In 1968, the city of New York was gripped by the disappearance of a little girl from Woodhaven. Those emotions turned to horror when the little girl’s body was discovered in a neighbor’s attic and the killer was revealed to be a 16-year-old boy.
Fifty-six years later, the crime still manages to shock people, especially when you find out that her killer, 72-year-old Vincent DeRosa, is about to be a free man.
Her name was Theresa Riccio, and she was small for a four-year-old, suffering from anemia and bronchitis. Just after noon on May 10, 1968, Theresa asked her mom for a penny for a stick of gum. When her mom told her no, she went outside to sit on the stoop of her house on 87th Avenue near Eldert Lane.
When her mom Anna checked up on her a few moments later, she was gone. Theresa Riccio had vanished.
It was front page news in all the newspapers, which commended the outpouring of sympathy and compassion from the community. A robust and organized search followed and lasted for 11 days. Residents numbering in the hundreds volunteered to thoroughly search nearby Cypress Hills Cemetery and the dense woods in Forest Park.
Many of the volunteers were youngsters themselves, teenagers mostly. But one of them, 16-year-old Vincent DeRosa, harbored a terrible secret.
DeRosa was described as an enthusiastic volunteer. His family and Theresa’s were friends going back a generation and were longtime neighbors here in Woodhaven, living right around the corner from each other.
Vincent had been inside the Riccio household many times and Theresa knew him. She would have trusted him. Why shouldn’t she? Everyone else did. And when she disappeared, DeRosa expressed concern and even joined the families at church to pray for Theresa’s safe return.
The police were questioning everyone that knew her and something about the boy’s answers aroused suspicions and the questions got tougher until he broke down and confessed, telling the police that they could find Theresa’s body in the attic of his home, stuffed into a suitcase, and wrapped in a plastic bag.
The residents of New York, and those in Woodhaven in particular, were horrified. When Theresa had disappeared, people suspected it was a drifter with ill-intentions, not (literally) the boy next door.
Vincent DeRosa was tried and found guilty, yet he was a free man just 7 years later.
By the 1980s, the DeRosa family was long gone from Woodhaven, having picked up and moved to Bellerose. One day, two of Vincent DeRosa’s brothers were digging in the backyard when they unearthed the skeletal remains of a young man. They knew, right away, that their brother had struck again.
The body turned out to be an 18-year-old immigrant from Finland named Tomi Uuttu, a friend of Vincent DeRosa, who had disappeared two years earlier.
The victim’s mother, Rose-May Uuttu, flew here from Finland for the trial, at which the prosecutor dubbed DeRosa “The Butcher of Bellerose.”
DeRosa sealed his own fate by accidentally burying his own eyeglasses beneath Tomi Uuttu’s body in the shallow grave he dug in his backyard. He was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life.
“I came here to see that justice was done,” Rose-May Uuttu said outside the courtroom. “It was.” She added that she hoped he would not ever be allowed to hurt any young boys or girls and that he would spend the rest of his life in prison.
But as we enter 2024, Vincent DeRosa is about to be a free man, having been approved for release by the parole board of New York State.
“This is yet another failure of our justice system, and one that puts us all in danger,” Woodhaven’s Councilwoman Joann Ariola said. “Even at 72, DeRosa is capable of killing a child. His release is a direct danger to the people of New York City, and he should be spending the rest of his days behind bars where he belongs.”
Theresa Riccio would have turned 60 years old this year.