As Close to Crime: Unlucky in Love


Bronwen Mason

For Bronwen Mason, being born on Valentine’s Day didn’t guarantee she would have an easy time of when it came to romance and eternal love. In fact, just the opposite was true.

Bronwen met Joseph Benedict Centifanti, later “Jay” to his friends, in the mid-1960’s when they were both students at the University of Pittsburgh.

An outstanding student, Joe had earned two scholarships and was working multiple jobs to pay his way.

Bronwen recalled being attracted to Joe’s vitality and spontaneity. 

People might now recognize Joe’s frenzied, hyperactive, manic behavior as being indicative of a bi-polar disorder but back then he just seemed intense and anxious to succeed. 

A clue to Joe’s personality can be found in this 1962 Pottsville (PA) High School yearbook passage appearing beside his photo:

“Is that a lively debate we hear? Joe must be near by. Possessing both great knowledge and a flair for words, Joe aroused many spirited classroom discussions. A fine tuba player, Joe represented P.H.S. in both District and Stage Bands. His keen wit and original jokes added zest to any gathering. Joe’s more serious nature revealed an appreciation of good books and an ability to play an expert game of chess. We know good fortune will always brighten the path of this future teacher.”

Jay, Harvard (1967)

At college, Joe would often stay awake for days at a time. He once painted his entire apartment while his girlfriend slept.

Joe recalled “She was pretty spooked. She left immediately. At the time, I couldn’t figure out why she was so bothered.”

While perhaps not as intense as Joe, Bronwen was also a excellent student and one who didn’t shy away from making her opinions known. 

In response to a March 15, 1963 Life magazine editorial about the controversial topic of prayer in school and a recent decision by the Supreme Court to outlaw the reading of prayer in New York’s public schools, 17-year-old Bronwen sent a letter to their editors. 

She wasn’t alone.
Reader response was apparently substantial and, in their April 12, 1963 issue, Life printed Bronwen’s thoughts on the same page as a response from (famed Atheist) Madalyn Murray.

Bronwen’s live and let live attitude was not shared by Murray.

Madalyn Murray, speaking for all Atheists, wrote “We find the Bible to be nauseating, historically inaccurate, replete with the ravings of madmen. We find God to be sadistic, brutal, and a representation of hatred, vengeance. We find the Lord’s Prayer to be that muttered by worms groveling for meager existence in a traumatic, paranoid world.

Madalyn Murray

“This is not appropriate untouchable dicta to be forced on adult or child. The business of the public schools, where attendance is compulsory, is to prepare children to face the problems on earth, not to prepare for heaven – which is a delusional dream of the unsophisticated minds of the ill-educated clergy.”

In years to come, both Bronwen and Joe would stand up for what they felt was right. 

They traveled together to Selma, Alabama in March 1965 as Freedom Riders. 

In April 1967, Bronwen added her name to a “Stop the Bombing, Start Negotiating” petition protesting the Vietnam War. 

A much more personal fight for the couple would come in February 1975.

Shifting gears away from a career in teaching, Joe had decided study law and, as he had done throughout his academic life he excelled. Joe graduated with two simultaneous master’s degrees from Harvard – for law and business administration.

Bronwen also pursued a law degree and graduated from Boston University College of Law with a J.D. degree.

The couple’s career paths may have been on par but there was a decided difference in their backgrounds. It’s not clear if these differences mattered to Bronwen but Jay had difficulty letting go of the disparity.

Bronwen was a 14th generation American with a stable home life while Joe, a first generation American, came from a broken home. 

Joe’s father, John Centifanti, was an Italian immigrant with old school ideas about wives and marriage. 

His mother, Rosalie, was considerably younger than John and she had chosen to walk away after less than six years of marriage to a man more than twice her age.

wonders why a 19-year-old gal from New Jersey would marry a 54-year-old
Italian immigrant living in Cleveland but Rosalie’s background may
provide a clue. How they met is uncertain but some things we know.

mother, Rosalie Deming, had known hard times as a child and even ran away from
home in January 1941, at the age of 15, because, as she explained in a letter to her
mother, she was “tired of living in poverty.”

fairness, Rosalie’s mother, Josephine, probably did the best she could
but it must have been difficult to raise nine children on her own after
her husband deserted her after 18 years of marriage. The year was 1925 and Josephine would have been one-year-old when her father left the family to fend for themselves.

Weeks after running away, Rosalie was declared “incorrigible” by her mother and turned over to the New Jersey State Board of
Children’s Guardians. That was March 1941. 

On September 28, 1943, Rosalie, an unmarried woman with an infant son in tow, was married to John Centifanti. 

This would be John’s second marriage. His first union, to a fellow Italian immigrant named Maria LaMarca, had ended in divorce after 10 years (1925-1935).

John’s paranoid, tyrannical and abusive behavior, coupled with the 34 year age difference between himself and his younger wife, ultimately drove Rosalie away. 

And when she left, with no money, no home and no prospects, Rosalie didn’t take either 5-year-old Joseph or his younger sister Rose Marie. She did, however, take her first-born son, John.

This fact would drilled into the minds of the two Centifante children repeatedly over the next two years, until their father’s death on March 29, 1952. 

By the time John died, Rosalie had established herself in Pottsville, PA. She was now with Ray Hammond and they were forging a new life together. Joe and Rose Marie were welcomed but the resentment Joe felt towards his mother still lingered. 

The Hammonds were working class and there wasn’t an excess of cash. This was especially true as the family expanded. Ultimately, there were nine children to provide for.

Joe excelled academically and began taking college-level classes while still in high school. Although, a dark side began to show itself. Joe was known to have a short temper and a sharp tongue.

