Onetime Seattle union boss Mario Vaccarino, thought to have been killed 27 years ago by mobsters who drowned him in his bathtub and sprinkled his floating body with Parmesan cheese, was actually murdered by an ex-cop, county cold-case investigators have concluded. The suspect is a now-deceased onetime Seattle police officer and bank robber, Gary Krueger, who allegedly found a third career as a professional killer and may have had an accomplice.
But police felt from the beginning the scene may have been staged and considered the possibility the hard-nosed labor boss had ticked off one too many restaurant owners during union contract bargaining. Vaccarino was a fierce organizer and also had connections to corrupt members of the national union leadership.
Then a headline-rattling case in Seattle, the homicide remained unsolved for more than two decades after investigators chased down numerous dead-end leads. But as Seattle Weekly reported in 2009, the King County Sheriff's cold-case team revisited the case, looking for new leads.
Now they've discovered an important one. As veteran cold-case detective Scott Tompkins tells KIRO-TV: "We found a witness who Krueger confessed to - that he had murdered Vaccarino."
That brings to four the number of homicides tied to Krueger, including the 2001 murder of Bellevue real estate agent Mike Emert - also killed and left in a bathtub of running water.
"When we initially got the DNA hit linking Gary Krueger to the Emert murder, we obviously began investigating Krueger," Tompkins told reporter Chris Halsne. "As part of that investigation, we found where a long time person-of-interest in the murder of Vaccarino was also longtime friends with Gary Krueger. That piqued our interest."
The probe led them to the conclusion that Vaccarino was killed as a favor to a friend, Tompkins says. The friend reportedly told Krueger that Vaccarino was about to fire him and feared losing his union benefits. After the boss was killed, the friend stayed with the union and later moved up the chain of command.
Investigators, who suspect Krueger of also killing Bellevue real estate attorney Jim Barry in 1984 - a homicide made to look like a robbery gone haywire - say the Vaccarino case officially remains open, however, and they are now searching for another man who may have helped Krueger commit his crimes.
Krueger, a Seattle street cop in the 1970s and 80s before he turned to a brief career as a bank robber, drowned two years ago in Lake Washington after fleeing the scene of a home invasion.