Murder Sheet

The Killing at the Cattle Car: The Unsolved Murder of Emile Zaniboni

February 16, 2021 Mystery Sheet Season 1 Episode 14
Murder Sheet
The Killing at the Cattle Car: The Unsolved Murder of Emile Zaniboni
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Murder Sheet
The Killing at the Cattle Car: The Unsolved Murder of Emile Zaniboni
Feb 16, 2021 Season 1 Episode 14
Mystery Sheet

Emile "Bob" Zaniboni never came home one cold winter's night, over half a century ago. The next morning, his family discovered him murdered in the Cattle Car Restaurant he owned and operated alongside New York State Route 22, between Pawling and Wingdale. He'd been shot three times with a .22 caliber weapon, and his restaurant had been ransacked.

To this day, the crime remains unsolved. 

In this episode, the Murder Sheet takes a closer look at this cold case. We also speak with Abbott Brant, who covered the crime as part of the Poughkeepsie Journal's deep dive into area cold cases. 
 
Read Abbott's reporting here: 

  • The Zaniboni case: https://www.poughkeepsiejournal.com/story/news/local/southern-dutchess/2017/01/24/police-seek-clues-1971-pawling-homicide-cold-case/96987956/
  • The Wingdale gas station murder: https://www.poughkeepsiejournal.com/story/news/2017/08/22/cold-case-wingdale-man-found-dead-wappinger-gas-station-45-years-ago/589190001/

Read Rasheed Oluwa's article for the Poughkeepsie Journal here:

  • https://www.newspapers.com/newspage/114945117/

Other sources include:

  • The Poughkeepsie Journal (Jan. 11, 1971)
  • The Kingston Daily Freeman (Jan. 11, 1971)
  • The Troy Record (Jan. 11, 1971)
  • The Poughkeepsie Journal (Jan. 17, 1971) 
  • The Berkshire Eagle (August 8, 1998)
  • The Berkshire Eagle (July 16, 2008)

If you have any information on the Zaniboni case, please call the New York State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation in Dover at (845)-677-7300 or (845)-877-3660. Please refer to SJS # 3025018. Your call can be kept confidential. 

Follow the Murder Sheet on social media for the latest.

And send tips and thoughts to [email protected] 


Show Notes Transcript

Emile "Bob" Zaniboni never came home one cold winter's night, over half a century ago. The next morning, his family discovered him murdered in the Cattle Car Restaurant he owned and operated alongside New York State Route 22, between Pawling and Wingdale. He'd been shot three times with a .22 caliber weapon, and his restaurant had been ransacked.

To this day, the crime remains unsolved. 

In this episode, the Murder Sheet takes a closer look at this cold case. We also speak with Abbott Brant, who covered the crime as part of the Poughkeepsie Journal's deep dive into area cold cases. 
 
Read Abbott's reporting here: 

  • The Zaniboni case: https://www.poughkeepsiejournal.com/story/news/local/southern-dutchess/2017/01/24/police-seek-clues-1971-pawling-homicide-cold-case/96987956/
  • The Wingdale gas station murder: https://www.poughkeepsiejournal.com/story/news/2017/08/22/cold-case-wingdale-man-found-dead-wappinger-gas-station-45-years-ago/589190001/

Read Rasheed Oluwa's article for the Poughkeepsie Journal here:

  • https://www.newspapers.com/newspage/114945117/

Other sources include:

  • The Poughkeepsie Journal (Jan. 11, 1971)
  • The Kingston Daily Freeman (Jan. 11, 1971)
  • The Troy Record (Jan. 11, 1971)
  • The Poughkeepsie Journal (Jan. 17, 1971) 
  • The Berkshire Eagle (August 8, 1998)
  • The Berkshire Eagle (July 16, 2008)

If you have any information on the Zaniboni case, please call the New York State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation in Dover at (845)-677-7300 or (845)-877-3660. Please refer to SJS # 3025018. Your call can be kept confidential. 

Follow the Murder Sheet on social media for the latest.

And send tips and thoughts to [email protected] 


Áine Cain: New York State Route 22 cuts past a lonely spot in Dutchess County. The day we visited, a brisk afternoon in late January, the sky was a deep blue. A hardened layer of snow clung to the ground all around us. Across the way, a field stretched up into a forested crest. 

