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Sunday, March 17, 2024

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 an hour 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 ajar. 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 before she was 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 caught a break when an anonymous tipster told officers about a man named Michael Atkinson. According to the caller, Mr. 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 the more they were convinced 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 Mr. 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 officers arrested Frank Costal at his apartment at Highland and Leisure Avenues on suspicion of murdering Mrs. Kadunce and her daughter. In his 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.

      Mr. Costal told his police interrogators that he, Michael 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. Four months earlier John Dudoice had been shot to death in New Castle. While the case went into the books as a suicide, detectives believed that Dudoice had been murdered by Costal who was worried that if questioned by the police Mr. Dudoice would 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 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 objected on the grounds these photos unduly inflamed and prejudiced 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 Michael 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 Frank 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 returned to the murder scene an hour after the killings to retrieve 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 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. 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 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 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 Frank Costal would often conduct marriage ceremonies involving him and a young male lover. (Police found fake marriage certificates in his apartment.)

     According to several witnesses familiar with the defendant's lifestyle, many of Costal's young followers were afraid to cooperate with the police because they believed Mr. 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 a 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, Mr. 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 to 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 books on the occult were consistent with the ritualistic nature of the Kadunce murders. According to this witness (so-called satanism experts have since been discredited) the fact the victims had been stabbed 17 times had satanic relevance. (Detectives who 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, Pennsylvania.

     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 believed that 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 that case remained unsolved.)

     Lawrence Kadunce, having been implicated in his wife's and daughter's murders went on trial in January 1982 in Lawrence County with 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 regarding 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 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 into 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.


  1. I knew Lou Kadunce when he worked with a few friends of mine at "Working Man's Friend" gas station on Wilmington Rd in 1973 or 74. He wanted a bunch of us to go to the caves along Neshannock Creek in the middle of the night. He also brought in Satanic books for us to read. None of us did. I've always believed that he was involved in the murders.

  2. I knew Louie Kadunce. He was my uncle. Two weeks before it happened my Dad took me an my brother back to Newcastle to visit my Grandmother and I slept over one night at uncle louie's house. No sooner had I fallen asleep when I had a fucked up waking dream that the baby started laughing like a grown man,jumped on my back,and started biting my neck. It totally freaked me out so bad I still remember it.Two weeks later we got the call. I used to get pissed when I'd see someone had written about this to further their own blogging,but I've calmed down about it. Especially after reading details I never knew before & remembering the last time I saw him around 84 or 85. He proceeded to creep me out talking about occult shit and weird lines like "what would you say if you saw a cat with only two front legs run across the yard right now?" bullshit. I can't prove it,but I believe he was in on it

    1. This is either Anita or Julie Kadunce

  3. Lawrence Kadunce never left the area. He resides in Ellwood City still. And he never had a "second son" he had another daughter, who is as twisted as her father.She is living her life as a man. (The apple doesnt fall far from the tree i guess) This family came acrossed as church going christians. When behind the sceans he was molesting his second wifes children. Robert wants nothing to do with them.
    End of the story is Lou Kadunce's health is not very good right now so hopefully soon he will be joining Atkinson,& Costal, in hell where they all belong so finally Kathy and Dawn can have justice and RIP

    1. These are mighty big words coming from someone who posted as anonymous. That twisted "Daughter" you speak about, yes is living as a man, and you are transphobic. I am not Christian but I have no affiliation with any religion. But I know right from wrong. I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT I WENT THROUGH YOU DO NOT. Because even if you were there you weren't me. Yes he was molesting me. I have problems because of it. But I know how to be a good compassionate human being who doesn't compare someone to their abuser. If my Brother doesn't want anything to do with me or the rest of my family he has a funny way of showing it. Because he could just tell me to my face and I would never speak to him again if thats what he wishes. I wish my "father" would rot too. SO DON'T YOU EVER DAMN COMPARE ME TO MY ABUSER AGAIN. That is the most fucked up thing you could do to someone. By the way someone living as the opposite gender is non of yours or anyone else's damn business and if your so invested in whats in someone else's pants your the one who's the pervert!

    2. I feel for you,truly. As a member of the family who had a 'father' just as shitty as yours.

  4. I just read the book called New Castle's Kadunce Murders. I knew Jim Zingaro, Darlene Pounds, Bernie Laux, Wesley Bowers, Speed Ritter, Elaine Callahan, Andrea Montgomery, Carol Montgomery, Bobby Hall, Chris Fabian (actually know both), Dick Smith, Ray Thompson with the dent in his head, Dennis Vogan and maybe some more names mentioned in the book. Some have passed on. Some are alive and kicking. It's a small town

    1. Was Raymond Tanner one of them?

  5. First of all I agree whole heartedly that he did it. Secondly I will be going back to school for forensic psychology, in hopes to prove it. Third I'm not a tranny. I am a transgender man there is a difference. I know its hard to understand. But ones a slur from people who have to small of minds to understand that words hurt people who they don't know who are innocent and did nothing wrong to them. Also I was a victim of abuse from my him myself so I do believe he should account for his crimes.

  6. Not one of you know me. Keep my name out of your mouths.
    You don't know me or my opinions or how I feel about anything.
    I know this because not one of you have ever asked.
    So when it comes to me, stfu!

    1. I don't have to ask. As the son of uncle louie's shitheel brother leo, I have a pretty good idea. Screw these bottom feeding ambulance chasers. They have no idea what it was like surviving that family

    2. I thought you were dead. I heard something about an accident in Texas