Bio & Incident Details
Tour: 2 years, 5 months
Badge # Not available
Incident Date: 9/19/1969
Weapon: Handgun; .25 caliber
Suspect: Committed suicide in prison
Officer Joseph Zanella was shot and killed when he stopped a jail escapee in a stolen car at the intersection of Allegheny River Boulevard and Plum Street. As Officer Zanella got out of his car he was shot at twice by the suspect who was sitting inside the car he had stolen. The first shot struck a cement wall behind Officer Zanella. The second shot struck Officer Zanella in the heart. Officer Zanella fell to the ground and crawled back to his patrol car where he died.
The suspect had escaped a week earlier from the Allegheny County Work House where he was awaiting sentence for raping a 17 year-old girl. Soon after he killed Officer Zanella, the suspect abandoned his car in a department store parking lot in LeVale, Maryland. Later a 21 year-old woman and her 2 year-old daughter who had been shopping at that store were reported missing. The suspect told the police that he kidnapped and killed them. He said he left their bodies in Ohio and Kansas. He was never charged with their murders. The woman and her daughter were never found. He was recaptured in Iowa three weeks later.
The suspect was convicted of murdering Officer Zanella and sent to Western Penitentiary. On December 10, 1973 the suspect, along with three other inmates, attacked and beat to death Captain Walter Peterson of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. On December 6, 1978 the suspect hanged himself in his cell.
Officer Zanella was a Vietnam War veteran, was a Verona firefighter, and had served with the Verona Police Department for nearly two and half years. He was survived by his wife, son, daughter, parents, and siblings.
Related Line of Duty Deaths
Captain Walter L. Peterson