New Haven Register


Hamden lawyer shot dead

Pamela McLoughlin , Register Staff


(Click here to read a follow-up article on April 8, 2007)

A Hamden lawyer active in local politics, but whose entrepreneurial spirit led him to start a business that connected foreign men with "young, beautiful, sexy Latin women," was slain in a hail of bullets in the South American city of Cali, Colombia, Thursday night.

Robert Marshall Vignola, 50, a Hamden native, was shot by two men on a motorcycle while driving to Cali’s airport, police said.


His 33-year-old Colombian wife, Beatriz Ramos, was also hit and hospitalized with bullet wounds in the shoulder.

Sources here say Vignola was shot while shielding Ramos from an assassin’s bullet linked to her father’s political involvement in Colombia. Her father is an elected official, the source said, but his title was unavailable.

Cali’s police chief, Gen. Alberto Moore, said authorities do not yet know why Vignola was killed, but said he had a casino in Cali that went bankrupt, leaving him with considerable debts. He also had financial problems here at home, Moore said.

"So it’s said that possibly people could have been demanding money, and he didn’t pay and so they took this reprisal," he added.

Aside from his matchmaking business and law practice, Vignola had a mortgage company, American Heritage Mortgage, at 2404 Whitney Ave.

Hamden Mayor Craig Henrici said Saturday he considered Vignola a dear friend and he was saddened to learn of his death.

"He had his faults but he was a good friend of mine," Henrici said. "He was a good person with a good heart, and gentle."

Henrici said Vignola helped on his father’s Christmas tree farm each year. Henrici added Vignola was a good father.

Vignola adopted a child from Colombia with his first wife, an American, and that’s when he fell in love with the country, friends said. After getting divorced, Vignola returned there and married a Colombian woman. They moved to Hamden and had a child, then divorced. Ramos is his third wife and they have no children.

A friend in Hamden, Marina Cordeau, who is engaged to one of Vignola’s closest friends, said he always spoke of how peaceful the cities were and urged them to visit.

She said Ramos is a beautiful and nice woman.

Another longtime friend, Vincent Cimino, said Vignola was an extraordinary athlete and musician who played several instruments and once belonged to two popular area bands. Cimino said Vignola was smart, hardworking, driven and popular.

"Bobby was always trying to take another bite of the apple; he was never afraid to try anything," Cimino said. "I don’t think you could find anyone to say a bad thing about him."

Vignola graduated from Hamden High School in 1973 as Robert Marshall, his birth name. He later changed his last name to Vignola, to reflect the name of his adoptive parents who raised him from birth.

He had college degrees from Oklahoma City University School of Law and was a 1981 graduate of University of New Haven.

Sources said Vignola got into trouble with the law several years ago for misreporting income, and spent time in jail. He was disbarred but later, with the help of supporters, regained his right to practice law, sources said.

His Web site claims he is a licensed attorney in Connecticut and in U.S. Federal Court. He is also a licensed real estate broker in Connecticut and a licensed mortgage originator in Connecticut, according to his Web site.

His Web site claims he has been a real estate and mortgage financing attorney for 22 years.

The Web site [web site no longer active] claims the Cali-based company, in business since 1999, "has assisted hundreds of clients in the search for the Latin woman of their dreams."

A friend of Vignola in Cali, who spoke on condition he not be identified, said Vignola visited the city three or four times a year.

Vignola’s personal testimonial on the Latin Women Connection site, which describes him as its "former owner and original founder," recounts how he met his wife in Colombia after deciding he had "almost no chance of finding the woman of my dreams here in the United States."

In addition to offering contact with Cali women pictured in bikinis in its photo gallery for 15 euros ($20) each, the Web site promotes vacation packages to Cali, including a "private tour" accompanied by Vignola for 450 euros ($600) per day, plus airfare.

The site promotes the sale of a book penned by Vignola, "Secrets of Romancing Latin Women."

It describes Latin females as "the type of women that make a man’s heart race, blood boil and libido accelerate into overdrive."

Cali, home to Colombia’s dominant cocaine cartel in the 1990s, remains among the country’s most violent major cities.

(Click here to read a follow-up article on April 8, 2007)

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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©New Haven Register 2007