The Last Detective - Nardizzi Inc.

WAD Investigator of the Year awarded...

This really caught me off guard - honored to be named 2023 Investigator of the Year at the 98th Annual Conference of the World Association of Detectives in beautiful Vancouver, Canada. I had the mistaken impression the winners were informed beforehand, so when the dinner came, I was well into some fine red wine when I heard the words "investigator from Boston" and "also a writer". Fixed my tie and cleaned up quick.

Thank you to WAD for recognizing investigators like me working on wrongful convictions. Exonerees like Raymond Gaines and others inspire us all! Keep working, keep dreaming, keep fighting...

And I should add that the tremendous outcome was also due to fine work by staff investigator Jill Vaglica. Innocence cases are successful when you work as a team.

WAD conference Investigator of Year 2023
world detectives Vancouver

investigator award wad

wad vancouver detective

NDIA Seminar on Investigating Innocence...

Enjoyed doing a presentation at the NDIA Regional Conference in Providence, RI.with my esteemed colleague from New England Innocence Project, Cynthia Mousseau. Terrific group of investigators and presentations.


Exoneree Victor Rosario settles case for $13 million....

In May 2023, the City of Lowell admitted their errors and partially compensated former client Victor Rosario for his wrongful conviction - $13 million, the 2nd highest settlement in New England.

It has been a long time coming. I was part of the team that freed Victor Rosario in 2014, after spending 32 years behind bars for a 1982 fire that killed eight people. Victor was at the scene helping people escape the fire. Instead of being lauded for his actions, he was charged and convicted after an error-filled, circus investigation. And at the end, a man who was once a client, is now a friend, showed tremendous compassion and grace, saying "If I don’t forgive those who do wrong to me, then my life will be always in prison. And I don't want that— I want to be free!”

Victor, his wife Beverly, and those like him are special people. I went to Chicago a few weeks later to celebrate with him, lawyer Mark Loevy-Reyes, and the rest of the fine legal team. We walked the shore of the lake and talked deep into the night. Shot pool, ate well, relaxed.Victor even purchased a local landmark; now known as ROSARIO TOWER. His time has arrived.

Rosario press conference $13 mill settlement.

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The Sound of Pursuit Podcast... "The Dome" and "The Beard"

If you thought there was no more space for another PI Podcast, you were mistaken… John Nardizzi and Hal Humphreys are on point with The Sound of Pursuit, our podcast on the life and the work of private investigators, including tools and techniques, interviews with fellow investigators, and reflections on the calling.

Judge tosses out Raymond Gaines' 1976 murder conviction...

This one came unexpectedly at the end of December, and we are trilled to see Ray Gaines out and about Boston (and shopping at the same hat shop as the owner of this PI firm). Ray's case involves a critical and disturbing juncture of Boston.

Gaines was sentenced to life in prison for the 1974 armed robbery and murder of Peter Sulfaro, the owner of a shoe repair shop in Roxbury. The defense investigation showed the witness identification of Gaines was "...the result of unduly suggestive police procedures". Errors included multiple viewings of photo arrays; police telling a witness he "picked the wrong people" - and then showing the same array with only the new suspects added. Newly discovered Brady material including Boston police records showing Det. Peter O'Malley arrested "drug shooting gallery" operator David Bass even while securing Bass's false affidavit (Bass faced criminal charges even while testifying against Gaines). Bass himself later recanted his testimony against Gaines in 1990. "The Commonwealth did not disclose the Bass affidavit for nearly 30 years--despite its obligation to do so."


Throwing the bolt: When due diligence is too late

What industry is most ignorant about background checks, even for high level hires? For me, it continues to be boutique merchants & restaurants. They love to rely on "insider industry knowledge" when hiring. Even when hiring top level manager, executive chefs, CFOs, they refuse to do a basic background check and look at criminal record, civil litigation, agency hearings, or license violations.

We usually see these kinds of clients paying for post-facto due diligence— defending a lawsuit, sexual harassment cases, fraud, vendor theft, etc. It is like a rancher throwing the bolt on the barn door the morning after a prized horse ran off.


As a business owner, you should consider what signals you are sending to a new employee by not doing background checks. No, it is not "making things easy" for a new hire, even during an economic times where employees are in great demand. You are signaling that taking shortcuts is acceptable in your business. That you accept less than someone's best efforts. Employees accustomed to more professional employers will notice that you are not doing those things. Is that the impression you want to make on your employees?

Protect yourself and show your business.

Arc of Justice awarded to James Watson team...

