Already facing serious drug charges, Kenneth Gelormino Jr. walked into the Litchfield state police barracks 18 months ago, hoping the contents of the bag he was carrying could solve his legal troubles.
He gave the bag to detectives, who were startled to discover what was inside — bones from a human arm.
Gelormino told police the bones belonged to Lester "Chip" Stewart, who had been reported missing in January 1980, 16 months after he was last seen in Litchfield County — in September 1978.
Police had long suspected that Stewart was the victim of a drug deal gone bad.
Gelormino, who lived in Torrington, told authorities he got the bones from his father, Kenneth Gelormino Sr. The son said his father, facing a life-threatening disease, told him a gruesome secret: He and another man killed Stewart, burned his body and buried it under a stone wall.
The elder Gelormino had kept the bones as collateral to blackmail his former partner, and he wanted his son to use the bones to continue to extort money from the man, who had since moved to Arizona.
Authorities have been checking out Gelormino's story since the day he walked into the barracks hoping he could parlay his information on the Stewart case into a deal on his own drug charges. Eventually, DNA tests confirmed that the bones were Stewart's.
The investigation took another turn just weeks ago when detectives removed a portion of a stone wall in an undisclosed part of Morris, where Gelormino had told them the rest of Stewart's body might be buried.
State police would not comment on what - if anything - they found during the dig, but there is no question that Gelormino's "bag of bones" heated up the 30-year-old cold case.
Not much is known about the 27-year-old skinny, sandy-haired Stewart, who, police believe, was a drug runner bringing cocaine from Miami to Litchfield County to Kenneth Gelormino Sr. and his partner.
"He either stole some money or skimmed some of the drugs, and then Chip Stewart just disappeared from the face of the earth," said a former state police detective who worked on the case in the 1980s.
Stewart's last known address was in South Miami, Fla. But police described him as a drifter who went up and down the East Coast peddling drugs. Over the years, authorities following other tips and investigative leads searched properties just over the state line in New York and empty barns in the Goshen/Sharon area.
The case resurfaced in 2004 when police caught Kenneth Gelormino Jr. selling 100 pounds of marijuana in Waterbury. After his arrest, Gelormino told police that the drugs belonged to his father and that they could find another 100 pounds of marijuana in a Torrington car-detailing shop that his father ran.
Both men were arrested on drug charges in Waterbury and in Torrington. The elder Gelormino died of leukemia in March of 2005 before his case went to trial.
Sources familiar with the case said that sometime after he got sick - and before his son turned him in - the elder Gelormino let his son in on the details of Stewart's death and gave him the bones. The Courant is not identifying the partner because he has not been charged with a crime.
Gelormino Jr.'s strategy of using the information about the Stewart case has succeeded, at least partially. In the drug case stemming from the marijuana found in Torrington, a judge in Superior Court in Litchfield agreed in December 2006 to depart from sentencing guidelines and confine him to his home for a year, and added five years of probation. The judge cited Gelormino's unspecified cooperation with police as a reason for giving him no jail time.
Gelormino is still fighting the charges filed against him in Waterbury, where he was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty. He appealed that sentence to the state Supreme Court, arguing that the Waterbury court should have given him a sentence similar to what he received in Litchfield.
Gelormino Jr. could not be reached for comment. He is out on an appeal bond awaiting the Supreme Court's ruling. His attorney, Michael Fitzpatrick of Bridgeport, said he would "instruct him not to talk about this." Fitzpatrick declined to comment on whether Gelormino is cooperating with state police.
Sources familiar with the Stewart investigation said that once detectives obtained the bones, they had to track down a DNA sample of Stewart's to do a comparison. That sample and the bag of bones were sent to the state police forensic science laboratory for analysis, which took several months.
Once DNA results showed that the bones were Stewart's, detectives started checking out the rest of Gelormino's tale - which led them to the stone wall in Morris. But before police could take the wall apart, they needed permission from the Litchfield Land Trust because the previous owners of the property had obtained a conservation easement.
The easement is a legal agreement between a property owner and a land trust that permanently restricts uses of land to protect it from development.
"We certainly are going to do what we can to further justice, so we weren't going to tell them not to take apart a stone wall," Litchfield Land Trust President Jon Fulkerson said in a recent interview.
State police did not tell the land trust why they needed access to the property, although Fulkerson said he "assumed it was to look for a body or evidence in a criminal case." He would not reveal the address of the property.
It's unclear why state police did not get a search warrant from a court.
State police also would not reveal where they are digging or whether they have found anything that could lead them to Stewart's body. But spokesman Lt. Paul Vance said the case is "very active."
"The investigation has been ongoing for about 18 months," Vance said. "Some new witnesses have been found and new leads pursued, and we anticipate bringing this case to the next level very soon."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at