Sunday, January 31, 2021

Problematic Discrepancies in Mark’s Case


The copy of the police report on my brother Mark’s suspicious death that was sent to me in late 2004 following a FOIL request caused considerable concern, not only because of the excessive redactions but also because of the questionable nature of a number of entries.

By the time I received the police report, it had become clear that the investigation was sloppy and careless.  The report itself only reinforced those concerns.  In an entry for 9/29/03, misrepresentation of my telephone interview with Edward Kalfas, the lead N.Y.S.P. investigator in the case, immediately struck me as problematic.

I had asked to speak with Kalfas specifically to bring to his attention a telephone conversation the night of my brother’s death in which Mark’s daughter Christie told me that he had left her a suicide letter (on the questionable nature of that claim, see esp. post of November 23, 2013).  Yet Kalfas’s entry makes no mention of my report of that shocking claim, which was the purpose of my call.  Instead, it reads as follows: “Barbara Pavlock states that she has heard rumors from around town and has an unsubstantiated theory that the fire was not suicide or an accident.”

By September 2005, when Buffalo criminal attorney Michael Kelly spoke in person with Kalfas and his immediate superior John Wolfe, a considerable amount of solid information about my brother’s death had been relayed to me, especially by Mark’s attending physician at the burn unit and by a firefighter on the scene of the truck fire.  Kelly met with the N.Y.S.P. investigators to pose specific questions about the investigation and to urge them to re-open the case.

Among several questions, Kelly asked if Kalfas had specifically learned that Mark was at the Holy Cross Athletic Club the day of the fire. Kalfas replied that he had not learned that Mark was at that club the day of the fire.  Kelly also asked if Kalfas had obtained any evidence that Mark had been drinking anywhere the day of the fire.  Kalfas again replied that he had found no evidence that Mark had been drinking anywhere the day of the fire.

Here, however, is what Kalfas states in his entry in the police report for 9/25/03: "Member interviewed numerous Holy Cross Athletic Club members who were all in agreement that the victim had been behaving unusually and was very upset about getting arrested for DWI the day before the fire."  It seems odd, however, that he does not mention any names at all, and there are no redactions at that point to conceal the identity of anyone he might have interviewed.  In addition, there is no reason for redacting witnesses’ names or their information, since the basic reason for redactions is to protect sensitive police procedures, which is not an issue here.

How could Kalfas have learned from members of the HCAC that Mark “was very upset about getting arrested for DWI the day before the fire,” when the investigator himself admitted that he had found no one who had seen Mark out drinking at that club or at any other place the day of the fire and Mark did not seem really to have the opportunity to go to the club the previous evening?

The DWI happened the day before the fire, and Mark’s truck was impounded after he was arrested.  His friend Todd Lindell told me that he himself had retrieved the truck from the impoundment that evening and that Mark had gone to Todd’s house, where he remained until late.  My brother, then, would appear not to have had time to go to the club before it closed that evening after the DWI.

Kalfas himself admitted to Kelly that he could find no one who had seen Mark out the next day (the day of the fire) at the Holy Cross Club or anywhere else.  No one has ever come forward publicly to admit to seeing Mark out that day.  Only the writer of the anonymous letter sent to me in 2014 provides some information (see post of August 11, 2014), namely that Mark was at the house of a neighbor not long before the fire.

How can one reconcile the discrepancy between what Kalfas wrote in the police report and what he told Kelly?  Could Kelly have possibly misunderstood Kalfas?  Was it simply a careless misstatement made to Kelly, sloppiness in reporting his information in the police report, or worse by Kalfas?

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Did Mark Fill His Gas Tank the Evening of the Truck Fire?

Since a gas can was found in the cab of my brother’s truck (where he never put gas cans), some people initially assumed, or even claimed, that Mark had been putting gas into the tank when the fire started (see most recently post of December 31, 2019).  However, the fire investigators quickly determined that the tank was nearly full.  The truck, then, had not run out of gasoline, and Mark would not have been using a gas can to put gas into the tank.

