While waiting to get his union card, so he could begin working as a carpenter, a case of appendicitis, complicated by alcoholism left him incapacitated. During his recovery he lived at the Monticello Motel on North Interstate Ave.
In September, 1995 Tony still lived at the Monticello, but things were picking up. His health was back and he had moderated his drinking. He was working for Western Wood Structures in Troutdale and trying to save enough money to move from the motel to his own place.
Through all his travels and his troubles, there was one thing that made Tony, Tony. That was chess. It was probably a chess game that cost Tony his life.
On Sunday September 24, 1995 Tony was found beaten to death with his own hammer in his motel room. In the bloody mess, police found a chess board, but no chess pieces, and some cigarette butts. No money was found in the room, all though Tony had recently been paid and he was known to have cash in his room that he was saving for his apartment.
Forensic scientists were able to extract DNA from the cigarette butts, but DNA science was in its infancy in the 90s and the evidence led nowhere. Soon the case grew cold.
Patricia Forillo of Minooka, IL Tony’s mom was not willing to leave it there. She came to Portland shortly after her son’s murder and searched pawn shops for her son’s chess set and his high school class ring. She found nothing, but she stayed in touch with Portland Detective Mike Hefley, keeping the case in his mind, not letting him forget about her son’s murder.
In 1999 Patricia arranged for a $5000 reward for information about her son’s death. The reward was offered by the Carole Sund/Carrington Reward Foundation, which provides money to help families solve unsolved murders. Patricia, a MacDonald’s manager who had raised three children by herself, was not wealthy.
Two years later the reward offer had expired, but by then police had a suspect. A DNA match had come back for the cigarette butts. The DNA found in Forillo’s motel room belonged to Richard Ramon Aponte.
Aponte was a wandering day laborer with a record of violence going back to 1986 that included arrests for aggravated assault, weapons and drug charges in New York, Seattle, Miami and Boise ID. In 2001 Aponte was in jail for a beating murder in Florida.
In May 1999 a Key West man was found beaten to death with a pickaxe handle in his home. A few days later Richard Aponte was arrested for hitchhiking in Louisiana. While in jail he cried as he confessed to police that he had beaten the Florida man to death because he had paid him only $40 for 16 hours work.
Aponte was convicted of the murder and during his move to State prison he gave a routine DNA sample. The DNA was eventually matched to the sample Detective Hefley had from the cigarette butts in Forillo’s motel room.
Hefley and Detective Tom Nelson flew to Florida to interview their suspect. Aponte played it cagey. He said he didn’t know anything about a murder in Portland. Hefley and his partner were stymied. The DNA alone was not enough evidence to convict Aponte, but at least they knew he wasn’t going anywhere.
Hefley let Patricia Forillo know that they had a good suspect and that he was in jail for another killing. That was about all of the news that Patricia would get, she had already been diagnosed with breast cancer and she died a short while later.
By 2003 Detective Lynn Courtney had taken over the case and he got word from Florida that Aponte would be willing to talk about Forillo’s murder, but only if they would promise that he could serve the rest of his life sentence in Oregon. Courtney let the convict know that he could not make any promises like that and Aponte held his tongue.
In 2005 Aponte’s appeal of his Florida murder conviction failed. He called Detective Courtney and citing a religious conversion agreed to talk about Tony Forillo. Courtney flew to Florida and got the killer’s confession.
“I just wanted the family to know that it was nothing personal,” said Aponte. He said that on that Saturday he had gone to Forillo’s room to play chess for money. Aponte claimed that he won the game, but Forillo refused to pay. Aponte beat him to death with his hammer. Courtney asked what happened to the chess pieces. Aponte said they had his fingerprints on them so he took them away after the killing and disposed of them.
Last Monday, 11 years and one day after the murder, Richard Aponte was arraigned in Multnomah County court on agravated murder and first-degree robbery charges.