The pizza shop machete murder
Editor’s note: Fourth in a series of four about SCV “cold case” homicides more than 5 years old.
Shortly after the sun came up on June 12, 2006, Eddie Politelli arrived, as he did most mornings, at the Mama Mia Pizza shop in Stevenson Ranch.
The restaurant on The Old Road opened its doors to the public at 11 a.m., but 72-year-old Politelli always arrived early to make his signature tomato sauce.
About 8:10 a.m., a produce-delivery man arrived with fresh lettuce and tomatoes. As was his way, Politelli waved him over for coffee.
The two sat, sipped and talked at one of the restaurant’s small tables, then the delivery man returned to his truck.
The next person to enter the restaurant was Politelli’s killer.
The suspect is a young man, between 25 and 30, some 5-foot-7-inches tall, about 160 pounds, wearing a white T-shirt, blue jeans and a black sweatshirt, a backpack on his shoulder.
He took Eddie through the kitchen to the back room and then out the back door to a stonewalled alley, invisible from the road to the west and the strip mall to the east.
Shortly before 8:30 a.m., restaurant owner Anthony Sposato arrived at the shop, according to homicide detectives in their report filed with the Los Angeles County Coroner’s
As he made his way through the kitchen, Sposato noticed the back door was open and heard Politelli pleading with someone in the alley: “Don’t hurt me. I don’t have anything.”
Sposato, afraid to go through the back doorway, went out the front door and around the south side of the restaurant.
In the alley behind his shop, Sposato saw a man armed with an 18-inch machete standing beside Politelli, who pleaded for his life: “Tony, help me. He’s got a gun.”
When Politelli bolted from his attacker, the man grabbed him by the back of his shirt, pulled him back and then threw him to the pavement.
The attacker then began hacking Politelli with the machete.
Horrified, Sposato backed away.
The machete-wielding attacker shouted at him: “Come back here.”
Instead, Sposato ran to a nearby utility truck, grabbed a shovel and yelled to nearby workers, “Call 911.”
Sposato ran back to the alley and saw the attacker still standing over Politelli, who lay crumpled on the cement floor, his white Tshirt torn and bloody.
“Leave him alone. He’s an old man,” Sposato yelled at the killer, banging the shovel on the ground.
But the attacker kept slashing and stabbing.
When the killer was done, he walked north out the other end of the alley, got into a gray Dodge Magnum station wagon and fled.
He’s never been detained or even identified, and is still on the loose.
Paramedics who arrived at the alley behind the restaurant could do nothing to help Politelli, and he was declared dead at the scene.
One thing was obvious: whoever killed him wanted to hurt him.
Politelli had been hacked to death, stab wounds in his lower abdomen and slashings to his lower back. His right hand showed defensive wounds.
In their report to the coroner’s office, sheriff’s Inspector Sam Dendekker and Detective Charles Morales noted the victim lost 1.5 liters of blood — about a quarter of all the blood in his body — and blood spatter was observed halfway up the 10-foot-tall rock wall in the alley.
Robbery was apparently considered as a motive, though Dendekker said it was never an assumption.
“We don’t pigeon-hole motives by calling it a robbery like they do on TV,” the inspector said last summer. “We leave everything wide open.”
And after more than five years with no new leads, that’s exactly where the investigation into Eddie Politelli’s death remains: wide open.
No money taken
Politelli’s killer made no apparent effort to obtain money once inside the pizza shop.
An employee said the killer walked into the shop and took Politelli directly to the back room, past the cash registers.
So why the vicious attack?
At the coroner’s office, when investigators examined the victim’s body, they found evidence suggesting the old man had lived a long, eventful life.
He had a tattoo on his right arm that was so old investigators couldn’t read it. He was missing his right index finger.
A coworker said Politelli never explained the missing finger even when asked, though he said he lost the digit when he was 25 years old.
Edward John Politelli was born Aug. 3, 1933.
From an early age growing up in Cranston, R.I., Eddie embraced the good things in life — hot jazz, good food and exciting nightlife.
His dream was to become a jazz drummer.
And while he was a talented musician, he also hat a talent for cooking.
Outside the kitchen, Politelli devoted his time to music. He married, fathered a child in 1962 and met the demands of a full-time restaurant job, but he never lost sight of his dream.
