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Saturday, July 23, 2016

What Happened To Centre County,Pennsylvania District Attorney Ray Gricar?

The Gricar Missing Person Investigation

     In Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, at 11:30 in the morning of Friday, April 15, 2005, Ray Gricar, the 59-year-old district attorney of Centre County, the home of Penn State University, called his live-in girlfriend to inform her he was on a pleasure drive through an area in the region called Penns Valley. Twelve hours later, his girlfriend, Patty Fornicola, called 911 and reported him missing.

     The next day, Gricar's red mini cooper was found parked near an antique mall in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, 55 miles east of Bellefonte. The interior of the vehicle reeked of cigarettes. Gricar, who didn't smoke, didn't like that smell. The car had been locked, and Gricar's cellphone was inside. According to a Lewisburg shop owner whose antique store Gricar had patronized in the past, the district attorney, on the day he left Bellefonte, was walking around the mall with a tall, dark-haired woman in her late 30s or early 40s. Investigators made no effort to identify and question this woman. Because this information wasn't published until 13 months after Gricar's disappearance, the police received no help from the public in identifying this possible witness. By the time the story came out, the case had grown cold.

     In July 2005, three months after Ray Gricar drove off in his Cooper and didn't return, his county-issued laptop was found in the Susquehanna River not far from the abandoned car. Three months after that, the hard drive turned up in the same area of the river. Water had damaged it to the point that no data could be retrieved.

     Following the recoveries from the river, the investigation of Gricar's disappearance, conducted by the Bellefonte Police Department (the Pennsylvania State Police didn't want the case, and the FBI wasn't involved), ground to a halt. In the summer of 2008, with Ray Gricar still missing, and no clues as to what happened to him or where he was, two of his colleagues, Bob Buehne Jr., the district attorney of Montour County, and prosecutor Ted McKnight of Clinton County, held a press conference in Lewisburg where Gricar's vehicle had been found. Both men were highly critical of the Gricar missing person's investigation. The neighboring prosecutors said they couldn't understand why the information about Gricar and the mystery woman at the mall hadn't been made public until May 2006.

     On April 14, 2009, four years after Ray Gricar's disappearance, investigators discovered that someone using the missing man's home computer had, shortly before he went missing, searched the Internet on "how to fry a hard drive," and "water damage to a notebook computer." Assuming Gricar had made these inquiries, one of the more innocent explanations behind the Internet search was that Gricar, in contemplation of his retirement in nine months, wanted to clear his computer before handing it back to the county. This didn't explain, however, why the computer and hard drive ended up in the river. A more ominous motive was that before killing himself, Gricar wanted to destroy data he didn't want anyone to see.

     On July 25, 2011, at the request of Ray Gricar's daughter, a Centre County judge declared him legally deceased.

Theories of Ray Gricar's Disappearance

     There are three schools of thought regarding what happened to Ray Gricar. He could have been murdered, committed suicide, or walked off to start a new life under a different identity. The two most popular murder theories featured a mistress who lured him to the Susquehanna River where he was murdered by the woman's husband. The second murder scenario involved a criminal killing the district attorney out of revenge. Since prosecutors are rarely murdered by people they have prosecuted or planned to put behind bars, the latter theory was the most improbable. However, the first possibility was far fetched as well.

     Suicide seemed more likely than murder in this case. Ray Gricar's brother, Roy J. Gricar, committed suicide in May 1996 by jumping off a bridge over the Great Miami River near West Chester, Ohio. If Ray had jumped from a bridge across the Susquehanna River, what were the chances his body would have been found? Some believe the odds were great that his body would have been recovered. Others disagreed. To have an opinion on this question, one would have to know the ins and outs of the Susquehanna River.

     The so-called "walkaway" theory, that Gricar walked-off to start a new life under a new identity, while quite intriguing, didn't make much sense. For one thing, he hadn't cleaned out his bank account, and drove off without tying up a lot of loose-ends. Following his disappearance, there were more than 300 false sightings of him. Those who subscribed to the walkaway theory pointed out that Ray had been fascinated by the 1985 disappearance of an Ohio police chief. Inside the chief's car, parked near Lake Erie, searchers found his wallet and his badge. They never found the chief's body. Some of those who believed Gricar was still alive thought he could be hiding out in the federal government's witness protection program. (This possibility is out of the question because prosectors are not eligible for the program.)          

Ray Gricar, The Man

     Ray Frank Gricar was born on October 9, 1945 in Cleveland, Ohio. He attended Gilmour, a prestigious Catholic high school in Gates Mills, Ohio. In 1966, while attending the University of Dayton, he met his future wife, Barbara Gray. They were married in 1969. After graduating from Case Western Law School in Cleveland, Gricar started his career as a prosecutor in northwest Ohio's Cuyahoga, County.

     In 1980, the couple and their daughter Lara moved to Bellefonte, Pennsylvania when Barbara landed a job at Penn State University in nearby State College. Shortly after that, David Grine, the district attorney of Centre County, hired Ray as an assistant prosecutor. Five years later, Gricar ran for the office of district attorney and won.

     Barbara and Ray divorced in 1991, and five years later, Ray married his second wife, Emma. Following a tumultuous marriage, he and Emma divorced in 2001. Two years later, Ray moved in with Patty Fornicola, an employee of the Centre County District Attorney's Office who lived in a section of Bellefonte called Halfmoon Hill. By April 2005, having served several terms as district attorney, Ray Gricar was planning to retire in nine months.

     Although a private, somewhat distant person, Ray's colleagues considered him an outstanding career prosecutor with high ethical standards. Because he never had political ambitions beyond the district attorney's office, Gricar was not, according to his legal colleagues, subject to political pressure or influence. On a personal level, he was known as a bit of a ladies' man.

Ray Gricar and the Jerry Sandusky Pedophilia Case

     In May 1998, when Jerry Sandusky was still an assistant football coach under Joe Paterno at Penn State Univeristy, and active in his organization for troubled youth called The Second Mile, two 11-year-old boys told their parents that Sandusky had fondled them in the Penn State locker room showers. The mother of one of the accusers contacted Detective Ronald Schreffler with the University Police Department. Shortly after receiving the complaint, Schreffler, on a pretext, got Sandusky to meet the mother at her house where she confronted him about the coach being nude in the shower with her son. With the detective in the next room recording the conversation, the boy's mother asked Sandusky if he had been sexually aroused by his physical contact with her son, and if his "private parts" had touched the boy. Sandusky did not deny showering with her son. Regarding the arousal question, he said, "I don't think so--maybe. I was wrong. I wish I could get forgiveness. I know I won't get it from you. I wish I were dead."

     A child psychologist who interviewed this boy concluded that his account, and Sandusky's response to the mother's interrogation, indicated to him that the coach was "likely a pedophile." A second psychologist, Dr. John Seasock, after analyzing the same information, came to a different conclusion.

     On June 2, 1998, District Attorney Ray Gricar decided not to prosecute the Penn State football coach. Four years later, the boy, referred to as victim # 6, took the stand at Sandusky's sexual abuse trial and described how the coach had lathered him up with soap then said, "I'm going to squeeze your guts out." Ronald Schreffler, later with the Department of Homeland Security, testified in June 2012 that he had wanted Ray Gricar to prosecute Sandusky in 1998, but was overruled.

     Had Ray Gricar prosecuted Jerry Sandusky for indecent assault, corruption of a minor, and child endangerment, more victims, ones Sandusky had raped, might have come forward. Even if they hadn't, Gricar would have exposed a pedophile within the Penn State system, and have possibly acquired a conviction on these lesser charges.

     In 1999, Jerry Sandusky retired from Penn State. He was awarded the title professor emeritus, and given an office in the football building. He had full access to all of the sports facilities, and used this access and his youth organization to attract and molest young boys.

     I don't believe that Ray Gricar was murdered, or that he's still alive. That leaves suicide. The question is, did Gricar's decision not to prosecute Jerry Sandusky weigh on his conscience, and play a role in his suicide? Between the time the prosecutor closed the case on Sandusky and his disappearance, Gricar must have been aware that accusations against the coach were still being made. Did he have regrets? Was Gricar second-guessing himself?

     On June 23, 2012, a jury in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania found 68-year-old Jerry Sandusky guilty of sexually assaulting ten boys over a period of fifteen years. The judge sentenced him to 30 to 60 years in prison.

     People who have had access to Ray Gricar's papers say there was virtually no reference in them to Jerry Sandusky. If this were true, we will never know if Jerry Sandusky's pedophilia and Ray Gricar's disappearance were in any way connected.

