Within the quiet community of Clarence, N.Y, near Buffalo, a displaced chemistry professor named Steven Diver lived with his wife and four children. Steven’s wife, Joan, liked to stay in shape. A bike and jogging path on Salt Road was ideal for that. On the September 2006 morning when Joan disappeared, Joan jogged alone, as she most often did. In so doing, Joan had told friends she felt entirely safe.
Later on that September day, Steven Diver discovered that his wife had not picked up one of their children from day care. That gave Steven cause for worry; he called police telling them that he feared something had happened to his wife. The police organized a search party-without result.
A determined member of the original search party, which had given up the search, found Joan’s body two days after she disappeared. Joan’s body was found in the brush of a wooded area just seventy or eighty feet from the bike path. She had been strangled, but not sexually assaulted.
Homicide statistics often pointed to family members, and a regular part of investigative procedure is to rule them out first whenever possible. Investigators were initially suspicious of Steven Diver’s aloof demeanor. Besides, there was something in Steven Diver’s statement to police that raised suspicions.
Steven Diver had told police he had searched the bike path area where his wife frequently jogged. He said he found her car in the parking lot, with the full water bottle lying on the seat. But when police arrived, the car wasn’t there.
Joan Diver’s SUV was later found three miles away. Steven Diver insisted to police he had not moved his wife’s car.
There were few clues and no new leads, until a detective began ruminating about the unsolved rape-murder of a University of Buffalo coed Linda Yalem in 1990. The Yalem murder and one other in the same area had been attributed to a perpetrator known to police as the “bike path rapist.” The “bike path rapist” was also responsible for several other rapes in the same area, rapes in which the victims were not murdered.
Six weeks after Joan Diver’s murder, police forensics scientists had the results of a swab taken from the steering wheel of Joan’s SUV. The DNA did not match that of Steven Divers, eliminating him as a suspect.
Yet, the forensics investigators who worked the case discovered a surprising connection. The swab of DNA taken from Joan Diver’s SUV did match that of the “bike path rapist,” long sought but never apprehended.
Puzzling to police was the fact that the string of serial rapes attributed to the “bike path rapist” had stopped over a decade before Joan Diver was murdered. The perpetrator of the sexual assault crimes had gone quiet. Under such circumstances, it is common speculation that the perpetrator has been incarcerated, or is deceased.
Early victims of the bike path rapist were sexually assaulted as they jogged along Buffalo’s many old railroad beds turned jogging paths. Most of them survived the attacks.
It wasn’t until September 29, 1990, that the bike path rapist killed his first victim, Linda Yalem, a Buffalo university student. She was sexually assaulted and murdered in nearby Amherst, not far from Buffalo. A prostitute was murdered next, her body discovered beside the railroad track jogging path. A 14 year old girl was strangled and raped on her way to school in 1994, but survived. At that point, the rapist-murderer seemed to have retired with a total of nine rapes and two murders.
It nagged New York detectives that Joan Rivers was murdered on the exact day of the 16th anniversary of the bike path killer’s first victim-Linda Yalem. Moreover, the string of unsolved murders and rapes had the public very stirred up. A special task force was assigned to investigate the 3 murders and 10 rapes that spanned two decades.
A member of the task force, Detective D. A. Delano of the Cold Case Division of the Buffalo Police Department could, just by being himself, well play the role of any popular television police drama hero. Jowly and middle-aged, with a blunt demeanor, the rotund detective was convinced that the Joan Divers murder was connected to the bike path rapist-murderer by method, location, and by the investigative files-even if Divers had not been sexually assaulted. Not ironically, it was in the aging police files that Delano spotted the clue that would lead to the arrest.
The bike path rapist investigative files held information about a man, Anthony Capozzi, who was imprisoned for two rapes in the same area and with the same modus operandi. Detective Delano was among those who thought the Capozzi case deserved a second look. A victim and witness in the Capozzi case had provided a license plate number when she spotted her attacker driving a car in the parking lot of a supermarket where she shopped.
During the Capozzi investigation, police had tracked down the man but determined he had a solid alibi. It wasn’t until that man was interviewed more than two decades later by the Task Force that the man admitted his car had been driven that day by his nephew Artemio Sanchez.
Altemio Sanchez was described as a good neighbor, a pillar of the community, and the last man you’d suspect would be a serial killer. Yet, Artemio Sanchez’ appearance in long ago arrest records led detective Delano to ponder Sanchez.
Yet, it was decades ago that Sanchez had been arrested twice for soliciting the services of a prostitute in Buffalo. How could the Task Force take a look at Sanchez? Police made mistakes, obviously, but weren’t in the habit of harassing ordinary “good citizens.” Nonetheless, task force investigators had the obligation to check out every loose end.
The Task Force leaders put Sanchez under surveillance. The opportunity to obtain Sanchez’ DNA arose when Sanchez took his wife out to dinner at a local restaurant. The detectives asked the restaurant staff not to touch the Sanchez’ drinking glasses when they left the restaurant. Detectives took the glasses and sent them to the forensics lab.
Sanchez’ DNA matched that of the “bike path rapist.” Police arrested him as he finished his night shift employment in Clarence. Sanchez offered no resistance and pleaded “not guilty” when he was arraigned on two counts of murder.
Neighbors were shocked and described Sanchez as having a beautiful family, as being the best of neighbors, with a beautiful wife and beautiful children. The prosecuting attorney described the “beautiful wife” as “absolutely dumbfounded” at the prospect that her husband could have committed so many brutal murders and sexual assaults.
However, the model citizen, a married, church going dad and little league coach, managed to attend a party with his wife the same evening that he murdered Joan Diver. Sanchez’ jovial spirits sagged a bit when police told him his DNA directly linked him to seven rapes and three murders. Eventually, other evidence was obtained which implicated Sanchez in a total of fifteen sexual assaults.
In May 2007, Sanchez changed his plea to guilty on 3 counts of 2nd degree murder. There were no convictions or pleas entered for the rape cases because the statute of limitations had run out. In 2007, middle-aged “good neighbor” Artemio Sanchez received a sentence of 75 years in prison, and currently resides in Dannemora Prison.