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A murder most brutal: by whom?; 108 stab wounds and 33 years later, victim's mother agonizes over whether she'll ever see justice

This time of year is like a series of recurring nightmares for Patricia Scinta.

It's a time when the 79-year-old South Buffalo woman can't stop thinking about her daughter, Patricia Rodriguez, and how she was savagely murdered -- stabbed 108 times -- in Lackawanna's Holy Cross Cemetery on Friday, April 13, 1979.

Scinta tries to erase the memory, but the image of her daughter's last minutes keeps reappearing in her mind.

"March and April are the worst. The closer I get to April 13, the worse it gets," said Scinta, a widow who worked as a city crossing guard.

"I pray every night that the police will catch the animal who killed her. I wake up every morning crying. I keep thinking how terrified she must have been in those last few minutes. All her fingernails were broken, because she was crawling on the ground, trying to get away from this animal who kept stabbing her."

The brutality of the crime bothers police, too -- especially State Police investigators who have been conducting a cold-case probe that they hope will eventually result in an arrest and successful prosecution.

"Our hearts go out to the family of this young woman who was murdered. We have investigators working very hard. They are making some substantial progress on this case," said Capt. Steven A. Nigrelli, who oversees criminal investigations for State Police Troop A.

Rodriguez was 20 and the mother of two young children. Police believe she left a nearby bar and went to the cemetery with someone she knew early that morning 33 years ago today.

"Soon after it happened, the Lackawanna police told me they were waiting for one more piece of the puzzle to fall into place," Scinta said. "Then, they said, they would make an arrest," she recalled. "I've been waiting 33 years for the other piece of the puzzle."

Nigrelli said he cannot disclose what new information has been uncovered. But State Police investigators -- including some from the task force that solved the infamous "Bike Path Killer" mystery -- have talked with several witnesses and have been working on the Rodriguez case for more than two years. They're working with Lackawanna police and the Erie County District Attorney's Office.

Nigrelli declined to comment when asked whether anyone has been singled out as a suspect. But a Lackawanna city official who was one of the first detectives at the murder scene makes no effort to hide his suspicions.

"We had one suspect in mind from that first day, when her body was found, and that has not changed," said Dana J. Britton, Lackawanna's director of public safety. "That is her estranged husband."

Britton is a retired cop who now oversees both the Police and Fire departments of Lackawanna. He was one of two detectives called to the cemetery after a jogger found Rodriguez's body. Britton said that it was one of the most disturbing scenes he ever witnessed in 22 years of police work.

"This pretty young woman was lying on her back on a flat gravestone, with her clothes all in disarray. She had been horribly brutalized, stabbed all over her body," Britton recalled.

The huge number of stab wounds told police that someone had a "personal reason" for killing Rodriguez, Britton said.

"To me, that's an indication of rage, a very personal reason for killing someone," Britton said. "It's not like shooting somebody once and running away. This person spent a lot of time and effort in assaulting and killing this young woman."

Police quickly learned that the victim was with her estranged estranged, Michael Rodriguez, the night she was killed, according to Britton. And police were told that the victim's husband had beaten her repeatedly in the past, Britton said.

Patricia Scinta told The Buffalo News that she saw her daughter on numerous occasions with bruises from beatings from her husband.

"One time, he was hitting her right here in our front hallway," she said. "I grabbed him by the hair and made him stop."

On her last night, according to police and her mother, Patricia Rodriguez went out to a bar not far from the cemetery to meet her husband. Her mother said Rodriguez hoped to rekindle the romance.

Michael Rodriguez was the last person seen with Patricia, according to police. Rodriguez hired an attorney to represent him soon after the murder, Britton added.

"We questioned Michael about a week after the murder," Britton said. "He told us he didn't know anything about it. He denied everything and said he had no idea what happened to his wife."

Britton declined to give details of what evidence, in his view, links Michael Rodriguez to the murder.

The News was unable to reach Michael Rodriguez to comment on this article, but in 2004, he told the newspaper that he, too, is distraught about his wife's murder and wants the killer to be caught. He said he and his wife never had any "bad animosity" between them, but were legally separated.

"It's a loss," Rodriguez said of his wife's death. "It's something always in your heart. [The killer] took my children's mother away."

Buffalo attorney Peter M. Jasen represented Rodriguez after the murder, and attorney Robert P. Johnson represents him now. Both said they thought that Rodriguez was never charged because he is innocent.

"There's something called proof. There's something called competent, admissible evidence," Jasen said. "The case didn't go anywhere because [police] had no evidence."

Jasen added that Rodriguez, who works in construction, was upset about his wife's death and cooperated with police in the investigation.

"Any time there's a murder, the police look at the spouse as the first suspect," Jasen said.

The grave site where Patricia Rodriguez's body was found was of no significance to her or her family, police said. The site was littered with a few beer cans and cigarette butts, which prompted detectives to believe that Rodriguez may have spent some time there socializing with her killer.

Patricia Scinta said she has some opinions but won't publicly point the finger at Michael Rodriguez or anyone else. She would just like to know who killed her daughter and see the killer brought to justice.

"I hope they will please make an arrest, so maybe I can die in peace," she said.

She said her daughter, a former waitress, sometimes hung out with the wrong people, but was basically "a very nice, very loving person" who wouldn't harm anyone. She dropped out of school at age 17 to marry Michael Rodriguez in 1974.

"She was a tiny thing, barely 5-feet-2. She didn't deserve to be killed like that," Scinta said.

If her daughter were alive today, she would be 54 and would have a son, a daughter, three grandchildren and a great-grandchild on the way.

"This killer affected the lives of a lot of people when he did this," Scinta said.

After the murder, life never had the same zest for Scinta or her late husband, Salvatore, a truck driver who died in December 2001. Devout Catholics, the couple could never enjoy the Easter holidays again after losing their daughter on a Good Friday.

The Scintas were baby-sitting Rodriguez's two young children on the night she was murdered.

"The day after they found her, my husband had to go down to the morgue to identify her body. When he came back to the house, he was so heartbroken, he could hardly walk up the steps. He just looked at me and said, 'It's her. It's her,' " Scinta recalled.

"It was the worst moment of my life. And now, even after all these years, just thinking about it is almost as bad."