Man Serving Double Life Sentence For 1987 Valentine’s Day Murder Dies In Prison

A Hockessin man serving two life sentences for the murder of an Avondale, Pennsylvania man passed away on Wednesday.

As the workday came to a close on Friday, February 13, 1987, two men, Juan Soto and Rafael Lopez were making plans to go out and listen to Spanish music at a local bar. Both men had just been paid by their employers. and found a ride from Avondale, Pennsylvania to the Spinning Wheel Inn, a tavern near Kaolin, Pennsylvania. The pair were dropped off at the Spinning Wheel at around 7:00 p.m. where they remained until shortly before closing at 1:30 a.m. the next day.

Not having a ride home, the men began to ask other patrons for transportation back to Avondale. Their initial efforts were unsuccessful, however, when they walked outside of the tavern they saw two men, later identified as Carmelo J. Claudio and another man, sitting in a car. Lopez asked the men if they could give him and Soto a ride back to Avondale. The men agreed in return for ten dollars for gas. Lopez gave the men ten dollars, and accompanied by Soto, left the Spinning Wheel parking lot in the car. The driver and Claudio were in the front while Soto and Lopez were both in the back seat.

As they left the Spinning Wheel parking lot, the driver turned left onto Route 41 towards Delaware, instead of right towards Avondale as Lopez and Soto had requested. A short time later, the defendants’ vehicle turned from Route 41 onto Centerville Road near Hockessin, Delaware. There Maymi stopped the car and Claudio demanded that Soto and Lopez hand over all of their money. Soto exited the car and attempted to flee. However, Claudio struck Soto in the face twice and then stabbed him in the chest. Soto fell to the ground and Claudio removed several hundred dollars from his pockets. While on the ground, Soto heard Lopez scuffling with both men before hearing the car drive away.

Detective John Downs (“Downs”) of the New Castle County Police arrived at the crime scene early that morning, Saturday, February 14.  Once at the scene, Downs found Lopez dead on the side of the road along with evidence that another person had been injured. Soto was discovered later that afternoon a short distance away and was taken to Christiana Hospital. While at the hospital, Soto, who spoke little English, was questioned by Downs through an interpreter. Soto gave Downs his account of the events of the previous evening, which included a detailed description of the two assailants.

After speaking with Soto, Downs returned to the Spinning Wheel Inn. There, he questioned a female bartender about Soto and Lopez. She told Downs that both Lopez and Soto had been at the Spinning Wheel the previous evening. She recalled that they had asked her for a ride home. After she declined their request, she saw Lopez and Soto attempting to solicit a ride from two men. She described those men for Downs.

Police brought Claudio and the driver in after their investigation found that Soto and Lopez had left the Spinning Wheel Inn in their car. Soto was able to pick both of the defendants out of a photographic line-up. Both  Claudio and other man were arrested on February 20, 1987, and were subsequently indicted on charges of Murder in the First Degree and the related felonies. At trial, Soto identified both men as the assailants.

Sixty-Three year-old Claudio. in custody since 1987, was serving two life sentences plus 45 years for the murder of Lopez,  and the stabbing of Soto when he died on Wednesday.


Claudio was part of a minimum security housing unit that has been closely monitored for COVID symptoms since April 8, with twice-daily temperature checks. As part of the monitoring, he received a proactive COVID test on April 9 that was returned negative.

Claudio was later moved from the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center to Bayhealth Hospital, Kent Campus on April 16 due to a decline in his mental status. On admission, a second COVID test was administered, and that test returned positive. He did not have any respiratory symptoms but was tested as part of the hospital’s standard COVID protocols.

He remained at Bayhealth Hospital, Kent Campus for treatment for his altered mental status, complications of Parkinson’s Disease, and COVID. A follow-up COVID test administered on May 14 returned a negative result. Claudio’s mental status continued to decline and following consultation with his family and healthcare professionals, he was returned to Vaughn for hospice care in the prison infirmary. Video visitation between Claudio and his family was arranged in recent days, officials said Wednesday.