Gatto Murder: One of Over 1,500 Unsolved in L.A.

Former California State Assemblymember Mike Gatto speaks to reporters at the November 2015 vigil honoring the 2nd anniversary of the murder of his father, Joseph, in his Silver Lake home. Pictured with Gatto is his sister Mariann holding a police composite of the only suspect in the case and cousins of the slain arts teacher, Sylvia Barham, of Glendale and Vita Cortese of Los Angeles. Photo: Allison B. Cohen.

SILVER LAKE—Four years later, the 2013 murder of Joseph Gatto remains unsolved.

Gatto, then 78, was killed in his Bright Lane home, near the Silver Lake Reservoir, November 12, 2013. Police say he died from a single gunshot to his abdomen and was found sitting at his desk on the second floor of his home.

According to Thomas Hargrove, who founded the non-profit Murder Accountability Project in 2015 to track unsolved homicides, Gatto’s is only one of nearly 60,000 unsolved murders in the United States dating from 2005 to 2016 and one of 1,566 unsolved cases in Los Angeles during the same time period.

Citing a lack of witnesses and the length of time since Gatto, who lived alone, was murdered, Hargrove, a retired Washington, D.C. investigative journalist and White House correspondent, said, “Odds are, at this time, [the Gatto] case will not be solved.”

According to Murder Accountability Project statistics, between Gatto’s 2013 murder and 2016, the Los Angeles Police Dept. has solved 80% of homicides.

“The LAPD does a better than average job clearing cases,” Hargrove said.

But since Gatto’s murder, there have been few leads in the case, despite a $50,000 reward offered in 2014.

LAPD detectives have focused on a Caucasian man, described as being between the ages of 20 and 25, wearing a multi-colored hoodie and carrying a tan backpack that was seen by three witnesses November 12th breaking into a car on Moreno Drive near Gatto’s Bright Lane home.

According to one witness, the man was holding a gun and threatened her, saying, “Do you want to die tonight?” when she confronted him.

Police have previously said they believe the man is connected to Gatto’s murder and possibly obtained entry into his home through his automatic garage door. Police have reported there were no signs of forced entry into Gatto’s home.

Despite widespread circulation of a composite sketch of that man, there has been no arrest and no resolution for Gatto’s family.

Gatto’s son Mike, the former California Assemblymember, has tried for years to keep the focus on finding his father’s killer for years, previously holding events to memorialize his father’s death such as a vigil march, naming a square near Silver Lake—and a portion of the 10 Freeway near the school where he was an art teacher—in his honor and an event last year called “Justice for Unsolved Murders,” that was held at the Homicide Victims Memorial at Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier.

Over the years, the younger Gatto said, he has seen the participation in these events diminish.

As such, this year he said he would spend the day alone.

“This year, I’ve chosen to spend the day in quiet solitude at my father’s gravesite,” Mike Gatto said. “In years past, I’ve held events and rallies begging people to come forward if they knew anything and no one has. At some point, it feels hollow. I work daily to keep his memory alive, to make him proud, and to try to ensure that other families don’t have to endure losing someone suddenly, in this manner, too early.”

Repeated requests for comment from the LAPD regarding the current status of the investigation were declined.

The incidence of murder in Silver Lake is low. According to the Los Angeles Times Homicide Report, a website that is continuously updated with homicides in Los Angeles, there were 16 murders in that neighborhood between 2005 and 2016.

Additionally, according to an analysis by the Los Feliz Ledger, someone over the age of 65 being murdered in Los Angeles does happen, but it is rare.

Per LAPD data provided to the California Dept. of Criminal Justice Statistics Center, there were 75 people over the age of 65 murdered in Los Angeles between 2005 and 2016, just over 2% of all murders in the city over those 11 years.

Almost half (48%) of those killed over the age of 65 knew their killer, according to the Ledger’s analysis.

The same data also reveals that LAPD detectives were unable to determine the relationship between victim and killer in 44% of the cases analyzed but that only 8% of victims were killed by strangers.

Additionally, an argument was the leading cause for the murders in over 30% of the cases analyzed, while robbery accounted for just over 15%.

According to the same data provided to state authorities, LAPD detectives listed Gatto’s death as occurring during a robbery, though they have previously indicated there was no forced entry into Gatto’s home and they could not verify what, if anything, had been stolen from Gatto’s residence.

They additionally listed the murder occurred at the “residence of the offender.” Only two cases were identified in the Ledger analysis, from 2005 to 2016, where a murder occurred at the home of offender.

LAPD would not respond to a request for clarification on that notation.

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