by Charly Mann
Addendum 2-4-2010: Frank Rinaldi apparently died in poverty. His estate included the old house he lived in on Byrneside Avenue (mortgaged in 2007) and personal property with an estimated value of $20,000 At one point, he was reputedly worth $5 million. He probably only had a very small Social Security check, because he had not worked most of his life, and the rent from his tenants. The exact cause of Rinaldi's death has not been given.
NOTE: This article was written on November 12th, 2009, and posted at noon the next day. By strange coincidence Frank Rinaldi was discovered dead at his home in Waterbury, Connecticut at about the same time the article was published.
11-24-2009: The following is additional evidence about Frank Rinaldi and the murder that was not included in my original article.
As my article brings up Frank Rinaldi bought a double indemnity policy on his wife that was worth $40,000 and one on himself for $10,000.
The new facts are these. Frank stopped paying on his policy four months before the murder, and then cancelled the policy on himself and was refunded all the money he had already paid on it.
At the same time, Frank, who had little money of his own, borrowed $720 from the Bank of Chapel Hill to pay the premium on Lucille’s policy through the end of December. (She was murdered on December 24th).
Even before Frank cancelled his own policy one might wonder why he would only want Lucille and his child to have $10,000 if he was to have died accidently, and he was going to get $40,000 if his pregnant wife, who was two years younger than him, was to die this way.
Since this article was published I have received much more information on this crime. Almost all of it further incriminates Rinaldi. Because others think it important, I have now included the fact that Rinaldi went shopping in Durham before he did his shopping on Franklin Street. He was however on Franklin Street and very near his home within the time his wife was murdered there.
On Christmas eve 1963, Chapel Hill was almost like a ghost town. UNC students had left for their holiday break more than a week earlier, and many of the town's residents were away visiting relatives. At about 10 AM that morning the most brutal murder in Chapel Hill history occurred. In a small apartment at 105 North Street, about a block from the police station, a woman who was five months pregnant had a sock forcibly stuffed into her mouth and was hit violently across her skull twice with a large flashlight. The killer then took a small seat pillow and forced it hard against her face until she showed no signs of life. The woman was not sexually assaulted and the apartment was not robbed. The murder probably took less than five minutes.
The woman's name was Lucille Regina Rinaldi. She had been married less than five months to a part-time English instructor named Frank Joseph Rinaldi who was working on a PhD in English at UNC. Later that day he would be charged with first degree murder and put in jail. Over the course of the next two years there would be two murder trials in the case. In the first Frank Rinaldi was convicted of murder and sent to Central Prison in Raleigh. In the second Rinaldi was found innocent.
Lucille Begg in 1959. On July 31,1963 she married Frank Rinaldi.
I am convinced that Frank Rinaldi killed his wife and will explain why I believe he is guilty and why he was acquitted of the murder in the second trial.
The following facts convince me Frank Rinaldi was responsible for the murder of his wife:
1. Lucille Begg and Frank Rinaldi were married on July 31, 1963 in Waterbury Connecticut. Soon after the marriage there was some kind of problem, and Frank returned to Chapel Hill where he was working on his PhD.
2. Throughout August of 1963 there are letters and phone calls between Frank and Lucille. He learns she is pregnant, and she decides to attempt to reconcile with Frank by moving to Chapel Hill. Lucille arrives in Chapel Hill on September 2 and is interviewed and hired as a teacher at the newly opened Guy B. Phillips junior high school on Estes Drive. She shows up for the first day of school on September 8th, and leaves Chapel Hill suddenly the next day without notifying the school. The Chapel Hill School superintendent finally tracks her down to her family's home in Waterbury, Connecticut. She said she has left because of domestic difficulties.
3. It needs to be stated that Frank Rinaldi was gay. This in no way this is meant to cloud his character or imply that a gay man is more capable of murdering his wife than a straight man. The relevance here is twofold. First, most would agree that a marriage between a heterosexual woman and a homosexual man is full of challenges, and in this case Lucille seemed to be unaware or in denial about Frank's sexual orientation. More significantly though marriages generally depend on fidelity between the partners, and Frank was involved with at least one man during the time of their brief marriage.
