This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and a University of North Florida Journalism class. The student credited above wrote this story as a class project.
Eugene Lanzi stood not quite five feet tall – small in stature, but large in heart.
He was a kind and generous man. Eugene never met a stranger, only new friends. Being the second youngest of eight children, it was appropriate that he grew up in Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, where he was adored by his family, his friends, and his community.
Eugene Lanzi was found murdered on a beach in Florida, killed by blunt force trauma when he was 36 years old.
As a young adult, Eugene worked as a grill chef at the local teenage hangout. Relatives said he would serve customers and entertain teens even when they lacked the money to pay. Eugene went by the nickname “Dubrow,” which, to the small community he grew up in, was synonymous with being cheap. The nickname played into the irony that, while the depth of Eugene’s generosity was great, that may not have been the case for his pockets.
When Eugene was in his 20s, he and his brother were involved in a serious car accident. Eugene was in a coma for two months. Doctors told the family that “if you are religious, get a pastor or a priest.” Eugene apparently overheard this conversation but wasn’t aware that they were planning for his death. He wasn’t expected to survive, and his family flocked to his side daily and took shifts sitting with him to ensure he was never alone.
Against all odds, Eugene woke up, but he was never quite the same. Eugene’s oldest niece says he lost some years in the accident due to brain damage, turning back the clock and making him seem younger than he was. He would remain like this for the rest of his life.
Eventually, Eugene followed his family south to Florida, where he alternated between living with his oldest sister and with one of his brothers. The siblings would often crowd around a table with coffee and play cards. They took care of each other and always looked after Eugene. His niece Dee said, “Eugene was more like a friend than an uncle, but my dates were always screened thanks to him.” He looked out for his family. They were his best friends.
It was in Florida that, one day, no one could find Eugene. Dorothy, the eldest sibling, thought he had gone to visit their brother. After calling him one day to check-in, she realized that wasn’t the case. With no word from Eugene and growing suspicion, the family began to call the hospitals and, eventually, the morgues.
Eugene Lanzi had been found dead of blunt force trauma to the head on August 27, 1973, on a beach in Hollywood, Florida. His family found him in a local morgue several days later. They had to identify his body, which had been cruelly beaten and damaged.
Hundreds of people flocked to Eugene’s viewing in Philadelphia. Family and friends waited in line to pay their respects to the kind and generous man who never met a stranger.
“My baby brother was killed,” one of Eugene’s sister said. There is something so poignantly painful in not only being told that a relative has died but to also hear that he was killed by someone else. Eugene was 32 years old and death had now knocked on his door for the second time. But this time with intent.
The loss took a great toll on the family. Eugene’s mother wore a locket with his photo that would remain around her neck even after she died and was buried. Dorothy would hire private investigators who would look relentlessly but fruitlessly for answers in the case. “No one will ever love me like he did,” she would often say.
Eugene’s love touched the hearts of everyone he interacted with and the loss of him meant the loss of something great in the Lanzi family. The loss of Eugene changed the shape of big events, holidays, and card games around coffee. His loss changed the shape of the hearts that loved him and missed him.
When recounting Eugene’s story, family members say the same thing: Eugene was the kindest human being, and everyone should have someone like that to love.
If you have any information on the unsolved murder of Eugene Lanzi, please call the Broward County Sheriff’s Office at (954) 831-8300.
Research and Impact
One difficulty that survivors of cold cases face is regarding maintaining an internet footprint for their loved ones.
At Project: Cold Case, we fight “Internet Silence” daily. We coined this term to describe the lack of information on a victim and the details surrounding their murder. Far too often have cases been forgotten in the digital age. The lack of readily available stories, newspaper clippings, or news features can hinder our intake process along with the ability to promote that the case remains unsolved and needs assistance from the public.
Whenever families reach out regarding our services, we always take the time to thoroughly research already available information on the victim. If the family has no record of newspaper clippings, for example, we are always happy to provide them with whatever we find. Sometimes that can lead to the family gaining another photo of their loved one; sometimes it’s the only photo they have.
We also speak to our families on utilizing social media and present them with a few best practices to best use the medium. This includes the differences in Facebook accounts, pages, and groups, which can often be confusing.
Utilizing the media is another aspect, and we recommend that families start engaging with their local outlets and building a relationship with the station or individual reporters. Every news station reporter has an email address typically listed on the station’s website. Don’t hesitate to reach out and tell them your story. If the anniversary of the incident is coming up, let them know. Be sure to give them more than enough time to work on the story. A day or two isn’t enough in most cases.
We do caution each family to research the outlet you hope to promote your loved one’s story. Make sure their goals match yours. There are many ways these stories can go wrong, so here are so tips to help:
Ensure you check out the outlet’s work beforehand, whether it be a podcast, documentary, news station, or otherwise. Be sure you feel comfortable with them handling your loved one’s story.
Start early: If there is an anniversary date approaching, use those as target dates for when you would like to see the story published. Reach out early to begin the process and be consistent in your follow-ups.
Be selective with whom you share your story. Again, research the person or persons behind the story and outlet. Understand that retelling and recounting a traumatic period in your life can be emotional and stressful. Feel comfortable that you can share these stories with these people and that they will respect your time and do the story justice.
What you share can potentially be damaging to the case. Families often know details of the case that isn’t public information or have speculated on aspects that may be false. It is important to review what you know for fact, but also what you should share and what you don’t want to share. Wrong information in the public domain can compromise the possibility of solving your loved one’s case.
When in doubt, don’t. If you don’t feel comfortable with a specific outlet or reporter, then don’t share your story. If things started out great but then things changed, know that you can cancel the story. You have control in this situation.