In an entry in his narrative section of the police report, the lead N.Y.S.P. investigator in the case, Edward Kalfas, records his interview of individuals at Antone’s, where my brother usually filled his tank.  I quote the entry verbatim from the copy of the police report, heavily redacted by the N.Y.S.P., that I obtained through a FOIL request:

Member interviewed [name or names blacked out].  The victim was well known by employees at Antone’s, as that is where the victim often bought gas and cigaretettes.  [Name blacked out] nor any of the other employees hadn’t had any contact with the victim for a few days prior to, and including, the day of the fire.

From the time I met with him in November 2003, Kalfas was unwilling to give me any information about the case.  So neither Kalfas nor anyone else told me that he had found no one who had seen my brother out the day of the fire (see most recently post of February 29, 2020).  However, it was reported to me that someone had seen Mark filling his tank at Antone’s that day.  Later, in 2005, when by chance I encountered firefighter Wayne Frank, who had been on the scene of the fire, Wayne mentioned among other things that someone had seen Mark filling his tank at Antone’s the evening of the truck fire.

Shortly after in an interview with Atty. Michael Kelly, Wayne clarified that comment by indicating that Mark had been seen getting gas at Antone’s around 7:30 p.m.  As Kelly observed to me, even though Wayne’s report about Mark filling his tank at Antone’s was hearsay, it was important to know if Mark had indeed filled his tank that evening.  This point needed to be investigated.  For one, a timeline of Mark’s activities that day should have been considered important.  The only relevant information for a timeline comes in the witness statement of my brother’s wife Susan, as follows: Mark was at home in the afternoon; they were watching television around 7:30; and he left at 8:45 for downtown Salamanca (see most recently post of September 29, 2019).  An effort should have been made to confirm that information through other sources.

In spite of claims by the N.Y.S.P., there is no evidence that my brother was depressed and probably committed suicide.  Mark in fact needed his truck to drive to his job as a security guard at M&M’s in nearby Steamburg.  On the very evening before the fire, Mark told his friend Todd Lindell that he wanted to be able to keep his driver’s license so that he could drive to work.  As Todd Lindell informed me, Mark made that comment after Todd retrieved my brother’s truck, which had been impounded after Mark got into a personal argument at a local club with an off-duty Salamanca police officer and that officer called in to have the Salamanca police pick Mark up for DWI on his way home (on the highly problematic behavior of Officer Mark Marowski, see posts of September 22, 2010, July 28, 2011, April 18, 2013, December 14, 2014, and February 17, 2015).  
 
It is not clear from Kalfas’s entry in the police report of 9/29/03 if he actually interviewed all of the employees at Antone’s.  The blacked-out sections do not seem to have accommodated more than one or two names.  It is also impossible to know if a customer had seen Mark getting gas there that evening.  Furthermore, Kalfas does not record any efforts to learn if Mark stopped at any of the two or three other gas stations in Salamanca that evening.

Given the amount of gas in the tank at the time of the fire, it is likely that my brother did fill his tank that day.  In that case, whoever saw him would presumably have observed his physical and mental state.  It would certainly have been useful during the investigation to have such information, especially in light of the comment in the anonymous letter sent to me in 2014 that just before the fire my brother was at the house of a neighbor who stated that Mark could not possibly have had the level of intoxication claimed by the State Police investigators (see post of August 11, 2014).

It seems clear that Kalfas did not make much of an effort to find out if Mark had filled his tank the day of the fire.  Of course, the fact of Mark filling his tank that day would not conform well to the N.Y.S.P.’s theory that my brother was depressed and committed suicide or that he was so drunk that he carelessly spilled gasoline over himself while seated in his truck.  During the investigation, a friend of Mark’s informed me that Todd Lindell had been interviewed by Kalfas.  If so, wouldn’t Todd have told Kalfas what he said to me?  Why is it that Todd’s information to me appears nowhere in the police report?