   

     

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Laurel Schlemmer Bath Tub Murder Case

     Laurel Michelle Ludwig married Mark Schlemmer in July 2005. In May 2006, the couple purchased a house in McCandless, Pennsylvania, a suburban community north of Pittsburgh.

     By September 2009, the couple had two sons. The youngest was 18-months-old. His brother was three. Mark Schlemmer was 39 and working as an insurance actuary. Laurel, a former teacher, stayed at home to raise the boys. On September 5, 2009, a patron at the nearby Ross Park Mall noticed a parked Honda Odyssey with an unaccompanied toddler inside. Although the van's windows were cracked, the temperature inside the vehicle had risen to 112 degrees. The passerby called 911.

     When Laurel Schlemmer returned to her van she was met by Ross Township police and EMT personnel who had managed to unlock a door and remove the three-year-old boy. Due to the fact the mother was gone from the car twenty minutes, the boy did not require medical treatment.

     An Allegheny County prosecutor charged the 36-year-old mother with the summary offense of leaving a child unattended in a vehicle. Laurel pleaded guilty to the crime and paid a fine. No one read anything into this incident other than a mother's lapse of due care.

     By 2013, Laurel Schlemmer and her husband had three sons. On April 16 of that year, Laurel, when backing her van out of her parents' driveway in Marshall, Pennsylvania, ran over her two and five-year-old boys. One of the children suffered internal injuries while his brother ended up with broken bones. Both boys survived the incident.

     An investigator with the Northern Regional Police Department conducted an inquiry into the driveway collision and concluded that it had been an accident. Personnel with the Allegheny County Office of Children, Youth, and Families conducted an assessment of the Schlemmer family and found no evidence or history of child abuse.

     The pastor of the North Park Church, Reverend Dan Hendley, counseled Laurel in an effort to help her cope with what everybody assumed had been a nearly tragic mishap. Members of the church were  supportive of their fellow parishioner.

     At 8:40 on the morning of Tuesday, April 1, 2014, Laurel Schlemmer put her seven-year-old boy on the school bus and waved him goodbye. She returned to her house and told her three and six-year-old boys to take off their pajamas as she filled the bath tub. The fully dressed mother, once the boys were in the tub, held them under water then climbed into the tub and sat on them.

     Laurel pulled the limp bodies out of the water and laid them out on the bathroom floor. She replaced her wet clothes with dry garments. In an effort to hide the wet pieces of clothing, she bagged them up with two soaked towels and placed the container in the garage.

     At 9:40 that morning, Laurel called 911 and reported that her two sons had drowned in the bath tub. Emergency personnel rushed the Schlemmer children to the UPMC Passavant Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. An hour later, three-year-old Luke Schlemmer died. His six-year-old brother remained in critical condition.

     Questioned by detectives, Laurel said she figured she would become a better mother to her oldest son if his younger siblings weren't around. "Crazy voices" had told her the younger ones would be better off in heaven.

     Later that day, detectives booked the mother into the Allegheny County Jail in downtown Pittsburgh. Mrs. Schlemmer faced charges of homicide, attempted homicide, aggravated assault, and tampering with evidence. The judge denied her bond.

     On April 5, 2014, a spokesperson for the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office announced that six-year-old Daniel Schlemmer had died. The boy had been on life support at UPMC's Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.

     At a mental competency hearing on April 7, 2014, Dr. Christine Martone, an Allegheny County psychiatrist, testified that Mrs. Schlemmer was psychotic, suicidal, and suffered from depressive disorder. Judge Jeffrey Manning, based upon this testimony, ruled the defendant mentally incompetent to stand trial.

     Judge Manning ordered the defendant committed to the Torrance State Hospital in Derry Township, a mental health facility 45 miles east of Pittsburgh.

     In Pennsylvania, defendants are considered mentally incompetent to stand trial if due to mental illness they are unable to distinguish right from wrong or cannot assist their attorneys in their defense.

     In January 2015, Judge Manning postponed the murder trial indefinitely. He also imposed a gag order that prohibited the prosecutor and defense attorney from discussing the case publicly.

     On May 5, 2016, Allegheny County Judge Jeffrey Manning, after the prosecution and the defense could not agree on a plea arrangement, set the Schlemmer murder trial for June 21, 2016. According to the defendant's attorney, Schlemmer was pursuing a defense of not guilty by reason of insanity.

     Judge Manning, on June 21, 2016, heard from psychiatrist Dr. Christine Martone who testified that the defendant was still too mentally disturbed to be tried. The judge ordered the defendant to be forcibly medicated until she became mentally competent to stand trial for the murder of her sons.

   

 
   

        

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Gregory Eldred Church Murder Case

     In 1982, after graduating from Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pennsylvania, Darlene Sitler began teaching music to students in kindergarden to sixth grade. For thirty years, she taught at the Northern Potter School District based in the tiny borough of Ulysses just south of the New York state border 200 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. Her husband, Gregory Eldred, taught music at the elementary school in Coudersport, the capital of Potter County 20 miles south of Ulysses. He was also a clarinet player with the Southern Tier Symphony. The couple attended the First United Presbyterian Church in Coudersport where Darlene played the organ and directed the choir. In April 2010, Darlene filed for divorce. The marital split became official four months later.

     On Sunday, December 2, 2012, about twenty minutes into Pastor Evon Lloyd's service at the First United Presbyterian Church, Darlene's 52-year-old ex-husband, wearing a hooded beige jacket, entered the building through a side door. Eldred walked up the center aisle, and with a .40-caliber handgun, shot Darlene as she sat at the organ. The single shot caused her to fall into the organ pit. As the stunned congregation looked on, Eldred walked calmly out of the church. One of the churchgoers called 911 as several witnesses to the shooting ran to the front of the church to attend to the wounded organist.

     About three minutes after the shooting, Gregory Eldred walked back into the church. When Pastor Lloyd and others pleaded with him to put down his pistol, the music teacher threatened to shoot anyone who got in his way. "I want to finish this," he said. "I've got to see if she's dead." Eldred walked up to the organ pit and fired two bullets into his ex-wife. If she wasn't already dead, these two shots killed her.

     Several members of the congregation swarmed the shooter, and in the course of subduing him, he fired off another shot that didn't hit anyone. A Pennsylvania State Trooper assigned to the Coudersport barracks arrived at the scene shortly thereafter.

     After officers with the state police escorted Gregory Eldred out of the church, the entire congregation climbed aboard a school bus. The witnesses were driven to a place they were questioned by a team of police officers. (Very few murders are witnessed by this many people.) Eldred, charged with first-degree murder, was held without bond in the Potter County Jail.

     On July 10, 2013, Gregory Eldred pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in a common pleas court. The judge, pursuant to the plea agreement, sentenced him to life in prison.

     In April 2015, from his cell at the Forest State Correctional Facility in Marienville, Pennsylvania, Gregory Eldred petitioned the state court to withdraw his 2013 guilty plea. Through his attorney, former Pennsylvania Attorney General Ernie Preate Jr., Eldred's previous attorney, Bill Hebe, had been ineffective counsel.

     According to Potter County District Attorney Andy Watson, FBI agents had raided Eldred's house on Dutch Hill Road just days before the murder. The FBI, however, refused to reveal the nature of its investigation of Eldred.

     The Potter County judge denied Eldred's plea withdrawal petition.

     If there is a message embedded in Gregory Eldred's madness, it remains a mystery. This is one of those bizarre murder cases that reminds us that sudden, violent death can come anytime, anywhere, and from anyone.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Eric Koula Double Murder Case

     Eric Koula, a 41-year-old day trader who lived in West Salem, Wisconsin with his wife and teenage son, called 911 on May 24, 2010 from his parent's house in nearby Barre to report that someone had shot and killed Dennis and Merna Koula. Homicide detectives who worked on the case soon determined that Koula's parents had been murdered three days earlier with a .22-caliber rifle. (The murder weapon was never identified.)

