Case closed in death of Marx Bros Cafe head chef

Family and friends of John D’Elia still have questions regarding the Anchorage police investigation
Family and friends of John D’Elia still have questions regarding the Anchorage police investigation into death of chef.
Published: Dec. 6, 2022 at 6:25 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - December marks one year since John D’Elia, executive chef of Marx Bros Cafe, was found dead inside the prep kitchen.

Now more details are available about how he died and the Anchorage Police Department’s investigation into his death. However, D’Elia’s family and friends still have questions.

D’Elia was considered one of Alaska’s top chefs. His resume included time working at Sacks Cafe, Bridge Seafood Restaurant, Glacier Brewhouse and the Rustic Goat. He has won numerous awards for his cooking skills. D’Elia also helped to drive Anchorage’s food truck business, with his very own truck called “Urban Bamboo,” which specialized in serving BLT sandwiches.

“He just loved being a chef,” D’Elias’s ex-wife Sheyna Wisdom said.

She and D’Elia were married until 2011. For the past 10 years, D’Elia served as executive chef at Marx Bros Cafe on Third Avenue in Downtown Anchorage. That’s also where he died on Dec. 19, 2021, the Sunday of Christmas week.

“Then I went home and had to tell my daughter that her dad was dead,” Wisdom recalled. “That was the worst day of my life, and probably the worst day of hers.”

D’Elia and Wisdom’s daughter Kea is now 15 years old. D’Elia’s family still has questions about what led up to his death.

“Not knowing information is really frustrating and he doesn’t deserve that,” Wisdom said.

According to Wisdom, D’Elia was under intense pressure at work, especially during the Christmas holiday season when he was expected to cook more than 200 turkeys. The prep kitchen where he primarily worked is located outside in the back of the main restaurant, down the stairs. Some prep kitchen workers say that due to lack of security, they would carry guns. Chris Jones worked in the prep kitchen with D’Elia at the time of his death. Jones says he was also D’Elia’s best friend.

“John was working one night, and someone walked into the restaurant, put an apron on and started trying to cook themself a meal, I mean, you never know,” Jones said.

Jones and Wisdom say Anchorage police told them that D’Elia had somehow shot himself with his own gun.

“It appears it was an accidental discharge. He was alone in the restaurant late at night,” Wisdom said she was told by police. “His gun dropped somehow, it was an older Russian pistol, didn’t have as many safety mechanisms on it, and it shot.”

According to the police report, “the bullet traveled through (D’Elia’s) bladder and pelvis and then into his back.”

“Some of them don’t have the, like a striker fire, ‘cause it’s hammer,” Jones said. “So, you drop a hammer fire, you have an Alec Baldwin situation.”

A police sketch of the prep kitchen indicates where D’Elia was lying on the floor, between the butcher block and the sink. About 10 feet in front of him is where officers found his gun, located inside a milk crate.

That report stated, “the death appeared to be suspicious due to a gun found at the scene and the location of the bullet wound.”

Records show D’Elia’s death was first investigated as a potential homicide, due to a number of rumors.

“It was a drug deal gone bad, that there was a shootout down there, that he was living a double life, that there was Sons of Somoa gang were involved,” Wisdom said.

Then the report came back, indicating “high levels of Meth were in his system which may have accounted for (erratic) behavior.”

“He probably hadn’t slept in days, leading up to this, and it appears there was meth in his system,” Wisdom said, “which I didn’t know about, my daughter didn’t know about. So, he was very functional, but I also know he would work for days on end.”

This past August — eight months after his death — the APD then closed the case and labeled it as unfounded, or not criminal in nature. The report concluded, “the handgun was also tested and there was no DNA other than the victim’s.”

However, many details were never provided to Wisdom or Alaska’s News Source in a final written report. Wisdom says she knows only what the officers told her.

“It was closed, it was accidental,” Wisdom said. “I’ve received this pile of 100 pages of interviews.”

Wisdom says she’s frustrated by the lack of response for more details about D’Elia’s death.

“How long did he lay there? Did he bleed out,” Wisdom said. “None of that’s in the report either.”

Jones says that awful night will haunt him for the rest of his life.

“I went downstairs and had to clean up, you know, remnants of where my good friend was,” Jones said.

Marx Bros Cafe owners Richard “Van” Hale and Jack Amon haven’t reached out to D’Elia’s family but, Amon said he expresses his deepest sympathies.