Memory of Murder

Who Would Want To Brutally Attack The Perfect All-American Family With An Ax?

Produced By Patti Aronofsky, Katherine Davis and Mead Stone

This broadcast first aired on Nov. 4, 2006. It was updated on March 28, 2009.

During the early morning hours of Nov. 15, 2004, Peter and Joan Porco were brutally attacked by an axe-wielding intruder in their bedroom. Peter Porco was murdered, his wife left for dead.

Miraculously, she was clinging on to life when investigators and medics arrived at the crime scene hours later. Suffering from severe injuries, police say Joan Porco indicated to them who the killer was with a nod.

But as Peter Van Sant reports, she says she has no memory of that. And she says she never would have implicated the person who faced trial for the murder of her husband.

Detective Chris Bowdish couldn't believe what he was seeing. Minutes after discovering the body of Peter Porco, he was certain he was about to learn the identity of the killer from Peter's dying wife Joan.

"And I said to her, 'Can you hear me?' And she nodded her head yes. I then started feeling that this woman knows what's going on," he says.

Although Bowdish had only been in the house for minutes, he also felt he knew what was going on. "I could see there was no break in. There was no forced entry," he explains.

Instead of a broken lock, there was a house key in the front door. It was a spare key that was usually hidden in a flower pot by the front entrance.

"The house wasn't what we call 'tossed.' The drawers weren't pulled out, they weren't dumped," Bowdish says. In the dining room was Joan's purse and its contents, all undisturbed. Bowdish says he felt it was an inside job.

But who would want to harm the Porcos? Married 30 years, the couple lived in Bethlehem, N.Y., a bedroom community just outside of Albany. They had two sons, 23-year-old Jonathan, in the Navy in South Carolina, and 21-year-old Chris, a student at the University of Rochester.

In a strange coincidence, Det. Bowdish had met the Porcos two years earlier, when they reported the theft of laptops during a burglary. He also learned they had two sons. At the crime scene, he was wondering about the whereabouts of Jonathan and Christopher.

As the paramedics struggled to get Joan oxygen, Bowdish approached her. "I said, 'Did a family member do this to you?' And she nodded her head up and down clearly, yes. Now everybody in the room's standing there at this point, I've got witnesses."

First responders Kevin Robert, Jim Regan, and Dennis Wood couldn't believe it. "I've never seen anybody with this massive of facial and head trauma and still be alive and actually able to communicate like she was," says Wood.

Joan had been following directions like "straighten your arm" and "stop moving your legs." But this was different. Before their eyes, Joan was about to identify the killer. The paramedics watched as she nodded her head in response to the detective's questions.

"And I said to her 'Did Jonathan do this to you?' And she clearly shook her back and forth, 'no.' At this point I knew she could hear me. I knew she understood the answers to the questions," Bowdish remembers. "And I said to her, 'Did Christopher do this to you?' And she then shook her head up and down. She nodded. Yes he did."

Within minutes, Joan was rushed to the hospital - and police began looking for Christopher.