From The Vault: Who killed Bricca family? Fifty years later, one name stands out

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GREEN TOWNSHIP, Ohio –  Fifty years after one of the Tri-State's most horrific crimes, "Who killed the Bricca family" is still a popular topic of conversation, especially on the West Side.

It's a juicy topic laced with rumors of his and her marital affairs and possible connections to the bludgeoning of two women in Seattle and even the notorious killing of a future U.S. senator's daughter in a wealthy neighborhood outside Chicago.

Hamilton County Det. Brian Williams found out just how much interest remains in the unsolved stabbing deaths of Jerry and Linda Bricca and their 4-year-old daughter Debbie when he took over the case.

"Being a West Sider, with family on the West Side, you bring this case up with some people of older generations, they'll give you their opinions, where they were at the time they heard about, how old they were … " Williams said. "I could tell, you when I first came into this unit, I was intrigued by it and I mentioned it around my grandmother and, I'm telling you, my phone rang and rang for days because I had opened up a file and told her about it. She'd say, 'This person wants to talk to you' and 'This person has a theory about that.'"

Unfortunately, he said, no one has come forward with testimony or evidence leading to the killer.

Lt. Herbert Vogel briefs reporters outside the Bricca house on the day after the bodies were found.

"Everybody's got an opinion about this and everybody has hearsay about this. There weren't too many people who had first-hand knowledge," Williams said.

No one has ever been arrested or charged, much less convicted, for the brutal stabbings in the Bricca's house on Greenway Avenue. Their bodies were discovered on Sept. 27, 1966, but police believe they were killed two nights before. DNA analysis was light years away. Some of the evidence - hair, blood and fluid samples -  wasn't stored properly and  "degraded" by the time technology might  have uncovered the killer. But Williams and Det. Douglas Todd are still working the case, hoping to get a tip or find a clue that wraps 50 years of evidence and interviews together in a tight case against one suspect.

RELATED: Detectives still working on 50-year-old case

Now, as then, the suspects start with a veterinarian, Dr. Fred Leininger. There were rumors that Leininger and Linda Bricca were having an affair and Linda wanted to call it off. She worked for Leininger part-time at the Glenway Animal Clinic that he owned.

Evidence bags from Bricca killings

Markings on an evidence bag from the case show that it contains hair samples from "Dr. F.G. Lieninger" (sic).

"He was one person of interest," Todd confirmed. "We have Mr. Leininger and then 50 other suspects."

But Leininger, presumably, was the only one to kill himself. And the only one to refuse to cooperate with investigators.

Leininger and his wife committed suicide together in 2004, according to reports about the Bricca case. If so, the public obituaries that said they died in retirement in Sarasota, Florida, on different days that year would be false.

Todd confirmed only that Dr. Leininger committed suicide.

Six weeks after the killings, Lt. Herbert Vogel, who headed the Hamilton County police investigation, cleared the Briccas' next-door neighbor, Dick Meyer. When he did, the prosecutor at the time, Melvin Rueger, said that narrowed the list of suspects to one.

Rueger didn't name him, but the circumstances pointed to Leininger. He said the suspect  was "hiding behind his attorney," that he had given a 10-minute interview about his knowledge of the Bricca family and a 40-minute taped interview to Vogel, but he refused to give any samples or speak further.

Three months before the killings, the Supreme Court's Miranda decision reinforced protections for people under police interrogation.

"The investigators at the time had interviews with about 300 people and all 300 agreed to speak with them. Unfortunately, at the time, one thing that hampered investigators was the Supreme Court ruling  of Miranda - that had just come around at that time  - and there was one individual that they could not speak to," Todd said.

But Todd said the affair theory – people told investigators Jerry was having one, too -- didn't hold a lot of water.

"There's a theory that it could have been something to do with an affair – husband or wife. The fact of the matter is we don't have any really solid proof of an affair with either of them. We have sightings of certain people together at certain times around Cincinnati, but it's just a little piece of evidence. It's not really a motive," Todd said.

Meyer was never really a suspect, Todd said. It was Meyer's misfortune to find the Briccas' bodies. More to the facts, he opened their unlocked front door out of concern because no one had seen the Briccas for two days. When he immediately recognized the stench of death from his WWII days, he walked away in tears and called police.

 "Mr. Meyer had the unfortunate circumstance of having found the Briccas in their home, so immediately people thought, 'All right, maybe he's responsible.' But Mr. Meyer was not responsible for that murder," Todd said.  "He was interviewed and I actually spoke to him about a year before his death – three or four years ago – and interviewed him for about an hour and a half, and to that time it bothered him. He was very emotional about it."

Leininger died before Todd and Williams took over the case.

Another thing that casts doubt on Leininger as a suspect was the brutality of the killings. Linda was stabbed 10 times and Jerry nine.  Debbie was stabbed four times and with so much force that the knife went all the way through her body each time.

