Man charged in 1981 murder case

CHICAGO Police arrested 56-year-old Michael Cosmano at his Naperville home for the 1981 murder of a pizza delivery driver.

Milton Rodriguez, 29, was shot and killed behind the restaurant where he worked on Chicago and Wolcott. Investigators say the shooting stemmed from an argument the two had about pay.

Last August, police say a witness came forward. Since then, police say others have changed their stories-- claiming fear for their lives and rumors of connections to organized crime had kept them quiet for years. But, police now say the witnesses wanted to give the victim's family closure.

New construction is underway on Chicago Avenue at the location of a deadly confrontation nearly 27 years ago. In 1981, Bella's Pizza was owned by Cosmano. In June of that year, an employee who had just been fired was shot behind the restaurant. He was killed by a bullet that struck his heart. Now police say Cosmano was the one who fired the gun.

"Cosmano was the owner of Bella's Pizza. And the drivers got together with Mr. Rodriguez as the leader and were planning to organize a boycott," said Cmdr. Edward O'Donnell, Chicago Cold Case Squad.

Detectives with Chicago's Cold Case Squad say witnesses were too scared to come forward years ago. But now more than half a dozen witnesses say they saw Cosmano shoot Rodriguez.

"Many times you reach out to the same people that were spoken to many years ago and they have a change of heart. They're no longer in fear. Whatever fear prevented them from saying anything before, many years have passed and they're not afraid anymore," said Sgt. Carlos Velez, Chicago Cold Case Squad.

Cosmano appeared in court Thursday. A prosecutor said Cosmano had been using cocaine that day and he'd overheard Rodriguez talking about organizing employees to get more money. In a rage, Cosmano went to the alley and shot Rodriguez as he sat on a wall drinking a beer.

"He will plead not guilty. The case is 27 years old. He stood in a voluntary lineup after the crime was committed, if there was a crime. Obviously it's a tragic death, of course," said Anthony Onesto, Cosmano's attorney.

Onesto represented Cosmano in 1981 and doesn't understand why witnesses who cleared Cosmano would change their story.

"Cosmano stood in a lineup within days of the killing. And the two witnesses at the lineup said it wasn't Cosmano, and he walked out. What's happened since then? I don't know," Onesto said.

Cosmano's attorney was offended by allegations of organized crime connections to his client. Police say while Cosmano's employees may have thought there were connections, their investigation finds those allegations unfounded.

Rodriguez left behind a baby daughter who is now an adult wanting her father's case closed.

Copyright © 2023 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.