It was two years ago this month that Sam Del Brocco, the popular and charismatic marketing executive from Alexandria, went down to South Florida for the weekend and never came back. He was slain in a brutal attack that stretched over three floors of his Pompano Beach townhouse and left blood and broken furniture strewn around him. He was 60 years old.
No one ever was arrested, and Del Brocco’s family and friends here still await answers. The executor of his estate, longtime friend Carlos Larraz, met with Broward County sheriff’s investigators last month and came away insulted and angry. But Larraz and others have raised the money for a $25,000 reward, and he is headed back to Florida this week to begin distributing posters and flyers about the case, and speaking to the media there, in hopes of sparking some movement in the case.
“It’s hard to know what to feel because there’s been so little information,” said Bob Sprague, Del Brocco’s longtime business partner at PCI Communications, the company the two men founded in Alexandria.
“My impression is that two years down the road, it’s been put on the back burner,” said Jan Shafer, Del Brocco’s partner for more than 30 years. “I don’t have the sense they’re being proactive or have any leads,” Shafer said, adding that Broward investigators discouraged her from adding to the reward fund, which she did anyway.
Adding to the unsolved mystery, Broward detectives told Del Brocco’s friends in Alexandria that he was well known in the gay bars of Fort Lauderdale, and may have met his killer in one of them.
Detective Efrain Torres, the lead investigator, said one of the small victories in the case so far has been his department’s ability to limit information about the case, including the cause of Del Brocco’s death, since much of it would only be known by the killer. He said the case was not a cold one and that Del Brocco’s family and friends are welcome to call him any time. The original lead detective on the case, Tim Duggan, was recently moved out of homicide.
“We’re actively investigating,” Torres said. “It’s far from being cold.”
Torres said “we believe he might have been involved” in Fort Lauderdale’s gay nightclub scene, and Del Brocco traveled to the South Florida area several times a month. But investigators have not located anyone who claimed to have any sort of relationship with Del Brocco.
None of Del Brocco’s friends suspected he was gay and police have no indication that he did anything other than visit the bars. “Absolutely not,” Larraz said he told the detectives when they asked if Del Brocco was gay. “I did a lot of male bonding with Sammy. We traveled together. He was a ‘guy’s guy.’”
Del Brocco grew up in Broward County before moving to the Washington area when he attended college at Catholic University. He worked as a school psychologist in Prince George’s County in the 1970s, where he met Shafer. But he decided to take a shot at show business, quit his job and launched a new career as the lead singer of the Sammy Del Brocco Show, a eight-piece traveling lounge act that lasted until the mid-1980s.
Del Brocco and his musical director, Sprague, instead went into the public relations business and built PCI into a company with clients such as Fannie Mae and the Washington Nationals. It now has 30 employees. “He’d be proud of the company,” Sprague said this week. ”It’s thriving.”
Del Brocco also had a fanatical interest in real estate, and began buying and selling houses in Alexandria and condos in Florida. “I think he might have been an architect in a prior life,” Shafer said. “He was always interested in getting a bigger, better place. If he didn’t have a major renovation project going in the house, we were going to be moving soon.”
During a visit to New York in 2003, Del Brocco met Justin DeVinney, then 25, through mutual friends. DeVinney had a marketing degree and had worked for New York Life, dabbled in modeling and liked to drive fast cars. Del Brocco soon hired him to work in PCI’s small New York office. DeVinney sometimes visited PCI’s Alexandria headquarters and stayed with Del Brocco and Shafer. In 2005, Del Brocco moved DeVinney to PCI’s main office, and DeVinney moved in with Del Brocco and Shafer, staying in their guest room.
DeVinney helped Del Brocco renovate houses and the two bought several properties together. They traveled together. Friends saw DeVinney as the son Del Brocco never had.
“Sam was like a father figure to me,” DeVinney said. “He helped me grow professionally. I believe he saw me as a protege.”