Following a comment to Joe from Rosalie that went along the lines of “With a mouth as big as yours you shouldn’t play the piccolo you should play the tuba” Joe did just that and ultimately performed in the all-state the band. His passion for playing the tuba would stay with him.

I find this clipping kind of cool, even though it’s a little vague as to what Joe’s specific contribution was.

Pottsville Republican – Aug 5, 1965

Those who know me, will recognize this appeals to me because of my interest in anything relating to the two N.Y. World Fairs.

For those unfamiliar with the G.E. pavilion, here’s a graphic –

Folks can still enjoy elements of this exhibit, such as The Carousel of Progress, at both Disneyland and Disney World.

But, I digress –

It was while attending Harvard that Joe began reinventing himself.

According to a Setpember 7, 1975 article in The Philadelphia Inquirer, it was while at Harvard that Joe announced he preferred to be called Jay and he altered the pronunciation of his last name by inserting a Ch sound at the beginning.

In that same article, an unnamed acquaintance from those days is quoted as saying, “Jay Chentifanti sounded less greasy than Joe Centifanti. It was classier.”  

Jay could generally be seen looking every bit like a lawyer too – in a three piece suit.

The biggest change came on July 1, 1967 when Jay married Bronwen Mason. 

It has been claimed that Rosalie felt her son was marrying above his station and that she felt uncomfortable around the Masons. Jay himself has said that Bronwen’s parents disapproved of the union, a bias based specifically on his ethnic background. 

I can find nothing from the Masons, directly or indirectly, as to what they truly thought of their daughter’s new husband.

Jay began distancing himself from his mother and stepfather back in Pottsville, PA.

In late 1970, upon graduating from Harvard, Jay went to work for Morgan, Lewis and Bockius, a prestigious Philadelphia law firm. He showed great promise, worked hard, was devoted to the company and hoped to eventually be made a partner. 

Bronwen found employment as a lawyer at a bank. 

In 1971, their son Jason was born.

In August 1972, Jay and Bronwen purchased a townhouse, at 633 Pine Street, in the upscale Society Hill section of Philadelphia for a cost of $30,000. Perhaps not the nicest house on the block but a good first home for the young couple.

This was everything they had been working towards but, despite all outward appearances, the marriage was a troubled one. 

Jay was demanding, argumentative, tyrannical and his mistreatment of Bronwen was mirroring his own father’s toxic relationship with Rosalie.

Jay accused Bronwen of having affairs, although there was no evidence to support this.

Jay recognized he was being abusive to the woman he loved but he couldn’t stop himself.

Bronwen eventually responded in kind. They both drank and fought to excess. Bronwen herself described the relationship as “sick and sadomasochistic.”

Yet, in 1973, their daughter Dana was born.

Bronwen needed a break from their unhappy home and in the summer of 1973, she packed up the kids and left Jay to fend for himself. According to a friend, Jay was livid.

was in favor of some kind of marriage counseling or therapy but Jay
absolutely refused and he was critical of anyone who sought such help for
themselves so Bronwen made appointments for herself on the sly.

In late 1974, the couple spent $21,000 to purchase the vacant lot next to their home. Perhaps with an eye towards expansion?

However, disconcerting news came a few months later when it was announced that a location for a new Black History Museum had been chosen.

The corner of 6th and Pine, beside the historic Mother Bethel AME Church, would soon to be home to, according to the architectural plans, a 30,000 sq. foot, three to four story structure.

This project was being pushed forward at a rapid pace by Mayor Frank L. Rizzo and Philadelphia ’76, the planning agency responsible for the upcoming Bicentennial ceremonies. They wanted construction on the  building to be completed before June 1, 1975.

However, The Society Hill Civic Association and the Centifantis objected vociferously causing the matter to be put before the Philadelphia Zoning Board. 

Finally, something Jay and Bronwen both agreed on and could work together to prevent. A cause, just like the early days of their relationship.


Society Hill dwellers felt their residential neighborhood was no place for a museum of that size.  

Philadelphia ’76 predicted that the museum would attract 5,000 to 10,000 visitors daily.   

Where would the visitors park? And what about the increased traffic in their residential neighborhood?

annotated Google maps image

Despite these legitimate concerns, the protests were labeled racist in nature. The Society Hill Civic Association was composed largely of wealthy white people. 

Why hadn’t anyone objected to recent approval for the construction of a Mummers Museum? 

Well, in fairness, the Mummers Museum would not be located in Society Hill but would be built on the corner of Washington Avenue and S. 2nd Street  – one mile southeast of the Mother Bethel AME Church. 

The Society Hill Civic Association would have no reason to object to that structure.

Realistically, this doesn’t mean everyone involved in the protest was without a racist bone in their body but I’d like to think that, for the Centifantis at least, two people who had 10 years earlier traveled to Selma in aid of the civil rights movement, the objections were not racist but practical.

Here’s a Google maps view of the narrow, one-way street in front of the Centifanti’s house.

Google maps


Dr. Ethel Allen

Even those in favor of the museum had misgivings about the location. 

Yes, it’s proximity to the Mother Bethel AME Church, the oldest black-owned church in the country, was appropriate but many felt, as respected Councilwoman Dr. Ethel Allen did, that the lot was too small “to do justice” to black history.

Several sympathetic Society Hill residents had offered financial help and cooperation to the church to perhaps build an archive and park on that location rather than the museum. 

Rev. Joseph Joiner, pastor of Mother Bethel, said he would consider the proposal.

Ultimately, the Society Hill residents were victorious. The time crunch worked in their favor. 

AAMP – image

If the museum was to open in time for the Bicentennial, organizers couldn’t have the matter drag out.

A new location was chosen for what would become the African American Museum in Philadelphia – the northwest corner of  7th Street and Arch Street on a plot owned by the Redevelopment Authority.

