In Memory
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<FONT color=#000000 face="Trebuchet MS, Verdana"><i>In Memory<br>Steven Cafiero Jr.
Steven Cafiero Jr.

From Pen Pal to Boyfriend
BY: Jennifer Smith. STAFF WRITER
DATE: 01-15-2002

Donnamarie Striano couldn't understand why her Internet pen pal, Steven Cafiero, was looking for love online.

"He was a beautiful-looking man," she said, judging from the photos he sent her over their one-year correspondence. He was funny and sensitive, with a rippling physique, the result of years of competitive bodybuilding.

So why, she asked, couldn't he just go to a bar and meet a girl?

"Donna," he wrote back, "I couldn't pick up a girl if she had a handle."

Won over by his humor, Striano, of Manhasset, agreed to meet him in person in 1998. They hit it off - "He was by far the funniest person I met in my life," she said.

A year and a half later, she moved into his Whitestone apartment, where he had grown up.

A gourmand whom his girlfriend dubbed "Mr. Zagat," Cafiero, 31, loved eating out in Manhattan and often talked of moving there. "He always liked the city," said his mother, Grace Kneski, who raised him alone after she and his father, Steven Cafiero of Glenville, N.Y., were divorced. But Whitestone was convenient to Manhattan and more affordable, so there he stayed, close to his pals from the neighborhood. Those friendships, forged over Little League practice and at the bowling alley, endured, his mother said.

From touch football to arm wrestling to golf, Cafiero loved sports of all kinds. He still bowled in the local league and maintained a "200 and something average" said Gene Camp, who knew Cafiero for 10 years. Cafiero was a member of the New York Arm Wrestling Association, which Camp founded, and competed regularly, taking second place in the 1995 Empire State Arm Wrestling Championships.

But to those who knew him, his personality was as memorable as his athleticism. "He was a hell of a nice guy," Camp said.

A muscle-bound man with an offbeat sense of humor and a tender heart, Cafiero "was a very loving, very caring son," said his mother. She remarried and moved out to Calverton in 1990, but the two still managed to see each other nearly every week, she said. In June, he threw her a surprise 50th birthday party at a restaurant in Oakdale, complete with balloons and champagne.

He brought that same thoughtfulness to his relationship with Striano, surprising her with trips to the Poconos and Las Vegas, and with home-cooked, candlelight dinners. "He was the only man I ever knew who went out shopping for cookbooks," she said.

They intended to marry but were in no rush, she said. In a way, they already had a family:

two cats and a much-adored pug named Nelson, whom Cafiero even took out on summer boating expeditions.

A former limousine driver who had managed a cell phone store across the street from the World Trade Center, Cafiero "always wanted to get a great job and make a lot of money," said his mother. He was ecstatic when he landed a job in August as a client specialist at Aon Corp. in Tower Two. "Steve wanted to be corporate," Striano said. "He didn't know whether he was going to like insurance, but being up on the 92nd floor was like heaven."

He had been on the job for just three weeks when terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center. In the weeks that followed, Kneski and Striano hunted for him in local hospitals. The fliers they put up yielded nothing but a prank call from someone claiming to be a doctor at St.Vincent's, who said that Cafiero was alive, but barely, and on the second floor of the hospital. They rushed there, only to find it had been a cruel hoax.

A memorial service was held for Cafiero on Sept. 28, at St. Luke's Roman Catholic Church in Whitestone. But without a body, Striano said, "there's never going to be any closure in this. It's a nightmare that you deal with on a daily basis."

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