Vincent Davis will never forget the day Diane Pelatti changed his life. It was June 28, 1980, just a few weeks after his graduation from Roosevelt High School in Yonkers, and it was going to be a summer to remember, shaped by exuberance and the kind of unspoiled view of the world only an 18-year-old can have. He was working as a lifeguard at Glen Island Park in New Rochelle when a girl in a red-and-white bikini came walking down the beach. She was five feet tall, maybe 100 pounds, deeply tanned, with bright hazel eyes, blonde highlights, and an irresistible smile. A Yonkers boy's dream. "I'd known her when I was like 12 or 13. So I went over and said, 'Hey, good-lookin'. Remember me?' "
"Take off your sunglasses," she replied coolly. Then she smiled. "Vinny Davis."
"I said yeah, and that was it. Bang! I was love-struck. I thought she was absolutely beautiful. We just hit it off. It seemed like we'd known one another all our lives."
The two teens quickly became inseparable. There were trips to Great Adventure and Action Park and the old Playboy Club in Vernon, New
Jersey, but mostly it was a summer spent becoming part of each other's family. He was at her house. She was at his house. And there was always a picnic or a barbecue or a christening to go to.
By September, their summer fling had blossomed into a full-fledged romance, and Davis and Pelatti began to talk about the life they were going to make together. He went to work for an electronics company in Tuckahoe, and, trying to save money so he and Pelatti could get their own place, he also put in a couple of nights a week waiting tables at a Pizza & Brew in Scarsdale. But his dream, ever since he was a little boy, was to be a cop. His father was a sergeant in the NYPD, and Davis wanted to follow in his footsteps. He took the test, passed, and was on the waiting list to get into the academy.
"He told her awful things, like 'I'll throw acid in your face and make you so ugly nobody'll want you.'"
And on October 30, 1981, a little more than a year after he and Pelatti met on the beach, he went to the Howard Johnson's restaurant where she worked several nights a week as a waitress (she was a dental assistant during the day) and surprised her.
Clutching flowers and a bottle of champagne, he got down on his knees and proposed, with a restaurant full of patrons watching. They chose April 17, 1983, as their wedding date. They'd have a traditional service at Mt. Carmel Church in Mount Vernon, followed by a reception at Marina del Rey, a catering hall with thick-pile carpets and big chandeliers in Throgs Neck. "Life was good," Davis recalls.
But if in one sense their romance was charmed, a luminous fairy tale of young love, in another it was cursed. Cursed, specifically, by a likable but vicious punk named Richie Sabol, a wiseguy-in-training who'd been Pelatti's boyfriend in high school. Sabol was in jail when Davis and Pelatti started dating, one year into a three-year sentence for attempted robbery at the Fishkill Correctional Facility. But Sabol still had plenty of friends around Yonkers, and they told him what his former girlfriend was up to.
"Toward the end of that first summer," Davis says, "I started getting phone calls from Sabol threatening to kill me, to kill my family, if I didn't break up with Diane."
That wasn't the worst of it, however; Sabol had also begun to threaten Pelatti. "He was calling and telling her all kinds of awful things," Davis remembers. "Like 'If I can't have you, nobody will. I'll cut off your fingers. I'll fuck your sister and make you watch. I'll throw acid in your face and make you so ugly nobody'll want you.'
"This guy was really demented. She was literally petrified. She knew what he was like better than anyone. When they were dating, he showed up at her house one day with a bloody brick in his hand and said he killed somebody."
Davis told his father and the Yonkers police what was happening, and the phone calls stopped for a time. But a few months before the wedding, Davis was supposed to meet his fiancée at her parents' house one evening and she showed up over two hours late. When she came in, she was hysterical. Pelatti said Sabol had been waiting for her outside of work with a shotgun, forced her into his car, verbally abused her, and warned her yet one more time that he would kill her if she married someone else.
"Being young and stupid," says Davis, "I went crazy. I was like, 'I'm gonna fuckin' kill this guy. I'll rip his fuckin' head off. Just let me get a piece of him.' So I put the word out on the street in Yonkers that I wanted to talk to him. But he disappeared, at least for a while."