Rose Bottazi and James Gerard: In the Virgin’s Embrace

Posted: June 5, 2020 in Uncategorized

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.

A darkened cathedral, January, 1968. Rose Bottazi knelt in front of the shrine of the Virgin Mary and lit a candle of remembrance. As she stood to depart she stumbled. Plaster cracking, the gigantic arms of the Virgin’s statue reached out to break her fall. “Do not worry,” the statue intoned; “I have you.”

Then she woke up.

Rose did not often speak about her dreams but she told her oldest daughter Donna about her nocturnal encounter with the Blessed Virgin;
she was worried it was an omen—and she may have been right.

Rose Bottazzi was livin’ the dream: she had a loving family, a stable romance and a brand-new business venture.
The forty-six year old divorcee and former professional dancer owned a home in Brick Township, New Jersey which she shared with the two youngest of her three children.
She was on the cusp of opening a dry-cleaning shop and her married older daughter had just given birth to her first grandchild, a boy.
The baby had a bad cold and Rose worried her Virgin Mary dream somehow related to her grandson’s illness.
She called her daughter regularly to check on the baby’s health and confirm he’d been given his medicine.

The man in Rose’s life was South Orange resident James V. Gerard, age fifty-six, an Internal Revenue Service agent at the Newark Office.
A lifelong bachelor, James had been employed in the IRS delinquent accounts division for more than twenty-six years.
According to family members James and Rose, who had been dating eight years, had a low-key, harmonious relationship:
“They were two quiet stay at home types,” Rose’s brother Patrick Bottazzi later tells the Asbury Park Press.
“He (James) loved Rose’s cooking and would sit in front of the television set watching a football game in his spare time.”
Such was the state of affairs on January 12th, 1968 when Rose and James went out to dinner and vanished.

First stop that evening was Peterson’s Sunset Cabin in Lakewood, an upscale steak house. James was clad in a blazer and dress pants, Rose in a three-piece ice-blue knit pantsuit with a “dressy” white coat.
At Peterson’s the couple had dinner and then shared a drink with part-time hostess Eileen Holland.
She will later describe the pair’s demeanor as “upbeat,”
saying Rose and James talked mainly of films they’d recently seen or intended to see.
The Peterson’s hostess saw no indication of the calamity to follow.

Site of the last supper

Next stop: Tavern on the Mall in Laurelton. James and Rose dropped in for a quick nightcap; they imbibed two drinks each and tipped bartender John Vincintini a dollar (approximately $8 in modern currency).
At 1am as the couple departed the weather had turned foul—a sleet storm impaired visibility and slickened the roads—but they were only 4.5 miles from 253 Alameda Drive,
Rose’s Brick Township home.
The couple set off in James’s vinyl-topped dark blue 1968 Chrysler Newport, license plate IBO 182;
five decades later their fate remains a mystery.

The next morning Rose’s twelve-year old daughter Debra awoke to an empty house; she contacted her brother Anthony who contacted authorities.
In the early stages of the investigation the New Jersey State Police seemed certain the couple’s disappearance had been caused by a driving mishap.
Local police agencies and fire departments searched the lagoons and waterways on the pair’s route home from the Tavern; no trace of James’s car or evidence relevant to the couple’s disappearance could be found.

A ’68 Chrysler Newport but not the ’68 Chrysler Newport

On one subject all who knew James and Rose agreed—the couple had not decamped voluntarily. A search of the pair’s financial records revealed no unexplained transactions or withdrawals.
Rose was in the midst of extensive dental work—two of her molars had temporary caps due for replacement that week—and she’d recently rented a shop and purchased 10K worth of dry-cleaning equipment.
In James’s apartment, located at 324 Center Street in South Orange, his final paycheck had been left uncashed;
he was only six months from retirement eligibility.
All of the couple’s possessions remained in place and no motive could be found which could explain their absence.

Still certain Rose and James had skidded off the roadway, law enforcement officers continued to scour the Brick Township area, including the nearby Pine Barrens of Jersey Devil and Sopranos fame.
Evidence remained elusive and as accidental death became a less likely scenario investigators delved into the couple’s pasts.
Rose had divorced her husband Domenic nearly a decade earlier and there was no history of animosity;
he had moved to Canada but was vacationing in Florida when Rose and James vanished and was quickly dismissed from suspicion.
Although James’s job in the IRS collections department entailed dunning recalcitrant taxpayers he had never reported any harassment from agency targets.
James sometimes bet on sporting events, detectives learned, but he always paid his debts and 10K cash (current value $70K) was found in his safety deposit box.

The address given is incorrect; it’s 253 Alameda Drive

Adding to the mystery, some items located in Rose’s residence hinted the couple may have arrived home after leaving the Tavern on the Mall.
Although Rose’s daughter had been present and heard nothing, James’s wallet, car registration, credit cards and IRS identification badge were located inside.
Rose’s purse was found in the residence as well. [IdiditforJodie flashback: “A woman’s purse is like a minister’s Bible”.]
The means by which James and Rose paid for dinner and drinks on their final evening has never been publicized; perhaps they carried sufficient cash.
The significance of the items’ placement is ultimately unclear;
it’s certainly possible the couple never returned home and the items were left behind as they left for Peterson’s, accidentally or intentionally.

Seasons changed. Two years passed. The Bottazzi and Gerard families offered a reward and disseminated missing persons flyers and then finally, in 1970, a possible break:
Newark Mayor Hugh Addonizio was arrested for bribery and extortion.
James and the Mayor had been close personal friends, socializing and having dinner together on a weekly basis;
investigators found James’s signature as a preparer on Addonizio’s tax returns,
a situation an IRS official described as not illegal—as long as James had not been paid for his service—but “irregular.”
As Rose’s brother Patrick Bottaazzi told the Asbury Park Press,
“This all came out later. We found out he was good buddies with (then Newark Mayor) Hugh Addonizio.
Hughie wasn’t owned by the Mob at that time. He was the Mob.”

When a decade in the cooler feels like victory

Hugh Addonizio was convicted on various corruption charges and sentenced to ten years behind bars; he was released in 1977 and died in 1981, never speaking publicly about the Bottazzi-Gerard disappearance.
Despite James’s relationship with the disgraced Mayor no definitive evidence could be found linking La Cosa Nostra to the couple’s disappearance and no motive for a Mob hit conclusively established.
Despite this dearth of supporting evidence, however,
most law enforcement officials appear to believe the couple met with foul play,
probably due to James’s sports betting and/or association with Mafia figures.
As William Gallant, Captain of Detectives of the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office told the Asbury Park Press,
“As far as I’m concerned she (Miss Bottazzi) is not here now because of him. Whoever took him out figured they had to take her out too.”

The door prize was cement shoes

A top-to-bottom reinvestigation into the couple’s disappearance was launched by the New Jersey State Police in 1978;
no new evidence was unearthed.
And here, fifty years after they vanished, the impasse in the Bottazzi-Gerard case still stands.
Whether plunged into a lake via a traffic mishap or killed by the Mob—sleeping with the fishes either literally or metaphorically—I like to think Rose’s dream came true:
the Virgin Mary gathered the couple into Her heavenly arms and told them not to worry.
Death, a great mystery, comes to all of us; so pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

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