On April  2, 1975, Ted Cam, the museum’s architect, sprayed lighter fluid all over the miniature cardboard representation of the Black History Museum and set it on fire in front of 40 onlookers who had gathered at the vacant lot across from the Mother Bethel AME Church to witness the ceremony.

The Afro-American Cultural Museum opened their doors on June 18, 1976.

The original location, the corner of 6th and Pine, is now a parking lot. 

With the controversy surrounding the museum no longer a distraction for Bronwen, she could face the reality that her marriage to Jay was not working and she wanted a better life for herself, Jason and Dana. 

In retrospect, Jay was able to admit that he knew he was becoming increasing self-destructive and abusive to those around him. “I knew I was different, that there was something wrong,” he recalled, “I just didn’t know what it was at the time.” 

And Jay must not have wanted to know or he would have been more open to the idea of therapy when Bronwen suggested it.

In May of 1975, 29-year-old Bronwen decided to leave Jay for good and she began making plans. She rented an apartment for herself and the children on the 100 block of South 20th Street. 

Hoping to avoid a nasty confrontation, Bronwen enlisted the help of a mutual friend who agreed to call Jay at work and break the news to him after she was out of the house. 

Unfortunately, Jay never received the phone call that day and he came home to an empty house.

By the time the mutual friend reached Jay by phone he was furious.

A meeting was arranged for Jay, the friend and a local minister (perhaps from The Old Pine Street Presbyterian Church at 412 Pine Street where Jay’s jazz band the Tootsie Pops practiced?).

At a table for three in Society Hill’s Cobblestones Restaurant, Jay demanded that Bronwen come back…immediately. 

He explained how hellish for him that summer two years prior had been when Bronwen and the kids were gone. He talked of suicide. Ultimately, Jay admitted his faults to his friends and he offered to change if only she would return.

It seems, however, that ship had sailed. Bronwen and the kids did not return. 

Jay’s paranoia was amplified. He became convinced there was another man and he repeatedly grilled their friends to find out what they knew.  

He resorted to stalking Bronwen and bad-mouthing her to their friends. 

Jay warned his wife that if she filed for divorce that he would take the children and move to the Virgin Islands. Jay quite blatantly began following Bronwen around but she ignored him.

Jay called his mother Rosalie and explained the situation. She offered to help with the grandchildren, if needed, but other than that he was on his own. 

And on his own was right. 

The same month that his wife left him, Jay’s employer told him that he’d be let go at the end of the year and that he should start looking for another job. It seems Jay’s
intensity and instability made him a poor fit for the company.

Seeing his law career coming to a temporary halt, Jay stopped dressing the part. He was seen about town more frequently in short and t-shirts. He began to lose weight.

On June 23, 1975, Jay and Bronwen were declared legally separated.

On July 21, 1975, Jay obtained a gun permit. 

On July 30th, Jay bought a used .38-caliber British bulldog revolver at Colosimo’s Gun Center on 933 Spring Garden Street. 

Side note for history buffs – before a gun shop was there, that location on Spring Garden Street was where Milton Hersey opened his first candy store, on June 1, 1876.

On July 31st, Jay snatched his two children (Jason, 4 years old and Dana, 19 months) off the street, right in front of Bronwen. 

She was shocked but thinking them safe and feeling that Jay would soon tire of changing diapers and caring for two small children, she decided not to take legal action.

On August 10, 1975, Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Howard Shapiro interviewed Jay aboard a Philadelphia to Cape May, NJ train as part of a story he was writing about the demise of that rail line.

Shapiro remembered Jay as a small, friendly man with a well-chiseled face wearing Bermuda shorts and traveling with two small children. 

“He said his wife used to work down the shore and he liked visiting her there but that he didn’t like to drive,” Shapiro said.

“He said, yes, he always took his children, but he skirted two questions about his wife.

“Finally he said, ‘We’re separated.'”

Here’s a photo taken that day which did not accompany Howward Shapiro’s article published on August 17, 1975. 

Take a look at the t-shirt Jay is wearing. I’m fairly certain it’s from the gift shop of the Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum. 

This is the name adopted by the Black History Museum in 1976. It was only in 1997 that it was rechristened The African American Museum in Philadelphia (AAMP).

Philadelphia Inquirer photo, August 1975

The staff photographer’s image would not go to waste. Jay’s actions on August 15th guaranteed it would appear on the newspaper’s front page.

On Friday, August 15, 1975, Jay showed up at Bronwen’s place of employment, the Provident National Bank. 

Jay had the gun on him and was stopped by the guards but not detained when he showed them his permit. Jay’s permit, it should be noted, did not allow for him to carry a concealed weapon

Fortunately for everyone in the bank, Bronwen had taken a personal day and was not in her office that afternoon. 

Hahnemann Medical College, 1979

Jay caught up with his wife around 6:30 PM that same day in the lobby of her apartment building on South 20th Street; she was in the company of 21-year-old Ira Chaiffetz.

Ira and Bronwen had met three weeks earlier in Rittenhouse Park. 

This was a Friday and the couple had dinner plans with some of Ira’s friends in Swarthmore, a Philadelphia suburb that they would reach in a little over 30 minutes by taking a commuter train on the Media/Elwyn Line.

Bronwen carried a bottle of wine and a cheesecake for dessert.

Bronwen identified Jay to Ira as her her estranged husband. He was in a three-piece suit and carrying a briefcase. 

Jay was hot on their heels as Bronwen and Ira walked to the 30th Street train station. 

She ignored him, even as he repeatedly swung his briefcase into the back of her legs. 

Ira wasn’t quite sure what to make of this display. He was unnerved but took his cues from Bronwen.

Nervous to reveal their destination to Jay, who was well within earshot, Ira bought two tickets on the local. 

