Let’s recall a scene from the film Throw Momma from the Train, shall we?
Over a plate of scrambled eggs, Owen Lift (Danny DeVito) asks his friend Larry for just a teeny, tiny favor. “You don’t have to blow her brains out or anything,” he tells him. All Owen really wants is to somehow get rid of his domineering mother. Larry, in turn, causally throws into the conversation that he hates his wife and that he wishes she were dead.
One thing leads to another, and BOOM – they end up doing each other a favor by swapping murders. “I figure I kill your wife, and you kill my momma. That’s fair,” Owen explains in the film.
Now, most of us (sane people) know that this is just another innocent scenario from a 1987 black comedy, right? Well, some lunatics have decided to play it out in real life – Timothy Bozza and his co-worker and partner in crime, Cory Cotham.
In 2010, Timothy and his wife, Veronica Bozza, a famous TV producer, were going through an ugly, ugly divorce. The two had been in and out of court for weeks, arguing over the custody of their nine-year-old son. Bubbling with anger, Tim could hardly contain himself in front of the woman he felt was ruining his life.
In comes Cory Cotham. Tim’s co-worker and a good pal. So good, in fact, that he was willing to relieve Tim from his misery by putting a gun to his soon-to-be ex-wife’s head, ending the whole divorce saga for good. With Victoria dead, Tim and his son could live happily ever after, right? Wrong.
Veronica wasn’t dumb. The woman knew her husband was crazy and felt like she had good reason to fear for her life. She told her divorce attorney that the more they fought over the custody of their son, the more she sensed that something could go terribly wrong.
She revealed that Timothy would look her straight in the eye, point at her with his index finger, and warn, “Be careful. It’s coming.” That, in itself, says everything. Tim clearly wasn’t joking when he told Cory he wanted her dead.
So, Timothy wanted Veronica out. And Cory also had a guy on his radar who he wanted dead. He offered Tim $10,000 to do the dirty work for him, and in return, Tim offered Cory a generous sum he would cough up from Veronica’s $550,000 life insurance policy.
Tim was so dumb that he actually inquired about her insurance at her funeral. And Cory wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed either. He booked a flight to Barbados for shortly after the homicide, AND he posted on Facebook that he had just closed a deal and was expecting a “sweet payday for the big man.”
Friends of Veronica described her as “a gentle soul with a big heart,” who “gave the best hugs.” The Italian-born TV producer was adored by the people she worked with, admired by her friends, and deeply cherished by her family members.
“She was a massive light,” Kendall Bard, Veronica’s colleague, said in an interview, “She didn’t deserve what happened to her. No one does.”
No one from Veronica’s inner circle imagined something like this could happen. But, granted, the red flags were there. High and bright, waving dramatically in front of everyone’s eyes.
When Veronica would bring her son to work, he would cling to her, leaving her side only when he needed to go the bathroom, which is, frankly, an odd thing to do, considering that he was on the set of TV shows with famous celebs and generous amounts of snacks at the crafts table.
When her colleagues would approach her and ask if everything was OK, Veronica would brush them off and say, “I’m fine, I’m fine.” It seemed like no matter how bad things were in her life, she never let it interfere with her work. Yes, an admirable quality, but knowing now how severe her issues were, her colleagues wish she would have spoken up.
Despite going through a terrible divorce, Veronica’s life wasn’t completely falling apart. She had plenty of things going for her, with respect to both her career and, surprisingly, her love life. She had just started dating Brian Robinson, a producer she met at work.
They’d been dating for a few months before she was killed and were preparing to go on a weekend trip together when tragedy struck.
Robinson was the one who found her in her home, lying in a pool of her own blood. And he was also the first one on the cops’ suspect list.
On August 29, 2010, Veronica dropped off her son at St. Edward’s Catholic Church, where Timothy was scheduled to pick him up and have him stay at his place for a few days, a norm the couple had established on Sundays. That would be the last time her son would see her alive.
On her way back from the custody exchange, she phoned Brian, inviting him to drop by. But by the time he got there, she was dead. She had two gunshot wounds to her head, as well as one on her right shoulder and one in the middle of her back.
Police were able to establish a rough timeline of events thanks to some phone calls Veronica had made and the time it took for Brian to get to her house. According to their reports, Veronica was alive at 12:08 and dead by 12:20 – a short amount of time for something to have gone very wrong.
Police were struggling to believe that Brian could have arrived practically a minute after the murder without seeing the killer. Eyebrows were being raised, and Brian’s behavior didn’t do much to help his case. Apparently, he didn’t even check for a pulse when he saw her. And he also washed his hands shortly before the police arrived.
“Obviously, he was a suspect for us. The red flags were up for us, as detectives,” MNPD detective, Johnny Crumby, recalled. But despite how odd Robinson’s behavior was, police knew they had to do a lot more digging before they could judge the actions of a poor guy who had just stumbled upon his dead girlfriend.
