Family of beating victim speaks out

February 24, 2009 2:43:53 PM PST
The family of a 71-year-old man, who police say was beaten to death by his neighbor, is speaking out.It happened Monday night on Anchor Street in the Frankford section of Philadelphia.

Police say, for reasons still unknown, 44-year-old Michael Bocchinfuso severly beat 71-year-old Dallas Custalo with a trash can, a shovel, and other household items. The elderly man later died from his injuries.

"My uncle opened the door to see what was happening and the guy started attacking my uncle in his own home," said Sheryl Ross, the victim's niece.

Ross says her Custalo, her uncle, opened the door after hearing Bocchinfuso in distress around 8:00 p.m.

"As soon as my uncle opened the door he started beating him," Ross said.

Neighbors can't believe anyone would hurt the man called "Chief," who is known for his kindness and generosity.

Debra Wagner, also a niece who lives with Custalo, saw the attack and called 911.

When the onslaught ended relatives helped Custalo inside.

"I asked him 'Are you hurt?' And he said no. I came to shut the door. Brittany screamed and his eyes started rolling, he was trembling and couldn't breathe," Wagner said.

Castalo later died.

"You just get a sick feeling in your stomach," said niece Jaimie Murray. "I've just been crying ever since because he's such a good man."

Custalo reportedly helped Bocchinfuso over the years.

He barricaded himself inside his home until the police SWAT team coaxed him out.

Neighbors describe him as a "recluse with issues," but it's not clear what sparked the violent outburst between the two men who until now had been friendly.

"We don't know what sparked this. It's, all of a sudden [Bocchinfuso] knocked on his door, without any provocation, any words, nothing was said, he just assaulted the 71-year-old," said Det. James Clark of the Philadelphia Police.

Boccinfuso will be charged with murder. He and Custalo had been neighbors for about 20 years.

Custalo is a father, a former roofer, and lifted weights to stay in shape.

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