The Tragic Murder Of Dylan McDermott’s Mother

American actor Dylan McDermott has had a long and successful acting career and is well-known for portraying the character of Bobby Donnell in “The Practice”. He has also appeared in four seasons of “American Horror Story” playing different roles. Dylan was born Mark Anthony McDermott in Connecticut in 1961 to teenage parents Richard, who was 17, and 15-year-old Diane. A few years after, Diane gave birth to Dylan’s sister. Eventually, Richard and Diane split, per IMDb, and Diane brought their two children along with her.

Tragedy struck soon after when Diane died of a gunshot wound to the head in 1967. The incident happened at the house of a known gangster (and Diane’s then-boyfriend), John Sponza. After Diane’s death, Dylan and his sister Robin lived with their maternal grandmother, Avis Marino, who didn’t want the children to know about the tragedy. Reportedly, she just said that Diane was in the hospital, per the Daily Mail. It wasn’t until a year later that Dylan would find out that his mother was dead.

The details of Diane McDermott's death

In February 1967, Diane McDermott was thought to have accidentally shot herself in the head. At the time of the incident, the only witness was John Sponza, who told that narrative to the authorities. Sponza’s official statement to the police was that Diane grabbed a gun he was cleaning when it accidentally went off and killed her, according to People. Later on, however, Sponza said Diane died by suicide.

Dylan, who was 5 years old at that time, heard the shot but he was outside the apartment when the incident took place. Per Today, Sponza kicked Dylan out of the apartment so he didn’t see what really happened inside. Soon afterward, an ambulance and the police arrived to take Diane McDermott’s body. There was little follow-up after the incident and eventually, the authorities officially deemed Diane’s death as an accident despite witnesses, including Dylan, who said that Diane and John Sponza often had violent arguments where Sponza would brandish his gun.

Dylan McDermott requests to reopen mother's case

Dylan’s father eventually remarried and his wife, Eve Ensler, officially adopted Dylan when he was 15 years old. Per the Daily Mail, it was Ensler, a playwright, who encouraged Dylan to pursue a career in acting. Dylan was still going by the name Mark back then but when it came time to register with the Screen Actors Guild, there was already a Mark McDermott. It was then that he changed his name to Dylan McDermott as a tribute to a baby that Eve Ensler miscarried who was supposed to be named Dylan.

As McDermott grew older, his career also flourished. However, he still had his mother’s death at the back of his mind. It was in 2011 when Dylan approached the authorities to have Diane’s murder investigation re-examined despite the fact that, officially at least, it wasn’t an unsolved case. Police Superintendent Michael Gugliotti was welcome to the idea but was curious to know why Dylan was approaching them decades after the incident. Gugliotti said, per Today, that McDermott’s answer was “quite profound.” “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,” McDermott said, according to Gugliotti. He also said that he was finally able to process what happened years ago.

Evidence against John Sponza

Authorities went on to reinvestigate Diane McDermott’s death. The medical examiner concluded that the gun which was found on the scene couldn’t have been the same one that killed Diane as its caliber was too small (via Irish Central). In addition, Diane’s head wound showed that the gun was “pressed to the back of her head.” The wound was on the left side of Diane’s head, but she was right-handed so pulling the trigger herself would have been impossible based on the angle of the wound.

Statements given by those close to Diane were also examined and Gugliotti was surprised to find out that investigators who worked on the case back then didn’t dig deeper into John Sponza’s narrative of what happened. “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 five at the time, remembered very violent, vicious arguments,” said Gugliotti.

Ultimately the reinvestigation concluded with authorities saying that they have gathered enough evidence to be able to file a murder charge against John Sponza for the death of Diane McDermott, according to the National Post.

John Sponza's death

Unfortunately, John Sponza couldn’t be arrested, as he died in 1972. Per a report from Patch, Sponza’s body was found inside the trunk of a car in a parking lot. Authorities found three gunshot wounds on his back. Based on the investigation, Sponza was killed by members of his own robbery crew.

In 1972, a light blue Dodge Charger was found in the parking lot of a grocery store. It was a rental car that had been missing for days, and an employee at the car rental place alerted the police of the missing vehicle. The vehicle was traced back to Sponza, who had rented it after crashing his own car, per the Republic American Archives. Sponza had also been missing for days at that time and when the rental car was found. It was then when they discovered John Sponza’s body. According to Gugliotti, the circumstances surrounding Sponza’s death were common among mob members. “Leaving it in the car in a public supermarket parking lot where it’s going to be found in a relatively short amount of time just goes to show that this was a hit, it was a message and you know, he got what he deserved, so to speak,” Gugliotti said.

Police covered up Diane Mc Dermott's murder

Through the course of the reinvestigation, Gugliotti and his team found out that Diane McDermott’s murder was covered up by the police, hence the lack of a thorough investigation. According to the Daily Mail, investigators found out that Sponza had connections that would have helped him get out of the crime. His father was also a jailer who often pulled strings to get his son out of trouble. The chief inspector at the time of Diane’s murder, Henry Byrnes, was fired shortly after the crime, but no reason was given.

John Sponza lived a life of crime that started when he was 15 years old. He was involved in drugs, theft, and assault. Later on, he resorted to robbing banks, and even his ex-wife confirmed Sponza’s involvement in gangster activities. Although Sponza died long before the truth of Diane’s murder came out, it’s a relief for Dylan McDermott and his sister Robin to finally know the truth about what happened to their mother. “I’m happy to know my mother wasn’t mentally ill or depressed. Somebody took her from us; she didn’t leave us,” Robin said (via Today).

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