In the spring of 2010, Del Brocco swung some of his biggest deals, purchasing both an eight-bedroom, $1.1 million house on Collingwood Road in the Fort Hunt area and also an $850,000 townhouse in a gated community in Pompano Beach. He spent many weekends at the new townhouse in Florida, but weeks in the Fort Hunt house overseeing contractors while working off a folding table amidst the dust, Shafer said.
DeVinney moved into a guest house behind the Fort Hunt residence. But he and Del Brocco appeared to be growing apart. “There were tensions,” said Jackson Bain, a longtime friend of Del Brocco’s and a former WTTG-5 anchorman. Larraz said, “ They used to always go together to Florida.”
In the second weekend of September 2010, when Del Brocco headed to Pompano for the weekend, DeVinney instead met friends in New York and attended the first New York Giants game of the year. DeVinney said the last time he saw his mentor was Sept. 10, 2010, at the PCI office just off Duke Street.
Larraz said he spoke to Del Brocco on the phone on the evening of Saturday, Sept. 11, and caught him in the middle of dinner. Del Brocco said he’d call back, which he always did. But this time, he didn’t.
Police said Del Brocco was last seen at a restaurant called Kelly’s Landing. Though some of Del Brocco’s friends were told by a detective that surveillance video captured him in his car with another person later that night, Torres said that was untrue.
When no one could reach Del Brocco on Sunday, and he hadn’t done his customary harassment of his contractors on the Fort Hunt house, Larraz called police. They discovered Del Brocco that night, Sept. 12. Torres said there were no signs of forced entry, and he declined to say if anything was taken.
“There is physical evidence that we’ve obtained” from the crime scene, Torres said, though he declined to say whether it was DNA.
Investigators also learned something interesting about Del Brocco’s finances: He had left 50 percent of his estate to DeVinney, 25 percent to Larraz, 20 percent in a trust for Shafer, and 5 percent to longtime Florida friend Greg Czarnecki.
“I didn’t know I was in his will,” DeVinney said. “I didn’t know...It’s not something people really talk about.”
Broward investigators came to Alexandria, seized all the computers and cell phones and cameras from the Fort Hunt house, and interviewed both Del Brocco’s family and friends and his co-workers at PCI.
“I’m sure everybody in [Del Brocco’s] estate was a suspect,” DeVinney said. “They quickly moved on to other things after they came and talked to us. I don’t feel I’m a suspect.”
Larraz agreed that, at first, “They were following the money trail. They were trying to establish motive, I don’t know they were able to find a scent on that trail. That morphed to thinking it was more of a random act, a bad encounter.”
Shafer said she believed Del Brocco was spending his spare time either checking out real estate properties or buying supplies at Home Depot. ”I didn’t have the sense when he was down there that he was involved in social activities,” she said. “I have no reason to believe he was leading two lives.”
But neither trail — either a killing for money or a random killing — led anywhere. Torres said all possibilities remain open and no one has been ruled out as a suspect.
Larraz had stayed in touch with investigators. But when he flew to Fort Lauderdale for a meeting last month with investigators, seeking an update and to offer help, he said a lieutenant treated him with arrogance and condescension, and would tell him nothing about the progress of the case.
Larraz and Shafer had already helped increase the reward from $1,000 to $25,000. Larraz has now printed up thousands of flyers and posters with Del Brocco’s photo on them, looking for tips. He is also planning on speaking with the South Florida news media later this week and hopes to post at least one billboard with a plea for help.
“I want my friend not to be forgotten,” he said.
“He was a very charismatic guy,” Sprague said, “a lot of people knew him, liked and admired him. He cut a wide swath as a person.”
Bain said, “It’s what we don’t know that’s so frustrating. And if this had happened to one of his friends, he’d be all over their case. He would have the same fury that we have, or more.”
Here is a link to the new reward flyer printed by Larraz. Anyone with information about Del Brocco’s death can call the Broward County Sheriff’s Department at 954-493-TIPS.