Brian maintained his innocence. As shaken as he was, he managed to tell the police that Veronica was the love of his life, and there was someone else they should be questioning – Veronica’s estranged husband, Timothy.
“A bitter divorce, custody battles, money — these are all motives for murder,” detective Crumby explained. They turned their attention to Timothy, who, they learned, had been experiencing a rough financial patch ever since their divorce, as opposed to Veronica, whose career in TV production was skyrocketing.
Authorities also learned that Veronica’s relationship with Robinson had begun when she and Tim were still living under the same roof. Taken together, it made sense that Timothy was jealous, angry, bitter, and sick of seeing his wife thrive as his life crumbled down.
The cops drove to Tim’s house to notify him that his estranged wife had just been killed, but upon hearing the tragic news, he didn’t seem particularly sad about it. When they brought him into the station, he said that he loved her and that he had never wanted to get a divorce in the first place.
He obviously denied any involvement and argued that the last time he had seen his wife was in the church parking lot when he picked up his son. He then drove to a grocery store near his home, a claim that was backed up by receipts and surveillance footage.
At this point in the investigation, police were at a loss. With neither Robinson (surveillance footage was his alibi), nor Timothy as suspects, they didn’t know where else to look. Back at square one, the officers decided it was best to approach Veronica’s neighbors.
One reported to have seen an SUV parked near their house a little before the murder and having seen it drive away shortly after. Police also found out that Veronica’s phone had been stolen after she was murdered. They used cell tracing to uncover more information but reached a dead end when the trail stopped midway, suggesting that the phone had probably turned off.
Police knew Tim wasn’t the murderer, but he wasn’t fully off the hook yet. They checked his call logs, and noticed he made numerous calls to one specific number, around nine calls, both before and after Veronica’s murder. The number belonged to his good friend, Cory Cotham.
Investigators did a bit of digging into Cotham’s past and discovered that he had been charged before for assaulting women. That was enough evidence for them to get a warrant to check through his cell phone records. And… lo and behold, they found out his phone had been going in the same route as Veronica’s after she was murdered.
Investigators brought him in for questioning, but they were sneaky about it. They brought him under the guise of helping clear Timothy’s name. So, Cory felt comfortable in the interrogation room and let himself ramble on about visiting a couple of friends at different locations, none of which were near Veronica’s home (which, of course, police knew was a total lie).
They then asked him how he could regularly be reached, to which he casually replied by having his phone with him “at all times.”
Foolish Cory. He just handed himself straight into the arms of the police. He basically booked his very own prison cell. “That phone was as good as putting a weapon in Cory’s hands,” detective Crumby said.
When the police let Cory know that they were on to his lies, he grew irritated and claimed he had nothing to do with Veronica’s murder. Sweaty and nervous, Cory could do nothing as police raided his cellphone and car.
But even though his vehicle matched the suspicious SUV description, police had no choice but to release him until they could get their hands on more evidence — evidence, they were hoping, would come from Cotham’s inner circle. They first approached his alibi, a woman named Jenny.
Initially, she supported his story, but as soon as she blurted out those lies, she rescinded her claims. Not only that, but she let the police know that she had stolen her ex-husband’s gun and placed it in a red lunch bag, the same type of bag that was found in Cotham’s car (just without the gun).
Finally, police felt like they had enough leverage on the guy to arrest him. But just as they got their hopes up, Jenny informed them that Cory was planning on fleeing the country (to Barbados). They had to act fast, so they placed a wire on Jenny and had her call him.
During their talk, Jenny brought up Veronica’s murder, and Cotham, without any hesitation whatsoever, went along with it. He knew the cops were on to him and had little energy to try and hide it. He eventually told Jenny to contact Tim so that the police would understand he had not acted alone.
Both Timothy and Cory were arrested. Surprisingly, Tim didn’t put up a fight. He revealed everything: how he and Cory had been joking about the film Throw Momma from the Train, how they had been fooling around with the idea of pulling off the stunt.
The “criss-cross” pact was supposed to go down like this: Cory was to kill Veronica, while Tim was supposed to shoot the ex-husband of one of Cory’s girlfriends. But according to Tim, he didn’t take their malicious plan seriously. He thought they were joking.
Police were at a loss for words. “It was definitely bizarre when he told us the plan,” one officer recalled. Tim wasn’t able to fool anyone with his ridiculous claims of “we were just joking around.” It was clear as day that the murder was premeditated and taken in all seriousness.
Both Cotham and Timothy were convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. “I believe justice was served,” Veronica’s colleague, Bard, stated. “The easy way out would have been the death penalty. Now they get to live in whatever hellhole they’re in now.”
Veronica’s tragic story is a cautionary tale for us all. Too many people suffer in silence and feel bad “bothering” others with their issues. Even though Veronica did talk to her divorce lawyer about her concerns, she never approached others for fear of making a big deal out of it.
