UNIONTOWN, Pa. (AP) - State police doubted the mother's story from the moment her 2-year-old son's body was found face-down in the creek that bubbles past the railroad trestle near their home.
The 22-year-old claimed a mystery man snatched the boy during a walk on Sept. 26, 1976, saying, "Either you or the baby. I've been waiting for this."
But it took state troopers more than 30 years to arrest Glenda Masciarelli, something that had less to do with whodunit than it did with sifting through her considerable emotional and mental health problems. Masciarelli doesn't remember killing the boy and says she was sleepwalking, while her attorney believes she was having a trance-like seizure.
"Just in the short time I spent with her you could tell she wasn't all there," said Trooper Jeffrey Ramsey, who arrested Masciarelli in November 2006. "That alone could be the reason she did it."
Now 54, Masciarelli pleaded no-contest in December to third-degree murder and her sentencing is set for Friday. She has remained free on bond, an extremely rare occurrence in a homicide case.
Defense attorney Nicholas Timperio Jr. hopes that means the judge is less focused on crime and punishment than with crafting justice for a mentally ill woman who committed a horrendous act long ago. As such, Timperio hopes Masciarelli will avoid the maximum 10- to 20-year prison sentence for third-degree murder and, more or less, be allowed to get on with her life.
Currently unemployed, Masciarelli lives with a longtime boyfriend, having divorced Alfred Masciarelli Sr. shortly after their son's death. She has spent most of her adult life working in kitchens or caring for the elderly.
A review of records and police interviews by The Associated Press show police knew days after the drowning that Masciarelli wanted her son dead - or at least feared she might unconsciously harm him - and was unhappy in her marriage to the boy's father. The evidence shows the threat Masciarelli claimed the mystery man uttered had, most likely, been echoing in her troubled mind ever since she was pregnant.
"I mean, it's like one chance in a million something like that could happen," said Trooper Ed Dunkard, the original investigator on the case who never believed Masciarelli's tale.
Her husband at the time also doubted the story, telling authorities, "There's a good possibility that she imagined what happened on Sunday and it didn't really happen."
Alfred Masciarelli Jr. was found floating in 1½ feet of water, white foam coming from his nose, and a small scrape above his right eye. His green pants and Donald Duck T-shirt were soaked but otherwise undisturbed.
Dunkard, 65, retired from the state police in 1996, and his case file shows the investigation more or less retired with him. Ramsey dusted off the case in 2006 because he needed a light-duty assignment following surgery.
"Most of the cold cases, when they're solved, you're looking for physical evidence that might have been overlooked," Ramsey said. "This case had none of that. It was a matter of getting her to say the right thing."
Dunkard said police at the time tested the water in the boy's lungs to make sure he wasn't drowned at home then placed in the creek by his mother. The tests confirmed he died in the creek, about 40 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. Two polygraph examinations she had taken at the time were inconclusive, something a psychiatrist told authorities could be the result of Masciarelli's paranoid schizophrenia.
Still, Dunkard's case file convinced Ramsey that the boy's death had to be weighing on Masciarelli.
Within days of the drowning, Dunkard learned Masciarelli had previously told a county mental health caseworker she lost "some of her zeal for living" and felt "rushed into marriage" when she became pregnant with the boy.
A psychiatrist at Connellsville State Hospital was more blunt.
"He felt strongly that Glenda was very capable of destroying the child if for no other reason she did not want the child in the first place," Dunkard said in his police report. "Should Glenda return to reality in the next couple of weeks or months, she might destroy herself."
Family members painted a picture of an unstable woman, who often sleepwalked - sometimes while prowling on all fours - and lived apart from her husband because she could not make friends in the Ohio town where he lived.
Glenda Masciarelli told her caseworker she didn't want to return to Ohio "for fear of harming her child during her sleepwalking."
In October 2006, the new trooper on the case, Ramsey, contacted Masciarelli and asked her to take one more polygraph to close the case once and for all.
"Well, what if it says I was lying?" she responded.
Seizing the opening, Ramsey asked Masciarelli whether there really was any mystery man at the creek.
Her answer: "You might as well just take me to jail now."
Masciarelli later told Ramsey there was no man in the woods and said "I may have been walking in my sleep." She then wrote a disjointed apology:
"I am very sorry for this to go on so long + hurting my baby I didn't know what I did," Ramsey's report shows.
Masciarelli has never told authorities what really happened in the woods that day, but after a second interview in November 2006 she was arrested.
"She took responsibility for the baby being injured but never, specifically, spelled out how she did it," Ramsey said.
Timperio maintains Masciarelli is telling the truth when she claimed to be sleepwalking when her son drowned, though she is probably using the wrong terminology. Masciarelli is being treated for trance-like seizures during which she has conversations with people that she doesn't remember later, and a doctor will testify about at sentencing, he said.
"It's been more than 30 years ago, we don't know what happened, but hopefully this will resolve everything - at least in her mind," Timperio said. "It was something she wanted to do."
Ramsey said it doesn't matter if Masciarelli acknowledges or remembers what happened.
"It's pretty obvious as to what happened to her son," he said. "But why she did it? That's the question."
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)