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Published: Friday, 4/27/2001

Bail increased for suspect in 2 murders

BOWLING GREEN - Under tight security, Dennis Michael Salerno was escorted into Wood County Common Pleas Court yesterday, but little progress was made in his pending aggravated murder case - at least not publicly.

At the request of Salerno's attorneys and Wood County Prosecutor Alan Mayberry, Judge Robert Pollex scheduled another pretrial hearing in the case for May 15.

Judge Pollex increased Salerno's $1 million bond by $200,000 for a new felony charge of escape stemming from a Feb. 15 attempt by Salerno to open a shower vent at the jail. He pleaded not guilty to the escape charge yesterday.

Salerno, 30, is charged with aggravated murder, aggravated robbery, and tampering with evidence in connection with the July 3 stabbing death of Larry McClanahan, 50, of Moscow, Ohio. McClanahan, who had been in prison with Salerno in 1991, was found in a shower stall at the Petro Stopping Center off I-280 in Lake Township. His throat had been cut, and he had bled to death.

Salerno is the prime suspect in the murder of his estranged wife, Michelle Rizzi Salerno, 26. A former Swanton resident and graduate of Bowling Green State University, she disappeared June 29 from her East Lansing, Mich., apartment. Her remains were unearthed April 20 from a construction landfill on the BGSU campus. An autopsy revealed that Mrs. Salerno had died from a neck injury, most likely strangulation.

No one has been charged in her death, but investigators here and in East Lansing say they believe Salerno killed her. East Lansing police are handling that murder investigation, Mr. Mayberry said, because it is believed she was killed in Michigan and her body dumped and buried in Bowling Green.

“There's nothing at all to indicate it happened here,” he said. “There are other factors to indicate it did happen up there.”

East Lansing Police Sgt. Bill Mitchell said what had been the department's most pressing missing persons case is now a homicide investigation. He said he considers Salerno the No. 1 suspect in Mrs. Salerno's death.

“It's hopeful charges will be coming soon,” he said.

While it is believed Salerno led investigators to his wife's remains in exchange for some leniency, Mr. Mayberry has consistently declined comment on the progress of talks on a plea agreement with Salerno. He did acknowledge yesterday that family members of McClanahan and Mrs. Salerno have been consulted about a possible plea bargain.

Salerno could receive the death penalty if convicted of aggravated murder in McClanahan's death. McClanahan's widow, Pamela, and other family members were in court for the brief hearing yesterday.

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