Jay did not follow them on to the train. He didn’t have to. He knew they would be back later that evening. All he had to do was wait.

Jay went home, dismissed the babysitter, put the kids to bed and changed his clothes. Off came the clothes of a lawyer; on came the casual clothes of a man about to kill his wife. 

Jay went back to the 30th Street station and took up a position on the platform. He was dressed in shorts, a Jaws t-shirt and carrying a gray-green raincoat.

 At 11:06 PM, Bronwen and Ira boarded a one-car Silverliner in Swarthmore and headed back towards the city.

Rather than exiting the train at 30th Street, the couple decided to continue on to the next stop, Suburban Station, at 16th Street and JFK Blvd. This would bring them closer to Bronwyn’s 20th Street apartment. 

Standing between them and the Suburban Station was Jay.

How many trains making stops at 30th Street had Jay hopped on and off of while looking for his wife? 

I don’t know if the Media/Elwyn schedule has changed too drastically in the last 46 years but there probably weren’t more than two or three.


Ultimately, Jay’s perseverance was rewarded. 

As Bronwen and Ira’s train car pulled into the station, Jay spotted his wife sitting by a window and he would have seen she made no move to exit the train, so he got aboard … without a ticket.

There were a total of 13 passengers and 3 crew members. 

When the conductor asked Jay for his ticket, he fumbled with his wallet, handed over some money, accepted his change and began walking towards the front of the car where Bronwen and Ira sat, their backs to him.

Almost immediately the shooting started. It’s only six minutes between stations.

Standing about five feet behind Bronwen with the raincoat wrapped over his extended hand, witnesses said, Centifanti fired the .38 calibre weapon at his unsuspecting wife. 

Bronwen was shot five times in the head, upper body and once in the face; the latter bullet entering through her cheek.

Jay pointed the gun at Ira and yelled “Get off the train right now, or I’ll kill you.” 

Ira ran towards the front of the car and jumped. He ran back towards the 30th Street station for help.

Another passenger, George McDonnell, aged 37, approached Bronwen who was slumped over in her seat. 

Jay, weapon now clearly visible, ordered  McDonnell to jump from the moving train. The man jumped and fractured his left leg when he landed.

Jay started walking towards the front of the train. The engineer, Jay Smith, didn’t need to be told – he jumped too.

With no engineer at the controls, the train’s “dead man’s switch” kicked in and the train slowly came to a stop.

Jay, likewise, jumped from the train and disappeared into the night.

Astonishingly, Bronwen staggered from her seat to the rear of the still-moving train and also jumped. 

She clawed up an embankment to the pavement of JFK Blvd, between 21st and 20th Street, where she collapsed.  She told rescuers, “My husband shot me. My husband shot me.”

She sounds kind of bad-ass to me.

A wanted man

Seventy-five police officers scoured the area but could find no sign of Joseph Centifani. 

His face was splashed across the front pages of Philadelphia newspapers.

The only person who had any contact with Jay was his friend Dr. James Stard. 

Jay called Dr. Stard shortly after the incident and said “I shot my wife. See that my kids are taken care of.”

Jason and Dana were not entrusted to Dr. Stard but turned over to the Stenton Child Care Center.

Dr. Stard revealed to police that it was possible Jay would try to get to the Virgin Islands. 

Jay had told his friend that there was job waiting for him in the Virgin Islands and police found that Jay indeed had purchased tickets to that destination but he not had an opportunity to use them. 

No airline had flights from Philadelphia to the Virgin Islands leaving Saturday morning.

Then again, Jay was a smart man who might have been trying to mislead police with his escape plan, so clearly detailed to a friend.

Bronwen was transported to Philadelphia General Hospital and, defying the odds, was listed in “stable condition” a mere two days later.

As is often the case, neighbors of the Centifantis who were interviewed by police and reporters were “shocked” to learn what Jay had done.  

Jay was described as “a nice guy who worked hard all day, came home at night and really took care of those kids.”

Jay was still on the run when Bronwen returned to work, fifteen days after being shot five times. 

their 13 state manhunt, police and the FBI had presumably checked all
of the properties Jay had keys to, including several friends’ houses and
The Old Pine Street Presbyterian Church.

It was reported in a Sept 7, 1975 Philadelphia Inquirer article that Rosalie Hammond, Jay’s mother, was concerned that ‘he might come one day and kill her. She said she jumps at every sound.’ 

A direct quote from Rosalie was, “I hope he gives himself up but if he doesn’t, I hope he gets out of the country. If the police see him, they’ll kill him.”

It was theorized at one point that, with his life falling apart, Jay might have committed suicide. 

Philadelphia Inquirer

That belief was abandoned every time Jay picked up the phone. He might not have been seen but he was certainly heard.

On August 17th, two days after the shooting which had been headline news, Jay called Ernest R. von Starck, a senior member of Morgan, Lewis and Bockius and the man Jay felt was responsible for his dismissal from the company. 

The threat was short and to the point – “This is Jay. You’re next.”

Jay also made three long and rambling phone calls to a friend to discuss the possibility of him turning himself in to police.  

On October 24, 1975, Jay Cetifanti, accompanied by his attorney Thomas Masterson, did indeed turn himself in. Not to police, however, but to the Norristown State Hospital.

Jay was held in the hospital’s maximum security wing until the courts could decide what to do with him.

A mental competency hearing was held on October 27, 1975 before Common Please Court Judge G. Fred DiBona. Jay was not allowed to attend. Dr. Marvin Greenberg, noted psychiatrist, spoke on behalf of Jay. 

Dr. Greenberg had been the one to examine Jay when he surrendered and found him “frightened, hyperactive and confused about events.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported this in their October 28, 1975 coverage of the hearing:

“Responding to questions from Assistant District Attorney Michael Stiles, Greenberg said that Centifanti was mentally ill and ‘at times, psychotic, with a profound paranoid system.