We’d driven over an hour to reach this place, without any certainty that we’d find it. A search of Newspapers.com only revealed that the Cattle Car Restaurant sat somewhere between Wingdale and Pawling along Route 22. That was too vague for our navigational abilities, so we dug deeper. Sitting in our apartment in Brooklyn, I plopped myself onto the Pawling border using Street View on Google Maps. Then it was just a matter of dashing along Route 22 for what felt like a hundred clicks. I zoomed until I saw a small building. The low-slung structure looked familiar, like it might be the same one captured in the black-and-white photo of the Cattle Car Restaurant, the only snapshot of the eatery I could find online. 

Kevin and I weren’t sure it was the right place until we got there, though. It looked quite different, after all. Today, it’s a landscaping business. Out front, it’s got a sign, flagpoles, and a frozen, walled-in pond — a testament to the proprietor’s craftsmanship. 

Kevin Greenlee: But if you stand across the street, you can glimpse the ridge of trees in the distance behind the building, the criss-cross of the electrical wires. 

Áine Cain: You can see the Cattle Car. A changed building, but the same place shown in the old photo. This is the place where 49-year-old Emile R. Zaniboni was murdered. He died in this lonely spot on a dark winter’s night half a century ago. And, to this day, no one knows why.

Ominous music plays.

Áine Cain: My name is Áine Cain.

Kevin Greenlee: And I’m Kevin Greenlee.

Áine Cain: And this is the Murder Sheet, a weekly true crime podcast. 

Kevin Greenlee: Áine and I connected over the Burger Chef murders, a 1978 unsolved case involving the killings of four young restaurant employees. 

Áine Cain: Now we’re looking to track restaurant homicides. To help us understand the patterns of these crimes, we created a spreadsheet of nearly 1,000 eatery-related killings: The Murder Sheet. 

Áine Cain: We’ll be drawing on that data throughout season one to give you a deep dive into under-covered crimes. 

Kevin Greenlee: We don’t just rely on skimming the headlines. We dive into these cases to bring you in-depth coverage. 

Áine Cain: We’re the Murder Sheet, and this is “The Killing at Cattle Car: The Unsolved Murder of Emile Zaniboni.” 

Eerie music plays:

Kevin Greenlee: At around 10:30 p.m. on January 9, 1971, an employee of the Cattle Car Restaurant on Route 22 clocked out. They left behind their boss, Emile Zaniboni, cleaning the bar. During the offseason in the winter, Zaniboni — who went by Bob — usually tended the eatery’s watering hole. That’s the version of the story put out now, but in 2003 a Poughkeepsie Journal article had more details: Zaniboni, a waitress, and a cook served a late dinner party. The last customer cleared off around 10:20 p.m., and the waitress and the cook left as well.

Either way, Zaniboni was last seen around 10:30 p.m.

Áine Cain: "He hadn't come home that night and that just wasn't like him,” his daughter Malda told Poughkeepsie Journal reporter Rasheed Oluwa back in 2003.

The next morning, the 18-year-old Malda and her mother Dorthy left the family’s nearby River Road house and arrived at the restaurant around 7:30 a.m. The inside was a mess, bar stools toppled; coin boxes torn from the jukebox and the cigarette machine. And then Dorothy started crying. 

Kevin Greenlee: Zaniboni was still in the ransacked restaurant, dead near the bar. He’d been shot three times in the torso, including once in the heart. The weapon was a .22 caliber firearm, although whether it was a rifle or a pistol is not clear. New York State Police responded to the call, and have been working the unsolved case ever since. 

Áine Cain: Here’s Abbott Brant, who covered the case as a journalist for the Poughkeepsie Journal. Abbott recently did a Zoom interview with us about what it was like to report on a nearly 50-year-old cold case, and how the Hudson Valley community reacted.

Abbott Brant: I think people were just shocked. But there were also some people who were like — "I remember this." Older people, of course. I think people love cold cases but I think when it happens in your area there's kind of this conflicting thing where you're like "I'm so interested in this but I'm so upset for my community that had to endure this." And  I think that  there was almost a level of frustration where people were like "you know, oh, I lived in that area" because you of course you read the comments, you've got to read the comments,  and people were like "oh, I lived in that area and I remember the restaurant but X Y Z. I wish I had heard something." And it's like it's so long ago. But at the end of the day that's what you hope. You hope that someone for some reason was there in proximity to the restaurant and had heard something and was able to help. That's why you do it.  I definitely feel that sometimes people wish they could do more. It is very upsetting and it's crazy because I think if anyone had a loved one murdered and to deal with that for 50 years at this point. It's crazy. 

