Actor Dylan McDermott solves mystery of mother's tragic murder 45 years later and discovers POLICE covered it up
By Hannah Rand
PUBLISHED: 16:23, 25 June 2012 | UPDATED: 19:09, 25 June 2012
Actor Dylan McDermott has solved the mystery of his mother's violent murder 45 years after it happened.
The actor, who won a Golden Globe for his role in The Practice and starred in the 1993 movie In the Line of Fire with Clint Eastwood, was just five years old when the death occurred.
Diane McDermott died of a gunshot wound to the head in February 1967.
Mystery solved: Actor Dylan McDermott's mother was shot in the head by her gangster boyfriend in 1967. The suspect was the son of a local jailer and a police informant and was never charged with the crime
Dylan McDermott, now 50, was a key witness, although he didn't actually see the shooting.
Despite the cold, he was outside the family home in Waterbury, Connecticut, at the time as he had been kicked out by his mother's boyfriend, known gangster and heroin addict John Sponza, reports the Republican-American.
He heard shouting and a gunshot.
The police and an ambulance arrived and his mother was carried out on a stretcher with a fatal gun wound to her heavily-bandaged head.
For four decades, Diane McDermott's death was classified as an accidental shooting.However, in 2011 McDermott, whose real name is Mark, contacted the police with questions and requested that the cold case be reopened.
Superintendent Michael Gugliotti, Detective Richard Baxter and Lieutenant Gary Pelosi from the Waterbury Police Department began to re-interview sources.
At first the investigation was hampered by the fact that the official files and pictures from the time were lost or had disappeared.
Triumph over tragedy: McDermott won a Golden Globe for his role on The Practice in 1999, 32 years after the death of his mother, Diane McDermott [right] in 1967
And their main suspect, Sponza, was not available for questioning as he was found dead in 1972.
His body was discovered in the trunk of a car in a Massachusetts grocery store parking lot, reports the Huffington Post.
However, by re-interviewing protected informants and reviewing press clips, Gugliotti and his co-workers began to unravel the mystery and deduced that Sponza had murdered Ms McDermott.
And, shockingly, they discovered that police covered up Sponza's involvement in the crime and ruled the death accidental.
Sources hinted that Sponza had valuable connections. His father was a jailer in New Haven and repeatedly got his son out of trouble. Another source labelled Sponza as a police informant.
Family affair: Dylan McDermott [left] was only five years old and his sister Robin Herrera [right] was just seven months old when their mother tragically died. Here they are pictured with their biological father, Richard
Initially, the gangster told police that he'd been cleaning a .32 calibre pistol in the kitchen while Ms McDermott was preparing supper.
He then told the lead investigator, chief inspector Henry Byrnes, that Diane McDermott had committed suicide by taking the gun into the pantry with her. Although the wound was to the left-hand side of the back of her head and Ms McDermott was right-handed so such a death would have been impossible.
The inspector Henry Byrnes was fired from the department some years after the accidental death ruling, although no official reason was given for his departure.
John Sponza was a violent man, who associated and worked with gangsters, and who should have been in prison long before the death of Diane McDermott.
Family home: Diane McDermott was in the kitchen pantry when she was shot. This picture was taken by Waterbury police when they reopened the case in 2011
His first offense, involving theft and drugs was when he was just 15 years old. He once pistol-whipped a man in a medical clinic and also allegedly shot someone in the face by sitting on them first to pin them down.
Sponza's ex-wife, Naomi Miller, told police that the five foot, seven inches-tall heavily tattooed man was a key player in a Goodfellas-style gangster scene.
He would count thousands in cash stolen from bank robberies, taking trips to Rhode Island to launder the loot to the tune of $200,000.
He also was frequently violent towards Ms McDermott, says her closest friend Sharon Rotella, now 66 years old.
Rest in peace: When police reopened the files in 2011 and discovered that the murder had been covered up, they took this picture of the family home
Sponza would scream at Ms McDermott, make her lift up her dress in front of his friends and choke her when she didn't move fast enough to get his cigarettes, one witness told police.
'I think Dee Dee stayed with him because she was terrorised,' said Ms Rotella.
The young Dylan McDermott was also terrified of his mother's boyfriend.
Ms Rotella told the paper that Sponza stuck a gun in the boy's face and hit and yelled at him.
But Diane McDermott did as much as she could to protect her son.
She told Sponza that the boy's father, Richard McDermott, who had served time in jail and would later become a restauranteur, would kill Sponza if he hurt their son.
Rotella said that Sponza never hit the boy again.
Police Superintendent Michael Gugliotti was shocked about the abuse the family suffered.
'Sponza [told] the police that night that he very rarely, if ever, had arguments, yet everyone we spoke to, including Dylan, who was only five at the time, remembered very violent, vicious arguments,' he said.
'Dylan vividly recalls the amount of times, not only flashing the gun, but pointing it at the kid, saying "Shut up and get out of here". He's still probably traumatized by that,' he said.
Police told the newspaper how McDermott shared his reason for wanting to investigate his mother's death so long after it occurred.
'He said, "In order for me to survive and to get where I am today, I needed to bury that moment in my life deep within myself."
'He said it wasnít until recently "that Iíve come to the point in my life where Iím able to begin to process all of this."'
The ruling concludes forty years of mystery for McDermott, who didn't find out his mother was dead for a whole year after she died.
His grandmother, Avis Marino, who he and his seven-month-old sister Robin Herrera went to live with, wanted to shelter them from the tragic event and told them their mother was in hospital.
McDermott, a recovering alcoholic who has been sober for over 20 years and who briefly dated Julia Roberts after starring with her in Steel Magnolias, declined to comment to the newspaper about the investigation.
After living with his grandmother, he was adopted by Eve Ensler, the author of the Vagina Monologues and the third wife of his father, Richard, when he was 15.
Ms Ensler encouraged her charge to follow his dreams of acting, writing roles for him in her plays.
When she suffered a miscarriage, McDermott took the name she had planned for her unborn child, Dylan.
He has two daughters, Colette who was born in 1996 and Charlotte Rose who is seven years old, with actress Shiva Afshar Rose who he married in 1995.
McDermott and Ms Rose filed for divorce in May 2008.
He is currently dating actress Shasi Wells.
- Mom was murdered The Republican-American
- The Huffington Post: Dylan McDermott's Mother Was Murdered In 1967