27 years on lam, felon's gig is up
By CHRIS TISCH and GRAHAM BRINK
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 12, 2001
ST. PETERSBURG -- The man with the silver hair and the silky voice moved into Raymond Westlund's apartment complex about a year ago.
He said his name was Daniel Catalano, better known as Danny C. He was an original member of the music group Sha Na Na, he said.
Westlund followed his new neighbor to performances across Florida's west coast. Danny C sang oldies with various bands, raised money for charities and hugged lots of blushing ladies.
Then, on Thursday night, as Danny C fished off a pier near his apartment, deputy U.S. marshals arrested him, then took the singer away in handcuffs.
On Friday, Westlund received a double dose of shocking news: The man he knew as Danny C is not a former member of Sha Na Na. He is, authorities say, a convicted child murderer who has evaded police for more than 25 years following a 1974 escape from a New Jersey prison.
"I'm at a loss," Westlund said Friday. "I'm shocked because he was a very charitable person."
Danny C's real name is Elmer Edward Solly, an identity he shed in 1974 after his escape. For at least last four years, Solly, now 55, has performed across the country as Danny C.
He even has a Web site that includes photographs of him posing with police officers, a deputy mayor and city manager in North Miami Beach during a 1999 event.
Solly assumed the identity of Chris Donald, aka Vinnie Taylor, Sha Na Na's original guitarist, who died in 1974.
Solly told anyone who questioned him about the band that his death had been staged, and that anyone disputing his role in the group was part of a conspiracy, said Peter Erlendson, sales and marketing director for Sha Na Na, which still tours 150 days per year.
Erlendson said he has been contacted many times by people who were taken for thousands of dollars when they hired the imposter.
"I would tell them the truth, and then receive threatening e-mails from him," Erlendson said.
He said the band considered suing Solly, but decided not to because he probably would relish the limelight of a court case.
"We really thought he was a flake," Erlendson said. "We had no idea -- and how could we -- that this guy was a murderer. What a way to hide out."
Solly's bizarre story begins in 1969, when he beat to death his girlfriend's 2-year-old son, Christopher Welsh, in Runnemede, N.J., according to authorities. Tried and convicted, Solly was sentenced to 20 to 25 years in state prison.
Solly was soon transferred to a prison in Cumberland County, N.J. There, he befriended his prison psychologist, a relationship that would prove fruitful in June 1974 when Solly requested a furlough to attend to a dying relative.
The psychologist convinced prison officials that he alone could accompany Solly to the relative's bedside, said Cumberland County sheriff's Sgt. John Ashburn.
On the way, Solly pleaded with the psychologist to let him stop briefly at his girlfriend's home.
"He went in the front door and right out the back," Ashburn said. "No one saw him again."
Like most law enforcement offices, the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office has a "cold case file." Solly's case was "arctic," Ashburn said, when he and a state police detective dusted it off in 1999 for what he described as a routine look.
A forensic artist used a computer to update 25-year-old photographs of Solly, producing an image that was close to the tanned and grinning image seen in various poses on Danny C's Web site.
Then in March 2000, Solly's mother, Edna Bolt, died. She was, according to New Jersey State Police spokesman John Hagerty, the "guiding force" behind keeping the other family members from talking about Solly.
Once she died, the family members revealed bits and pieces about Solly, which led the investigators to Orlando, then to St. Petersburg. Authorities were set to have a piece on Solly run today on America's Most Wanted.
But deputy U.S. marshals spotted Solly on Thursday night fishing off a pier near his apartment complex, Sand Cove Apartments, 3813 Gulf Blvd.
Marshals arrested Solly as he was getting into a mini van with the label "www.shananadannyc.com" on the side. At first he denied being Elmer Solly, but he soon admitted that he was the wanted fugitive, said deputy marshal Billy Holmes.
"He was shocked," Holmes said. "After all those years, he probably didn't think we'd ever catch up to him."
Not much on Solly's Web site is true. It includes a section called "Visit Golden Isle," which is decorated with photographs of what he claimed was his six-bedroom, five-bath mansion with a music studio.
Fans who visited the web site -- 6,836 of them have, according to a counter -- saw photographs of a home described as "exquisite" and "palatial."
His real apartment unit was modest.
Imposters like Solly are not that uncommon, said Marvelous Marvin Boone, a DJ on oldies station U-92. Solly made appearances at a James Dean festival in Indiana, a classic car gala in Ohio and in clubs in St. Petersburg, Treasure Island, Tampa, Naples and Sarasota.
"I guess it proves that saying: Hide in plain sight," Ashburn said. "He was right out there for everyone to see. It's just that no one knew his real identity or what he had done to that kid."
Erlendson said he once ordered one of Solly's albums.
"If it's him, it's pretty good," he said. "And I e-mailed him once and said if that really is you, you should have the (guts) to strike out on your own or impersonate someone really famous. Like John Lennon."
- Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report, which includes information from the Star Ledger of New Jersey.
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