     After the LaCrosse County prosecutor, Tim Gruenke charged Eric Koula on July 29, 2010 with two counts of first-degree murder, police took him into custody. According to the prosecutor, Koula, in financial trouble, murdered his parents in order to inherit their estate. While the prosecutor had motive, means, and opportunity supporting this theory, it was what the state didn't have that made acquiring a conviction unlikely. What the prosecutor didn't have included a confession, an eyewitness, physical evidence pointing to Koula's guilt, or the murder weapon.
     Eric Koula, represented by Jim Kolby and Keith Belzer, went on trial on June 6, 2012. In his opening remarks to the jury of five men and seven women, prosecutor Gruenke stated the defendant executed his mother as she sat at her office computer, then shot his father when he walked into the room. Eric Koula's attorneys, on the other hand, assured the jury their client had an airtight alibi, and pointed out the obvious weakness of the prosecution's case. According to the defense theory of the murders, the victims had been killed by professional hitmen who entered the wrong house. (That doesn't sound too "professional.") The defense didn't elaborate on who had masterminded the contract killing, or why.   
     According to a forensic accountant who testified on behalf of the state, the defendant had only $3,000 in the bank, and owed the IRS and several credit card companies $150,000. Shortly after his parent's violent deaths, Koula had deposited into his bank a $50,000 check drawn on his father's account. 
     Investigators took the stand and testified that the defendant had planted evidence to make himself look innocent. He had written "fixed you" on a piece of paper and put it into his mailbox. The defendant hoped the note would make it look as though the killer was trying to frame him for the murders. Koula eventually confessed to fabricating this evidence.
     After the state rested its case on June 14, 2012, the defense put their own forensic accountant on the stand who testified that Koula's assets exceeded his liabilities. (To me, the term "forensic accountant" is an oxymoron. Accounting is as much a science as economics. While I realize that the word "forensic" pertains to a formal argument like a structured debate or a trial, it still doesn't sound right.) 
     On June 16, Eric Koula took the stand on his own behalf. (This fact alone makes this murder trial somewhat unusual.) Questioned on direct examination by attorney Keith Belzer, the defendant said that in 1994 he, his cousin, and his father purchased a Ford dealership. Eric became president of the company, but in 2006 his father sold the business. Although his father owed him $1million from the sale of the car dealership, the defendant only received $500,000. After the sale of the company, Eric began his day trading enterprise. In 2007, he made $300,000 in profits, but the following year he lost $661,000.
     In 2009, Eric's father gave him $100,000, and in May 2010, his parents promised him another $50,000. On May 20, 2010, the defendant went to his parent's home to pick up the $50,000 check. His father handed him a black check and told him to fill it in himself. That's why he signed his father's name on the check and tried to make the signature look like his father's handwriting. According to the defendant, this was the last time he saw his parent's alive. 
     On Friday, May 21, 2010, the day Dennis and Merna Koula were gunned down, the defendant detailed his activities in a way that established an airtight alibi. The next day, he deposited the $50,000 check bearing his father's fake signature. 
     On Monday, Mary 24, someone at the school where Mrs. Koula taught called Eric to inform him his mother had not shown up for work and that no one at her house was picking up the phone. Eric drove to Barre to check on his parents. He became alarmed when he saw their cars parked in the garage. Inside the house, he found his father lying dead on the home office floor, and his mother at her desk slumped over the computer. After calling 911, he phoned his wife and his pastor, both of whom rushed to the scene to give him support. 
     LaCrosse County deputies took the defendant to the sheriff's office for questioning. In his statement, he forgot to mention the $50,000 check he had deposited containing his father's phony signature. A week later, investigators came to his house to speak to him about the whereabouts of his son Dexter on the day of the murders. The detectives also wanted to know if the boy had access to a .22-caliber rifle. Worried that the police were going to arrest his son for the murder of his grandparents, the defendant wrote the "fixed you" note and placed it in his mailbox. He testified that he had fabricated this evidence to protect his son. 
     The defendant admitted that on July 29, 2010, when he met with detectives for the third and last time, he denied signing the $50.000 check, and didn't reveal that he had written the "fixed you" note. 
     On cross-examination, prosecutor Gary Freyburg pressed the defendant regarding his financial troubles. The prosecutor reminded him about the forged $50,000 check and the planted evidence. The cross-examiner pointed out that in Koula's 911 call, the defendant started out by explaining why he was at his parent's house. Once he justified his presence at the murder scene, he reported his emergency. 
     The testimony phase of the trial came to a close on June 26, 2012. The outcome of the case depended entirely on whether the jurors believed the defendant's testimony. After deliberating less than a day, the jury returned a verdict of guilty. By Wisconsin law, the judge had to impose a sentence of life. The judge could, however, decide to make Koula eligible for parole after serving 40 years behind bars. So, the best Koula could hope for was to walk free at age 83.

     On August 12, 2012, Judge Scott Home, at the sentence hearing, said this to the convicted killer: "You took the life of the two people who gave you life, and you'll spend the rest of your life incarcerated." The judge sentenced Koula to two consecutive life sentences without the chance of parole.      

     

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Annette Morales-Rodriguez and the C-Section Murders

     In October 2011, Annette Morales-Rodriguez, a 34-year-old mother of three, lived with a boyfriend who was expecting her to give birth to their baby within a matter of days. But that wasn't going to happen because she had been faking her pregnancy. Morales-Rodriguez had lied to this man twice before about being pregnant, and in the past, to avoid exposure as a liar and a fake, had falsely reported a pair of miscarriages. Running out of time and desperate, Morales-Rodriguez decided to kidnap a woman about to give birth, and steal the fetus by performing a crude Caesarean section using knowledge she had acquired from watching a show on the Discovery Channel.

     In search of a victim and her baby, Morales-Rodriguez showed up at a Hispanic community center in Milwaukee where she encountered 23-year-old Maritza Ramirez-Cruz who was in her 40th week of pregnancy. Morales-Rodriguez lured her intended victim into her car by offering her a ride home. Along the way, Morales-Rodriguez stopped at her house to change her shoes while the unsuspecting Ramirez-Cruz waited outside in the car. When Morales-Rodriguez didn't make a timely return to the vehicle, her passenger walked up to the house, knocked on the door, and asked if she could use the bathroom.

     Shortly after inviting the pregnant woman into her home, Morales-Rodriguez smashed her in the head with a baseball bat, then choked her until she passed out. After binding the victim's hands and feet with duct tape, and covering her nose and mouth with the tape, Morales-Rodriguez sliced into the pregnant woman's body with a X-Acto knife exposing the fetus. After removing the baby boy from his dead mother, Rodriguez realized she had killed the newborn as well.

     After she deposited Rameriz-Cruz's blood-soaked body in her basement, Morales-Rodriguez called 911 and informed the dispatcher she had just given birth to a baby that wasn't breathing. Paramedics who rushed to the scene confirmed that the infant was dead. At this point, the emergency responders had no reason to suspect foul play. They cleaned off the infant, wrapped it in a towel, and handed it to the woman who had just murdered it.

     When the medical examiner performed the autopsy, it became obvious that the baby had been removed from its mother's body by an amateur. This crude procedure had caused its death. A police search of Morales-Rodriguez's house resulted in the discovery of the disemboweled corpse with the duct tape still in place. According to the forensic pathologist, Ramirez-Cruz had died of blood loss and asphyxiation. The baby had been stillborn.

     Following her arrest, in a videotaped interrogation at the Milwaukee police station by detective Rodolfo Gomez, Morales-Rodriguez explained in Spanish how her boyfriend's expectations had caused her to kidnap and home-C-section the young pregnant woman. In other words, she had murdered a pregnant woman to save her relationship with her boyfriend.

     Charged with two counts of first-degree murder, Morales-Rodriguez went on trial in early September 2012. She pleaded not guilty to the murder charges on the ground it had not been her intention to kill the mother and her baby.

     On September 20, 2012, the jury of six men and six women found the defendant guilty as charged. Because Wisconsin didn't have the death penalty, Annette Morales-Rodriguez faced a mandatory life sentence. It was up to the judge to determine if she would be eligible for parole.

     Given the fact this woman had brutally murdered a total stranger, and killed the victim's baby through a crude C-section, Judge David Borowski, on December 13, 2012, sentenced Rodriquez to life in prison with no chance of parole. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

What Happened To Teleka Patrick?

     Raised in New York City, Teleka Patrick graduated from the Bronx High School of Science before earning her Bachelor of Science Degree at Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama. Three months after graduating from medical school at Loma Linda University in southern California, Teleka, in June 2013, began her four-year residency at Western Michigan University. She moved into the Gull Run apartment complex in Kalamazoo.

     At seven o'clock in the evening of December 5, 2013, Teleka was caught on a parking lot surveillance camera at the Borgess Medical Center where she worked. She had just finished her shift. From the hospital, a male co-worker gave Teleka a lift to the Radisson Hotel in downtown Kalamazoo. A hotel surveillance camera recorded Teleka entering the lobby dressed in a black hoodie and dark slacks.

     According to a Radisson emplyee, the woman in the hoodie tried to rent a room using cash. Because she did not show any identification, the person on the front desk refused to register her.

     At eight o'clock, Teleka got a ride back to her car at the Borgess Medical Center in a hotel schuttle van. The shuttle driver later described her behavior as nervous. He said she ducked between cars to avoid being spotted. From the medical center parking lot that night, Taleka Patrick went missing.