4. Frank bought a $40,000 double indemnity life insurance policy on Lucille from his close companion John Sipp shortly before she was murdered. Such a policy pays this amount if Lucille were to die accidently, which includes being murdered. In today's terms this is equivalent to about $300,000.
This is suspicious for several reasons. While he did buy a policy for himself, it was for only $10,000 even though he was two years older and a male. He had virtually no income at this time, as he was only a part time instructor, and had to pay rent, tuition, as well as food and clothing costs from his small salary. It would be more logical that if he had extra money he would have wanted to be saving it for the cost of raising his soon to be born child. Rarely do couples take out life insurance policies on one another within five months of getting married, especially if they are having serious marital problems and are not living together, and have no stated plans to do so in the future.
Frank Joseph Rinaldi, convicted, acquitted, and still the only suspect in the killing of his wife in Chapel Hill on December 24, 1963
5. According to sworn testimony by local handyman Alfred Foushee, Rinaldi offered him $500 to kill his wife when she came to visit over Christmas. When Foushee refused, he asked if he could find someone else to kill her for $500. Rinaldi also told him it did not matter how his wife was killed. He said raping, strangling, choking, or anything else was all right with him.
On the morning of the murder Foushee testified he ran into Frank Rinaldi at the Eastgate Hardware store and Rinaldi said to him, "It's all over Al, I did it."
6. Police found blood matching Rinaldi's wife's type on the shirt and pants Frank Rinaldi wore on the day of the murder. They also found in the Rinaldi house a large flashlight that had been bent at the handle and a pillow with blood stains on it.
7. Lucille Rinaldi began receiving friendly letters and phone calls from Frank shortly after he had taken out the double indemnity policy on her. In them he encouraged her come for a visit over Christmas to try to fix their problems. Frank was also quite cordial to Lucille during the last three days she was alive, but this is likely because he a planed to kill her on the 24th and did not want her to leave before then.
8. On Christmas Eve morning Frank and his long-time companion John Sipp, who he had bought the double indemnity insurance policy from, went out Christmas Shopping. Frank seemed to want to establish an alibi for himself as he visited 17 stores in Durham and Chapel Hill between about 9:30 AM and 1:00 PM. The best estimate by the coroner for the time of death was between 10:00 and noon.
The problem with this alibi is that during this time Sipp and other eyewitness place them downtown on Franklin Street during the time of the murder. Depending on where they parked, they were within 200 to 400 feet of the Rinaldi residence on North Street between 11:00 and noon. In less than ten minutes Rinaldi could have slipped into his apartment grabbed his flashlight and a sock. The murder itself took just a few minutes - two blows to Lucille's head with the flashlight while a sock was stuffed in her mouth. Then a pillow was placed tightly to her face for a couple of minutes to make sure she was dead. Frank could have easily gone to the house, killed Lucille, and been back on Franklin Street within ten minutes or less. In those days one often got to North Street by walking through a yard or driveway on Rosemary Street directly into an adjoining North Street property.
In 1963 one would often park on Rosemary Street when shopping downtown. You could also easily walk through any lot on Rosemary to get to a house on North Steet. I recently walked from the location of Rinaldi's apartment to the Chapel Hill Post Office in 74 seconds. In 1963 there was less traffic on Rosemary and fewer other obstacles which would probably make it quicker.
It should be remembered there was no robbery or sign of forced entry into the house. The person who did the crime knew what they wanted to do and that was kill Lucille and leave the scene as quickly as possible.
It is possible that John Sipp, who was Rinaldi's closest friend and the person who sold Frank the life insurance policy, could have known about Frank's intention. Frank certainly had no problem discussing the murder twice with Alfred Foushee who was only a casual friend. Even if Sipp was not aware of Frank's plan, he is Frank's main alibi witness for the time the murder was committed. While they were downtown there is no evidence that John and Frank were always together. For example, John spent time in Roses 5 & 10 Cent Store talking to an employee who did not recall Frank being around the store the entire time. Roses was located almost directly in line with Rinaldi house. It also had a back door entrance (like several other stores in those days), where one could have gone out and committed the crime and come back in. It is also possible they could have split up for ten or fifteen minutes while shopping and running errands along Franklin Street.
