ITHACA, N.Y. — More than 30 years ago, a 26-year-old American Red Cross shelter worker was found dead. Today, the case remains open and is one of Ithaca’s few unsolved murders. Police continue to investigate leads and interview witnesses, and test evidence in ways they could not in 1987.
The case involves Ithaca resident David Malcom, who was found stabbed to death Feb. 12, 1987, in the former American Red Cross shelter office at 717 W. Court St. in Ithaca. Police believe he was murdered the previous afternoon. At the time, police did not have enough evidence to pin down a suspect or motive and the case went “cold” by the end of 1988.
The case has been investigated over the years a couple of times, but in 2016, the Ithaca Police Department reopened Malcom’s case and “basically started from scratch,” Deputy Chief Vincent Monticello said Friday in an interview with The Ithaca Voice.
News articles published after Malcom’s murder described the Cornell University graduate as someone who was caring, loved to travel and who just loved people, and dedicated himself to helping them.
In the year and a half before his death, he worked full-time at a local shelter for the homeless. He was also a counselor who helped people in crisis and had training in suicide prevention. An Ithaca Journal article, based on interviews with friends, said Malcom was “naturally curious, well-educated and socially concerned.” At the time, his flatmate told the Journal, “David loved life … He was one of the most giving people I knew.”
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In an excerpt from the memorial for Malcom, published in The Ithaca Times, a friend said that Malcom was much more than “being a really superb phone counselor and drop-in counselor with suicide prevention. David’s passionate desire to support people in a will to live was matched by what I saw as his own passionate desire to live fully and joyfully.”
When Malcom was murdered, Monticello was a beat cop and around the same age as him. Though he was not working on the case back then, it has always remained in the back of his mind all these years.
“You’ve got to put yourself in the shoes of the family,” Monticello said. “They don’t have answers as to why — particularly David’s sister who I’ve communicated with over the years. She would like some answers. If it was one of my relatives or siblings, I’d want the police to be able to do everything that’s humanly possible to keep the case going.”
In addition to following up on hundreds of leads, he added, he has tried to keep the case visible in case there is someone out there who has a key piece of information. “There may be one person out there that knows something that’s crucial to this (case) and we haven’t uncovered that information yet.”
With help from several agencies — including New York State Police, the Tompkins County District Attorney’s office, Cornell University, Ithaca College and Tompkins Cortland Community College — police have re-interviewed original witnesses and friends of Malcom’s. Police have even traveled across the country for interviews. They have also done forensic analysis on evidence. However, police are still not at the point to file charges.
“We’re just not there yet,” Monticello said.
There is still more to do in terms of examining evidence, Monticello said, and police have more tools today than they did in 1987. He said he could not elaborate on exactly what evidence they do have, but he said there is a lot of “physical evidence” collected at the scene and it has not all been analyzed.
Though there is not enough conclusive evidence yet, investigators in 1987 and today have settled on a possible suspect — a man who lives in Ontario County and whom police have interviewed multiple times. “His story changes, that much I can say, from what he told our detectives in ’87, but as far as admitting to it, he has not given us that information. So, he is a viable suspect, but also I want to keep an open mind.”
As for the current status of the case, Monticello said it remains open. He said they have leads to follow up on, forensic evidence to analyze.
“The person who did this I believe is still around and needs to be looking over his shoulder because there’s no statute of limitations when it comes to murder. And whether we come up with something significant now or three years from now, I would hope but I don’t expect this person to have a conscience and admit to what they had done. I think our best bet is perhaps the forensics side of things and maybe somebody out there having some direct knowledge that we can corroborate,” Monticello said.
Anyone who might have information that could aid the investigation is encouraged to call the investigations division at 607-272- 9973, option 1. For anonymous tips, the police tip line is available at this webpage or 607-330-0000.