- The Washington Times - Friday, September 6, 2002

"I wasn't looking for publicity, but I'm happy with how it turned out," reflects Vincent LaMarca, discussing the new crime melodrama "City by the Sea," which stars Robert De Niro as a fictionalized version of Mr. LaMarca when he was a New York City police detective. That 20-year career ended early in 1989. Mr. LaMarca and his second wife, Susan, reside in Florida, where he works for a bank.

"Not in a security job," he emphasizes during a conversation at the St. Regis Hotel in Northwest, one stop in a national promotional campaign for the movie, which opens today.

Mrs. LaMarca is accompanying him, nursing an arm injury from a recent holiday trip to Tennessee to attend a convention of Harley-Davidson motorcycle owners and enthusiasts.

"It wasn't a riding accident," she explains. "It happened in the hotel. A complete fluke."

Mr. LaMarca's life has been haunted in a distinctive way by criminal misfortune. His father, Angelo, was executed in the electric chair in 1957, the consequence of an appalling abduction scheme in which he kidnapped the baby of a well-to-do couple for whom he was working in the vain hope of extorting enough ransom to pay $2,000 in debts.

The baby suffocated before an exchange could be arranged. The culprit became a picture of shame and contrition from the time of capture to execution.

Mr. LaMarca was 11 when his father died. He vividly recalls the impact of the crime and his father's punishment. A sister five years younger was largely shielded from the scandal.

His mother, who died in 1967, moved to the Long Island beach-resort town of Long Beach during the ordeal. That is the city to which the movie alludes, although it was simulated for the most part by Asbury Park, N.J., evidently because the latter's continuing state of picturesque deterioration is closer to what Long Beach was like during Mr. LaMarca's tenure as a hometown police officer.

A couple of Long Beach police officers involved in his father's case made a point of taking young Vincent LaMarca under their wings, and he spent most of his police career there, covering numerous beats and becoming a precinct executive commander at age 32.

The movie borrows the case history of Mr. LaMarca's father to some extent, but it concentrates on the problems that engulf his younger son, Joey, in crime.

Now 30, the authentic Joey LaMarca is serving a 15- to 25-year sentence in Attica Prison. The film re-creates the stabbing episode that led to his flight and eventual arrest while embroidering a number of other events.


The product of a failed first marriage, the son had grown up estranged from the father by the time this calamity occurred. A process of reconciliation, the principal emotional focus of the movie, began only after Mr. LaMarca became aware that his son was on the run.

The LaMarca cases were recalled in a 1997 Esquire article titled "Mark of the Murderer," a very unwelcome pun in the opinion of Mr. LaMarca. Nevertheless, he had agreed to cooperate with the late author, reporter Mike McAlary, and the current movie was inspired by the magazine piece.

Mr. LaMarca had pondered earlier approaches from journalists. At one time, an agent even forwarded a book proposal to the late Truman Capote, a prospect that Mr. LaMarca associated with minimum lack of influence and control on his part. He even had "toyed with" the idea of writing a book about his father's case. This line of speculation has since become an actual writing project.

"I'm putting it together now," he says. "A book about my father and mother, their relationship. Everything in his cell was returned to her after the execution. So every letter she wrote to him and every letter he wrote to her is in my possession. She wrote every day. He wrote two or three times a day. I've got a ton of stuff, counting all the newspaper stories she also filed away."

Mr. LaMarca also clarifies several points where the movie takes liberties with the facts. "Warner Bros. advised me right from the start that a lot of changes would be made," he says. "A producer named Matthew Baer kept me in the loop all along and addressed my concerns. The movie ignores the fact that I've been remarried for 25 years.

"The De Niro character is given a girlfriend who knows nothing of his family's history. They wanted him single. I have another son, three years older than Joey. He is not referred to at all, and that's fine with me. We remained close through the divorce and afterward. He ended up spending more time at my place than his mother's.

"The boys are two totally opposite kids. Joey was in and out of trouble. He was into drugs for a long time. We used to fear that he'd be killed because he liked to look for trouble. He'd go into bars and see if he could take out the whole place. He's big and athletic and could do a lot of damage.

"His older brother is similar physically. He even trains prizefighters for a living, but this kid doesn't curse or drink. Wouldn't think of violating his body with narcotics. A vegetarian. Clean-cut and honest. They had nothing in common. Joey was out partying while his older brother was home reading."


Mr. LaMarca is pleased that the movie responded to his principal concern.

"That was always how Joey was gonna be portrayed," he says. "They did a good job, I think, of humanizing him. The crime wasn't who my son was. Circumstances led to this happening. I'm not defending him. The movie probably makes his crime look more like self-defense than it was. They were two guys with knives, and if the other one had been a little faster or stronger, Joey might have been killed. He copped a plea rather than go to trial."

The real Joey LaMarca was apprehended in Texas after hiding out there for a long time. He was in violation of probation, and several warrants were awaiting him. The movie eliminates the Texas sojourn to keep the story conveniently concentrated in New York City.

"We'll never know if a jury would have bought a self-defense argument," Mr. LaMarca says. "The important thing is that Joey can now admit that he made his own choices. Initially, he couldn't. He blamed drugs, he blamed me, he blamed his grandfather. It was tough.

"I'm not sure you can say that Joey and I repaired our relationship. It had ceased to exist when he was still very young. It just wasn't there. We started from scratch after he was arrested.

"He called me while he was on the run. To this day, I'll bet you he doesn't know why he did, but he did. I tried to talk him into coming in, but at that time, I had no influence on him. I hadn't been there for him all those years."

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