Taken: FBI looks at case of couple who disappeared without a trace 10 years ago

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Richard and Marge Petrone hope that a renewed push by the FBI will discover what happened to their son Richard Petrone Jr. (inset) and his girlfriend, Danielle Imbo.

PARENTS envision a perfect road for their baby when it bursts into the world, mapping out a happy life beyond the diapers and college degrees.

They take off the training wheels, give the bicycle seat one last push and let go. They wipe some ketchup off a teen's face before high-school graduation, and 10 years later they straighten his bow tie and let go a little more.

They worry, always, because they know that the real road's full of potholes and blind curves, but they never imagine it ending, and never fully let go.

"You always feel it. It never goes away," said Marge Petrone, 66. "You can't imagine outliving your child."

It's been almost 10 years since Marge Petrone's son, Richard Petrone Jr., and his girlfriend, Danielle Imbo, vanished without a trace after getting some drinks with friends at a South Street bar.

No one's ever told Marge and her husband, Richard Sr., 65, that their son and Danielle are dead, but the Petrones let go of hope shortly after the Feb. 19, 2005, disappearance, they said. And asking them if the couple could still be alive somewhere is almost an insult to their intuition.

"No," Marge said, waving off the idea. "Please, come on. No."

The Petrones, Imbo's family and one dogged FBI special agent continue to hope for a break, something that can lift the fog and let them ultimately know where the road took the two.

"One day, we are going to have justice in this case," Richard Sr. said.

In coming weeks, the FBI and law-enforcement agencies in Pennsylvania and New Jersey plan to throw additional resources and man hours at the case again. Investigators hope that after 10 years, new leads will be uncovered or old leads will somehow reveal something new.

They will look over items and leads they've reviewed countless times, and reinterview people they may have talked with before.

Since Day One, officials have said there's little to go on, nothing left behind but heartache once Imbo and Petrone let the door to Abilene's close behind them on South Street. Their phones powered off and died. Their bank accounts went untouched. Richard Petrone's 2001 Dodge Dakota has never been located.

"The caveat is that anything's possible in this, but pretty much from off the bat, you could rule out a crime of convenience," said FBI Special Agent Vito Roselli. "You have to know how to get rid of two bodies and a truck quickly, and it would be hard for one person to do that.

"As far as a freak accident, it's a possibility, but a remote possibility."

The biggest news in the case came in 2008, when the FBI said the case was being investigated as a murder-for-hire. Roselli said that neither had "underworld" ties.

The only difficulties made public during the days and weeks after the disappearance were Imbo's troubles with her estranged husband, Joseph Imbo. Initial reports said that Joseph Imbo allegedly had words with Richard Petrone before the disappearance. He was questioned by police, but not charged. He now lives in South Carolina with the son he had with Danielle. He could not be reached for comment.

Last year, however, a writer for Philadelphia magazine visited a tearful Imbo at a cafe there and asked whether he had anything to do with the disappearance.

"Absolutely not," he told the magazine.

Danielle's mother, Felice Ottobre, and her brother, John Ottobre, didn't return requests for comment.

The Petrones, sitting at their kitchen table in the Cherry Hill home where their son grew up, keep their suspicions in check, answering questions about specific individuals with pained looks.

"We're hoping someone who knows something comes forward," Richard Petrone said.

"Ultimately," Marge said, "100 percent of the blame goes to this person who set this up."

They both have put their faith in Roselli, believing that he carries the case home with him at night.

"When we hear from Vito, we'll know," Marge said.

Until then, the Petrones can travel only in reverse down that road, back into the past - and it's all around them. Richard Jr. ate chicken cutlets at this table and played in the back yard that Marge was staring into as she spoke.

The Petrones have tried to adjust to a life without their son, but when joyous milestones come up, like their granddaughter's wedding last year, it's hard to stop the sadness from seeping in.

Richard Sr. walked Angela Petrone down the aisle and danced with her in place of her father, and it's just not how the Petrones imagined that day.

"It was just a hard day," Marge said. "You can't prepare for days like that."

 


On Twitter: @JasonNark