Gatto Murder Still Unsolved

The Gatto family is pictured here about 10 years ago on the occasion of Joseph’s retirement from teaching at Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. Left to right: Nicole, Mariann, Mike, Mariann’s son Damien and Joseph. Source: Facebook.

The Gatto family is pictured here about 10 years ago on the occasion of Joseph’s retirement from teaching at Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. Left to right: Nicole, Mariann, Mike, Mariann’s son Damien and Joseph. Source: Facebook.

SILVER LAKE—As the third anniversary of the murder of Joseph Gatto nears, his surviving three children are estranged and his daughter, Nicole—who is the executrix of his estate—has sued her brother California State Assemblymember Mike Gatto over his belief that their father informally bequeathed to him an expensive one-of-a kind cradle that has been in the Gatto family for 40 years.

According to court documents filed by Nicole in July, her father’s 2009 will indicates the crib—estimated today at a worth between $55,000 and $60,000—was to be sold on the occasion of his death.

However, in a book published in 2016 on the cradle’s designer, Sam Maloof, Mike was quoted as saying: “My little sister is four years younger, and I can picture her clear as day in the cradle,” the author, Fred Setterberg, wrote. “I must have been five; she was one. I own the cradle today, and both of my daughters have used it.”

According to Mike, he simply wants to keep the crib for sentimental reasons, and because he and his wife want to grow their family further. Nicole, 43, does not have children. Marianna, 38, has a grown son.

But according to Gatto’s 2009 will, “[T]he wooden cradle made by Sam Maloof shall be sold by the successor trustee, at auction or otherwise…”

According to Nicole, she is only trying to carry out her father’s wishes.

A hearing on the matter is set for Los Angeles Superior Court on November 2nd.

Additionally, according to two sources, Joseph—who was found dead from a single gun shot wound to the abdomen while sitting at his desk on the third floor in his Silver Lake home—had reworked his estate plan, which included both a will and a trust, in July of 2013, four months before he was murdered.

Police have previously indicated there was no forced entry into his home and that they were uncertain if any valuables were taken.

Joseph’s first cousin, Vita Cortese, said he visited her at her Larchmont Village area home July 17, 2013 upset about Nicole’s relationship with her now husband Mark C. Moreno.

According to Cortese, 88, Joseph told her that day he had rewritten his will and had removed Nicole from any inheritance and named another executor. Joseph’s accountant, Mel Miyamoto, confirmed the same in an interview.

“I remember the day very well. Joe was sitting right over there in that chair,” Cortese said as she motioned to a chair in her living room. “I remember the date, because he brought me preserves he had made from fruit from his garden. When he did that he would always date the jar.”

But according to Nicole’s husband Mark Moreno, he and Joseph were close and there was no bad will between them.

Nicole and Mark were married the same day Joseph was murdered.

According to multiple sources, no family members—including Joseph—were invited to the ceremony, which was officiated by All Saints Episcopal Church’s Zelda Kennedy.

According to Moreno, the couple had merely wished for a small ceremony with “one witness” and had planned a celebration for family and friends later.

But according to legal filings regarding the Sam Maloof cradle, attorneys for Nicole indicate her father was only considering rewriting instructions for his estate, but had not yet done so.

“Further, weeks before his death, Joseph prepared notes that suggest that he was thinking about making some changes to his estate plan that contemplated a gift of the [c]radle to Michael,” attorneys wrote in legal documents filed last July.

According to court documents, Joseph had a will dated 2002 and an amended version from 2009. Court records do not show a third will from 2013.

According to sources, if Joseph had executed a revised will in 2013, it is believed he would have written the document himself, possibly through an online source such as legalzoom.

Sources said Joseph, who was 78 at the time of his death, might have been looking for a new attorney at the time, and that he sometimes scoffed at the price to pay lawyers for such work.

According to legal documents, Gatto’s estate is worth just over $1.7 million. However, it is believed there is an additional private trust of unknown value.

Per the 2009 will, 60% of the estate—including the sale of Gatto’s Silver Lake home, his investments, three cars, various art, historical photographs, precious metals, antiques and royalties on four published books—was to go to Marianna and 20% each to Nicole and Mike. Nicole will additionally receive unknown “trustee fees,” according to court records.

Los Angeles Police detectives have focused on a Caucasian man, described as 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 said last year, they believe the man is connected to Joseph’s murder and possibly obtained entry into his home through his automatic garage door, which sources say Joseph had possibly briefly opened that night to retrieve a printer he had purchased earlier in the day from his car trunk.

In January 2014, the Los Angeles Police Dept. offered a $50,000 reward for any information leading to the arrest and conviction of Joseph’s killer. Shortly after the reward was announced, police said they had received fewer than 25 tips, none of which panned out.

Los Angeles Police Detectives did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the case. Marianna Gatto and her husband Eric Eisenberg, also did not respond to requests for comment.

Mike Gatto, who represents California’s 43rd District in Sacramento, will speak about his father’s murder at an event called “Justice for Unsolved Murders,” at the Homicide Victims Memorial at Rose Hills Memorial Park, 3888 Workman Mill Rd, in Whittier, November 12th from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Attendees are asked to RSVP at assemblymember.gatto@Assembly.ca.gov.

“My days are filled with sadness,” Mike said. “For my father’s demise, the fact that this crime remains unsolved and the way that his affairs are being handled. My priority remains solving the criminal case, as everything else is trivial in comparison.”

Mike, who will be termed out of office this December, had previously indicated he would run for California State Senate. But in December 2015, he said he had chosen to take a break from politics, citing, in part, the toll his father’s unsolved murder has taken.

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1 Response

  1. Allison Cohen says:

    Posted by the Publisher an email from a reader: I read the article about Mr. Gatto’s unsolved murder today and was saddened to see that the Ledger decided to invade the family’s privacy in their grief by airing dirty laundry about estrangement among his children.

    Your paper need not stoop to National Enquirer levels to inform us about what is newsworthy: the fact that the murder remains unsolved. Even though the probate issues are publicly filed, it is none of our business that the family is grappling with this additional strain as they grieve their father’s loss. I don’t have any need to know what he thought of his daughter’s relationship, nor how much money he left, or its disposition. Shame on you for trying to “spice up” a story with little heft by adding in gossipy details about his family’s life. After all, none of the family members are suspects in the murder, and they are entitled to hash out their grievances privately. And shame on the family friend for gossiping as well. I can only imagine his widow’s distress. You owe her an apology.

    Ellen Barry
    Silver Lake

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