9. Lucille Rinaldi's family believed that Frank was the killer. They were more aware than anyone else of the serious problems that prevented Frank and Lucille from living together almost their entire brief marriage.
10. After Frank Rinaldi was acquitted of the murder in the second trial he expended no time or resources looking for the "real" killer. I recently asked 11 couples ranging in age from their 20s to late 40s how they believed they would react if they were falsely accused of murdering their spouse and later acquitted. All 22 people said essentially the same thing: they would make it their life's work to help find the killer.
11. Why was Frank Rinaldi spending Christmas Eve morning and early afternoon with his close companion John Sipp shopping instead of with his wife who he had not seen in months, and with whom he was supposed to be working on improving the problems in their relationship? Frank Rinaldi lived less than a half a block from Franklin Street which contained the widest array of stores in North Carolina if he needed to go Christmas shopping. There were no malls then in the state. Franklin Street then had several great jewelry stores, at least three gift shops, a toy store, the two best record stores in the state, more than half a dozen women's clothing stores and twice that number of men's clothing stores. There was no better place to Christmas shop south of New York City or west of Dallas than downtown Chapel Hill. Frank certainly did not need transportation or a friend to Christmas shop with.
12. If Frank Rinaldi is innocent then for the only time I can discover in Chapel Hill history someone randomly walked into a small student apartment with the intent of killing in broad daylight someone they did not know. They had no other motive, and strangely there was never a similar crime in Chapel Hill history.
Statistics from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence show that nine out of ten women who are murdered knew their killer, and that it is practically unheard of for a woman to be murdered alone in her home in broad daylight by a stranger.
Why then was Frank Rinaldi acquitted in his second trial of murder?
There are a combination of facts that played to Frank Rinaldi's advantage in being acquitted of murder that I will now detail.
1. The Rinaldi murder was probably the first cold blooded killing in Chapel Hill's history. The Rachel Crook killing which took place twelve years earlier actually occurred close to Hillsborough and the Chapel Hill Police Department played only a small role in its investigation. Chapel Hill had a very small police department and was a fairly crime-free community in 1963. Many people left their house unlocked, as well as their cars even when they parked downstairs. I cannot even find a case of a significant robbery or armed robbery before this.
The Chapel Hill Police Department had no expertise in handling a murder investigation, and made several mistakes that contributed to Rinaldi's acquittal. The primary mistake was taking crucial evidence without a proper warrant. This included the blood stained shirt and pants Frank was wearing at the time of the murder, the dented flashlight in the house that was probably the murder weapon, as well as the blood stained pillow. All of this crucial evidence had to be returned to Rinaldi and was ruled inadmissible for evidence in the second trial.
Frank Rinaldi is 80 years old today. His wife, Lucille, has been dead for 46 years.
2. Neither Chapel Hill nor Orange County had a District Attorney for prosecuting serious crimes. They were assigned District Solicitor Thomas D Cooper from Burlington to handle the case. Cooper was well over his head as the prosecutor of a murder case like this. His primary strategy in the trial came from his ultra conservative religious views that saw homosexuality as evil. Cooper's main theory in the case was that Rinaldi had to be the murderer because he was a homosexual. Time after time in the trial he said the motive for the killing was "the kind of man he was." Cooper seemed more like he was on a religious crusade to expose the shame of homosexuality, and delighted in calling witnesses that could corroborate Rinaldi was gay. He did very little to show Rinaldi's motive, evidence, and opportunity to commit the murder.
I believe the fact that Rinaldi was gay was relevant only to the extent that it might indicate a fundamental problem in the marriage. On the other hand I know that it is possible for a homosexual and an heterosexual to have a reasonably functional relationship. The problem here is not Rinaldi's sexual orientation, but that there was evidence of several relationships with men during the time he was supposed to be faithful to his wife.