‘He’s itching for a fight with the forces around him … the (court) proceedings intensify the idea that the world is one big adversary system,’ Dr. Greenberg said.

‘It will promote his suspicions and distrust. I think (his appearance) would postpone and prolong his getting well.

‘It would be difficult for an attorney to help him because Centifanti can’t make decisions. He’d try to run the case and be his own lawyer.’

According to Dr. Greenberg, Jay ‘was having great difficulties with his wife and he had a history of alcoholism and great rages. He told me his wife was dealing with her problems, left him and took the children.

‘He also learned he was going to be let go from his law firm. He cried. He didn’t think he could live without his wife.’

Greenberg told the court that these pressures caused Mr. Centifanti to ‘oscillate between depression, devastation and being a frightened person, a machine-like person who would remedy (his problems)’ in a harsh, rigid and logical way.

‘If he were a surgeon,” Greenberg said, “I wouldn’t let him in the operating room.'”

The hearing was postponed and a further examination of Jay’s mental state was ordered.

A decision regarding Jay’s competency to stand trial was handed down on November 6, 1975 by Judge G. Fred DiBona. 

It was determined that Mr. Centifanti was not able to stand trial. Instead Jay was to continue his incarceration at the Norristown State Hospital for an additional 60 days and ordered to undergo further psychiatric testing. 

During that time, Jay was diagnosed as bi-polar. Finally, he began to understand what was causing his drastic mood swings and irrational behavior.

On July 23, 1976, nine months after he turned himself in and nearly a year since he tried to kill his wife, Joseph Centifanti, 31-years-old, pleaded guilty but mentally ill to two counts of aggravated assault. All other related charges were dropped.

Under the terms of the plea deal worked out between Jay’s lawyer Donald Goldberg and Assistant D.A. Michael Stiles, Jay would not go to a prison but he would be returning to the Norristown State Hospital for additional psychiatric treatment. 

Bronwen was not present during the hearing. At A.D.A. Stiles’ recommendation, she stayed home that day.

confinement was to last no longer than 2 1/2 years. After his release
in January 1978, Jay be placed on 5 years probation. 

Please Court Judge Edward J. Blake ordered Mr. Centifanti to stay away
from his ex-wife, to continue with psychiatric treatment and to attend
AA meetings.

Jay’s time at Norristown didn’t go well. Not at first anyway. 

He had made several attempts at suicide, including swallowing glass. 

Jay credits his attorney, Donald Goldberg and Dr. Henry Steadman as his saviors.

Mr. Goldberg saw to it that Jay was committed to Norristown, which is where Dr. Steadman saw potential in Jay. 

Perhaps some credit too should go to the drug lithium, which Jay was now prescribed.

Steadman convinced Jay that, with his legal background, he had a bright
future in advocating for the rights of the mentally ill. 

Dr. Steadman’s prophecy was true, advocacy became Jay’s passion.

And where was Jay during his 2 months on the lam after shooting Bronwen? photo

Well, he had spent more than a month hiding in the attic of The Old Pine Street Presbyterian Church.

The balance of the time was spent in NYC. 

While there, Jay stayed in a series of seedy hotels and attended as many operas and art shows as he could before decided to turn himself in.

But did Jay really decide for himself that it was time to surrender?

As Jay has explained repeatedly since his surrender, he had received a series of “command hallucinations” that guided his actions on August 15, 1975.

He describes these commands as words on a neon message board scrolling through his brain.



It was only after Jay had shot Bronwen five times that the command “LET HER LIVE” came through. It was then that he jumped from the train.

Two months later, Jay would be commanded to “SURRENDER.”

In late September of 1977, Jay was granted a temporary respite from the Norristown Hospital so that he could be transported to Arlington, VA to act as his own attorney in his divorce proceedings. 

When he filed his application for release, Jay argued that he was “a material witness, an indispensable party” in the proceedings. 

This time, the courts and psychiatrists agreed that allowing Jay to appear in court to represent himself would be “beneficial to his rehabilitation.”

It’s interesting to note that under “Legal grounds for cause of divorce” the September 27, 1977 decree lists only “one year separation” and not “attempted murder.” 

This was the last time Jay would appear as a lawyer in any courtroom. In January 1980, his license was suspended for a five year period, retroactive to November 25, 1975.

B. Centifanti, the once promising law student, ultimately lost his
right to practice law and the multiple “Petitions for Reinstatement” filed on his behalf were all rejected.

Several times a year over a six year period (1978-1984), Jay would sue Bronwen, seeking visitation and custody of their children.

With each new lawsuit, Brownen’s frustration grew, prompting Ira Chaiffetz to suggest to her that they hire a hitmen. Surely, he was joking. Right?

The inability to practice law was certainly a thorn in Jay’s side between 1982-1989. 

Equal to that, perhaps, was his continued animosity towards Ira Chaiffetz.

“Donahue” screen grab

I’ve uploaded a video of Jay Centifanti and his daughter Dana’s appearance on the March 27, 1992 of “Donahue” to my YouTube channel. 

Here’s a link –

It’s a good opportunity for you to hear Jay speak for himself. 

To me, Jay’s anger towards Ira seems palpable, even after 17 years but maybe he knew something the viewers didn’t. Something not even Bronwen knew.

Ironically, it’s possible Bronwen and Ira’s relationship would have been short-lived were it not for Jay’s shooting her on August 15, 1975. Did the shared trauma bring them closer together? We can’t know.

In 1979, Ira N. Chaiffetz graduated from Philadelphia’s Hahnemann Medical College. He was now Dr. Ira Chaiffetz.