     Two hours after Taleka returned to the medical center, an Indiana State Trooper 100 miles from Kalamazoo came across, off Interstate 94 in Portage, an abandoned light-gold 1997 Lexus ES 300. The vehicle, registered to the missing woman, had a flat tire.

     Inside the Lexus, officers found a wallet containing Teleka's driver's license and credit cards. The car also contained pieces of the missing woman's clothing and a small amount of cash. The car keys were gone along with Teleka's cellphone.

     A bloodhound later traced Taleka's steps from the abandoned vehicle to the freeway where her trail went cold. A search of the area surrounding the car failed to produce any clues to her whereabouts.

     According to Carl Clatterbuck, a Kalamazoo private investigator hired to find Patrick, the missing woman's ex-husband and a former on-again off-again boyfriend, were not suspects in the disappearance.

     In late December 2013, several YouTube videos made by Teleka surfaced. Unfortunately, they raised more questions than answers. One of the videos, produced in early November 2013, featured a table in Teleka's apartment containing an elaborate breakfast spread. The narrator, identified as Teleka, says, "I just wanted to show you what I made….If you were here this would be on your plate." In another video, she addressed an unknown person as "baby," and "love."

     On January 1, 2014, Ismael Calderon, married to the missing woman from 2000 to 2011, told a Grand Rapids, Michigan television reporter that his ex-wife suffered from a serious mental problem. The illness led her to believe she was being followed. "This is a tragedy," he said. "I don't think she's hiding somewhere. I think she's being held against her will or the worst. I think that Teleka had this fear of first, being branded with a mental illness. Second, the practical fear of losing her career."

     The next day, a 46-year-old Grammy-nominated gospel singer and Grand Rapids, Michigan pastor named Marvin Sapp said he had filed a protection order against Teleka three months before she disappeared. According to Reverend Sapp, she had sent him 400 love letters, joined his congregation, and contacted his children.

     On April 6, 2014, a man fishing on Lake Charles in the northern part of Indiana saw something floating in the water. It turned out to be a body, and the corpse was Teleka Patrick. The lake had been frozen over during the winter. According to a family member, Patrick had been on her way to Chicago to visit a relative.

     Three days after the body recovery, the Porter County, Indiana Coroner's Office announced that Teleka Patrick had died from asphyxiation from drowning. In Michigan, according to Kalamazoo County Sheriff Richard Fuller, Patrick's drowning had been accidental. As a result, the criminal investigation of this unexplained death was closed.

     

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Sylvie Cachay Bathtub Murder Case

     Sylvie Cachay grew up as the daughter of a Peruvian-born physician who practiced in Arlington, Virginia. She studied fashion design in New York City, and worked for clothing designers Marc Jacobs, Tommy Hilfinger, and Victoria's Secret. In 2006, Cachay started her own swimsuit line called Syla. She resided in a So Ho apartment in Manhattan's meatpacking district.

     Early in 2010, the 33-year-old swimwear designer met 24-year-old Nicholas Brooks, a college dropout and unemployed party-boy with a history of patronizing prostitutes, consuming large amounts of alcohol, and smoking marijuana. Nicholas Brooks' father, Joseph Brooks, achieved a bit of fame by writing the 1970s hit song, "You Light Up My Life." The songwriter supported his son's party-boy lifestyle until 2009 when the elder Brooks was arrested on charges of sexually assaulting several women, most of whom were aspiring actresses. (In 2011, Joseph Brooks, facing the chance of a long stretch in prison, committed suicide.)

     Because of Nicholas Brooks' debauched lifestyle, funded by Cachay's credit cards, the couple had a turbulent relationship. They frequently broke up and then got back together again.

     On the morning of December 8, 2010, Cachay sent Brooks an email that read: "Nick, for the past six months I have supported you financially and emotionally. I am speaking with my credit card company and the police and I am going to tell them that I never allowed you to use my card. I don't care. Have fun in jail."

     Later on the day of Cachay's angry email, at her So Ho apartment, the couple made up. That night, just after midnight, the couple walked to the SoHo House, a luxury hotel not far from Cachay's apartment. They checked into their room at 12:30 AM.

     Shortly after Cachay and Brooks checked in to the SoHo House, a hotel employee heard a man and a woman arguing loudly in their room. Thirty minutes later, Brooks left the suite and was seen eating a steak in the hotel's dining room. Upon finishing his meal, Brooks and a man who had come to the lobby to meet him, left the hotel. A short time later they were having drinks at a nightclub called Employees Only.

     At three in the morning of December 9, 2010, about two and a half hours after Cachay and Brooks checked in to the SoHo House, a guest on the floor below complained to the front dest about water leaking through the ceiling. Hotel employees entered Cachay's room and found her dead in the overflowing bathtub. One of the stunned hotel employees called 911.

     New York City homicide detectives, when they arrived at the hotel, found the swimsuit designer in the bathtub wearing a sweater and a pair of underwear. The officers didn't notice any signs of physical trauma on the dead woman's body. At five-thirty that morning, while the death scene investigators were still in the hotel room, Nicholas Brooks returned to the suite. He agreed to be questioned at a nearby NYPD precinct station.

     Brooks admitted to his questioners that he and his dead girlfriend had been arguing in the hotel room before he left to eat his steak. After that, he and a friend went out for drinks at a nearby nightclub. He said that when he left the hotel room Sylvie was alive.

     Following the autopsy, a forensic pathologist with the New York City Medical Examiner's Office ruled that Sylvie Cachay had died of asphyxia due to strangulation and drowning. The manner of death in her case: criminal homicide.

     New York City detectives arrested Nicholas Brooks on January 4, 2011 on the charge of first-degree murder. At his arraignment hearing, the magistrate denied the murder suspect bail. Brooks entered a plea of not guilty.

     The Cachay-Brooks murder trial got underway in New York City on June 7, 2013. In his opening remarks, the assistant district attorney laid out the prosecution's theory of the case: the unemployed, playboy had been using the victim to fund his taste for prostitutes, alcohol, marijuana, and expensive nights out on the town. When she threatened to cut him off and report him to the police, he strangled or drowned her to death in the hotel bathtub.

     The New York City Medical Examiner's Office forensic pathologist took the stand early in the trial. According to the pathologist, "Bruises on the victim's neck, bleeding in her eyes, and abrasions inside her mouth...were injuries consistent with [homicidal] asphyxiation."

     Through several prosecution witnesses, the assistant district attorney presented the jury with emails in which Cachay had complained to her friends about Brooks' drinking, drug use, and late-night partying. In these emails, she referred to the defendant as "the kid I'm dating," as her "man-boy," or as a "stoner" who had quit his job at a cupcake shop.

     The Brooks defense, through a forensic pathologist from Syosset, New York, presented evidence that Cachay's death had been accidental. According to Dr. Gerard Catanese, the victim had drowned in the tub because she had sedatives, anti-depressents, and muscle relaxers in her system. "That combination of drugs," Dr. Catanese said, "could account for her falling asleep, losing consciousness...and sinking under the water and ultimately dying."

     On July 11, 2013, the jury, relying solely on circumstantial evidence, found Nicholas Brooks guilty of first-degree murder. As the verdict was read, friends of Sylvie Cachay, from their seats in the courtroom, cheered loudly. 

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Robert Girts: The Husband From Hell

     In 1992 Robert Girts and his third wife Diane lived in a house connected to a Parma, Ohio funeral home that employed the 42-year-old mortician as director and embalmer. On the morning of September 2, 1992, Girts and a couple of his friends were driving back to Parma from nearby Cleveland where they had been helping Girts' brother move. That day, Diane Girts didn't show up for her job that started at noon. A fellow employee, worried because she was never late for work, phoned the funeral home. A funeral company employee checking on Diane noticed that her car was still in the driveway. He went to the front entrance of the dwelling and called to her through the screen door. When she didn't answer he entered the house and found Diane's nude body in the bathtub. She had been dead for several hours.

     The death scene investigation revealed no evidence of foul play such as a burglary or signs of physical trauma. Moreover, detectives found no indication of suicide such as pills or a note. A forensic pathologist with the Cuyahoga County Coroner's Office performed the autopsy. Because the dead woman's post-mortem lividity featured a cherry color rather than purplish red, the forensic pathologist considered the possibility she had died of carbon monoxide poisoning. The pathologist, however, ruled out this cause of death when Diane's blood-carbon monoxide level tested normal. Following standard autopsy protocol, the forensic pathologist secured a sample of the subject's stomach contents--an undigested meal of pasta salad--for toxicological analysis. (The undigested meal suggested Diane had been dead for more than twelve hours.) As a result of inconclusive nature of the autopsy, the Cuyahoga Coroner ruled Diane Girts' death "undetermined."

