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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.


8 comments:

  1. You should look into why the FBI had an open and on going investigation with Eldred. A search warrant at his residence had been conducted by the FBI prior to the shooting.Several Guns had been removed along with a computer. There is more to this story...

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  2. My sister is a teacher in the Coudersport Elementary School and was also a teacher at Northern Potter for 20 years. She knew Darlene well and she like both Greg and Darlene. She said she often had recess monitor duties with Greg and he taught her son trumpet and guitar lessons. Both of them were much loved and highly respected members of their community.

    My sister told me that in recent weeks Darlene had been telling people that she was afraid of Greg. She said he was stalking her and she said she was afraid for her life. The entire community is in total shock over this story. How two such well-loved and highly regarded teachers could end up this way is incomprehensible.

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  3. Local reports say that the FBI was investigating him, although they do not disclose why. I'm wondering if that had anything to do with it.

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  4. unfortunately this is the second murder in Potter County since the summer of 2011...

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  5. This guy used to be my music teacher back in elementary school when I lived there in fifth and sixth grade. He was a good musician, but he wasn't a particularly good teacher. He always seemed sad and depressed. This is just too weird.

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  6. The FBI was removing equipment, etc. due to an addiction to pornography on the part of Eldred. Not just pornography, actually, but child pornography. As the former wife of someone with a pornography addiction, I can tell you that they are very defensive of their addiction and will go to extremes to protect their secret.

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  7. And this community wonders why our children are so messed up. This guy taught when I was a student. He was definitely different then, withdrawn. Distraught. I could tell this at the age of 10 and 11. It's a shame he didn't get help 25 years ago, and all of this had to happen. God rest her soul.

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