The New England Innocence Project awarded the Arc of Justice to team of investigators and lawyers (John Nardizzi, Jill Vaglica, Barbara Munro and Madeline Blanchette) who worked to free James J. Watson, the second man convicted for the 1979 murder of Jeffrey Boyajian of Swampscott. His conviction was formally overturned on November 5, 2020. Watson served more than 41 years in prison for a crime that he did not commit. Here is a video documenting this incredible story.

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Subcontracting work - investigations

Recently I posed a question on Twitter about working as a subcontractor for other PI firms "When out-of- state / country firms call at the 11th hour looking for help, and add that they usually get a "professional courtesy" discount, what is your take? Who is doing who the favor here? Curious on expectations.

Results were interesting. The Mencken Of The Mekong, @DarrylDaugherty put it well: Keyword: courtesy. They’re seeking to derange your operational schedule which is discourteous.

Mike Lantz @PaladinMikeL had a similar take: Generally if we reach out to a firm for some last minute help we offer to pay a premium because it’s last minute and we appreciate the courtesy of the help in the first place!

Cath @drowsygeek also chimed in with her usual humor and insight:

If someone contacts me and the second thing out of their mouth is "professional courtesy discount", they're liable to get the usual double fee for emergency services instead.

No. Just no. Hell no.

And for a different take, @anonymouspi pointed out that there are quite successful business models that do offer a courtesy rate and are upfront about that from the beginning as they cater to this kind of work:

Well, that's pretty much all my work, and I do have a preferential rate for other agencies. BUT my rates are STARTING points for billing, I add additional fees for urgency, inconvenience etc etc. It's still going to be less than I'd charge a private client coming to me


I think the key with subcontracting work out in the investigative industry is to build a roster of solid subcontractors. Make sure expectations on billing rates and quality are under agreement and understood by all. Don't call new firms hinting you expect a discount. If you are making money on a case in other ways, and need work done quickly in a distant state or country, the subcontracting firm is doing you the favor—expect to pay full freight. Never put profits over quality.

Hunt for Justice - Intermountain PI Podcast

Great to be in conversation with my friend, acclaimed PI Scott Fulmer, on his excellent podcast series, Intermountain PI Podcast, recorded from the crossroads of the west in historic Salt Lake City. We talked about my team's two recent exonerations of Gary Cifizzari and James Watson. As he writes: "We go from Boston to San Francisco’s Tenderloin District on a hunt for justice with private eye John Nardizzi. We make a brief pit stop afterwards and discuss his first boss, the legendary PI Jack Palladino who was senselessly killed recently. Plus, we look at Telegraph Hill, the critically acclaimed neo-noir mystery John wrote featuring fictional private eye, Ray Infantino."

It is OVER - James Watson Free After 41 Years

61-year-old James J. Watson, the second man convicted for the 1979 murder of Jeffrey Boyajian of Swampscott, had his conviction overturned on November 5, 2020. Watson served more than 41 years in prison for a crime that he did not commit. Here is a video with interviews of James and his lawyers and investigators.


Although Watson was serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole, he had been released from prison in April 2020 due to the strength of his wrongful conviction claims and the danger he faced of developing severe illness due to coronavirus. But the final court hearing on his murder conviction remained.

Then Watson's legal team got the news—it was over. Watson's conviction was overturned and prosecutors dismissed all charges against him. Watson's family and legal team met at his sister's apartment and planned a surprise party to break the news.

Watson's investigator, John Nardizzi of Nahant, devised a plan to get Watson out of the house for a few hours. On an unseasonably warm November afternoon, Nardizzi took Watson and his son, Donjuan Moses, shopping for clothes. They selected a lavender shirt to go with Watson's new custom suit. “I don't recognize that man,” joked Watson as he looked in the mirror at his new outfit, a decided upgrade from prison garb. “I could take Biden's job.”

When Watson came home, the surprise party was joyous as the family and legal team celebrated and sipped champagne. "All that matters to me is I get to comfort my dad now and do things with my dad now," said Moses.

Nardizzi and his team conducted critical investigation into the case, securing key affidavits from several witnesses. A Suffolk Superior Court judge cited evidence and "questions raised in this case of: hypnosis of identification witnesses . . and the potential testimony, rewards, and inducements of a highly inculpatory trial witness.”

Watson’s co-defendant, Frederick Clay, was exonerated 3 years ago after serving 38 years behind bars for the killing of Boyajian, a crime he maintained for decades he did not commit. But Watson's case lingered until a legal team came together to exonerate him.

"Jimmy Watson has a special strength to make it this far with mind, body and soul intact," said Nardizzi. He credited staff investigator Jill Vaglica with conducting several important witness interviews in the Watson case. "These cases are incredibly difficult to win and require a dedicated team of investigators, lawyers and experts. We had that team here. We are all thrilled for the Watson family," said Nardizzi.