Kevin Greenlee: Abbott previously worked for the Poughkeepsie Journal — the second oldest newspaper in the United States, which serves the Hudson Valley region. She was a breaking news reporter, covering everything from traffic snarls, weather updates, local human interest features, and, of course, the crime beat. 

Áine Cain: Despite her busy schedule, she found herself drawn to cover the region’s cold cases. At that time, state police were starting to feature crimes on social media as part of a Cold Case Tuesday program, in a bid to drum up leads.

Abbott Brant: In many instances these cases were decades old and that information never had the opportunity to reach the number of people in the area that it could reach today had the internet and social platforms been present. So the idea just being that even though this particular case had happened almost 50 years ago at the time it may just take a photo or one description for one person to be like, "Hey I saw something that night." I knew that many people who live in Duchess County had lived there for a long time so even though they might not have a direct connection to the case maybe they recalled hearing something about it years ago or just found a cold case in their county to be interesting.  

Kevin Greenlee: Brant got to work looking into the cold cases herself, leveraging the Poughkeepsie Journal’s archives in her own reporting. Perhaps her interest wasn’t too surprising, given the fact she is the daughter of a detective. 

Abbott Brant: What I had done was take the information in the original release they had provided and began looking through our digital archives which- thank God someone had had the foresight to put all those archives digitally, years and years. I believe the Poughkeepsie Journal is the second oldest newspaper in the country so there's a lot of material. And some of our tangible archives I looked at- which were stored away in the Journal basement. Just to see what I could find in terms of original reporting on the incident and what the police said at that time. That way when I did reach out to the police about any additional information they might be able to provide or be willing to provide I could say "We know X Y Z was found at the crime scene. The original report said such and such. Is there anything you could add on to this? Or is there anything else that has changed?" Because often times you can go in blind or say "tell me what I need to know" and they'll say "Well, we did. We sent you the press release." Especially with an agency like the State Police what they put out to the media and ultimately the public is very deliberate and purposeful. So being able to do that kind of archival research into previous reporting and police statements allows us to bring a little more life and context into the story. The more you can connect people to the story and what actually happened the more invested they'll be in the case and its ability to be solved. So that's kind of important to me to find any pieces I could that weren't being provided by police and use them to kind of flush out what happened that night. 

Áine Cain: Speaking with Abbott for the show, we all agreed that it’s a weird crime. Some facts seem to point to a stranger killing. Others point to someone much closer.

Kevin Greenlee: In the stranger category, you can put the location. The restaurant was isolated. The perfect target for a robbery, from what we could see.

Abbott Brant: But then you think: "Well, if I'm a smart criminal where would I go to commit a crime?" Probably where there's not a lot of people around and if I know this is a restaurant that does well maybe I will go there. 

Áine Cain: And it’s not as if the Cattle Car was completely secluded. It’s situated just off the Appalachian Trail, a popular marked hiking trail that follows the East Coast between Georgia and Maine. Pawling and Wingdale both have their own Metro-North commuter railway stations on the Harlem line. And, of course, there’s the highway. New York State Route 22 is a two-lane road that runs nearly the entire length of the state's largely-rural eastern border for over 337 miles, from the Bronx to near Canada. 

Kevin Greenlee: Could a drifter — or someone with a job that required travel along that route — have seen an opportunity in the darkened form of the Cattle Car Restaurant? 

Podcast promo.

Áine Cain: Let’s take a quick break from The Murder Sheet to tell you about a podcast investigating yet another unforgettable crime. 

The Orange Tree is a seven-part series about a 2005 homicide that happened near the University of Texas at Austin. The murder of 21-year-old Jennifer Cave, who was shot, dismembered, and left in a bathtub at her friend Colton Pitonyak’s apartment, continues to haunt the area to this day.

Kevin Greenlee: Like the Burger Chef murders, this case features plenty of twists and turns, including Colton’s flight to Mexico with another UT student Laura Hall. Both were later convicted in connection with the crime, although Colton has continued to appeal his verdict and claim innocence. The business student-turned-convicted-murderer now says that he doesn’t remember much about the night Jennifer died. 

Áine Cain: The Orange Tree is reported on and produced by Haley Butler and Tinu Thomas, who were both seniors at the University of Texas when they started the project.

