Whether we like it or not, tragic events in our life shape the people we become. Some respond to tragedy by becoming more driven to succeed and make something of their lives, while others are never truly able to move on.
After being told that his mother had killed herself at 5 years old, a Connecticut boy decided to never look back. However, after he achieved fame and glory as an actor, he was finally ready to process what happened to him when he was just a boy. Yet, when he started digging for answers, he ended up solving a mystery that had gone unsolved for over 4 decades…
A Hollywood Actor
Today, 56-year-old Dylan McDermott is best known for his work as an American actor made famous for his roles in movies and TV shows like Steel Magnolias, The Practice, and American Horror Story. Unlike most of his peers, however, Dylan wasn’t groomed for life as an A-lister in Hollywood.
Before all the fame and awards that came after Dylan’s break-out lead role in the legal drama, The Practice, in 1997, Dylan came from humble beginnings when he was born in Waterbury, Connecticut to 2 teenage parents in 1961…
Life As Teen Parents
When Dylan was born, his mother, Diane McDermott, was just 15 years old and his father, Richard McDermott was just 17 years old. Life as teen parents was difficult, and the pressure only got worse when they had another child together shortly after.
When Dylan was just 5 years old, his parents officially got a divorce and his mother took him and his younger sister, Robin, to live with her mother, Avis Marino. Living with his grandmother provided some stability, but that was soon taken away when Diane started dating again…
After one failed marriage, Diane moved on and started dating John Sponza, a violent man who hung out and worked with gangsters and had a long history of run-ins with the law, starting when he was just 15 years old. According to Sponza’s ex-wife, he regularly laundered thousands of dollars for gangsters.
Victims Of Abuse
Shortly after Diane started dating Sponza, the heavily tattooed thug and heroin addict became abusive to both her and her children. According to Diane’s closest friend, Sharon Rotella, he would scream at her, choke her, and make her lift up her dress in front of his friends…
Protecting Her Children
“I think Dee Dee stayed with him because she was terrorised,” said Sharon. While Diane put up with Sponza’s physical, verbal, and emotional abuse, she did everything in her power to protect her two children. After Sponza hit Dylan and stuck a gun to his face, Diane warned him that if he ever did it again, Dylan’s father would kill him.
February 9, 1967
Sponza never hit Dylan again after that, but, sadly, the abuse never stopped for Diane. On the night of February, 9, 1967, Sponza and Diane got into a violent fight yet again. This time, Sponza started waiving his gun at Dylan, who was just 5-years-old, and kicked him out of the house…
For the rest of the night, the 5-year-old was forced to sit outside by himself in the freezing temperatures while Sponza and his mother were fighting inside. Dylan could hear his mother’s screams and Sponza yelling, which was a common occurrence, but then heard a gunshot.
The Moment Everything Changed
Not long after, Dylan watched as police officers and an ambulance arrived at the house in Waterbury, Connecticut. They went into the house and came out a little while later with Diane on a gurney. Dylan could see her head was bloody and was covered in bandages…
The Only Witness
Diane had suffered a bullet wound to the head. Even though she was rushed to the hospital, it was too late for doctors to do anything. Diane died shortly after, and because her 5-year-old son was outside the house at the time, Sponza was the only person who knew what actually happened to her.
Police immediately questioned Sponza to try and figure out what exactly had happened just minutes before their arrival. According to police records, Sponza told police that he had taken out his .32 caliber pistol and was cleaning it while Diane was making dinner…
Sponza told chief inspector Henry Byrnes, who was the lead inspector for the case, that Diane took the pistol that he left on the table, took it into the pantry with her, and had pointed the gun at her head before pulling the trigger. Sponza also told police that he and Diane never fought.
After the investigation, police ruled Diane’s death as an accidental shooting. Meanwhile, Dylan and his 7-month-old sister went back to living with their grandmother, Avis Marino, who told the kids that their mother was in the hospital in an attempt to shield them from the trauma…
Never Looking Back
It wasn’t until a year later that the then 6-year-old found out that his mother was dead and that she had chosen to leave them by committing suicide. Dylan never properly dealt with his mother’s tragic death, and instead focused all his effort on moving on with his life.
Reopening The Case
For the next 4 decades, Dylan focused all his attention on his acting career and being a parent after becoming a father to 2 daughters. However, in 2011, Dylan couldn’t ignore the questions he had about his mother’s death any longer. Dylan contacted the Waterbury Police Department and requested that his mother’s case be reopened…
Police Superintendent Michael Gugliotti agreed to help Dylan but had to ask why he was looking for answers now. “His answer was quite profound,” Gugliotti said. “He said, ‘In order for me to survive and to get where I am today, I needed to bury that moment in my life deep within myself.’ He said it wasn’t until recently ‘that I’ve come to the point in my life where I’m able to begin to process all of this.”
Something Doesn’t Add Up
When Gugliotti started looking into the case, however, he found some major holes in the original investigation. “What troubled me was that there was very little follow up other than the statement Sponza had given to police,” said Gugliotti. “Sponza is telling the police that night that he very rarely, if ever, had arguments, yet everyone we spoke to, including Dylan, who was only 5 at the time, remembered very violent, vicious arguments. Dylan vividly recalls the amount of times, not only flashing the gun, but pointing it at the kid, saying, ‘Shut up and get out of here.’ He’s still probably traumatized by that…”
The Truth Is Revealed
While Sponza, who was found dead in the trunk of a car in 1972, couldn’t be interviewed again, police found enough evidence to file murder charges against him in the new investigation. One of the most incriminating pieces of evidence was the fact that the bullet wound was to the left-hand side of the back of her skull. As a right-handed person, that shot would have been impossible for Diane to do herself.
Gugliotti also found evidence that suggested the police may have covered up the murder since files from the original investigation were missing. However, Dylan and his sister, Robin, were just glad that they finally knew the truth. “I’m happy to know my mother wasn’t mentally ill or depressed,” Robin said. “Somebody took her from us; she didn’t leave us.”