Ill. man charged in murder in Vineland

(Published in The Press of Atlantic City on Tuesday, April 6, 2010.)

An Illinois man faces murder charges for allegedly killing his co-worker in a Vineland hotel room while in town for a class on body piercings.

Authorities charged Wade Featherston, 24, of Salem, Ill., with homicide Monday for allegedly killing his co-worker, 37-year-old Robert Costello, who was found dead Friday afternoon on the floor of his room at the Ramada Inn on West Landis Avenue. Featherston is being held at the Cumberland County Jail on $1.5 million bail.

Hotel employees found Costello unresponsive in his room and contacted Vineland police, who said they arrived to find signs of a struggle and Costello dead with head and face injuries caused by blunt-force trauma. Investigators found Featherston in Philadelphia after he called the hotel, and he voluntarily surrendered to authorities, police said.

Featherston and Costello drove from Illinois to take a seminar on surface-anchor piercing at Dynasty Tattoo and Body Piercing in Newfield, Gloucester County, said Jonny Needles, a tattoo and piercing artist who runs the private class. The two checked into their hotel Thursday, police said.

That same day, they arrived three hours late to a 3 p.m. class with Needles, who goes by his professional name and declined to reveal his given surname. Featherston and Costello chose Needles because he is known nationally as an expert in the surface-anchor piercing technique — in which a piercing has only one visible point of entry into the body — with DVDs and other promotional materials marketing his courses, Needles said.

“It was just as normal as possible,” Needles said of their Thursday night class. “They got along just fine.”

Costello and Featherston were scheduled to take another class with Needles on Friday but never arrived, Needles said.

Friends from Illinois reacted to the news with anger and sadness. Costello, who went by the nickname “Freak,” ran Ancient Custom Tattoo in Salem, Ill. Co-owner Clifford White said he and Costello opened the shop last May, with White backing it financially because he thought so highly of Costello, who is survived by a wife and daughter.

“Robert was a damn good kid, and now he’s gone,” White said. “And it’s a damn shame. And Wade, I hope he gets what he deserves.”

Jim Ryan, who runs Samurai Tattoo in nearby Centralia, Ill., said Costello was well-liked by his peers and described Costello as a family man. He also said Costello was very small physically, weighing not much more than 100 pounds, and that Featherston was noticeably bigger than that.

“Freak was a pretty good dude,” Ryan said of Costello, adding that they were about the same age and knew each other relatively well. “The Wade kid, I just knew that he was a wannabe thug type. He wanted to be a hardass, and he wasn’t.”

Police originally charged Featherston with third-degree offenses of aggravated assault and endangering the welfare of an injured person by not calling for medical help. The murder charge was added Monday. Vineland police Lt. Tom Ulrich declined to give further details on the case, citing the ongoing investigation.

“We still have a lot of questions to ask,” Ulrich said.

Ramada Inn owner John Scipione said he found out about the murder after police did. Employees at the hotel referred questions to Scipione’s wife, who did not return a phone call.

“The only way we know was when they told us,” Scipione said, adding that Ramada policy likely prevented hotel management from releasing information about the incident.

Scipione and his family have overseen significant upgrades at the hotel over the past year, including revamping its main restaurant, changing amenities and adding solar panels to power the hotel.

Attempts to reach Costello’s family were unsuccessful.

A phone call to Featherston’s home was answered by a woman who said she had no comment and then hung up the phone, asking the caller not to call back again.

Featherston is scheduled to be arraigned in a Bridgeton court at 1:30 p.m. today.

Contact Daniel Walsh: 856-649-2074