Police Officer Joseph Paul Zanella

Police Officer Joseph Paul Zanella

Verona Borough Police Department, Pennsylvania

End of Watch Friday, September 19, 1969

Joseph Paul Zanella

Police 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 in Oakmont Borough. As Officer Zanella got out of his patrol 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, Killing him.

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 U.S. Army Veteran of the Vietnam War, 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.


  • Age 25
  • Tour 2 years, 5 months
  • Badge Not available
  • Military Veteran

Incident Details

  • Cause Gunfire
  • Weapon Handgun; .25 caliber
  • Offender Committed suicide in prison

escapee, traffic stop

Most Recent Reflection

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Thanks, Chuck, that is a wonderful compliment to the memory of Joe Zanella. I worked as a Pittsburgh Police officer for 14 years and I still remember the day he died.

Larry Lantz
Pittsburgh Police

September 19, 2013

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