They buried the body in the cemetery, dumping it in a crypt that belonged to someone who had died decades earlier.
And it might not have been the first time.
That’s just one of the macabre twists in the ongoing murder investigation of Keith Palumbo whose remains were found in a crypt in the historic Mount Mariah Cemetery in Southwest Philadelphia back in April. Palumbo, an artist and musician, had been shot in the head.
Authorities believe his murder is linked to a dispute with some members of the Warlocks, a notorious local motorcycle gang active in Philadelphia and Chester and Delaware Counties. What’s more, it appears the biker gang has been using the cemetery, which dates back to the 1850s and has been closed to the public since 2011, as a dumping ground.
The body of an alleged Warlock associate who had been killed earlier was also found in the crypt where Palumbo had been dumped. Authorities are now wondering whether the remains of other victims have been scattered around the sprawling 200-acre cemetery located off Kingsessing Avenue and Cobbs Creek Parkway.
Dracula meets the Sons of Anarchy
Palumbo, 36, was described as a gifted musician and artist. He worked in a tattoo parlor, played in a heavy metal band (guitar, drums and vocals) and rode a motorcycle. He was not, family members insist, a Warlocks member or recruit, but knew many members of the biker club, including Michael DeLuca., a Warlocks leader now accused of killing him.
“He didn’t deserve this,” said a family member shortly after Palumbo’s body was discovered by police. “He never hurt anyone.”
The shooting may be related to a dispute over an ongoing drug investigation and allegations that Palumbo was cooperating with authorities. Family members say that Palumbo was not cooperating, but that others whom he knew might have been.
He was last seen on February 6 and was reported missing four days later. One family member said Palumbo told friends and relatives that if anything ever happened, they should look for him in Mount Mariah. His family hired a private investigator and their dogged determination led to the police investigation and the recovery of his body.
Three individuals have been arrested in the murder investigation, including DeLuca, 38, the reputed president of the Chester County chapter of the Warlocks and a boyhood friend of Palumbo’s.
“They grew up together,” said a Palumbo family member. “They’ve known each other since grammar school.”
Both men were from Drexel Hill.
DeLuca, whose shaved head and neck are covered in tattoos, was arrested in Cheyenne, Wyoming, a day before Palumbo’s body was discovered on April 3. He was driving a black Cadillac with an expired registration when police pulled him over. They discovered a loaded .40 caliber pistol under the driver’s seat of the car.
DeLuca, who had served nearly seven years for shooting his girlfriend in the head in 2013, was charged with possession of a weapon by a felon. That charge is pending in Laramie County, WY, where he is being held. Philadelphia authorities have charged him with murder, conspiracy and abuse of a corpse and have filed extradition papers that will eventually bring him back to this area.
Two others have been charged with conspiracy and abuse of a corpse, including Donna Morelli, whose late husband was once a leader of the Warlocks and whose home in the 6400 block of Trinity Street is adjacent to the cemetery.
Police believe Palumbo was lured to a meeting with DeLuca where he was killed. Based on what appears to be information supplied by at least one, and possibly two, cooperators authorities said Palumbo went to an apartment in the 7000 block of Woodland Avenue to meet with DeLuca.
The two-story apartment building, according to real estate records, is owned by the motorcycle club. DeLuca was living in the first-floor unit and it was there, police allege, that he shot Palumbo in the face.
The apartment is about ten blocks from the cemetery. Morelli is said to have supplied the pickup truck that DeLuca and another Warlock associate, William Gibson, 47, used transport Palumbo’s body to Mount Mariah. Gibson, like Morelli, has been charged with conspiracy and abuse of a corpse.
How DeLuca and Gibson were able to open and then close the crypt—its entrance is a thick stone slab that weighs several hundred pounds—remains one of the many unanswered questions in the investigation. The second body found with Palumbo’s would seem to indicate that the crypt had been opened and closed at least one other time. This has sparked speculation that other burial sites—crypts and tombs that house the remains of Civil War veterans, medal of honor recipients and city dignitaries and celebrities—have been used to dispose of Warlock victims in the past.
While the Warlocks don’t have the national reputation and underworld cache of bigger clubs like the Hells Angels, Outlaws, Bandidos and Pagans, the organization has always been as notorious and violent as those better-known clubs.
Retired Upper Darby Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood told the Philadelphia Inquirer back in May that the Warlocks were “violent predators.” One of the more infamous was the late Robert “Mudman” Simon who killed a Franklin Township police sergeant in Franklinville, NJ, in 1995.
Simon, originally from Darby and believed to be one of the founders of the Warlocks, had been released from prison after serving more than 12 years for the shooting murder of his young girlfriend after she refused his order to have sex with several members of the club. Simon had been paroled for just 11 weeks when he shot Franklin Township police sergeant Ippolito “Lee” Gonzalez who was investigating a burglary that Simon had taken part in.
Simon was sentenced to die for that murder but never made it to the gas chamber. He was stomped to death by another death row inmate.
DeLuca, it would appear, is following in Mudman’s footsteps.
Like Simon, he had been jailed for shooting his young girlfriend. This occurred back in 2013 in an apartment they shared in Upper Darby. According to media reports, DeLuca claimed it was an accident, that he and his girlfriend were smoking pot when his gun accidentally went off. He said they were sharing a bowl of marijuana at the time and that he was trying to come down from a high after snorting some meth.
Police, however, listed the shooting as an attempted murder tied to a domestic dispute. Authorities said neighbors reported hearing an argument in the apartment before the shooting. They also told police they heard DeLuca hollering after the shot was fired, “Get up. You know I love you.”
DeLuca eventually pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and was sentenced to seven years in prison. His girlfriend, unlike Simon’s, survived. The shootings are a reflection of the biker underworld in which both Warlocks operated; a world of violence, drugs and misogyny.
Keith Palumbo, like Lee Gonzalez, got caught in the middle of that maelstrom.
Little has changed in 25 years.
That fact is underscored by the large black initials tattooed across the front of DeLuca’s neck—SSDD.
Same S–t, Different Day.