In the first trial Rinaldi's chief attorney Barry Winston tried to prevent Cooper from harping on the homosexuality of his client, but the presiding Judge seemed as conservative at Cooper and let it all in. In his closing arguments to the jury, Rinaldi's sexual orientation and lifestyle were almost exclusively what he talked about, and not the array of incriminating facts in the case. In that speech, he kept mentioning how Rinaldi called other men "baby", repeating the phrase more than a dozen times. He asked the jury several times to consider, "What kind of man calls another man, 'baby'?"
After Rinaldi was convicted in the first trial his attorney appealed on the grounds that Cooper had made the theme of his case the belief that homosexuality made a person prone to murder. The State Supreme Court agreed and overturned the conviction. They also ruled that much of the incriminating evidence seized by police was taken improperly and could not be introduced in the second trial.
By the time of the second trial, Cooper had lost his ability to attack Rinaldi's homosexuality and seemed dispirited. He also could not use the best evidence the police had obtained, and did not have the talent to demonstrate the mountain of circumstantial evidence against Rinaldi.
3. Frank Rinaldi had the best local attorneys money could buy representing him. Barry Winston and Gordon Battle were two of the most outstanding and brightest criminal defense attorneys in the state. While Thomas Cooper was prosecuting the Rinaldi cases he was at the same time in charge of prosecuting hundreds of people being arrested on an almost daily basis in sit-ins that were designed to end segregation in many hotels and restaurants in Chapel Hill. These civil rights arrests totally overloaded the Chapel Hill and Orange County judicial system. The jails in Chapel Hill and Hillsborough were overflowing, and special sessions of the Superior Court were held on a regular basis for more than a year to take care of the backlog of cases. Chapel Hill's civil rights demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience were then a focal point in the state and national print and television media. Chapel Hill's already small police force was stretched to the limit and was confronting two extreme and unusual types of criminal activity - murder in the first degree and civil rights arrests. Under these circumstances it is no wonder that the investigation and prosecution of Rinaldi was handled sloppily. Never before or since have the Chapel Hill police and local judicial system been so overwhelmed.
Writer's Note: I had just turned 14 at the time of the Rinaldi murder. I was an avid Hardy Boys fan and had just started doing a small weekly Chapel Hill newspaper with a circulation of between two and five copies. I was also a Chapel Hill Weekly newspaper boy. The Rinaldi case was of particular interest to me from the start and I kept every article that was related to it. This may have been partly due to the fact that the murder occurred in the apartment my parents lived in when I was born and I spent the first nine months of my life in.
Initially I hoped I would uncover a great scoop for my little paper that would exonerate Frank Rinaldi who had been charged with the murder from the start. I tried methodically to piece together the evidence as it was reported. I also had other sources for information. I would go down to the Chapel Hill Newspaper's offices once or twice a month to pick up my papers for delivery, and ask whoever was there what the latest was on the case. I also was fortunate to have several adult friends who were part of the then heavily closeted homosexual community in Chapel Hill. These men were all friends of my mother, and one became my Godfather. I spent a lot of time with him the year after the murder, and was always surprised how much he knew about all the men who were friends with Rinaldi. While what he told me is all hearsay, it did begin raising my suspicions about Rinaldi. I was also actively involved as a civil rights demonstrator in Chapel Hill in 1963 and 1964, and got on well with a couple of police officers who were always around to protect us from angry segregationists or arrest us if we were involved in an act of civil disobedience. On at least two occasions one of these officers was forthcoming with me on his information on the Rinaldi case. Over the years I have continued to talk to people about the case, including several former Chapel Hill police officers , local attorneys, judges, who have all offered me more information. I have tried in this piece to use only facts that were reported by the official media, or that I deduced from that evidence. Some of this information is from notes I took from WCHL broadcasts in 1963 and 1964.Comment
What is it that binds us to this place as to no other? It is not the well or the bell or the stone walls. or the crisp October nights. No, our love for this place is based upon the fact that it is as it was meant to be, The University of the People.