On January 30, 1983, Bronwen and and Ira were married. 

Bronwen was employed as senior counsel on the Board of Governors for the Federal Reserve System.

I can see from the marriage certificate that the two Arlington, VA residents were already living together at the time. When cohabitation began, I cannot say and I’m not judging. Even Doris Day, who had several failed marriages, advocated living together first.

The union produced two children, David (in 1984) and Sarah (in 1985), but the marriage didn’t last. In 1987, Bronwen and Ira divorced. Custody of the children was a hotly contested issue. 

The couple, residents of Georgia at the time of the divorce, agreed to shared custody. 

In 1989, Bronwen gave Ira full custody but retained visitation rights.

In 1991, Ira and his children lived in the town of Washington Court House, Ohio where Ira was working as an anesthesiologist at the Fayette County Memorial Hospital.

Bronwen relocated to Florida and would marry a third time, to a man named John Bello.

In October 1995, Ira found employment at the  North Central Correctional Institution (NCCI), a medium-security men’s prison, as the prison doctor and it would be his undoing.

The family dynamics had shifted yet again. Sarah was living with the Bellos while David remained in Ohio with Ira.

Then, on August 23, 1996, a Florida domestic relations court awarded Bronwen custody of both David (then 12) and Sarah (aged 10).

Ira had difficulty accepting the court’s ruling, despite seeing a letter written by his son David.

David wrote, “This request will no doubt surprise some, anger others and will relieve me knowing I have spoken my piece …” The essence of the letter was that David would prefer to live in Florida with his mother.

It seems Ira, then 43-years-old, was in the habit of complaining to anyone who would listen, including coworkers and inmates, that his ex-wife was a terrible person. This was especially true after the latest custody battle.

One inmate who was happy to let Ira vent was inmate Victor Gatto. 

The two became acquainted in January 1996 when Dr. Chaiffetz scheduled emergency heart surgery for inmate Gatto and was then responsible for Gatto’s post-surgery care.

Victor Gatto, then 55 years-old, was serving a 5 to 25 year sentence for forgery, theft, drug trafficking and possession of criminal tools. 

Jail time was nothing new for Victor Angelo Gatto, who bragged to Dr. Chaiffetz that he had been committing crimes as far back as 1962.

Ira supposedly soaked up these stories and found tales of Gatto’s criminal life fascinating. It was a nice break from his own troubles. 

It’s a bit of a he said-he said situation as to who approached whom but there’s certainly a money trail that implicates Ira in a murder-for-hire plot with Gatto making the arrangements on Ira’s behalf, in exchange for payment.

On May 14, 1997, Ira Chaiffetz was arrested when he showed up for work at NCCI and charged with conspiring to kill his ex-wife.

1997 mugshot

He pled not guilty and was released that evening after posting a $50,000 corporate bond.

Did Gatto see Ira as a patsy, an easy target? Someone he could manipulate and extract money from without actually providing a service? 

Did Ira believe the money he sent to Gatto’s Las Vegas girlfriend was for real estate, as he maintains, or was it a truly down payment being made to a hitman who would kill the woman he once loved.

According to Gatto, in September of 1996, Ira asked him, thinking him a  man with mafia connections, if it was possible to have his wife “disappear.”

Gatto assured him that for $12,000 he could make it happen and he asked Ira to send $4,000 to his girlfriend Mary McCauley in Las Vegas to get the ball rolling. 

There can be no doubt that Ira sent that amount of money to Mary McCauley. 

The following information comes directly from Marion County, Ohio court documents, dated June 17, 1999:

According to the plan, Chaiffetz would make three separate payments totaling $4,000, to Mary McCauley, Gatto’s Las Vegas girlfriend. 

The evidence at his trial confirmed that on September 23, 1996, Chaiffetz clocked out of work at 3:40 p.m., drove to a Huntington National Bank branch in Marion, Ohio, and withdrew $2,200 from his account. 

By 4:25 p.m., Chaiffetz purchased a cashier’s check for $2,000 from a Huntington National Bank branch in Delaware, Ohio. Chaiffetz used cash to purchase the check, making it payable to Mary McCauley, and gave the name “John Smith” as purchaser. 

On October 12, 1996, and again on November 20, 1996, bank surveillance cameras recorded Chaiffetz purchasing $1,000 cashier’s checks from State Savings Bank in Columbus, Ohio. 

Bank tellers confirmed that Chaiffetz used cash for these transactions, that the checks were made out to Mary McCauley,and that he gave the name “James McCauley” as purchaser.

It was Gatto’s testimony at trial that although he took this money from Chaiffetz (via McCauley) he never intended to carry out any plans to execute Bronwen Bello. 

Indeed, Gatto apparently instructed McCauley to use the money Chaiffetz sent to place bets on his behalf. Taped conversations between Gatto and McCauley supported the fact McCauley was upset with Gatto for gambling this money away.

It seemed that McCauley had hoped to use the money toward a future real estate purchase and did not want to alienate Chaiffetz from future participation in a real estate venture by squandering his money. Nevertheless, the evidence at trial also confirmed that McCauley used $500 of the money to purchase a secured credit card for herself.

Although there was some evidence that McCauley had hoped to use the money she had received for a future real estate purchase, it was McCauley’s contention at trial that she did not know exactly why she was receiving the cashier’s checks through the mail. She was aware that they had come from Chaiffetz (the two had some brief telephone conversations on the matter) as a result of his relationship with Gatto. 

She assumed that it had something to do with drugs since Gatto had a long history in the drug trafficking trade and McCauley recalled Gatto stating that Chaiffetz was interested in hearing about the business. It was not until about December 4, 1996 that she learned the purpose behind the checks. 

Gatto informed her in a letter “that the doctor wanted his wife whacked.” 

