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While his family was involved in organized crime, Charlie Cammisano had done his best to avoid violence and preferred the straight life. Bloodshed still found him, however, at the hands of his ex-wife.
Charlie’s uncle was William Cammisano, an “alleged mob crime boss” in Kansas City, Missouri, according to local newspaper The Pitch.
“His nickname was ‘Willie the Rat,’ and ... I had dealt with [him] when I was with Kansas City as a detective,” former Riverside Police Detective Pete Edlund told "Snapped," airing Sundays at 6/5c on Oxygen.
Willie’s brother and Charlie's father, Joe Cammisano, wanted nothing to do with the mob and became a successful restaurateur. Charlie took after his dad and aspired to one day open his own restaurant.
His dreams were put on hold, however, in 1971, when his high school girlfriend became pregnant. The couple married and had two children together, a boy and a girl. Although they later divorced, the two stayed friends and maintained a good relationship.
To support his family, Cammisano worked odd jobs at his father’s restaurants, and at one of the locations, he met and began dating waitress Letti K. Rivera.
“[Letti] was tough and she was good-looking and she was funny. She just didn't take any flack from anybody,” friend Meryl Rowan told “Snapped.”
Letti, who had grown up in Nebraska in a deeply religious family, rebelled against her conservative upbringing and ran away from home. She was briefly married, had a daughter with her first husband, and later settled in Kansas City.
In 1986, Charlie and Letti welcomed the first of five children they would have together. While their relationship ran hot and cold, they tried to stick it out for the sake of the kids. They married in 1999 after 19 years together, but they split up for good two years later.
At the conclusion of the Cammisanos' drawn-out and contentious divorce, Charlie was awarded primary custody of the kids as well as child support. Two months after the divorce was finalized in July 2003, Letti married a man named Terry Strait.
Strait was a brawny guy compared to the affable family man Letti had just broken up with.
“Terry grew up in rural Kansas. When he was growing up, he liked to fight and drink a lot,” Riverside Police Detective Sergeant Doug VanLeeuwen told “Snapped.”
Letti and Terry worked together painting houses, and the couple seemed inseparable. He helped out with the kids, and they later moved to a big house together in nearby Parkville, Missouri.
On Sept. 1, 2007, Charlie's nephew went to check in on him after he missed a family sporting event. Charlie had spent the previous night out at his local bar, the Caddy Shack, and his nephew believed he had overslept after an evening of drinking.
When Charlie didn't answer the door, his nephew went into the house, where he found Charlie dead on the floor. His body had been covered by a blanket, according to the Platte County Prosecutor’s office.
“When the patrol officers arrived on scene, they made entry. One of the patrol officers had lifted a corner of the blanket, and they could see he was shot in the back of the head,” Riverside Police Detective Sergeant Jessie Winson told “Snapped.”
In addition to his head wound, Charlie had been shot multiple times in the torso. There were no signs of forced entry or burglary, and nothing was missing aside from his Jeep Cherokee.
As detectives processed the crime scene, Letti contacted investigators to report that she had driven past Charlie's home that morning and had seen his car parked out front, leading investigators to believe that it had been stolen by his killer.
Because of his family history, detectives had to consider the possibility that his murder was connected to the Kansas City mob.
“Charlie had contact wounds — the back of his head — like an organized crime hit,” Edlund told producers. “I dealt with multiple organized crime homicides, and the name Cammisano was prominent in those cases.”
It quickly became apparent, however, that Charlie’s death had nothing to do with his relatives.
“Charlie was related to them, but only related,” Edlund said. “We checked with the FBI and with Kansas City to verify that Charlie had never had any relationship or even association with organized crime in Kansas City.”
Further investigating the crime scene, detectives began to speculate that Charlie was killed by someone he knew.
“Why would the killer cover the body with a blanket? You don’t want to look at the body because there’s a connection there,” Special Assistant Prosecutor Miranda Loesch told “Snapped.”
Detectives spoke to Charlie's children, who said the main drama in their father’s life was with their mother and that they believed she could have been responsible for his murder.
The Cammisano kids told detectives they were scared of their mother and Terry, and that Letti owed Charlie $19,000 in child support, which he forgave and put him in a precarious financial situation.
By 2007, Charlie applied for food stamps, but his request was denied. Despite not having custody of her own children, Letti had been collecting SNAP benefits in their name for two years, according to the Platte County Prosecutor’s office. This led to a major blowout between the two of them.
On the weekend of Charlie’s murder, the kids were staying with the Straits. This usually meant they spent the night with their mother, but instead, she insisted they sleepover at their friends’ homes.
Before leaving for his sleepover, Letti’s youngest son, who was 9 years old at the time, overheard his mother whisper to Terry, “We have to kill him,” according to local newspaper The Platte County Citizen.
Charlie’s friends told detectives he was afraid of his ex-wife and that "if anything ever happened to him, that Letti probably did it,” VanLeeuwen told producers.
Several days after his murder, Charlie's Jeep Cherokee was found up the block from the Caddy Shack. Witnesses said it had been there since the night of Aug. 31, directly contradicting Letti’s statement about seeing it on the morning of Sept. 1.
DNA was lifted off the vehicle’s steering wheel, and police went to execute a search warrant on the Strait home. They refused to leave or let officers inside, however, and because they were suspects in a murder investigation, a SWAT team was called, at which point the couple backed down.
Under questioning, Letti and Terry adamantly denied having anything to do with Charlie’s death. Letti even claimed she and Charlie had settled their differences, which investigators knew to be false.
Without enough evidence tying them to the murder, the Straits were released from questioning, and the search of their home also turned up nothing. Letti, however, had left some cigarette butts at the precinct, which were sent out for DNA testing.
Following Charlie’s murder, his children were placed in custody with other family members, and the case stalled. While prosecutors felt they would be unable to secure a murder conviction at the time, they were able to charge Letti with fraud after she claimed her children as dependents in her 2008 tax returns.
In 2011, Letti was convicted of attempted tax evasion and sentenced to three years in prison, according to "Snapped."
In the ensuing years, advances in DNA testing definitively matched Letti’s DNA to the genetic material found in Charlie’s car. Investigators also learned Terry had been in possession of a .25 caliber handgun, the same caliber used in the murder, at the time of Charlie’s death. As a result, Letti and Terry were arrested in December 2014 and charged with first-degree murder, according to Kansas City Fox affiliate WDAF-TV.
Before their trial could start, Terry’s lawyer reached out to prosecutors wanting to cut a deal. He agreed to testify against his wife in exchange for pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.
Terry later testified that on the night of the murder, he and Letti found Charlie drinking at the Caddy Shack and followed him back to his house. Terry claimed he stayed in the car while Letti went inside. He then saw flashes of light from inside the house, according to The Platte County Citizen. Afterward, they drove Charlie’s car back to the area near the bar.
By the time Letti finally went on trial in January 2020, Charlie had been dead for more than 12 years. Justice was finally served on Feb. 6, 2020, when the 59-year-old was found guilty of first-degree murder, according to the Kansas City Star newspaper.
Letti was sentenced to life in prison without parole in May 2020. A month later, Terry, 64, was sentenced to 14 years in prison, according to WDAF.
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