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Missing BU Professor Found Dead in Charles River

By Jenna Russell

and Michael S. Rosenwald


Students and professors at Boston University gathered Tuesday, many in tears, after receiving the news they had been dreading: The body of John Daverio, a professor missing since March 16, had been found floating in the Charles River.

The body was spotted Monday evening by crew team members near their Cambridge boathouse and identified Tuesday using dental records, according to Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley.

An autopsy found that Daverio had drowned. Police said there was no evidence of foul play, leaving suicide or an accidental fall as the most likely causes.

Cause of death unknown

At BU’s College of Fine Arts, where Daverio taught for more than 20 years in the close-knit musicology program, the news ended a month of hoping by colleagues and friends.

Tuesday, as they struggled to accept Daverio’s death, those close to the 49-year-old professor -- known for his reliability and a devotion to his aging parents -- resisted the possibility that he took his own life.

“No way,” said Elizabeth Seitz, a fellow BU musicologist and Daverio’s friend of 17 years. “There’s just no way. Something happened. I don’t know what it was, but he didn’t just throw himself from a bridge. The only way I would believe that is if I found a letter.”

The last known image of Daverio was captured by a surveillance camera in the lobby of the fine arts building between 8:30 and 9 p.m. on Sunday, March 16. In the grainy image, he heads out the front door to Commonwealth Avenue, wearing a red jacket and carrying a white bag in one hand. Daverio, who lived in Allston, appears to be bearing left to walk east toward the BU Bridge and Kenmore Square, Boston University Police Captain Robert Molloy said.

His body was found within a quarter-mile of the bridge, which crosses the Charles between Boston University and Cambridgeport.

Upstairs in his office, police later found his wallet and briefcase, but no note or any indication of where he had gone.

Investigators, who are still looking for the bag Daverio was carrying, are considering the possibility that he was walking near the river and slipped and fell on ice. But Tuesday, at a press conference in the college dean’s office, they acknowledged that the circumstances of Daverio’s death might never be known.

Friends, family, students mourn

The door to Daverio’s second-floor office was closed Tuesday, a long yellow ribbon still dangling from his doorknob with the words “Return in Safety Johnny D” hand-printed on it. A vase on the floor held white gladiolus; Daverio’s friends have kept it stocked with flowers, mostly yellow tulips and roses, since his disappearance, a colleague said.

More than 200 students and faculty members gathered late Tuesday afternoon in the college concert hall to learn of Daverio’s death. University officials, some of them crying, read from police reports and prepared statements. At the end of the meeting, the room sat in silence for five minutes.

“It’s kind of a relief -- we know now,” said Hilary Castle, 19, a student from California who played in a youth orchestra led by Daverio. “This past month has been eerie. His office is in the center of everything.”

The only thing bothering Daverio, according to his friends, was his parents’ declining health. An only child, Daverio disappeared just after he returned from visiting his mother in a hospital in western Pennsylvania, where she was recovering from congestive heart failure.

“He had known that this would eventually happen to his parents,” said a colleague, Charles Fussell. “It’s not as if this was a sudden surprise to him.”

The professor’s father, also named John Daverio, said his son seemed on top of the world when he said goodbye at the end of the visit.

“I didn’t notice a darn difference about him at all,” said his father,who is 85. “He was his own self. That was all ... You always hope and pray they would find him. I don’t know if somebody played a dirty trick on him up there, but I can’t believe he would have done something to himself.”

Friends said Daverio will be sorely missed in the classroom, where he was a passionate teacher who delighted in mentoring students and watching them launch careers. A talented violinist, he was chair of the BU musicology department and had built a worldwide reputation as a scholar of the composer Robert Schuman.

Outside the classroom, friends said he will be missed by their children, who called him Uncle John. His first stop at his friends’ homes was always the floor, where he would instantly begin playing with whatever game or toy was at hand.

“Every time we drive past his office, my son asks if we can go see Uncle John,” said Seitz, whose son is 4. “He knew there’d be jelly beans there. My son would get some jelly beans and run around disturbing everyone and John would think it was absolutely hilarious.”

For the last month, Seitz has told her son that Uncle John was on vacation. She doesn’t know how or when she’ll tell him Daverio is gone.

His father, a retired brick layer in an old steel mill town near Pittsburgh, said he will not disturb his son’s bedroom, which remains exactly as he left it years ago: loaded with books, essays he’d written about music as a boy, and dozens of records.

“This is John’s room,” his father said. “This will always be his room.”

Globe Correspondent Stefany Moore contributed to this report.