His big brother Anthony was a also a musician, playing trumpet and singing with a Rhode Island band called The Aristocrats.
In the mid-70s, Eddie Politelli was jamming with the likes of Mike Renzi, who later toured with Liza Minnelli and Jack Jones.
“He was a good drummer,” said Rhode Island musician Ed Plunket, reached by phone at the office of the Providence Federation of Musicians.
“Cooking was what he did, but music — that was his main objective. He really wanted to play,” Plunket said. “He would be in the kitchen hearing bands playing.”
Politelli would fill in for other drummers at local gigs and sit in on jam sessions whenever he could, but the demands of the kitchen put a greater claim on his time.
“How many people do you know can have two careers?” Plunket asked. “He was a hoot. He used to practice in the restaurant.”
It was Politelli’s cooking skills that landed him a prestigious place in Rhode Island’s elite Italian social club, the Aurora Club, where high-profile men of the community would meet.
Italian immigrants had formed the Aurora Club after years of being barred from joining Rhode Island’s exiting social club. Eddie helped prepare their meals.
Abruptly in the late ’80s, Politelli divorced his wife and moved to Burbank.
“He was going to open up a restaurant,” said Rose Politelli, widow of the victim’s brother, reached at her home in Rhode Island.
“He was looking for money,” she said.
When he arrived in California, Eddie Politelli found a new family, as it were, in the people who worked at the Pickwick Gardens on Riverside Drive in Toluca Lake.
Politelli became a bartender at the Five Horseman Inn Restaurant at Pickwick Gardens.
“We were just so shocked when we heard he was murdered,” said the garden center’s Darin Mathewson.
Politelli was friendly, gregarious and always eager to share and help out, Mathewson said.
If he had any vices, it was playing the horses, his Toluca Lake pals said.
“He would always go to Santa Anita Park for the horse racing,” one old friend said Thursday. “He would always tell me about the horses.”
After his son died of cancer in Florida in 2000, Eddie Politelli moved to the Santa Clarita Valley.
He had friends in the SCV like Tony Sposato, who worked at Mama Mia’s, and fellow Rhode Island native Tony Pono, of Toluca Lake.
Politelli settled at the Canyon Country Senior Apartments on Flying Tiger Drive shortly after it opened in 2003.
Past catches up
Even at 70, Politelli was still a “hoot,” according to those who remember him, still easy-going, helpful and active, darting around Santa Clarita in his little red car bearing gifts of pizzas and pastries.
Did something in his past follow him to the Santa Clarita Valley?
At least of one of Politelli’s few remaining friends is convinced of it.
“This was no robbery,” the coworker said after the crime.
Sitting in the very same chair Eddie sat in the day he was grabbed by the killer, the coworker said if the attacker perceived Eddie as an obstacle to robbery, it wouldn’t have taken a murder to get around him.
“Eddie was an old man, two hip operations,” said the coworker, using his index fingers to point to both sides of his own hips, then standing up and shuffling along in baby steps to demonstrate how Politelli walked.
“He just had to push him out of the way,” he said of the killer. “Eddie, he wouldn’t be able to get up. So why kill him?”
The coworker just shook his head.
Politelli’s close relatives in California and Rhode Island who years ago distanced themselves from his “fast lane” lifestyle did not want to be identified for this story.
Detectives who at one time cast a wide net to catch Politelli’s killer now wait for a clue.
A police sketch prepared by the Sheriff’s Department was drawn based on witness accounts.
The story and sketch were both featured on an episode of “America’s Most Wanted.”
A reward of $10,000 posted by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is still available to anyone who turns in the killer, said Tony Bell, spokesman for Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich.
“No one has collected the reward,” Bell said last week. “It’s still available.”
A couple of aspects of the murder continue to perplex Dendekker.
One puzzle is why a man seen armed with a handgun in his left hand chose to murder his victim with a machete.
Another puzzle is the presence of items found in the alley at the time of the murder that he still cannot explain: an empty cardboard box that apparently contained the machete and several clear plastic bags, according to the report he and his partner prepared for the coroner.
Morales, before he retired from the Sheriff’s Department, was asked in 2006 if the murder was connected to organized crime.
“We have some of that stuff coming,” he told The Signal back then, referring to tips received. “It’s crazy it’s even gone that far.”