For 14 years, Tammy Finci has volunteered for search-and-rescue missions, the last 10 with dogs she trained to find missing persons. She and her Dutch shepherds have conducted at least 50 searches, looking for people who disappeared or the bodies of people who drowned. Some of the searches have been long and arduous, but Finci, like her dogs, Zahra and Duke, doesn’t give up easily.
“I found him,” she said on the phone the other day, and this time she was not speaking of a stranger’s son, but of her own father — a man she never knew.
She had located David Robert Gibbs in an unmarked grave in Rochester, Minnesota.
If this sounds like a long story, that’s because it is.
It goes back nearly 60 years, when David Gibbs was 27 years old and well into a career as a criminal. He had robbed a gas station when he was a kid in Philadelphia and continued to commit armed robberies whenever he wasn’t in prison.
One night in November 1964, after Gibbs had drifted into Baltimore, he and an accomplice shot and killed the manager of a Hampden supermarket as the man was about to make an after-hours bank deposit on 36th Street.
Gibbs fled from Baltimore immediately. He ended up on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List for several months. While a fugitive, he committed several more armed robberies in Pennsylvania and California before the FBI grabbed him outside Los Angeles and sent him back to Baltimore.
In October 1966, Gibbs pleaded guilty to the murder of the supermarket manager. His own defense lawyer called him “a confirmed criminal, devoid of all remorse.” A judge in Baltimore County Circuit Court, where the case had been moved, sentenced Gibbs to life in prison, expressing regret that he could not impose the death penalty with any confidence Gibbs would be executed, given growing public opposition to capital punishment.
“Why,” asked Judge John E. Raine, “should I take upon myself the burden that goes with the imposition of the death penalty when I have grave doubts that anyone will ever drop the pellets in the gas chamber?”
And so Gibbs went into the Maryland prison system, and there he stayed until he was an old man.
In 2019, I mentioned him in a column about incarcerated octogenarians. Gibbs, born in 1937, was imprisoned at the Western Correctional Institution in Cumberland. He was 82 years old, one of five men over the age of 80 still doing time.
I wrote to him, requesting a visit, but never heard back. The pandemic arrived a few months later. I did not revisit the subject of old inmates and never heard Gibbs’ name again — until an email arrived from Tammy Finci on Feb. 11.
“I am his daughter,” she wrote. “Until this morning, I didn’t even know his name. … I am in tears.”
On the phone, Finci explained that she never knew her father. When she was a child, her mother told Finci that her father was a pilot who had died in a plane crash. As the years passed, Finci became skeptical of that story. She also became estranged from her mother.
Finci went on with her life, serving in both the Air Force and the Army before working as a private investigator, then establishing her own search-and-rescue organization, Bring Them Home, and training search dogs.
All through the years, she lived with questions: Who was her father? If not the pilot who perished, then who?
The break came when her DNA, submitted to Ancestry.com in the hopes of completing her family tree, turned up a paternal match with six people in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia. It was through conversations with one of them, and indirectly with two others, that Finci became convinced that Gibbs was her father.
Plus, there was circumstantial evidence: Gibbs had been a fugitive in California at the time Finci’s mother, who lived in Los Angeles, became pregnant with her.
Finci, now 58, contacted me because she had seen Gibbs mentioned in my column while she was searching his name on the internet. I wasn’t much help because I had never visited him in prison.
And now, even if I wanted to, it’s too late.
Finci was told he died last May. “Now he won’t even know he had a daughter,” she said. “I doubt he knew I existed based on my mother’s persistence through the years.”
I shared with Finci what I learned about Gibbs’ crimes from The Baltimore Sun’s archives.
“Unfortunately, he is who he is,” she said. “There’s nothing I can do about that.”
Still, there were lingering questions: If Gibbs had died, when and where? The people from her DNA match did not know, and did not seem to care.
“That’s all right, I understand that,” Finci said. “They might have decided to just let things be.”
But Finci pushed for information. Her search was long and frustrating, with more than 40 calls to state and federal prisons, parole offices and the FBI.
The search concluded last week when Finci learned that, sometime in August 2021, Gibbs had been released from Maryland custody to a federal medical center in Rochester, Minnesota. That’s where he died. He was buried in an unmarked grave in a local cemetery.
“I’ve decided to save up and get a grave marker,” his daughter said. “At some point, I’ll take it up to Minnesota and say hello and say goodbye.”