he was roundly despised. In his revealing, tell-all book, Big City D.A. (published after his death in 1987), Merola conceded he was perceived as being "anti-cop," but he claimed to be actually "pro-cop." Merola contended he got the bad rap as a result of being the first DA in the city's history to get a conviction of an on-duty cop in 1977.
Vernon J. Geberth had little respect for Merola. Geberth was a legendary homicide detective in the department who would later go on to become a police consultant advising departments around the country in over 8,000 murders. He is also author of what is considered by many in the law enforcement community as being the bible of homicide investigators: Practical Homicide Investigation: Tactics, Procedures, and Forensic Techniques. Geberth, who admittedly has little respect for politicians, said a lot of that distaste for elected officials came from his work in the Bronx when Mario Merola was DA.
Geberth recalls one instance when he was a detective sergeant in which Merola "had the balls to call" and order him to send two detectives to guard a judge's car because his last car had been stolen. The sergeant told the DA that "detectives don't do that." Merola fired back that he was giving him a direct order. Geberth informed him he didn't work for the DA's office and that he answered only to his superiors in the police department. Merola then went on a profane tirade threatening Geberth's job. Geberth let Merola carry on and then told Merola he wished he could talk like that but couldn't since he was a professional, and oh, by the way, was recording the conversation. Merola slammed the phone down. Geberth called his chief at the time, the strait-laced Frank Sullivan, who was shocked by Merola's treatment of one of his senior officers. Sullivan told his sergeant he would handle it, and he did.
Geberth, on the other hand, had only the highest regard for Eddie Dreher. Dreher, Geberth said, was the antithesis of "the lazy do-nothing squad commanders, who were basically on vacation at work and who resented the fact that Dreher would hold them responsible for their troops and the investigations that were supposed to be done."