People who knew Leininger described him as pleasant. They didn't think he was capable of that kind of fury and  violence.

That gave rise to the theory that it was a professional hit.

The Bricca family: Jerry, Linda and Debbie

But why would anybody send a hit man to kill a young suburban couple – he worked for Monsanto in Addyston, she had been a stewardess – and their 4-year-old?

Leininger? The Mafia? A drug cartel?

Linda's work as a stewardess might have gotten them killed,  according to one theory.  Before the Bricca murders, two stewardesses who had worked with Linda were attacked and beaten in Seattle. One was killed; the other beaten so badly that she said he had no memory of the attack.

Linda was afraid and told a neighbor who sat for Debbie not to let her go outside by herself. She had said something about a drug case she knew about while working for the airlines.

Todd didn't put much stock in that theory, either.

Neighbors watch the goings-on at the Bricca house.

"Yes, she was a stewardess. Both of them were all over the continental U.S. (on business travel)," Todd said. "I saw the investigators' notes. They were all over the U.S. following up these leads. 

"The reason they made the connection (to the Seattle case) is that Linda told a neighbor she knew one of the stewardesses who was murdered in Seattle. But that was investigated and nothing ever turned up."

There were also similarities between the Bricca murders and the stabbing death of 21-year-old socialite Valerie Percy, daughter of a U.S. Senate candidate, at their North Shore mansion three weeks before the killings in Bridgetown.

Her father, Charles Percy, who won his Senate race that November, and her mother and sister were home asleep. Valerie's mother said she was awakened by a crashing sound and then heard moaning. She followed the sound into Valerie's room.

She said she saw a man's silhouette in the darkness. He shined a flashlight in her eyes and she ran back to her bedroom and woke her husband, who called police and then went to Valerie's room. He found her dead in bed.

Lt. Vogel was intrigued enough that he went to Chicago to talk to investigators working the Percy case, but they didn't make a connection.

Years later, a burglar said the head of his break-in gang confessed to killing Percy, but the suspect denied it. The accuser later died during a prison break when he fell off a train trestle.

Newspaper reports from 1966 ruled out burglary as a motive in the Bricca case, saying nothing was taken from the  home. But Todd didn't dismiss it completely.

"There were some money missing from Jerry's wallet, but we don't know how much money had in his wallet," Todd said.

It would have helped if the killer had left behind the knife, but he, presumably, didn't leave much evidence to go on.

"I don't know if you necessarily need the knife," William said.

Todd and Williams have gone back to square one in the investigation. They say they are going to resubmit some fingerprints in hopes of finding a match that couldn't be found 50 years ago.

It might seem fruitless but not to Todd and Williams.

Unsolved Bricca murders could get break

We asked why they didn't close the case. What's the point?

They were adamant.

"To close a case, you have to have a definitive answer as to who did it. If you don't know who did it, you can't close it. It's just going remain open," Todd said.

"Let me ask you this – what you want it closed?" said Williams. "I wouldn't, especially if I'm the family. Granted, all three of them were killed, so there's not that direct link there. But friends, extended family, somebody directly linked with them is not going to want this closed. I'm sure they still want answers. I'd like answers. I'd love to have had the opportunity to investigate this 50 years ago. But the fact of the matter is we don't know we can't say definitely, and until we can definitively, it's got to stay open. We owe that to them."

"I think the answer is in that box," Todd said, pointing to a box of evidence, files and folders. "The investigation they did back 50 years ago is complete. They didn't miss anything unless it was totally off their radar and hasn't been reported by anybody. The answer  is in the box and it's going to take a phone call. Somebody's going to have to clear their conscience or do the right thing, however you want to look at it. Somebody knows something who didn't speak up for one reason or another.

"The time's ticking, unfortunately. We would hope that they would do the right thing and I truly believe in the goodness of people that they wouldn't take this to the grave. We're getting to that time where they're getting up in age and you never know."

Just as DNA technology hadn't evolved in 1966 when the murders occurred, the two detectives hold hope that new technology could find clues from the box now or even in the distant future.

 "Technology is always advancing, so it might not have been there five or 10 years ago, but it could be there now. Why not resubmit things and give it a try?" Williams said.

 "DNA (testing) was not prominent back in 1966. It was there, but the ability to analyze it didn't exist," Todd said. "There might be something 50 years from now that we just don't know about yet that may be able to analyze evidence that may be able to solve it."

In the meantime, Todd and Williams said they regularly bounce ideas off each other in the office.

"We have a desk across from each other and we'll bring up the Bricca case and 45 minutes later we're still talking," Williams said.

"And an hour later," Todd said,  "we're diving back into the folders, revisiting an interview or two, because that's what you have to do."

SEE more archive video and stories about Tri-State history in our "From The Vault" series.

 

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