Watson's attorney, Barbara Munro, said. “The greatest injustice is to take an innocent man away from his son and family," "This could have been prevented here if the then-prosecutor had not withheld from the defense the fact that the eyewitnesses were hypnotized prior to their identifications of Mr. Watson, rendering them unreliable.”

Co-counsel Madeline Blanchette added, “It is impossible to undo the intergenerational trauma that this wrongful conviction inflicted on Mr. Watson and his family, but his exoneration now means that there is still opportunity for healing,"

Watson’s co-defendant, Frederick Clay, was exonerated 3 years ago after serving 38 years behind bars for the killing of Boyajian, a crime he maintained for decades he did not commit.

Watson’s case was supported by Radha Natarajan, Director of the New England Innocence Project. Kristin Dame, Director of Private Social Work Services at the Committee for Public Counsel Services, provided reentry support services to Watson.

Dr. Mary Bassett of The Sentencing Project and Katharine Naples-Mitchell of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School also filed an amicus brief in support of Watson.

Who says there are limits?

Who says there are limits? Limits on what you achieve? With friend & client Victor Rosario, free after 32 years; Tony Mazza, free after 47 years. Truth, faith, strength, hope ... Outlast the injustice.

By the way, Victor makes handmade wood cat boxes, call us to order one from him.


ruby the defender

James Watson is coming home - motion for new trial πŸ₯ŠπŸ₯ŠπŸ₯ŠπŸ™πŸΌπŸ™πŸΌπŸ™πŸΌ

61-year-old James Watson was released from MCI-Norfolk last Thursday after serving more than 41 years in prison for a crime that he did not commit. Nardizzi & Associates Inc. conducted critical investigation into the case, securing key affidavits from several witnesses. A Suffolk Superior Court judge credited the investigation with "questions raised in this case of hypnosis of identification witnesses" and "the potential testimony, rewards, and inducements of a highly inculpatory trial witness, [which] raise significant and potentially successful issues." The Suffolk Superior Court issued an order on April 16 allowing Watson to be released from prison while his motion for a new trial is considered. The request was not opposed by Suffolk County DA Rollins’s office.

"Jimmy Watson has a special strength to make it this far with mind, body and soul intact," said Nardizzi, whose investigations firm whose investigations firm has helped free 5 clients in the past year after long prison sentences. He credited staff investigator Jill Vaglica with conducting several important witness interviews in the Watson case. "These cases are incredibly difficult to win and require a dedicated team of PIs and lawyers and experts. We're thrilled for the Watson family," said Nardizzi.

Watson also noted the urgency needed in his release due to his medical conditions and age. The factors put him at risk of severe illness and death due to the coronavirus pandemic. Watson was convicted in 1984 of murdering taxi driver Jeffrey Boyajian in Roslindale. He has maintained his innocence since his arrest in 1979, attorneys Barbara Munro and Madeline Blanchette said in a statement. “We are grateful to the court for making it possible for Mr. Watson to be released to seek the urgent medical care he needs,” Munro said in the statement. “What a gift and a privilege to witness this amazing man walk out of prison after 40 years, with his sense of humor and compassion for others still intact.”

The case against Frederick Clay, Watson’s codefendant, was vacated three years ago after former Suffolk District Attorney Dan Conley’s office "raised significant doubt as to the fairness of his trial." Hypnosis had been used to aid witnesses in Clay's trial as well. The practice is not considered a reliable scientific technique in aiding witness memory.

Watson's legal team will continue to work to exonerate him in the coming months as the state conducts an investigation into his case. Watson will spend time out of prison “regaining his health and rebuilding his life after decades of separation from his beloved family,” the attorneys’ statement said.
“I have waited 40 years already, so waiting a few more months is easy. The truth will set me free,” Watson said in the statement.

Jimmy Waton freedomday 2020

Massachusetts court research - criminal records

With access to court records curtailed, we are finding new ways to get clients the information they need… Facts are lonely things, so don't keep your distance.Call anytime to get your investigation underway (781) 596-8200.

"The powerful play goes on..."

"The powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse."

- Walt Whitman


Fantastic Beasts of the Background Check World: the "national criminal search"

Every investigator gets phone calls like this. The tone excited, the tenor demanding. How can you, sir, charge so much money for a background check when other firms offer "national criminal record checks" for $24.95?

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Our response is: Do you want to buy a griffin? A hippogriff (half-horse, half-eagle, 100% fantasy)? Time to review Fantastic Beasts of the background check world.

