DNA Talks and Del Brocco’s Killer is Found
Two years after Sam Del Brocco's brutally beaten body was discovered in his exclusive Pompano Beach condominium, friends of the millionaire communications executive from Virginia did not give up hope his killer would be caught.
They offered rewards of $25,000 and took out full-page ads here in the South Florida Gay News. But it was technology that eventually caught up with the beast who took this gentle man's life.
When John Snavely was only 23 years old, he was dancing at Dude's on A1A and stripping at the Boardwalk in Fort Lauderdale. He was also supporting himself as a model for a local porn group, Bailee Entertainment, and doing straight and gay videos under the names of Johnny Champ and Josh Logan. Muscular, strong and virile, he was a hot model. But it turned out he was also a cold-blooded killer.
When homicide detectives arrived on the scene of Del Brocco's condo in September of 2010, they found a plethora of physical evidence, from partial fingerprints to tangible DNA samples. Thoroughly, they ran samples through the national system that matches these kinds of things, but came up short. There were no hits.
On June 13 of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a hotly contested 5-4 decision that the U.S. Constitution does not prohibit states from building large DNA databases by collecting samples from everyone arrested for serious crimes.
Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy called the taking of a cheek swab from arrestees "a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment."
His opinion argued that the testing could be justified as a means of confirming the identification of suspects. Normally a conservative on law enforcement issues, Justice Antonin Scalia bitterly dissented. But it was that practice which enabled law enforcement to find and arrest Snavely, who had been living in Miami.
It seems that Snavely and some girl he hooked up with ran into a problem up in St. Lucie County, Florida, and it led to his arrest in early 2013. Cops caught him with some meth, Valium and cannabis.
Police booking him into the jail in Stuart took samples of his DNA, which had never before been in a national database. The samples got run through the national system and came back with a hit to the murder scene in Pompano from 2010, when Snavely was working the streets and bars of Broward County. Once also on probation in San Antonio, Texas, back in 2010, apparently that criminal history also preceded DNA testing.
Finding the killer's identity was also complicated by the victim's secretive lifestyle. Del Brocco's male encounters were all closeted and secret, and his night time rendezvous in gay clubs, like his trips to South Florida, were routinely paid for in cash. He did not want to be discovered. He had just finished a dinner eating alone at Kelley's Landing in Fort Lauderdale, leading police to conclude early on he may have picked up a hitchhiker, one he invited back into his home - a fatal mistake.
Detectives investigating Del Brocco's past found out that he kept many of these possible homosexual alliances private, leading an entirely different life in Alexandria, Virginia, where his known associations featured a long-time female social companion, Jan Shaffer, his wife of 30 years. They shared a 6,000 square foot home with a section cordoned off just for Del Brocco.
Despite that, the bulk of Del Brocco's estate, it turns out, was left in trust for Justin DeVinney, a younger, male business associate at his company, PCI Communications. DeVinney, who himself was once a nude male model doing porn, was purported to be Del Brocco's secret lover. But he considered Del Brocco his mentor.
Del Brocco lived on Windsor Avenue in Alexandria for many years, where he was very popular with his neighbors. Prior to his death, he had just bought a home in the Fort Hunt neighborhood of Fairfax County and moved there.
One neighbor, Brian Davis, recalled Del Brocco as a "well-liked person" who was always polite, a man "who would bring cookies at Christmas and always had a kind word."
During his life, he recorded three record albums; made dozens of national television appearances, and performed live with his eight-piece band in hotels and resorts from Miami's Fontainebleau to Caesar's in Atlantic City. He co-founded PCI Communications in 1986 with his then-musical director/keyboard player Bob Sprague. It grew into a successful seven-figure enterprise.
The 60-year-old businessman began his professional career as a school psychologist, developing crisis management and training programs for school administrators and teachers during the tumultuous years of public school desegregation in Maryland.
After two years, the investigation into his death stalled. No leads at all, and it led neighbors to call SFGN and the local media to complain that the Broward Sheriff's Office was not doing enough.
At the time, one of Del Brocco's pals, Jackson Bain complained "Many of us who have known Sam a long time have concerns about the case and what the detectives may be overlooking."
The homicide was featured on WSVN in 2011, and TV correspondent Ted Scouten of WFOR published a second update in 2012. BSO then turned the case over to a second set of homicide investigators.
It was BSO Detective John Curcio who made the arrest last week. "Technology caught up to him," the detective said. "We always had the physical evidence. We just needed to find a match."
The 26 year old is charged with second-degree murder. It suggests that it was not a premeditated act, but may have occurred after an argument over money or sex, and was spontaneous. It suggests that he may have confessed to law enforcement about how the murder went down.
Ironically, on October 6, 2010, less than a month after the murder, Snavely was reamed for having violent tendencies by a porn blogger at the site thedirty.com. It read:
'here is John Snavely aka Champ aka Josh Logan, famous forgy pornstar who also does straight porn to try and cover his forgy tracks. He is a felon who actually lives in San Antonio and is on probation but flies into miami to film his porn on a weekly. He would be in jail in a heartbeat if they knew this. Also he is a woman harasser and beater...this guy thinks he is god's gift to women and treats them like sh*t when he gets dissed by them, he acts like a complete psycho.'
Today, if you are booked on a simple felony, police take your DNA. They will store and stack it forever, and while it has proven successful in releasing over a hundred inmates from death row who were wrongly convicted, that same technology may now rightly arrest and justly convict those who have wrongly escaped justice for too long.
Meet Mr. Snavely, AKA, Josh Logan, a killer caught by life in the 21st century, where your picture is taken at every corner and there is no longer any place to hide.