     On September 20, 1992, 18 days after the funeral home employee discovered Diane Girts's body in the bathtub, Robert Girts contacted a detective working on the case to inform him that he had discovered a handwritten note that indicated that his wife had killed herself. In that document she had supposedly written: "I hate Cleveland. I hate my job. I hate myself."

     Robert Girts, the grieving husband, in his effort to control the direction of the investigation of his wife's sudden and unexplained death, informed detectives that she had been despondent over their recent move to Parma. Also, she had been having trouble with her weight and suffered depression over a series of miscarriages that suggested she wouldn't be able to give birth.

     The toxicological analysis of the decedent's stomach contents revealed the presence of cyanide at twice the lethal dose. Based on this finding the coroner changed the manner of Diane Girts' death criminal homicide.

     In January 1993, a chemist acquainted with Robert Girts told detectives that at his request in the spring of 1992, she had sent him two grams of potassium cyanide. Girts said he needed the poison to deal with a groundhog problem. Investigators believed the suspect had acquired the cyanide to deal with a wife problem. Detectives also knew that potassium cyanide is not used in the embalming process.

     Investigators learned that the murder suspect, in February 1992, had resumed an affair with an interior designer who had broken off the relationship after learning he was married. To get this woman back, Girts had assured her that he and Diane would be divorced by July 1992. Two months after Diane turned up dead in her bathtub, Girts informed his girlfriend that his wife had died from an aneurysm. Detectives considered Girts' relationship with this woman, along with money, the motive for the murder. Upon Diane's death he had received $50,000 in life insurance proceeds.

     Investigators digging into Girts' personal history in search of clues of past homicidal behavior discovered that in the late 1970s his first wife Terrie (nee Morris) had died at the age of 25. After the couple returned to Girt's hometown of Poland, Ohio after living in Hawaii, Terrie's feet swelled up and she became lethargic. In the hospital following a blood clot she slipped into a coma and died. Members of Terrie's family, who had tried to talk her out of marrying Robert in the first place, wanted her body autopsied out of suspicion she had poisoned. Robert wouldn't allow it.

     On Terrie's death certificate the coroner listed the cause of death as a swollen heart. (This doesn't make sense on its face because a "swollen heart" is not a cause of death.) Investigators learned that Girts' second wife had divorced him. Prior to her death she had accused him of physical abuse.

     In 1993, as part of the investigation of Diane Girts's death by poisoning, Terrie Girts' body was exhumed and autopsied. While the forensic pathologist concluded that she had not died of a swollen heart, he could not find evidence that she had been poisoned. The fact Terrie had spent a month in the hospital before she died might account for the fact there were no traces of poison in her body. Moreover, she had been dead fifteen years and had been embalmed.

     Charged with the murder of his wife Diane, Robert Girts went on trial in the summer of 1993. Except for a confession the defendant had allegedly made to an inmate in the Cuyahoga County Jail, the prosecution's case was circumstantial.

     After the prosecution rested its case, Girts took the stand and denied murdering his wife. On cross-examination the prosecutor asked the defendant if he had confessed to another inmate. The defense attorney objected to this line of questioning on the ground it was prejudicial. The judge overruled the objection. When the prosecutor asked this question again, Girts denied making the jailhouse confession.  At that point the idea that the defendant had confessed to an inmate had been planted in the minds of the jurors.

     The Cuyahoga County jury found Robert Girts guilty of poisoning Diane to death. The judge sentenced him to life with the possibility of parole after twenty years. (This would have made him eligible for parole in 2013.)

     Girts appealed his murder conviction to the Eight District Court of Appeals in Cuyahoga County on the grounds that the trial judge should not have allowed the prosecutor, on cross-examination, to bring up the alleged jailhouse confession. On July 28, 1994, the state appellate court agreed. Citing prosecutorial misconduct, the justices overturned Girt's murder conviction.

     At his retrial in 1995, Robert Girts did not take the stand on his own behalf. The prosecutor, in his closing argument to the jury, cited the defendant's refusal to testify as evidence of his guilt. The second Cuyahoga County jury found Girts guilty of murder. This time Girts appealed his conviction on grounds that by referring to his decision not to take the stand in his own defense the prosecutor had violated his constitutional right against self-incrimination. On July 24, 1997 the state appeals court upheld the conviction.

     In 2005, after serving 12 years behind bars at the Oakwood Correctional Facility in Lima, Ohio, Girts appealed his 1995 murder conviction to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Two years later, the federal appeals court, on grounds of prosecutorial misconduct, reversed Girts' second murder conviction. The justices did not, however, order his immediate release from prison. But if they didn't try him by October 11, 2008, he would be set free on $100,000 bond. When the authorities in Ohio failed to bring Girts to trial for the third time within the 180-day deadline, the twice-convicted killer walked out of prison.

     Robert Girts returned to Poland, a bedroom community south of Youngstown. He moved in with a relative and for a time reported twice a month to a probation officer at the Community Corrections Association. In the meantime, he filed a motion asking the appeals court to bar a third murder trial on grounds of double jeopardy. In March 2010, the federal appeals court denied Girts' motion The decision paved the way for a third murder trial.

     After his release from prison in November 2008, Girts married a woman named Ruth he met through the Internet. They lived in a trailer park in Brookfield, Ohio. On August 5, 2012, Ruth, a nurse who had just landed a job at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) in nearby Farrell, Pennsylvania, called her supervisor to say she was quitting because she was being stalked by her husband. Ruth told the supervisor she was afraid for her life and was in hiding.

     The UPMC nursing supervisor passed this information on to the Southwest Regional Police Department in Belle Vernon. An officer with that agency relayed the report to Dan Faustino, the Brookfield Chief of Police.

     Brookfield officers drove out to the Girts' residence to check on Ruth. The suspect met the officers at the dwelling. He said his wife wasn't there and that he had no idea where she was. He consented to a search of the house which confirmed his wife's absence. Later that day, a Brookfield officer contacted Ruth by phone. She told the officer that she had quit her nursing job in Farrell in order to hide from her husband. She said he had threatened to kill her. Ruth was so afraid of Robert she even refused to tell the officer where she was hiding. Ruth did inform the officer about her husband's two murder trials in Cuyahoga County. This led Chief Faustino to call the authorities in Cuyahoga County to inform them of the unfolding developments regarding Girts in Brookfield and Farrell.

     On August 9, 2012, a judge granted a Cuyahoga County prosecutor's motion to convene an emergency bond revocation hearing. In light of Robert Girts' alleged threats against his current wife Ruth, the authorities wanted him back behind bars. After hearing testimony from officials familiar with Robert Girts' murder trials and appeals, and Ruth Girts' recent accusations against him, the judge did not revoke his $100,000 bond. Instead, the magistrate restricted Girts' travel to destinations in Mahoning County where he lived. He could also travel to Cuyahoga County to attend scheduled court appearances. The judge ordered Girts to stay away from his wife.

     As the new phase of the Robert Girts murder saga unfolded, the 59-year-old's wife remained in hiding.

     In January 2013, Cuyahoga County Judge Michael Jackson remanded Girts' bond and ordered him back to jail. Girts had been visiting  Ruth at her new job. On each occasion he brought her coffee. After drinking the coffee Ruth would feel ill and vomit. Investigators believed Girts was poisoning Ruth with antifreeze. (He had searched the Internet under the word "antifreeze." Girts told detectives that his dog had stepped in the antifreeze and he was interested in the side effects. He also explained that he had been contemplating using antifreeze to kill himself. Ruth Girts did not seek medical treatment or submit to toxicological tests.

     On January 31, 2014, in an effort to avoid a third trial for murdering his wife Diane in 1992, Girts pleaded guilty to the charge of involuntary manslaughter. In open court he described how he had put cyanide in a saltshaker to poison her. Girts also pleaded guilty to insurance fraud.

     Following his guilty pleas, the authorities returned Girts to prison to serve a sentence of six to thirty years. The Ohio Parole Board, in August 2014, ruled that Girts would not be eligible for parole until 2023.

     Girts' attorney's filed an appeal with the 8th District Ohio Court of Appeals arguing that the six to thirty year sentence was based on the wrong set of sentencing guidelines. Instead of using the sentencing rules applicable for 2014, the judge should have sentenced Girts to the guidelines in place in 1992, the time of the crime. The appellate judges agreed and set aside Girts' guilty plea and his sentence. In November 2015, the state supreme court declined to consider the case which meant that the appellate decision stood.

