When Danielle Imbo and Richard Petrone walked out of a popular Philadelphia, PA nightspot on February 19, 2005, they had no idea they were about to become the center of one of the city’s biggest mysteries. After leaving Abilene’s bar on South Street around 11:30 pm, they climbed into Rich’s black Dodge Dakota, pulled away from the curb, and vanished without a trace.

Danielle — known as Dani to her friends and family — had recently gone through a divorce and spent most of her time at her Mount Laurel, NJ home with her young son. The 34-year-old had known Richard for two decades; they had grown up in the same Cherry Hill, NJ neighborhood and their families were extremely close. Dani was best friends with Rich’s sister, Christine, and had started dating Rich after separating from her husband the previous year. Although the two of them had taken a break from dating recently — Dani wanted to concentrate on her job and her son — they had remained in contact through text messages.

Rich had texted Dani earlier that day to see if she wanted to go out and get a couple of drinks, and Dani had accepted his invitation. Her son, Little Joe, was spending the weekend with his father, leaving her free to go out without having to get a babysitter. She hadn’t seen Rich in over a month and was looking forward to catching up with him.

Rich was a year older than Dani but hadn’t dated much in recent years. He had a 14-year-old daughter who had lived primarily with him since she was 3 years old, but she had recently decided to move in with her mother in South Philadelphia. His daughter would later recall that Dani was the first woman he had been serious about, and he had been somewhat hurt when Dani had wanted to take a break from their relationship. He backed off, though, and Dani seemed to appreciate the fact that he had given her the space she wanted. He had been thrilled when she agreed to get together with him that night.

Dani had started her evening by having dinner with her mother, Christine, and Marge Petrone, the mother of Christine and Rich. The four women had gone to a local restaurant, and after the meal was over Christine had dropped Dani off at the Taproom, a bar near Rich’s apartment. After spending some time there, Rich and Dani decided to meet up with another couple at Abilene’s bar on South Street; they called Christine to see if she wanted to go with them, but she was tired and declined the offer.

It was a bitterly cold Saturday night, but South Street was still crowded. Rich was lucky enough to find a parking place just a short walk from the bar, and the couple entered Abilene’s arm-in-arm. There, they met up with Anthony Valentino and his wife, Michelle. Anthony was one of Rich’s closest friends, and he noted that Rich and Dani seemed to be extremely happy to be back together. As they sat at the bar and listened to the live band that was playing, Rich and Dani held hands and kissed a couple of times. Their relationship may have been off-and-on in the past, but it appeared it was definitely back on that evening.

Everything seemed fine as the couple got ready to leave the bar around 11:30 pm. Rich commented to Anthony that he was glad he had been able to park close to the bar; the temperature had dropped well below freezing. The friends hugged each other and promised to talk again soon. Anthony watched as Rich and Dani, holding hands, left the bar and walked out into the cold night air. It was the last time anyone would see them.

Dani’s brother, John Ottobre, arrived at her home around 9:00 am the following morning and was surprised to get no response when he knocked on the door. Dani’s son had pulled down some curtain rods and John had told his sister earlier in the week that he would be over on Sunday morning to fix them for her. He tried calling Dani on her cell phone, but it went straight to voicemail.

Unsure what to do, John called his mother, Felice, to see if she had any idea where Dani might be. She told John that Dani had gone out the night before with Rich, and thought that perhaps she had decided to spend the night at his South Philadelphia apartment. John, who was extremely close to his sister, had his own key to her house, so he decided to let himself in and fix the curtain rods for her anyway. Once he got inside, he saw that nothing was out of place; Dani’s bed was still made and it seemed obvious that she had spent the night somewhere else. John quickly fixed the broken curtain rods and left.

Christine Petrone, who worked as a hairdresser, expected to see Dani that morning as she had an 11:00 am appointment to have her hair done. Dani was known for always being on time, so Christine was concerned when 11:00 am came and went without any sign of her friend. She tried to call Dani’s cell phone, but her call went straight to voicemail. Thinking perhaps she was still with Rich, Christine tried to call her brother next. This call also went straight to voicemail. Christine called her mother to see if she had heard from Rich, but Marge had no idea where he or Dani might be.

After several unsuccessful attempts at reaching her son, Marge grew extremely concerned. He had told her that he planned on having a few friends over that afternoon to watch the Daytona 500 on television, so he should have been at his apartment. She called her sister, who lived close to Rich, and asked if she would stop by his apartment to see if anything was wrong. Her sister knocked on the door several times, and could hear Rich’s dog barking, but it didn’t appear that Rich was there.

Knowing that her son had planned to meet up with his friend Anthony the previous night, Marge called him next. Anthony told her that Rich and Dani had seemed to be in a great mood when they left and he was under the impression that they were going to Dani’s home in New Jersey when they left the bar.

