Unsolved Woodside death prompts rally for answers

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Cecilia Tagliaferri and her husband, George Hacker, know the where, the what and the how.

Police said Leah's body was discovered just after 5 a.m. on April 5, 2002 in the bathroom of the 43rd Avenue apartment she and her boyfriend had occupied for just two days. The medical examiner later said Leah, a hansom carriage driver, stewardess and waitress, had been strangled.

Leah's parents also think they know the when. A discount store receipt's time stamp and unanswered phone calls place the murder between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., Tagliaferri said.

But the who and the why remained a mystery as Tagliaferri, Hacker, friends and supporters held an open-air rally Monday in Woodside on the second anniversary of Leah's death.

"I think we need publicity," said Tagliaferri. "There's someone out there who may be able to give some information."

More than 25 people - including Leah's boyfriend and ex-boyfriend - gathered in a park at the intersection of Woodside and Roosevelt avenues, just blocks from the 43rd Avenue apartment where Cecilia Tagliaferri said her daughter's boyfriend found Leah's body.

They wore sandwich boards advertising a $30,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction. The placards bore snapshots of Leah cuddling with a cat and smiling with a Diet Coke in her hand.

"I want to find out who did it." said Hacker, Leah's stepfather. "I don't care if the guy never goes to jail. If we find out who did it, then we find out why."

Tagliaferri said there were no signs of forced entry to the apartment, no indications of sexual violence and no drugs in Leah's system.

She and Hacker said they do not know whom to suspect, although Tagliaferri keeps close tabs on other unsolved crimes in the neighborhood and cases of burglary and utility employee impersonation.

Still, it took until June 2002 for the medical examiner to classify the case as a homicide, a police spokesman said.

"This is a book what happened," Tagliaferri said.

Leah's family spoke with her from Long Island around 4 p.m. the day she was killed. She told her family she was planning to buy a futon for her apartment and asked if they could bring a truck into the city to help her move it the following day, Tagliaferri said. Then Leah hung up, telling her family that her boyfriend, Eddie Clancy, was leaving for work. He, too, was a hansom carriage driver in Central Park.

Clancy said the two went for pizza before he boarded the subway for Manhattan.

What happened after that is, at least in part, a mystery.

Her parents believe Leah stopped at a discount store at the corner of 63rd Street and Roosevelt Avenue and then returned home.

Leah's parents called her at 6:45 p.m., Tagliaferri said, but received no answer, leading them to later believe she may already have been dead.

Clancy returned home around 5 a.m., after going out with some friends, Tagliaferri said.

Clancy found Leah's motionless body on the bathroom floor and thought she had passed out, Tagliaferri said.

Clancy summoned friends -- including Leah's ex-boyfriend, Mel Grimes - from a nearby apartment. After trying to revive her, Tagliaferri said, they realized she was dead. They then called the police and her family, Hacker said.

"I was just stunned," Tagliaferri said. "She had been in the apartment two days."

Police initially suspected Clancy had killed Leah before leaving for work, Cecilia said.

Clancy said he was taken in for questioning and later released still under a cloud of suspicion.

That was until Tagliaferri discovered a receipt from the Paradise 99 cent store at 63rd Street with a time stamp of 4:35 p.m. She said police had overlooked the receipt, which she found in the pocket of the gray North Face jacket her daughter was wearing that day.

The time stamp exonerated Clancy because it would have been impossible for him to have arrived at work on time if he had been in Queens after 4:35 p.m., Cecilia said.

"I don't fault them for suspecting (Clancy)," Hacker said. "I fault them for going after him for six months."

Tagliaferri and Hacker said police then moved on to Grimes, Leah's ex-boyfriend, trying to determine his alibi.

"Five months after Leah's death they asked me for my MetroCard," said Grimes, who said he did not save that type of thing. Tagliaferri said Grimes had also been discarded as a suspect.

At this point, no arrests have been made, a police spokesman said.

"It is a current and open case," he said. Since early this year, the citywide Cold Case Squad has been responsible for the case, he added.

Tagliaferri urged anyone with information about the case to call the CrimeStoppers hotline at 1-800-577-TIPS

Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at news@timesledger, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

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