     On December 18, 2015, in a Cleveland court room, Robert Girts, in connection with the death of Diane Girts, pleaded guilty to charges of involuntary manslaughter and insurance fraud. The judge sentenced him to 12 years but gave him credit for time already served. That meant that Mr. Girts would remain a free man. Case closed.
   

     

Friday, July 15, 2016

Frank Costal and the Kadunce Killings: The Satanic High Priest Murder Case

     At ten o'clock on the morning of July 11, 1978, Rose Butera decided to visit her friend Kathleen Kadunce. Rose, accompanied by her daughter Lori and Lori's boyfriend, pulled up to Kathy Kadunce's two-story house on Wilmington  Avenue in New Castle, Pennsylvania, a mill town of 30,000 about ninety minutes north of downtown Pittsburgh. Twenty-five-year-old Kathleen, known to her friends as Kathy, lived in the house with her husband Lawrence and their two children, a four-year-old girl named Dawn and three-month-old Robert Dean Kadunce. (While friends and family called Lawrence Lou or Louie, he will be referred to here as Lawrence.)

     When she approached the Kadunce residence, Rose Butera noticed that the back door stood adjar. From the doorway Rose heard a baby crying. After no one answered her knock, she and the other two visitors entered the dwelling.

     Rose found the Kadunce baby crying in a portable crib on the first floor. Lori climbed the stairs to the second floor where she stumbled upon the mutilated body of the little girl, Dawn Kadunce. Rose, in response to her daughter's screams, found Mrs. Kadunce's nude and bloody body lying on the bathroom floor.

     According to the Lawrence County coroner, Kathy Kadunce and her daughter had been each stabbed 17 times. The mother had also been shot in the head. The victims had been murdered earlier that morning. Dr. William G. Gillespy, a pathologist with St. Francis Hospital in New Castle, performed the autopsies. According to Dr. Gillespy, Mrs. Kadunce had been shot at point blank range in the head before being stabbed. The pathologist believed the murders took place sometime between seven and eight-forty-five in the morning. In his report, Dr. Gillespy used the words "excessive" and "overkill" in describing the murders.

     Investigators believed the killer or killers had removed Mrs. Kadunce's wedding ring as well as a blue star sapphire ring. Police officers searched the Kadunce house but did not find the murder weapons.

     New Castle detectives questioned Lawrence Kadunce, Kathy's husband of six years. He said that when he left his house that morning, his wife and daughter were alive. Mr. Kadunce was a student at the New Castle Business College where he took night courses. He worked during the day at V & R Industries on Grove Street. The 30-year-old was not a suspect in the case.

     In January 1979, detectives working on the double murder case caught a break when an anonymous tipster told officers about a man named Michael Atkinson. According to the caller, Atkinson, a 28-year-old drifter from Ellwood City, a town a few miles south of New Castle, had been involved in the Kadunce murders. Detectives launched an investigation of this man and the more they learned about him the more convinced they became that the anonymous caller had been right.

     On February 11, 1980, police officers armed with a warrant for Atkinson's arrest as a suspect in the Kadunce case, interrogated him at the jail in neighboring Butler County. Atkinson had been arrested in connection with the January 1980 shooting death of Rose Puz, his 84-year-old landlady in Ellwood City.

     Atkinson admitted being at the Kadunce house at six o'clock that bloody morning. He said he waited in the car while his companion, Frank Costal, entered the dwelling. When the 50-year-old Costal walked out of the Kadunce house he was, according to Atkinson, covered in the victims' blood.

     Frank G. Costal, after dropping out of New Castle High School in 1950, joined the Army and ended up serving in Korea during the Korean War. After his military service, the veteran with a "confused sexual identify," traveled around the country as a carnival freak known as Frankie Francine, half-man, half-woman.

     In 1970, Costal returned to New Castle where he worked odd jobs and lived off a monthly social security disability benefit of $240. (He claimed to have injured himself while working as a laborer in Pittsburgh. He also told people he had been sexually abused as a child.)

     In February 1980, New Castle police arrested Frank Costal at his apartment at Highland and Leisure Avenues on suspicion of murdering Mrs. Kadunce and her daughter. In the apartment officers discovered plastic skulls hanging from the ceiling, ceremonial candles, inverted crucifixes, and a collection of books on black magic, witchcraft, and Devil worship. The suspect's walls were also covered with black curtains to give the place a spooky feel.

     Costal told his police interrogators that he, Atkinson, a man named John Dudoice, and Lawrence Kadunce had gone to the Kadunce house that morning to straighten out a drug deal Mrs. Kadunce had interfered with. According to Costal, Kathy Kadunce had found the drugs he had given to her husband and she had flushed them down the toilet. Costal said that yes, he was in the house at the time of the murders, but he was not the one who did the killing. His companions had killed the little girl because she would have been a witness to her mother's murder. Costal denied the killings had anything to do with his interest in the occult. (In November 1979, John Dudoice had been shot to death in New Castle. While the case went into the books as a suicide, I believe Dudoice had been murdered by Costal who was worried that he would, if questioned by the police, finger him and the others for the Kadunce murders.)

     On March 4, 1980, a jury found Michael Atkinson guilty of raping a 17-year-old New Castle girl in 1978.

     On September 15, 1980, Michael Atkinson went on trial for the Kadunce murders. The Lawrence County prosecutor had charged him with the first-degree murder of Kathy Kadunce and the third-degree murder of the victim's daughter. The prosecution theorized that Kathy's murder had been premeditated while her daughter's fatal stabbing had been a spur-of-the-moment killing. (Today, the killing of a potential witness to a crime qualifies the murderer for the death penalty.)

     The trial judge allowed the prosecutor to show the jurors the gory murder scene photographs. Atkinson's attorney had objected to this on the grounds these photos would unduly inflame and prejudice the jury against the defendant. Following the coroner's testimony, several police officers took the stand. Frank Costal, the prosecution's star witness, climbed into the witness box and placed himself, the defendant and the others at the murder scene that morning.

     After the prosecution rested its case, Atkinson's attorney put him on the stand to speak on his own behalf. Atkinson continued to insist that he had not left the car that morning while Costal killed Kathy Kadunce for destroying the drugs her husband had been entrusted with.

     On cross-examination, the prosecutor got the defendant to acknowledge several inconsistencies in his written and oral statements to the police. The defendant also admitted that he, Costal, Duodice and Lawrence Kadunce had returned to the murder scene an hour after the killings to retrieve any physical evidence that might have incriminated them. Atkinson said Dudoice walked out of the Kadunce house carrying a bloody 14-inch butcher knife, the weapon used to stab the victims and dismember the little girl.

     On October 16, 1980, the jury found Michael Atkinson guilty as charged. The judge later sentenced him to life in prison for Kathy Kadunce's murder and ten to twenty years for the slaughter of Dawn Kadunce. (Sometime around 2013 Atkinson died while serving time at the state penitentiary in Greene County, Pennsylvania.)

     The Frank G. Costal trial got underway on January 5, 1981 in the Lawrence County Courthouse in New Castle. Because of the regional pre-trial publicity about the murders that extended all the way south to Pittsburgh, the jury had been drawn from the citizens of Crawford County. The prosecutor, in his opening remarks to the jury, argued that the ritualistic killings committed by the defendant had been motived by the thwarted drug deal as well as Costal's desire to kill Kathy because he was having a homosexual affair with Lawrence Kadunce. In other words, the defendant had wanted Mr. Kadunce all to himself.

     Several of the prosecution's witnesses informed the jury of the defendant's participation in satanic rituals held in his apartment. They also described his role as the "High Priest" of a small cult of young, drug-addled, and naive followers who gathered at his place three or four times a week to smoke pot, drink beer, witness animal sacrifices and other satanic rituals. At these occult events Costal would often conduct marriage ceremonies involving him and a young male lover. (Police had found fake marriage certificates in his apartment.)

     According to several witnesses familiar with the defendant's lifestyle, many of them had been afraid to cooperate with the police because they believed Costal had the power to walk through the bars of the Lawrence County Jail.

     Another witness who had participated in black magic rituals at the defendant's apartment, testified that many of the "High Priest's" followers, in return for access to the beer and marijuana, shoplifted for him. One of the former attendees at Costal's beer and pot-fueled occult affairs told the jury that he once saw the defendant wearing nothing but a pair of woman's red bikini underwear.

     The prosecutor put a jailhouse informant on the stand who said that while serving time with Costal in the same Lawrence County Jail cell, Costal boasted about "carving up the Kadunces." The snitch said Costal had been angry at Kathy for interfering with his relationship with her husband.