The national criminal check is a myth. What constitutes a “national criminal check” or “nationwide employment criminal background” as the product is often described? Usually, the firm offering this search is checking a compilation of conviction data--people who actually were sentenced to prison. However, only a very small percentage of people charged with crimes ever do any prison time. National offender databases are misleading: they miss charges that have been pled out, dismissed, not prosecuted (nolle prosequi, the legal term of art meaning the prosecutor is unwilling for some reason to pursue the case).

How do you actually check for Criminal Records?

Everyone is familiar with scenes from movies where a law enforcement agent runs a quick database check and gets an entire criminal history in seconds. In real life, things tend to be a bit more convoluted.

One database used by law enforcement is the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and it is
typically limited only to law enforcement. While the closest thing to a national criminal records database, even NCIC data is riddled with gaps, with as many as 50% of all criminal cases failing to hit the database. So how do you proceed to check a person for crimes committed across 50 states in the USA?

Convictions data is a start but we always go back to the primary sources of criminal records: the state court system. On the state side, this means searching a higher court (Superior Court) that handles major crimes in a particular county, as well as lower courts with more limited jurisdiction. These courts are called district courts or municipal courts. Don’t make the mistake of skipping this step as district courts can hear cases involving serious criminal matters; for example in Massachusetts, some felony cases are found in district court. And access to the dockets still remains mixed: Massachusetts still keeps criminal records off the internet; you need to look at the index in the court.

And on the federal side, you will be checking for criminal cases in the national PACER system.

So just beware when you are conducting a criminal background check for employment or any other purpose: to do it right, the investigator may need to leave the office and review records ((paper or database) at the courthouse. Be certain that you are buying more than the fantastic beast of a "national criminal check" which is usually just convictions data.

Thank you to clients & contractors who made 2019 our best year ever!

πŸ™πŸΌ to clients & contractors who made 2019 our best year ever. From the exoneration of Gary Cifizzari, to getting charges dropped against Kevin Spacey, to consulting on exonerations of Curtis Flowers and Rickey Birch - 2019 is a year to savor!πŸ₯‚

Private colleges, cross examination and sexual misconduct investigations

To meet standard of “basic fairness” under state law, do private colleges have to provide opportunity for cross examination as part of a sexual misconduct investigation?

The 1st Circuit held: NO - Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has made it clear [Schaer v. Brandeis in 2000] that private colleges are not required to comply with federal due process to provide basic fairness to students in disciplinary investigations such as an opportunity to cross examine witnesses. Judge Lynch wrote: "BC is not a public university or a government actor and is not subject to due process requirements.”

It is over: Murder charges dropped on Cifizzari case

It is over. Murder charge were dropped against Gary Cifizzari in killing of his 75-year-old great-aunt in Milford 40 years ago. Thank you to all the people who cooperated in the investigation to clear our client’s name - 35 years later.

Incredible night: client & friend Victor Rosario shared his story of surviving 32 years in prison

Incredible night at NEIP fundraiser: client & friend Victor Rosario shared his story of surviving 32 years in prison as an innocent man. His body was captive behind a wall, but his mind was free to go beyond the wall. Strongest man I know.

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John Nardizzi presented at WAD 94th Annual Conference Stockholm Sweden

John Nardizzi spoke about wrongful convictions at the World Association of Detectives 94th Annual Conference in Stockholm, Sweden. Headcount of raucous crowd shows Mr. Nardizzi outdrew ABBA tribute band.

Breaking up is never easy, I know, But I have to go
Knowing me, knowing you It's the best I can do…"


What does a PI do on a DNA case?

The Gary Cifizzari case is one of the most satisfying professionally speaking. An innocent man goes free at last. Got lots of queries about what a PI does on a DNA case... Interviews— cases are about storytelling. Put flesh & bones on the real killer— he was at the scene, knew victim, long history of uncontrollable violence. A life of deception.

Cifizzari press conf

Breaking news - Worcester Superior Court - Hit on a DNA sample in 1979 murder case,

Breaking news - Worcester Superior Court: Hit on a DNA sample in 1979 murder case. The New England Innocence Project, assisted by investigators at Nardizzi & Associates Inc., announced Friday they are seeking Gary Cifizzari’s release pending a new trial after DNA evidence linked a deceased Rhode Island man to the murder of Constance Schiappa in 1979.

DNA matched that of Michael J. Giroux, an Army veteran who was drinking at a bar just minutes away from Schiappa's apartment in downtown Milford on the night of the murder. Nardizzi's investigation revealed that Giroux went on to lead a life of deceit— a bank robber and conman who committed crimes throughout his life, including murder, armed robbery, and who stole money from friends and family. Moreover, Giroux was also a State Police and FBI informant. He was interviewed by police just days after the murder of Mrs. Schiappa. Police missed signs of Giroux's culpability and instead focused on the Cifizzari brothers, Gary and Michael.