For 15 years, the many children and grandchildren of Olga Parlante agonized over the unsolved murder of their family matriarch, a gregarious woman known as the “Bingo Queen” for her daily visits to the Seminole Casino near Hollywood.
On Thursday, two of Parlante’s nine children were present when Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti announced that detectives had arrested the man who allegedly beat, robbed and strangled the elderly woman inside her modest apartment in March 1997: Bennie Hall, 44, of Miami.
Hall is serving an unrelated prison sentence in Martin County for a drug and robbery offense in Miami-Dade, and was scheduled to be released in 2017. He now faces one charge of first-degree murder, and has denied any involvement in the murder.
“He denies ever being in Broward County,’’ Lamberti said of Hall.
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While police spoke of the new technology that allowed them to finally match Hall’s palm and finger prints to those found at the murder scene and praised the persistence of a former homicide detective who refused to drop a cold case, it was the Parlante children who appeared most moved by the big break.
Mark Parlante, 54, of Margate, said that over the years he had waivered from hopeful to despairing that police would finally solve his mother’s murder. He broke down in tears as he spoke of his mother.
“I didn’t think it would take 15 years,’’ he said. “Is it going to take the pain away? No. ... I would rather see her die of a heart attack or a stroke. I know my mom. I know how she was. She was a very strong person.’’
Olga Parlante, 71, survived six heart attacks, two strokes, and the pain of being widowed. She left behind a large family that in 1997 included nine children, 23 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
Each year for at least seven years, on the anniversary of Olga Parlante’s murder, her children held a vigil at the Emerald Palms apartment complex where their mother was slain. But the Parlante children had stopped gathering like that in recent years, Mark Parlante said.
Some of Olga Parlante’s children live in Connecticut, he explained, and their mother’s unsolved murder had begun to tear the family apart. He said that his sister, Patty Hyde, was overcome with their mother’s death and driven to suicide some time after 2004.
One of her granddaughters found her bloodied, beaten and strangled body on the morning of March 13, 1997, according to police reports.
Already weakened by illness and age — she was partially paralyzed and used a walker — Parlante tried to escape her attacker, but police found evidence that she was dragged back into the apartment. They found a blouse wrapped around her neck and stuffed in her mouth.
The apartment was ransacked, according to police reports, and bloodied fingerprints and palm prints were found on the doors and walls. A TV set, a mantel clock, a portable radio and about $50 in cash were missing from her home.
Parlante had planned to go to “Night Owls’’ at the Seminole Casino bingo hall when she was slain, a friend told police. BSO investigators estimate she was killed about 10:30 p.m.
BSO Det. Frank Ilarraza, the lead investigator in the case, transferred out of homicide a year ago, but he still things about his unresolved cases, particularly on significant dates.
“It was coming up on the anniversary [of Parlante’s murder],’’ he said, “and I was thinking about it. ... I still have a sense of responsibility.’’
So he asked BSO’s crime lab to re-evaluate the evidence taken form the scene. While palm prints were collected in 1997, technology at the time did not allow them to be compared to other prints in a nationwide database.
In April, Ilarraza got the call that Hall’s palm prints matched those found on Parlante’s bedroom wall and on a receipt that had been dumped from her purse onto the apartment floor. Hall’s fingerprints also matched those taken from a small dresser drawer that had been emptied on a bed.
Ilarraza said he felt elated, especially when he shared the news with Parlante’s children.
“Homicides stay with you forever, especially the unsolved ones,’’ Ilarraza said. “You want justice for the family, for the victims.’’
Hall has a criminal history dating to 1982 and exclusively in Miami-Dade. He was known to prey on the elderly, Ilarraza said, noting that in 2000 Hall allegedly beat and robbed an 87-year-old man at his home in Miami-Dade.
Five days after Parlante’s murder, Hall was arrested in Miami-Dade for possession of cocaine.
But police don’t think he was acting alone the night of the murder. Lamberti urged anyone who knew Hall or his associates from 1997 to call Crime Stoppers at 954-493-8477.
Mark Parlante said the family would have a reunion later this month to commemorate their matriarch.
“To let everybody know that we got our justice,’’ he said. “My mom got her justice.’’