DEER LODGE — Prayers, probes and Facebook postings have not been enough to find Beverly Giannonatti, 79, and her 57-year-old son Greg a month after they went missing.
Investigators from the state Department of Criminal Investigations arrived in Deer Lodge last week to work on the case. They joined off-site agents from the Helena office of the FBI and local law enforcement officials from the Powell County Sheriff’s Office and Deer Lodge Police Department, all of whom remain tight-lipped in a town and county that yearn for good news but have steeled themselves for the worst.
“The valley has gone from being frantic to just sad,” a friend of Bev Giannonatti said. “Who would kidnap such a lovely lady?”
Bev is described by those who know her as a church-going businesswoman and a member of the Blackfoot Babes chapter of the Red Hat Society who worked for many years as recorder in district court. With her late ex-husband Bill, she raised Greg and his brother Darrell in Deer Lodge. Darrell died of heart issues in 2013 at age 50.
She is 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighs 105 pounds with dark hair and hazel eyes.
Acquaintances say Greg Giannonatti is a man who has largely kept to himself since returning to Deer Lodge four years ago. He retired from a career as city engineer in Roseville, California, near Sacramento, in 2010. While living in California, he was injured severely in a vehicle accident.
He’s 5-feet-11 and weighs 230 pounds with gray hair and hazel eyes.
Powell County Sheriff Scott Howard made it clear at a news conference Nov. 3 that foul play is suspected.
“I truly believe the outcome of this case is not going to be good,” Howard reiterated Wednesday. “You can interpret that any way you want.”
Speculation abounds here, of course. Much of it centers on a 25-pound bar of gold that by Wednesday afternoon’s price index would be worth roughly $480,000.
According to news reports, the gold was found by a cleaning woman at a house on Larkspur Road between Deer Lodge and Garrison on Beck Hill roughly 10 days before the Giannonattis went missing. Bev's ex-husband Bill owned the home before he passed away in August.
Bev and Greg, Bill Giannonatti’s only close relatives in Deer Lodge, live in separate residences on the west side of Deer Lodge. Friends say Bev had been amicably separated from Bill and was remodeling the Larkspur home she occupied with him when they were married with plans to move back in.
Early in the case, investigators said both Giannonattis were seen on Wednesday, Oct. 28 — Beverly at a local restaurant in late morning while visiting with a Caucasian male around the age of 60, Greg in an apparent hurry as he drove away from his home on Washington Street in a white 1995 Toyota Camry.
After a call of concern by a friend of Beverly on Halloween, officers made a welfare check at her home on Oregon Street but got no answer. Another call prompted a return the following day, Nov. 1. This time officers entered the home and found the woman’s two small dogs, which friends say Bev seldom left home without. They appeared to have been unattended for four or five days.
An unsuccessful attempt was made to contact Greg at his home the same day. His dog, which required daily medicine, also appeared to have been left alone for several days. The television was on, and officers noted what remained of a pot roast in a slow cooker that was still turned on.
In neither house were there signs of a struggle, Howard said. Vehicles belonging to both have been accounted for, including Greg’s Camry, which was found at the Larkspur home on Nov. 1.
Investigators say when the woman who was cleaning that home found the gold bar on Oct. 19, she notified Bev Giannonatti in town. Howard told a Butte TV station last week that Giannonatti then went out to the house and presumably retrieved the gold.
What she did with it remains a mystery.
“I cannot find that gold bar,” Howard told a local TV station. “I’ve checked safety deposit boxes, and I’m not coming up with any location on that.”
He said Wednesday the investigation consists of chasing leads and a lot of paperwork.
“We’ve got mountains and mountains of paper and mountains and mountains of interviews to sort through,” Howard said.
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He requested the FBI’s involvement straightaway for specific technical expertise.
“They’re document people, phone people,” the sheriff said. “They’re out there sifting through stuff and helping us analyze that and managing what we analyze so we have an understanding of what we’re looking at and maybe can use it later on at trial.”
Howard said he was in touch with the chief of the state criminal investigation bureau from the start, but those agents had their plates full at the time.
“There are more homicides and missing people going on in the state of Montana than just this case,” he said. “These poor agents are run ragged. They’d have been here from day one if they could have been.”
The agents began assisting in Deer Lodge on Nov. 17, and there have been as many as five of them working leads since then. There were four there Wednesday.
“They’re really just helping the locals with the search and all the things that go along with a search for missing persons,” Department of Justice spokesman John Barnes said. “I don’t have any specific information, but I do know a lot of resources are going into it, and a lot of time. It’s certainly a curious set of circumstances.”
To neighbors and those close to the Giannonattis, the ongoing mystery is wearing on their hearts and nerves.
“We’re all nervous. I don’t know why,” said a friend of Bev’s who asked not to be identified during the investigation. “It’s like somebody might step into our house tomorrow. It gives you an uneasy feeling.”
“It is heart-wrenching not knowing where our loved ones are. We feel so overwhelmed and helpless,” Beverly’s niece, Susan Baumeister Baker of Yankton, South Dakota, wrote in a prayer posted on the Facebook page “Help Find Beverly Giannonatti & Greg Giannonatti.”
Gayle Mizner has known Bev Giannonatti since Bev was reporter in the district court of her husband Ted Mizner. She created the Facebook page to marshal whatever information authorities release, making sure it's accurate.
“There were about three different ones going on, with speculation and rumors and all that,” Mizner said. “I talked to the sheriff and said I know you don’t like Facebook, but it might be good to have one place people can go for the real scoop.”
Howard was good with it, and Mizner is in contact with him regularly. With the sheriff’s blessing, she has posted what few updates she can as well as detailed news articles by Michael Stafford, editor of the Silver State Post, and Pat Hansen of The Montana Standard.
“It’s been really good,” Mizner said. “Bev has nieces especially who've been in contact through the Facebook page. They’re grateful they’ve had that source to go through, knowing the information is authentic and we’re not trying to stir anything up.”
Mizner frequently urges those who might have information to call the Powell County Sheriff’s Office at 406-846-2711 or the Deer Lodge police at 406-846-9585.
Howard called Mizner's efforts “a great asset to us.”
He said her Facebook efforts have paid off with a couple of good tips.
“Any information leading to the recovery of these folks is greatly appreciated by all parties,” said Howard, who is in his 20th year as sheriff and 29th year in law enforcement.
It’s a unique case for the sheriff.
“I can’t say I’ve had two family members go poof off the face of the Earth and left us sniffing a cold track,” said Howard, who was up until 3:30 a.m. Wednesday working on and thinking about the Giannonatti case.
“This is a priority right now. We take on these jobs, take an oath, and that’s just the way it is. We’ve got state and federal agents who are going to miss Thanksgiving with their families, but you know what? There ain’t one law enforcement officer bitching about it. They’re just worried about getting this done.”