Dani and Christine had been best friends since they were teenagers, and Marge was close with Dani’s mother, Felice. The two mothers kept in constant contact throughout the afternoon, praying that they would soon hear from Rich or Dani. After a few hours, it was clear that something was seriously wrong. Dani’s ex-husband, Joe Imbo, was due to drop off their son at Dani’s house at 5:00 pm, and it looked like she wasn’t going to be there to meet him.

Dani had a somewhat strained relationship with her ex-husband, and her family was reluctant to let him know what was going on. Joe Imbo had never liked Rich, and had left him several threatening messages in the past warning him to stay away from Dani. Although the messages had stopped once it became clear that Dani was not going to reconcile with her ex, there was no love lost between the two men in her life. At this point, everyone was still hoping there was a reasonable explanation for why Dani and Rich hadn’t contacted anyone, and they saw no reason to tell Joe that the two hadn’t yet returned from a date.

John went back to Dani’s townhouse so he could meet Joe when he arrived with Little Joe. Joe questioned John as to why he was at the house; John simply told him that Dani had gone out with Christine and asked him to watch her son until she returned. Joe accepted this without question, and left Little Joe with his uncle.

After Joe left, John knew that he had to call the police. Dani’s son was the center of her universe, and there was no way she would have willingly missed being home when he was dropped off. She was usually in constant contact with her family, and the fact that her cell phone seemed to be turned off was an ominous sign. Dani always kept her cell phone on, especially if she went anywhere without her son. Rich’s family was faced with the same dilemma; it was unheard of for Rich to not answer his phone, especially on the weekends when he didn’t have his daughter. He would usually pick up immediately when someone called, and like Dani, he never turned his phone off. Both families contacted the Philadelphia Police Department and reported Rich and Dani missing.

Knowing that the police wouldn’t be quick to act on a report of missing adults, the families decided to search for them on their own. John met up with Rich’s father, Richard Petrone, and the two of them spent hours driving up and down the streets of Philadelphia looking for any sign of Rich’s black truck. After covering all the streets in downtown Philly, the two men decided to try and trace the route Rich would have taken to get from Philly to Dani’s home in Mt. Laurel. They drove every possible route, over each of the bridges connecting Philadelphia to New Jersey, but there was no sign of the black truck. Finally, after more than 12 hours, they returned home feeling defeated.

While the men were out driving around, Marge and Felice had been calling area hospitals and jails. They didn’t want their children to be hurt or in trouble with the law, but they knew that a car accident or a DUI would be preferable to simply vanishing. With each phone call, they grew more and more desperate. None of the places they called had admitted anyone matching Rich or Dani’s description, and police had no record of the couple being pulled over on their drive home.

Philadelphia Police soon launched their own intense investigation into the couple’s disappearance. In initial reports, they noted that there was nothing to indicate that foul play had taken place, but they were keeping an open mind about what might have happened. They believed it was possible that Rich and Dani had simply decided to get away for a little while, and would likely return after a few days. The fact that Rich’s truck hadn’t been found seemed to back this theory up, as it suggested that the couple was still driving around in it.

Friends and family members were adamant that neither Rich nor Dani would ever have voluntarily left their children behind. They each had a stable job, came from close-knit families, and had no reason to run. Nothing was missing from either of their homes, and Rich never would have left his dog home alone with no extra food or water. They were convinced that the couple had run into foul play.

Worried that the police weren’t taking the disappearances seriously, friends and family members continued with their own search. They set out in masse and combed through South Street and the surrounding area, looking for any potential clues. They distributed flyers throughout the downtown area and hung up posters in motels, restaurants, and gas stations. They spread out and searched the parking lots and garages at the Philadelphia airport and every train station in the area, but found no sign of Rich’s truck.

As the days passed, they grew more desperate to find Rich and Dani. They extended their search, handing out flyers outside of the Wachovia Center after sports games and other events, and hanging up posters in every rest stop from Philadelphia to Atlantic City. Eventually, they would cover every area within a 100-mile radius of the city. Although police received numerous tips as a result of their efforts, no solid leads were developed.

Detectives searched the Delaware River by helicopter in case Rich’s car had somehow ended up in the water, but came up empty. They reviewed the couple’s various financial records but saw no red flags; neither Rich nor Dani were in debt and none of their bank accounts or credit cards had been used since the night they disappeared.

Investigators obtained surveillance footage from every ATM on South Street, and meticulously combed through it. Although neither Rich nor Dani had withdrawn any money that night, they were hoping that they might be seen in the background of some of the footage, giving police an idea of which direction they headed when they left the club. Unfortunately, neither one of them appeared in any of the footage.

Detectives also scoured through hours of surveillance footage from all of the cameras placed on the Ben Franklin and Walt Whitman bridges; if Rich had driven Dani home, he would have had to take one of these bridges to cross from Philadelphia into New Jersey. Neither bridge showed Rich’s truck crossing into New Jersey that night, leading some investigators to theorize that the couple never made it out of Pennsylvania.