Together, Haley and Tinu strive to piece together this tragic story in an in-depth podcast that features audio from courtroom scenes and interrogation rooms, prison phone calls, and exclusive interviews with both perpetrators and the victim’s family.

You can binge all seven episodes of The Orange Tree today on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. And now, back to the Murder Sheet.

And now, back to the Murder Sheet.

Podcast promo ends.

Áine Cain: What seems more strange are the clues pointing to a connection between Zaniboni and his killer. We know from compiling a list of hundreds of restaurant murders that most of these homicides are perpetrated by non-strangers: disgruntled or recently-fired employees, business partners busy cooking the books, that sort of thing. How did the killer know when to get Zaniboni alone — or was that a coincidence? Who exactly was the employee — or employees — who last saw Zaniboni?

Kevin Greenlee: But more than that, there are certain details about this crime that are just strange.

Áine Cain: Zaniboni was known to carry large amounts of cash on him, but it has been reported that no money was found on his body. His pockets were turned out, though. That could speak to inside knowledge, although it’s also possible that a stranger could have just lucked out.

Kevin Greenlee: The coin boxes from the jukebox and cigarette machines were smashed. All that destruction for some coins? That could speak to desperation. 

Áine Cain: Then again, there was more than enough money found within the restaurant to cover the place’s receipts for that day. Did the perp miss something? Was the killing about something more than money?

Kevin Greenlee: Other details remain less clear. We mentioned that Zaniboni was found with no money on him. Well, the 2003 article disputes that fact, saying he had around $600 on him that night. We’re not sure which is true! Media reports sometimes confuse details, inadvertently. 

Áine Cain: Is it possible that the $600 mentioned there was actually the amount found in receipts in the restaurant? And regarding the receipts, were those funds found in the cash register? Or elsewhere?

Kevin Greenlee: In terms of the crime scene, Zaniboni’s car was found out of gas in the parking lot, left with the ignition on all night. Did the murderer accost him as he was trying to leave the parking lot, and use trickery or force to get the restaurant owner back inside? Was Zaniboni just trying to warm up his vehicle in the dead of an upstate New York winter? 

Áine Cain: The facts of the crime seem too hazy to allow for any real informed speculation. Suffice to say that elements of the crime were odd.

Kevin Greenlee: And what of Zaniboni himself? Before he came to the Cattle Car Restaurant, he ran eateries in Westchester County, including at least one in Hartsdale. His lease reportedly ran out in 1969. So Zaniboni moved the family to Pawling and bought the former Kentucky Inn. The restauranter only owned Cattle Car for about a year before he was killed, but his eatery was listed as hosting the annual venison dinner party for the local police. As for why Zaniboni and his family settled in Dutchess County, Malda said that Dorthy hailed from the nearby Putnam County town of Brewster, and that her parents had long talked about moving upstate. 

Áine Cain: Could anything more sinister than an interest in a bucolic change of scenery have been behind the move? Could something have followed Zaniboni up from his past businesses in Westchester, a shadow creeping up along Route 22 toward his new venture?

Kevin Greenlee: And then there’s that 2003 Poughkeepsie Journal article. In it, Malda says that the family attempted to keep the Cattle Car Restaurant running after her fathers murder, but her mother Dorthy was robbed in the parking lot, and had her house burned down. A horrible set of coincidences? A warning from the killers? Or were these things just indicative of the possibility that running a business along Route 22 was more dangerous than imagined? 

Abbott Brant: There was another cold case where a gas station in Wingdale- the town right over in the same general area. Someone was murdered there. That's an ongoing cold case. He was robbed, murdered. I think it's valid to wonder if this is something not necessarily connected but in terms of this is an area where you can have people easily come and go after committing a crime and especially as I mentioned in a place which is not very populated and doesn't have many street lights. I've been in Pauling and it's not a place where-- if you hear a couple of gunshots at night it wouldn't be the craziest thing. These are places where people are shooting guns and hunting and things like that. So I think all of that should be considered but I don't know if it's necessarily tied to that in any way. 

Áine Cain: Abbott also covered the murder of Leonard Monette, who was killed on November 17, 1971 in Wingdale. Both murders targeted middle-aged men working late at businesses in the area. 

Kevin Greenlee: But Monette hadn't been shot, he had been stabbed and left with head injuries. We’ve linked to all of Abbott’s reporting and our other sources in our show notes.

