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Thursday, May 23, 2024

The Mary Whitaker Murder Case

     In the summer months for 35 years, 61-year-old Mary Whitaker played violin for the Chautauqua Institution Symphony Orchestra in western New York. She lived in a one-story home outside of Westfield. During the rest of the year the New York City resident played for the West Chester Philharmonic.

     On Tuesday night, August 19, 2014, someone drove 43-year-old Jonathan Conklin and Charles Sanford, 30, from Erie, Pennsylvania to Westfield, New York. Both men, with long histories of crime, had met a few months earlier at an Erie homeless shelter. After their driver dropped them off, Mr. Conklin broke into an apartment near a bar and stole several guns that included a .22-caliber rifle.

     From the site of the burglary the two criminals walked to Mary Whitaker's rural home on Titus Road. With Jonathan Conklin hiding nearby, Charles Sanford rapped on her door. When Mary Whitaker responded to his knock, he said he had run out of gas and needed to use her phone. After she handed him her cellphone Conklin came out of hiding with the rifle in hand and said, "This is a robbery." A moment later he shot Miss Whitaker in the chest. The victim screamed, and when she grabbed Conklin's rifle, the gun went off again. The second bullet entered her leg.

     Following the shooting the robbers dragged the bleeding woman into her garage where they left her to die while they ransacked her house for items to steal. Upon returning to the garage Conklin ordered his accomplice to kill the victim. Charles Sanford complied by stabbing the wounded victim in the throat.

     As Mary Whitaker bled to death in her garage the two cold-blooded killers drove back to Erie in her Chevrolet. They had also stolen her checkbook and credit cards.

     Upon the discovery of Mary Whitaker's body, police in Chautauqua County, aware that Jonathan Conklin had been in the area, immediately suspected him of burglarizing the apartment and murdering the violinist.

     On Friday morning, August 22, 2014, after using Whitaker's credit cards to buy a flat screen television and some clothing at a Walmart store, Erie detectives took Conklin and Sanford into custody.

     On the day of their arrest the suspects appeared before a federal magistrate on charges of interstate transportation of a stolen motor vehicle, carjacking and federal firearms violations. In Chautauqua County, New York, Conklin and Sanford faced state charges of first-degree murder, burglary and robbery.

     A Chautauqua County grand jury in January 2015 indicted Conklin and Sanford on charges of second-degree murder, burglary, robbery and criminal use of a firearm. Four months later the Chautauqua County district attorney announced that the suspects would be tried together in January 2016. Mr. Conklin was represented by an attorney with the local public defender's office while Sanford had a defense lawyer from Fredonia, New York.

     In September 2015 Charles Sanford pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and agreed to testify against Jonathan Conklin. Conklin, facing a sure-fire conviction, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder a month later.

     In May 2016 the judge sentenced Charles Sanford to fifteen years to life. Jonathan Conklin received a sentence of twenty-five years to life. Both men should have been given the death sentence.

     Cases like this remind us that we live among predatory, cold-blooded killers who should be behind bars but are not.


  1. That poor woman! What a scary story. Thank you, Mr. Fisher, for posting it. I hope that those two lowlife monsters stay in prison till they die. I'd call them animals but I LIKE animals and I don't want to insult them!

  2. These vicious evil killers should be given the death penalty and hanged in a public square for all to see. What an nasty way to end a person's life.

  3. Dear Jim Fisher,
    I just found out the other day that my dear friend Mary Whitaker was murdered in August of 2014 in Chautauqua. I am reeling from the news and simply numb by the shock. I process traumatic events a little different than most people that don't want to know the details. I WANT to know the details! I would like to speak to an expert such as a Dr., scientist or criminalist and ask what DOES happen to the brain and body under such a trauma.
    If you know anyone that could help me process this please write to me.
    If you, yourself can offer me what you know about what a person experiences when being shot and under violent duress, please write me.
    I thank you for your reporting and your time.

    Most Sincerely,
    Carla Davis