According to Gatto, after Chaiffetz sent payments totaling $4,000 to McCauley, Chaiffetz began to question Gatto about when the hitmen would complete their job. 

In order to stall Chaiffetz, Gatto made up a story that the hitmen had been arrested and detained in Florida and that he would have to arrange for different hitmen to kill Bello. 

In February 1997, unable to further stall Chaiffetz, and believing that “one way or another” the doctor would see that the execution took place, Gatto wrote a letter to the Attorney General of Ohio, Betty Montgomery, informing her of the violence he feared would take place.

As a result of Gatto’s letter, Trooper Kevin Smith from the Ohio State Highway Patrol was assigned to investigate Gatto’s allegations. Gatto subsequently agreed to assist police in apprehending Chaiffetz in exchange for the State’s promise of assistance in his upcoming parole hearing. 

To further the investigation, Gatto wore a recording device in April and May 1997, during three of his medical appointments. 

In the conversations recorded, Chaiffetz and Gatto discussed how Bello could be killed in a drive-by shooting; that “eight grand” was due when the execution was complete; that the hitmen would make Bello disappear the way Chaiffetz wanted and that, if he got in the way, the hitmen would take out John Bello as well. 

Moreover, the two men discussed how this wasn’t the first time someone had tried to kill “the broad”; that she would “be killed before the week’s up;” it would happen right away; and that Chaiffetz was afraid he would have the “heat” on him.

According to Trooper Smith’s instructions, Gatto told Chaiffetz to send the “hitmen” photographs of Bello. Gatto gave Chaiffetz the address of a specific Cleveland, Ohio, post office box that was then monitored by police. 

An envelope addressed to “James McCauley” containing pictures of Bronwen Bello was sent through the Columbus, Ohio Post Office, with a postmark dated April 11, 1997. 

The postal inspector in Cleveland recovered the envelope on April 14, 1997 and turned it over to Trooper Smith. No fingerprints were recovered from the envelope or photos; however, a handwriting analysis of the address written on the envelope claimed “similarities” to Chaiffetz’s known handwriting.

Also at the trooper’s direction, Gatto requested Chaiffetz make an additional payment to McCauley. Gatto suggested to a reluctant Chaiffetz that he should pay $2,000 more, half the contract price, before the hitmen would be sent to kill Bello. 

Following this discussion, a bank teller and surveillance photographs from State Savings Bank in Columbus, Ohio, confirmed that Chaiffetz purchased another $1,000 cashier’s check, made it payable to Mary McCauley, and gave a purchaser name of “James McCauley.” 

On May 8, 1997, McCauley received the check along with a note, which read: “rest very soon.” Police recovered this check and note from McCauley. Handwriting analysis on the envelope again identified Chaiffetz as the author, however, since the note was written in block
letters, the handwriting analyst could not identify Chaiffetz as the author of the note. 

Four days later, during a taped conversation between Gatto and Chaiffetz, Gatto informed Chaiffetz that Mary McCauley had received “that thing yesterday,” that he “called and told them [hitmen] go ahead,” and that Bello would “be killed before the week’s up.”

On May 14, 1997, Trooper Smith interviewed Chaiffetz regarding his relationship with Gatto, wherein he denied the preceding events. Specifically, he denied hiring Gatto to kill his ex-wife, sending any money to Mary McCauley in Las Vegas, talking with Mary McCauley on the phone, possessing any photographs of his ex-wife, and sending any photographs of her to a Cleveland post office box.

At trial, Chaiffetz admitted that he lied to the trooper about a number of things during the May 14th interview out of fear that he would lose his job at N.C.C.I. if it were known that he had a relationship with an inmate. Chaiffetz did concede that he sent money to McCauley, but he claimed the payments were for real estate purposes.

There was evidence at trial that in the fall of 1996, Gatto and McCauley had talked about purchasing some Las Vegas real estate with Chaiffetz. McCauley agreed to investigate real estate properties and to send Gatto information on the properties so he could review them as potential investment opportunities with Chaiffetz. 

Thus, Chaiffetz contended at trial that the money he sent to McCauley was to show that he was serious about investing and also for use as a deposit on property. However, there was no evidence at trial that McCauley’s real estate inquiries in Las Vegas ever culminated in serious plans to purchase any particular piece of real estate. 

In fact, Chaiffetz admitted that he had no documentation relating to any real estate transaction, that Gatto and McCauley had no expertise in real estate, that he had never visited nor did he ever intend to live in Las Vegas, and that he really did not trust Gatto, given his criminal history and Mafia connections.

Chaiffetz also denied sending photographs of Bronwen Bello to Cleveland and implied that Gatto must have stolen some old photos of Bello from his desk at N.C.C.I. and mailed them to Cleveland himself. Furthermore, Chaiffetz claimed that he sent McCauley the $1,000 payment in May of 1997 in an attempt to stop any plot to assassinate Bello. 

According to Chaiffetz, Gatto, apparently out of a sense of loyalty or friendship, had repeatedly brought up the idea of using his “connections” to kill Bello, given the grief she had caused in Chaiffetz’s life. 

Although Chaiffetz claimed he had always refused such an idea, thinking Gatto was not serious, Gatto had become so insistent in regard to the idea, that Chaiffetz feared he would actually send hitmen out to kill Bello unless Chaiffetz pacified Gatto with money. 

There was no evidence at trial that Chaiffetz ever contacted authorities regarding this perceived threat or otherwise attempted to warn Bello of impending danger.

Ira maintained his innocence throughout the two week trial and tried to explain his actions in a way that would exonerate him.

