AS WE SLOG through summer's dog days, let's pause to revisit four stories that elicited big reader reaction.
Our first update burns Frank Maimone the way hot pizza burns the roof of your mouth.
Maimone, you may recall, owns Rustica Pizza, in Northern Liberties. On Feb. 5, Super Bowl Sunday, he received 12 bogus calls for a total of $1,200 worth of pizza and wing deliveries. The orders came from blocked numbers, but his phone carrier, Verizon, wouldn't divulge the identity of the caller(s) without a subpoena from cops.
But someone in East Detectives told Maimone that $1,200 was too small an amount for the Philly police to pursue. Then someone else said the department couldn't afford Verizon's subpoena fee (which is either nominal or nonexistent).
Maimone called me in frustration after being told that he'd be notified if "anything turned up."
"I'm being blown off," he said.
After my column ran on March 5, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey lowered the boom, and East Detectives got to work.
Weeks passed. Then months, as Verizon dragged its feet. Finally, as spring warmed into summer, Maimone was told that the bogus orders had been made from an untraceable, disposable phone. Case closed.
"Apparently, there's nothing else they can do," says Maimone, who has a hunch who made the calls. "They tried."
Speaking of trying, the massive effort to find a kidney for dialysis patient Aretha Swift just might pay off.
In June, Thaddeus Bartkowski heard that Swift was raising money to buy space on a billboard, to advertise her need for a kidney.
Bartkowski, of Catalyst Outdoor Advertising, in Devon, was moved by Swift's plight.
He donated two billboards to her cause and persuaded nine other companies to do the same.Within weeks, Aretha's serene face was gracing 24 billboards directing drivers to a website, AKidneyForAretha.com.
I wrote about the campaign on June 6, and the resulting publicity elicited thousands of visits to the website. By Friday, 21 people from as far away as France had expressed interest in donating a kidney.
Five are now undergoing testing at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. And some are even willing to donate to a different recipient if their kidneys are not suitable for Aretha.
Results will take months, but Swift has already met three of her potential donors.
"They are the nicest people," she says, "the kind you want to have dinner with! I am so touched. None of this would have happened without Thaddeus. He is my friend for life."
I wish there were equally hopeful news to report about Franchesca Alvarado, the 22-year-old single mom from Hunting Park who has been missing since March 17. She went to Atlantic City that evening with a male friend, Tracy Williams, but he returned to Philly alone. He told police that he and Alvarado split from each other in Atlantic City and that she said she'd find her own way back home.
I wrote about Alvarado on May 31, hoping it might bring witnesses forward. But there are no new leads, says East Detectives' Lt. Harold Lloyd, who has worked the case tirelessly.
In June, a badly decomposed body was found in Pemberton, N.J. But Alvarado's dental records don't appear to match. Still, her family has donated blood samples to see if their DNA matches DNA taken from the body. Results are pending.
"It's horrible. It's worse every day," says Alvarado's older sister, Christine. "The saddest thing is that we don't know what to tell Janiah," Alvarado's 3-year-old daughter. "We can't keep telling her Mommy's on vacation. This is a nightmare."
Alvarado's family is still offering a reward for information on her whereabouts. If you can help, call East Detectives at 215-686-3243 or Christine, Alvarado's sister, at 267-241-9592. For updates on Facebook, join "Find Franchesca Cheka Alvarado."
Finally, I am tickled to share news of the wedding of Alix Genter, who last winter was refused service at a Somers Point, N.J., bridal salon because she is gay.
My column about her ordeal went viral in about the time it takes to toss a bouquet. Genter handled the media attention with grace and sanity.
She also found herself a fabulous dress and reveled in its twirly skirt at her ceremony on July 28 to her publicity-shy partner (who prefers to remain unnamed in this column).
"It was a beautiful day," says Genter. She loved that the date coincided with National Dance Day, given how her 175 guests boogied the night away at Normandy Farm, in Blue Bell, where the celebration took place.
"We felt so much love and support from everyone, and people told us they felt so much love from us. That feeling is sticking with us."