A few weeks after the couple vanished, police thought they finally had a break when a burned-out Dodge Dakota was found in Camden, NJ, just across the river from Philadelphia. It looked identical to Rich’s truck, but a check of the VIN showed that it was a different truck that had been reported stolen several days earlier. Investigators searched around the Camden area in case Rich’s truck had met a similar fate, but found nothing.

A month after Rich and Dani disappeared, their families announced that they were offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to their safe return. Billboards were placed alongside Interstate 95 in the Philadelphia area; each one displayed information about the case as well as the reward. Detectives received several new tips, but none of them brought them any closer to finding the missing couple.

By June, Rich’s family was convinced that he was dead, and that they would never see him again. Dani’s family was more optimistic, and continued to hold onto the hope that she was alive; they took the fact that her body had not been found as a positive sign.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy to come out of the couple’s disappearance was the rift it caused between the Ottobre and Petrone families. Although they had been friends for decades, the stress associated with the disappearance became too much, and they soon started to fight. Each family seemed to believe that the other was hiding some dark secret that led to the couple being targeted; Dani’s family insinuated that Rich had gambling debts that led to his death, while Rich’s family seemed to believe that Dani’s ex-husband had targeted the couple.

Police found nothing to substantiate either theory. They did extensive background checks on both Dani and Rich, and determined that neither one of them was involved in anything that might have led to them being targeted for m*urder. It’s unclear how the rumor about Rich being a gambler got started; police found no evidence that he was in any kind of debt.

The idea that Joe Imbo could have been involved likely evolved from the fact that he had threatened Rich in the past — he admitted doing so — and he reportedly exchanged angry words with Dani shortly before she went missing. Both Philadelphia Police and the FBI interrogated Joe on numerous occasions, and found that he had an ironclad alibi for the night the couple went missing. He had been miles away at a family party in New Jersey; his stepfather, who was a retired NYPD officer, as well as several current NYPD officers who were at the party, all vouched for his whereabouts.

Detectives admitted that this case baffled them from the start. They have absolutely nothing to go on; the couple’s trail ends abruptly at the door of Abilene’s. Although South Street was extremely crowded that Saturday night, no one reported seeing the couple after they left the bar. Investigators have never uncovered a crime scene, Rich’s truck remains missing, their cell phones have remained off, and none of Dani’s or Rich’s bank accounts, credit cards, or Social Security numbers have been used since that February night.

In the years since the disappearance, police have followed up on thousands of potential leads and searched large expanses of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. They have never found a shred of physical evidence related to the case, which leads them to believe that it was not a random crime. They believe that the couple was specifically targeted, and admit that it is unlikely any trace of them or their truck will ever be found.

The FBI believes that Rich and Dani were the victims of a mur*der-for-hire plot that was carried out by a professional killer, though they admit they still have found nothing in either of their backgrounds that would have made them a target. They also believe that more than one person was involved in perpetrating the crime; there are likely several people who know what happened to the couple and they are hopeful that eventually one of them will be willing to open up to detectives.

Rumors continue to circulate that Joe Imbo played some kind of role in this crime; while he has never been named a suspect, he hasn’t been ruled out as one. The FBI has released little information to the public, but did say that there isn’t enough evidence to take Joe into custody. Whether or not they consider him a viable suspect has never been confirmed. The FBI, along with the Philadelphia Police Department, the New Jersey State Police, and the Mount Laurel Police Department continue to actively work this case, and there is a $50,000 reward being offered for information that leads to the whereabouts of Dani and Rich or the arrest of those responsible for their disappearance.

Danielle Imbo was 34 years old when she went missing in 2005. She has hazel eyes and dark brown hair, and at the time of her disappearance she was 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighed 117 pounds. She was last seen wearing blue jeans, a cream sweater, a black jacket, and three silver rings; she was carrying a black purse. She has a gap between her two front teeth and a tattoo of flowers on her lower back.

Richard Petrone was 35 years old when he went missing in 2005. He has blue eyes and brown hair, and he usually has a mustache and goatee. At the time of his disappearance he was 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighed 200 pounds. He was last seen wearing blue jeans, a Polo hoodie, and sneakers; he also wears eyeglasses. He has a tattoo of his daughter’s name, Angela, on his left bicep and a tattoo of several clowns on his right bicep.

Richard’s truck is also missing. It is a black four-door 2001 Dodge Dakota pickup truck with silver accents and a NASCAR #99 sticker in the rear window and Pennsylvania license plate number YFH-2319.

If you have any information about Rich and Dani, please contact the FBI Philadelphia Field Office at 215–418–4000 or the Philadelphia Police Department at 215–686–3013.

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