     A prosecution witness testified that Lawrence Kadunce had been an active member of Costal's satanic group. She said she had seen him several times in the defendant's apartment. According to this witness, Kadunce and the defendant had been involved in a homosexual relationship. Another person took the stand and said that Costal had demanded that Lawrence Kadunce leave his wife Kathy. According to this witness, just before the murders, Costal had confided in her that "something bad was going to happen to Kathy."

     An expert on satanism took the stand for the prosecution and said that the defendant's plastic skulls, Devil worship posters, robes, and book on the occult were consistent with the ritualistic nature of the Kadunce murders. According to this witness (these so-called satanism experts are all full of crap) the fact the victims had been stabbed 17 times had satanic relevance. (Most of the detectives who had worked on the case believed the defendant's Devil worshiping trappings were nothing more than props in furtherance of his desire to seduce young gay men.)

     Michael Atkinson took the stand as the prosecution's star witness. He testified that Frank Costal, John Dudoice, and Lawrence Kadunce were in the house committing the murders while he sat outside in the car. Atkinson told the jury that Frank Costal wanted to kill Kathy Kadunce in order to have Lawrence for himself. The witness further implicated the husband by claiming that Lawrence had entered the house that morning armed with a pistol.

     On January 25, 1981, the jury found Frank Costal guilty of two counts of first-degree murder. The judge imposed the mandatory life sentence without parole. Costal died in 2001 at age 71 while serving his time at the State Correctional Institute at Laurel Highlands.

     A jury in the summer of 1982 found Michael Atkinson guilty of murdering his Ellwood City landlord, Rose Puz. The judge handed him a second life sentence for the January 1980 murder. (There are those who believe Michael Atkinson and a man named Raymond Tanner murdered 37-year-old Beverly Ann Withers and 4-year-old Melanie Gargacz on November 7, 1975 in New Castle. When the girl's mother, Marilyn Gargacz, came home that afternoon, the school teacher found her daughter and the girl's babysitter dead from small caliber gunshot wounds to the head. No arrests were made and the case remains unsolved.)

     Lawrence Kadunce, having been implicated in his wife's and daughter's murders, went on trial in January 1982 at the Lawrence County Court House, Judge Glenn McCracken presiding. Because of the intense local publicity surrounding the case, a jury from Centre County had been impanelled. Mr. Kadunce had been assigned two defense attorneys, Norman A. Levine and Peter E. Horney.

     District Attorney Norman J. Barilla opened his prosecution by putting Sandra Lee Krosen on the stand. The 39-year-old witness from Edinburg testified that Frank Costal had been a babysitter for one of her friends. In 1977, Mr. Costal had introduced Krosen to his good friend, Lawrence Kadunce.

     New Castle police officer William Carbone testified there were major inconsistencies in statements the defendant made to him on the day of the murder and the day after. Kathleen Kadunce's mother, brother, and sister testified that the defendant had given them different stories regarding his activities on the night before the murders. The family members also noted that Lawrence, at his dead wife's funeral, had laughed and joked with friends who came to pay their respects.

     Michael Atkinson, the prosecution's star witness, took the stand for the prosecution on January 21, 1982. According to the convicted murderer and rapist, after the defendant and his wife argued in the bathroom about the drugs---she had been about to take a bath--he shot her in the head. After killing his wife, the defendant sent Frank Costal to silence his daughter, Dawn.

     Atkinson said that after the murders he burned evidence from the crime scene behind his house on South Jefferson Street. He disposed of the murder knife and gun by tossing the weapons in a pond owned by the Medusa Cement plant near Wampum, Pennsylvania.

      According to Atkinson, Frank Costal had introduced him to the defendant and his wife in 1977 at the Towne Mall in downtown New Castle. The witness described Lawrence Kadunce as a vengeful and jealous husband who had accused him (Atkinson) of having an affair with Kathy. Atkinson said he had caught the defendant and Frank Costal, a man he described as a "blood-maddened drug using homosexual," having sex in Costal's apartment.

     Defense attorney Levine, in his cross-examination of the prosecution's star witness, pointed out major discrepancies in Atkinson's testimony at this trial, the Costal trial, and at a March 1981 preliminary hearing before District Justice Howard B. Hanna. In Atkinson's two signed statements given to the New Castle police on February 10 and 11, 1980, Lawrence Kadunce was not mentioned as a participant in the murders.

     Attorney Levine also got the witness to admit that in return for his testimony against Lawrence Kadunce, District Attorney Barilla had promised not to seek the death penalty in the Rose Puz murder case. Moreover, in return for his Kadunce trial testimony, Atkinson would receive major dental work paid by the state.

     Two Lawrence County jailhouse snitches took the stand for the prosecution and testified that the defendant, while incarcerated there, made statements to them that incriminated him in the murders.

     When it came time to present his side of the case, defense attorney Levine put Lawrence County Jail warden Joseph F. Gregg on the stand. The warden's testimony, based on jail records, cast serious doubt regarding the veracity of the jailhouse informants' stories.

     Lawrence Kadunce took the stand on his own behalf and denied ever knowing Frank Costal or Michael Atkinson. He told the jurors that he was at work when the murders took place. The jury, on February 10, 1982 found the defendant not guilty.

     Following his acquittal, Lawrence Kadunce left the New Castle area. He later remarried and had a son with his second wife. According to that son, his father refused to talk about the case. Some members of Kathy's family were not convinced that Mr. Kadunce was innocent.

     In 2004, the murder house at 702 Wilmington Avenue was torn down to make room for a video rental store.

     The Kadunce case is tragic because two innocent victims were drawn into a circle of criminal degenerates who committed a perfectly senseless and horrific crime.

     

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Murder in a Small Town: The 1957 Fordney-Barber Case

     In 1957, whenever someone in the United States committed murder, the story almost always made the front page of the local newspaper, and led the news that night on TV. In the past few years there has been an explosion of murder-suicide cases across the nation, but in the 1950s such mayhem, particularly in small town America, was virtually unheard of. But it did happen, and it happened on May 28, 1957 in a small town in western Pennsylvania.

     John D. Barber and his wife Grace, a childless couple, adopted 8-year-old Judy Rose in 1946. The family resided in Grove City, Pennsylvania. In 1953, when Judy turned fifteen, the family moved fifteen miles west to New Wilmington, a quiet borough of 1,800 in Amish country ninety minutes north of Pittsburgh. The Barbers took up residence in a modest home at 256 North Market Street near the center of the one-redlight town.

     Two years after moving to New Wilmington, the home of Westminster College, Mr. and Mrs. Barber separated. Grace moved a few miles north where she took up residence in Blacktown in adjacent Mercer County. At the time, Mr. Barber, a small aircraft pilot and member of the Shenango Valley Flying Club, worked the night shift at a factory twenty miles west in Youngstown, Ohio. Following her parents' separation, Judy elected to remain in New Wilmington with her father.

     In September 1956, at the beginning of her senior year at New Wilmington Area High School, Judy Barber announced her engagement to Homer Miller, a young man from Grove City who had joined the Marine Corps. Notwithstanding her engagement to Miller, Judy continued to see Theodore George Fordney, a 28-year-old postal worker she had been involved with since July 1956. Early in 1957, following Homer Miller's discharge from the Marine Corps, Judy returned his engagement ring. She continued to go out with Ted Fordney, a man ten years her senior.

     On May 21, 1957, Mr. Barber, in anticipation of Judy's graduation from high school the following week, bought her a car. Although she had been a mediocre student with a lot of absences, Judy had lined-up a job as a secretary in a department store in the nearby town of Sharon. Having flown several times in a small plane with her father, Judy aspired to someday become an airline stewardess.

     Ted Fordney, Judy's on and off boyfriend, had, in 1945, quit high school during his senior year. Ted, a slender, clean-cut kid of average height who was known as an excellent swimmer and diver, while no more of a prankster than many students in his class of 33, alway seemed to be the boy who got caught. According to friend Kenny Whitman, Ted was one of those bad luck guys who walked around under a cloud. Before dropping out of school, Fordney and Whitman washed dishes at The Tavern, a New Wilmington restaurant known throughout western Pennsylvania.

     Growing up in New Wilmington, Ted was raised by his mother. No one seemed to know anything about his father, George A. Fordney. After leaving school, Ted joined the Army. He ended up stationed in Fort Lee, Virginia. In May 1947, fresh out of the service, Ted started working at the massive Youngstown Sheet & Tube Company in Youngstown, Ohio. In 1953, he landed a job at the post office in New Wilmington. He also joined the New Wilmington Volunteer Fire Department.

     In 1957, Ted, 29-years-old, still single, and working at the post office, resided in a two-story house at 512 West Neshannock Avenue owned by his mother. His 54-year-old mother, Mary Virginia (Fischer) Fordney, a practical nurse, lived and worked in Florida. For several months, Ted had been living with terrible pain caused by a slipped disc in his spine. Because he couldn't stand for any period of time, he missed a lot of work at the post office.