Both in the film and in real life, the “criss-cross” plan turned out to be a total fail. In the movie, Danny DeVito’s character, Owen, never actually kills Larry’s (Billy Crystal’s) wife, and Larry never ends up murdering Owen’s mom either. But for some reason, Tim and Cory believed they were smart enough to pull it off in real life.
“[Tim is] just evil,” Kendall Bard stated. “Only a twisted person could pull something like this off. He has no soul.”
The scariest part about these tragic stories is discovering that you never REALLY know who you’re marrying. You think you’re tying the knot with your lover, when in fact, in a few years, they will turn into your killer.
Throw Momma from the Train is actually based on Alfred Hitchcock’s dramatic (and much superior) film called Strangers on a Train which is based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel of the same name. The tale is about two people whose lives become entangled after they start talking about how they each have someone in their lives they want to get rid of, and one of them proposes they exchange murders.
Patricia’s 1950 novel was so well received that it was adapted as a film (by Hitchcock), and again into another film in 1969 called Once You Kiss a Stranger, and again into a play in 2013. Several TV shows have also adapted the idea, including an episode in CSI called Tell-Tale Hearts.
The Patricia Highsmith novel that Hitchcock’s film was based on was the writer’s first published book, so the famous director was able to buy the film rights for the astonishingly low price of just $7,500. They managed to negotiate such a fee by keeping Hitchcock’s name out of the deal.
Highsmith was incredibly annoyed when she discovered that the person who got the rights to her psychological thriller for such a low price was one of the most famous thriller directors in the world. Why someone so rich would STILL look for the cheapest bargain is beyond me.
Hitchcock’s version of Strangers on a Train had two main characters – Bruno (the psychopath) and Guy (the cheating husband who wanted his wife killed). And the director wanted to end with Guy saying, “Bruno, Bruno Antony– a clever fellow.”
But the studio refused to let the film wrap up like that and forced Hitchcock to shoot a happier finale. As a result, the movie ended up having two cuts. One is called the “American cut” and one, the “British cut.” Hitchcock admitted that he disliked both versions.
Hitchcock wanted a big name to work on the movie with him to give the story some credibility. So, he approached famous people like Thornton Wilder, John Steinbeck, and Dashiell Hammett, but they all turned him down. For several reasons.
For one, they believed the storyline was a bit “trashy.” Two, they were worried about working on a novel written by a first-time author. “They all felt my first draft was so flat and factual that they couldn’t see one iota of quality in it,” Hitchcock revealed, “yet the whole film was there if you visualized it.”
Guy’s monogrammed lighter is an essential part of the film, but in Patricia’s novel, it’s actually a book that Guy leaves behind in Bruno’s compartment. Why did they choose a lighter over a book? Well, for the money. Ronson Lighters approached the filmmakers to try and shove in one of their lighters in the movie.
It came as a huge surprise to everyone that Hitchcock decided to turn the lighter into the center of attention. It was engraved with “A to G”, meaning from Anne (Guy’s wife) to Guy and turned out to be a key part of the narrative.
The black comedy has several references to Hitchcock’s film Strangers on a Train. But it wasn’t easy getting the rights to reference it. They had to approach Warner Studios, who were very reluctant at first. Ultimately, studio Orion succeeded by allowing Warner the rights to one of their movies.
Luckily for studio Orion, Warner wanted to produce a sequel to their film Arthur, titled Arthur 2: On the Rocks. We’re glad they settled it because Throw Momma from the Train wouldn’t have come out that way without making fun of Hitchcock’s work.
While shooting Throw Momma From the Train, Anne Ramsey (Momma) was undergoing treatment for throat cancer and had to have oral surgery mid-shooting. Incredibly, Anne never asked for any time off! She didn’t request to be away from the production and preferred to be present at all times.
Her speech impediment in the movie was very authentic and was a result of the treatment she was undergoing at the time. The actress was recognized for her part in Throw Momma from the Train with her only Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress.
In Strangers on a Train, for the scene where a man crawls under the moving carousel to get to the control, no film tricks were used. A stuntman literally crawled under the moving carousel. Hitchcock later admitted that this was the most dangerous stunt ever performed for one of his films.
“If the man had raised his head even slightly,” the director stated, “it would have gone from being a suspense film into a horror film.” As for the carousel’s explosion, it was shot with a miniature and then blown up on a large rear-projection screen behind the actors.
Hitchcock’s film received a string of mixed reviews. Some loved it, some hated it, and some really didn’t know what to make of it. Variety magazine praised the cast and their performances, but The New York Times weren’t as favorable.
They wrote: “Mr. Hitchcock again is tossing a crazy murder story in the air and trying to con us into thinking that it will stand up without support.” They called his directing techniques “sleekly melodramatic tricks” and said that the final result was utterly unconvincing.