When asked by the Marion County prosecutor Jim Slagle why he would keep photos of his ex-wife, whom he had divorced 10 years ago, in his desk drawer at work, Ira said “I was going to make a collage as it was an anxiety relieving maneuver,”

Ira’s attorney James Owen told jurors that the covert records of conversation between Gatto and his client, which they had listened to weren’t serious discussions. 

He described Chaiffetz as a “flamboyant” person who “loved to talk about bizarre things.”

Even if that’s true, the evidence against him was overwhelming. 

On February 13, 1998, the jury found Ira Nathan Chaiffetz guilty of conspiracy to commit murder.

On April 9, 1998, Ira was sentenced to nine years in prison and ordered to pay a fine of $20,000.

Several jurors, through letters, expressed empathy for Dr. Chaiffetz, feeling he had been “set up” and framed by “Gatto.”

However, Ira had spent eight months plotting with Gatto to kill his wife.

Of course, it is true that Gatto had a history of setting people up to take a fall and he had done so previously as an FBI informant.

For instance:

In July 1984, Cleveland lawyer Jonathan H. Soucek was retained to defend Victor Gatto in connection with a felonious assault charge. 

Soucek secured Gatto’s
release from jail by becoming the guarantor of Gatto’s $10,000 bond but later grew concerned about
whether he could rely on Gatto’s subsequent appearance in court. 

On October 2, 1984, Mr. Soucek asked Gatto to act as a go-between in a drug deal with Leslie “Thunder” Morgan, another client of Soucek’s

Soucek told Gatto he was willing to pay $200,000 for eight kilograms of cocaine and another $50,000 for 50,000 Quaaludes.

Gatto alerted
the authorities about the exchange of a cocaine sample that was to take
place in a restroom at Cleveland Hopkins Airport on October 25, 1984. 

The FBI supplied the cocaine and Soucek was arrested that day as he exited the men’s room carrying a briefcase containing the one kilogram of cocaine.

Feb 1998

In 1998, Victor Angelo Gatto was indeed rewarded for the part he played in Chaiffetz’s conviction; he was granted an early release. 

If that was Gatto’s intention all along, as Ira’s attorney told the jury, it was a good one.

When asked, in May 1997, about this second attempt by one of her husbands to kill her, Bronwen told a Columbus Dispatch reporter “It just boggles my mind how this happens to me. I’m just a perfectly normal person. Really.” 

Also weighing in on the murder plot was Jay Centifanti, who claimed he and his ex-wife now had a friendly relationship.

When asked about Ira Chaiffetz, Jay observed “He’s the worst thing in the world – he’s another me. He’s an ill-treated manic depressive. I wish he goes through a change in his head like I did.”

Ira did undergo a change while in prison. 

On September 9, 1998, the State Medical Board permanently revoked his medical license.

On the bright side, he also found love. On April 12, 2000, Ira married Laura J.  Toms in a small room near the inmate visiting area. 

A December 28, 2008 piece by The Columbus Dispatch Mike Harden reporter titled “Prison Past Stalls Doctor’s Future” focused on former doctor Ira Chaiffetz and how difficult it’s been for hin since his 2007 parole. 

Here are some passages and quotes from Ira:

 “I’m a bright, capable and creative-enough guy. I’m someone accustomed to being useful to society.

“What does one do in the labor market with the job skills of a defrocked physician?”

“The way I managed to make it through nine years in prison was to pretend I wasn’t there.”

“I’ve applied for every job I could” since his parole in 2007, Chaiffetz said. “Five hundred, easy. But when you have a nine-year gap in your employment record, there is no way to make that look good.

“For years, I had a job where I acquitted myself quite successfully.”

Prospective employers have agreed that he might be a good candidate for this position or that, though Chaiffetz said their praise is always followed by the inevitable, “We’ll have to run this by our legal department.”

“Even in the most egalitarian society in the world,” Chaiffetz said, “things aren’t always as they should be.”

It’s interesting that Ira’s complaints about not being able to do the job he’s most qualified for mirrors that of Jay Centifanti. 

No doubt, Ira had very little sympathy for Jay when he was found guilty of attempted murder and lost his right to practice law.

These days, Ira “Twangs” Chaiffetz can be found playing the banjo at local fairs and ice cream socials.

Jay Centifanti has more than lived up to Dr. Henry Steadman’s expectations. He’s a tireless advocate for those afflicted with mental illness. 

“Do you need someone to do detail work?” Centifanti asked in a June 6, 1989 article that appeared in the Indianapolis News. 

“Schizophrenics are dreamers and planners. They function brilliantly in creative jobs like advertising and public relations. Manic-depressives are true workers, high-energy people who can accomplish mountains of research.”

Of course, Jay’s still considered a little too intense, never at a loss for words and disarmingly blunt. 

A profile of Jay that was published in the December 13, 1998 edition of (PA’s) The Morning Call, in which Jay willingly refers to himself as one of Philadelphia’s most famous “criminal fruitcakes,” revealed to readers that “Centifanti no longer takes medication to treat his illness – his own unscientific theory is that manic depression burns itself out in some men when they reach middle age.”

The Morning Call –  Dec. 13, 1998

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette ran a piece on Jay in their May 7, 2000 edition in which he expressed the belief “that the real culprit for his actions (shooting his wife 5 times) was his drinking problem, which he said began partly as a way to ‘medicate’ himself to deal with his manic-depressive symptoms.”

Philadelphia’s Colosimo’s Gun Center closed their doors for good in 2009 as part of a federal plea agreement over “straw” purchases, in which one person with a clean record legally buys a gun, then passes it to someone barred from making purchases, such as a convicted felon. Not that that was a factor when Jay was a customer.

Bronwen will turn 75 this year and I hope she’s enjoying retirement in Florida with her family – she’s earned it. 

For more on the life and brutal death of atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair, I recommend episode #222 of “My Favorite Murder.” Here’s a link –


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