     On May 21, 1957, Ted underwent an operation at the Jameson Memorial Hospital in New Castle to repair his ruptured disc. Mrs. Fordney returned to New Wilmington from New Orleans to take care of her son as he tried to recover from the operation. Mrs. Fordney had been in New Orleans visiting Madeline, one of Ted's three grown sisters.

      Six days following his hospital stay, Ted ran into his lifelong friend, Kenny Whitman. When Kenny asked Ted why he hadn't been around to visit, Ted said the pain in his back was so intense he couldn't sit very long in a car.

     Judy Barber, although she continued to date Ted Fordney, occasionally entertained younger men at her house. Whenever this happened, a jealous Ted would drive slowly back and forth on North Market Street past her home. On Monday, May 27, 1957, just four days before her high school graduation, Judy and a Westminster College freshman from West Hartford, Connecticut named Warren Howard Weber, watched a late night television movie at her house. At one o'clock that night, the college student left the North Market Street dwelling and walked back to his dormitory.

     The next morning, May 28, at nine o'clock, John Barber returned home after working the night shift at the factory in Youngstown, Ohio. In the front hallway to the house, Mr. Barber discovered his daughter's dead body sprawled out on the floor. She was dressed in a pair of blue polka-dot pajamas and white, knitted socks. An electrical cord from a vacuum cleaner had been wrapped tightly around her neck and knotted. There were no signs of forced entry into the house, and Mr. Barber did not see any indication that his daughter had struggled with her killer.

     Mr. Barber picked up the telephone and reported his daughter's murder to an officer assigned to the Pennsylvania State Police Barracks in New Castle, a town of 50,000 nine miles south of New Wilmington. After speaking with the Troop D officer, Mr. Barber called Ted Fordney's house and spoke to his mother. Mrs. Fordney, immediately following Mr. Barber's call, checked her son's bedroom and saw that his bed had not been slept in the previous night. Where was he? After seeing his car parked near the house, Mrs. Fordney walked into her back yard where she found Ted about five feet from the porch sprawled next to a .12-gauge shotgun. He had blasted himself in the face.

     Back at the Barber house, shortly after officers from the state police arrived at the death scene, Dr. Frank C. McClenahan, a local physician, came to the dwelling to examine Judy Barber's corpse. The doctor, based on the fact that rigor mortis had not set in, estimated that the girl had been murdered sometime between two and four that morning.

     Two state police officers, Sergeant Harold Rise and Corporal William S. O'Brien, were assigned the task of getting to the bottom of the two violent deaths. At the Barber house, Trooper O'Brien noticed that the killer had ripped the vacuum cleaner cord out of the wall so violently, the plug had come off.

     At the Fordney house, investigators found Ted's wallet, watch, and some loose change on his dresser drawer which led them to theorize that before killing himself in the back yard, Ted had emptied his pockets. On his bedroom walls, the officers notices scratch marks that could have been made by the fingernails of a man in severe pain. The investigators did not find a suicide note.

     Later on the morning of Ted Fordney's suicide, after police officers and firemen had left the Neshannock Avenue house, Mrs. Fordney called the Sharp Funeral Home a few blocks away. Bob Brush, a 19-year-old who happened to be visiting his friend Pete Sharp at the funeral home that day, accompanied Pete and his brother Bud to the Fordney residence. Bob, a 1956 high school graduate, lived on North Market Street a few houses from the murder scene. While Bob was acquainted with Judy Barber, he only knew Ted Fordney as the older guy with a bad back who spent every day during the summer at the New Wilmington swimming pool. In the back yard of the Fordney house, Bob took one look at the man lying next to the shotgun and turned away in horror. He had not been prepared for the human carnage.

     Dr. Lester Adelson, the forensic pathologist with the Cleveland Crime Laboratory who three years earlier had examined the body of Marilyn Shepard, the murdered wife of  Dr. Sam Shepard, performed the Judy Barber autopsy. Dr. Adelson noticed a fresh abrasion on the victim's left temple that suggested the killer had knocked her out before wrapping and tying the cord around her neck. According to the pathologist's estimation, the five-foot-tall high school senior had died of asphyxiation by ligature sometime between two and four on the morning of Tuesday, May 28, 1957.

     Warren Weber, the Westminster College freshman who had been with Judy just hours before the murder, contacted the state police almost immediately after he got word of her fate. That Tuesday afternoon, Lawrence County District Attorney Perry Reeher and County Detective Russell McConhay questioned the shaken student at the county courthouse in New Castle. Weber informed his interviewers that between ten-thirty and eleven o'clock the previous night, he and Judy had seen a man peeking into one of the living room windows. The only thing Weber recognized about the man was that he had a crew-cut. Judy said she thought the window peeper was Ted Fordney.

     Troopers Rice and O'Brien questioned several witnesses who had seen Ted Fordney, at ten-thirty Monday night, walking toward the Barber house. Witnesses had also seen the victim and Fordney riding around town in her new car in the afternoon and evening of the day before her death. According to some of Judy's girlfriends, she did not want to marry Ted, and was thinking of ending their relationship. Whenever she entertained a boy her age, Ted would pay Judy a visit shortly after her date went home.

   New Wilmington weekend police officer John D. Kyle, questioned Ted Fordney's next-door neighbor, Mrs. Elmer Newton who said that she and her husband, between four and five o'clock Tuesday morning, heard a noise they thought was thunder. Officer Kyle presumed the couple had heard Ted Fordney shoot himself in the head.

     At this point in the investigation, all of the homicide investigators as well as the Lawrence County District Attorney, believed that Ted Fordney had gone to the Barber house an hour or so after the college kid had gone home. Judy let him in, they argued, and he punched her on the side of the head. As she lay unconscious on the hallway floor, he wrapped and tied the electrical cord around her neck. After returning to his house, Ted grabbed his shogun, walked into the back yard, and shot himself in the face.

     On Wednesday morning, May 29, the day after the murder-suicide, the dead girl's father allowed himself to be interviewed by reporter Bryant Artis with The Pittsburgh Press. Artis' comprehensive front-page article about the mayhem in New Wilmington featured a large yearbook photograph of Judy Barber. According to John Barber, just minutes after reporting his daughter's murder to the Pennsylvania State Police, he telephoned Ted Fordney. "I called him simply because he knew everybody in town," the father said. Regarding his daughter's relationship with a man ten years older than her, Mr. Barber said, "He wouldn't show up for a month at a time. But they both loved to dance and off they'd go." Asked about his feelings toward Ted Fordney, Mr. Barber said, "It's not fair to accuse him until we know."

     Lawrence County Coroner John A. Meehan, Jr. held the coroner's inquest in New Castle at the country court house on August 6, 1957. Following the three hour session in which six witnesses testified, the coroner's jury, after deliberating twenty minutes, delivered its verdict. These jurors found that Judy Barber had been strangled to death by Theodore Fordney who committed suicide shortly after the murder. This meant there would be no further investigation into these deaths. The case was closed.

     Because no one saw Ted Fordney murder Judy Barber, and he did not confess, the case against him was entirely circumstantial. Moreover, there was no physical evidence connecting Mr. Fordney to the killing. According to reportage in the weekly New Wilmington Globe, forensic scientists at the state police crime lab in Butler had found hair follicles from the victim on the sweeper cord. Latent fingerprints had been lifted from the ligature, but because they were partials, could not be identified.

     Warren Weber, the Westminster College student from Connecticut, did not return to New Wilmington. And who could blame him? He had come to a small, quiet community to end up having a date murdered just hours after he left her house. It probably dawned on Weber that Ted Fordney could have come to the Barber house that night with his shotgun. Before turning the gun on himself, Fordney could have murdered him along with the girl.

     Ted Fordney's mother, on February 1, 1996, while living in a convalescent home in Hermitage, Pennsylvania, died at the age of 93.

      Ted Fordney did not have a history of criminal violence, and he had never been treated for any kind of mental illness. So what could have driven this ordinary man to commit murder and suicide? Perhaps the answer lies in the fact he was in extreme pain. It is possible he was taking pain-killing drugs that had altered his personality. (In the 1950s, patients suffering from post-surgical pain often took a powerful, over-the-counter drug called Paracetamol. Even in small doses, Paracetamol was known to cause kidney, liver, and brain damage. If combined with even small amounts of alcohol, the drug was especially dangerous.)

      The memories of Judy Barber and Theodore Fordney, today remembered by a handful of people, are intertwined forever as they lay buried in the same cemetery outside of New Wilmington, Pennsylvania.