Áine Cain: So where does the case stand today? Well, we talked with New York state police representatives on the phone, and they gave us a statement to share on the status of the investigation.

Kevin Greenlee: “The death of Zaniboni continues to be actively investigated by police,” the police spokesperson said in a statement. “Numerous leads have been followed-up on throughout this investigation, however, this homicide has never been solved.”

Áine Cain: If you have information on the case, you can call the New York State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation in Dover at (845)-677-7300 or (845)-877-3660. Please refer to SJS # 3025018. 

And remember, your call can be kept confidential. 

Abbott Brant: I feel like anytime I've ever asked law enforcement that they've really stressed the fact that it really takes one person to see one thing — the smallest inkling of anything. And that's the reason they do put out these releases. Because you might not think — "Oh, I saw a green car." And you might not know that that's the missing piece to the puzzle. I don't know exactly what that piece would be in this case but I think and would encourage anyone with any information as unrelated as it may be to come forward because you really never know what that could lead to.

Kevin Greenlee:
If you’re wobbling back and forth on whether to pick up the phone, just think about the fact that some of Zaniboni’s loved ones have passed aways themselves without receiving answers about his death.

One of his sons died suddenly in 1998, and his wife Dorthy passed away in 2008. We reached out to four of Zaniboni’s surviving children, including Malda, on Facebook. Sending messages to all of them — now adults with their own careers, children, and grandkids — felt like a fraught task. It always is, with the surviving loved ones of murder victims.

Áine Cain: "It's been a nightmare," Malda told the Poughkeepsie Journal back in 2003. “I figure if anyone had information they would have come forward by now."

They don’t owe it to anyone to retell their pain year after year. At the same time, as journalists, we don’t want to assume anything — relatives, especially those whose loved ones have cases that have gone cold, sometimes want to speak out. 

Kevin Greenlee: No one responded this time. Everything we learned about Zaniboni himself came from media reports. The case attracted some attention in the 1970s, but the coverage waned over time, until Brant’s reporting brought the case into the spotlight again.

Áine Cain: In some ways, looking into a case like the murder of Emile Zaniboni is frustrating. But this is why we want to cover more obscure crimes — as well as unsolved cases. We want to spark these conversations about cases that deserve more attention.

Kevin Greenlee: Zaniboni was a native of Brighton, Massachusetts, a Marine who served in World War II, a cook-turned-restaurateur, and a father of seven. 

Áine Cain: Somebody killed him 50 years ago, someone was allowed to murder this man and vanish into the night. And we don’t know why. But he mattered, and so does uncovering the truth about his death.

Kevin Greenlee: When Áine and I visit murder sites to get audio for the Murder Sheet, it’s often ultimately a somewhat depressing task. So many are located in these anonymous strip malls. They almost blend in together, as we try to chronicle the spots where a person lost their life. But the Cattle Car was different. That place along the Duchess County roadside gave off a haunting feeling. 

Áine Cain: I grew up alongside Route 22, which is called White Plains Road in my hometown. It’s a road I’d cross at least once a day to go to school or work.

Sometimes, walking home from an office happy hour or a late night at the newsroom, I’d end up cutting across 22 late, when there were absolutely no headlights in sight. A few times, I’d stop at the double yellow lines and pause for a minute to stare down the road, into the tree-lined darkness. I don’t really know why, or what I was hoping I’d see.

That’s what I thought about as we visited the Zaniboni murder site. How I lived just down the street, essentially — an hour by car, a little less than a day by foot — to the land between Pawling and Wingdale, to that place upstate. Looking off into the woods on either side of the former Cattle Car, I thought about how remote the place seemed. And how incomprehensibly lonely it must have felt to Bob Zaniboni on the night he was killed.

Kevin Greenlee: 
Thanks for listening to this episode of the Murder Sheet. Special thanks to Kevin Tyler Greenlee, who composed the music for the Murder Sheet, and who you can find on the web at kevintg.com.  

Áine Cain: To keep up with the latest on the Murder Sheet, please make sure to follow us on Instagram and Twitter @murdersheet and on Facebook @msheetpodcast or by searching Murder Sheet. For exclusive content like bonus episodes and case files, become a patron of the Murder Sheet on Patreon.

If you enjoyed listening to the Murder Sheet, please leave us a five star review to help us gain more exposure. And send tips, suggestions, and feedback to [email protected] Thanks so much for listening.