Cold Cases

Amanda Steen|Herald-Standard

Trooper John Marshall, who oversees the cold case investigations for the state police at its Uniontown station, is shown during a discussion about cold cases.

The following is part of a weekly series on unsolved homicides and suspected homicide cases in Fayette County and the surrounding area.

Victims in unsolved killings – 1978.

Martin Furiga, Eric Doratio, Charles Lowry, Debbie Capiola, James Alford, Raymond Gierke, George Whirlow, Melvin Pike and Jay Wolfe.

Victims in unsolved killings – 1978.

Stanley Warzinski, John Watson, Elizabeth Berquist, Roberta Elam, Susan Rush, Mary Gency, Brenda Ritter, Debra Makel and Wayne Allec.

Victims in unsolved killings – 2013.

Charles “Mississippi Johnson, John Watson Jr., David Gida, Leon Mickens, Noble Wine, Donald Wilt, Elizabeth Berquist, Thomas “Brody” Miller and Michael Poling.

Victims in unsolved killings – 2013.

Anthony Marino, Franklin Isler, Tiara Isler, Lanny Isler, Bennie Fletcher Sr., Betty McClellan, Laurie Caric, Phillip Miller, Jay Wolfe, Stanley Warzinski.

While the names of victims in local unsolved homicides are added and removed from police lists as some cases are solved and others grow stagnant, there is one constant – unsolved homicides are nothing new for law enforcement.

“Of course, you are always going to have some cases where the evidence is thin and no one saw anything and they are tough to solve, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to do everything we can to try and get them cleared,” said Trooper John Marshall, cold case investigator for the state police station in Uniontown.

In the fall of 1978, the Evening Standard, the sister newspaper of the Daily Herald – the daily papers would eventually merge to form today’s Herald-Standard – ran a long synopsis of unsolved homicides across the region.

The article limited the scope of the homicides to a five-year period from 1973 to 1978, during which 18 homicides in the region went unsolved. A few of the names included on the list in 1978 are ones that remain on the same list today.

Watson, 14, was found shot to death in Wheeler Bottom in May, 1974. Berquist’s skull was discovered in Bullskin Township in April of 1978. Wolfe, 17, was found shot and killed in Hopwood and Warzinski, 65, was found beaten to death in Uniontown, within two days of one another in Feb. 1973.

Marshall has already expounded on the deaths of Watson and Berquist in Herald-Standard cold case features in recent months. Others, like Wolfe and Warzinski, are still to come.

Today, some of the cases that made “the list” in 1978 have been closed.

Less than a month after the original article appeared in the newspaper, state police charged a man with the shooting death of Lowry of McClellandtown. In Sept. 1978, police found Whirlow’s body over an embankment in Grindstone. He had been shot three times. That case has since been solved and a suspect convicted.

But more often, the cases remain unsolved.

Of the 18 cases showcased in the 1978 article, only a handful have been resolved, and two homicides that had appeared solved for decades are now in doubt.

In that instance, David Munchinski and Leon Scaglione were arrested and eventually convicted of killing James Alford and Raymond Gierke at a Bear Rocks chalet in Bullskin Township on Dec. 2, 1977. Scaglione died in prison, serving a double life sentence, however, Munchinski continued to mount appeals over the years, claiming various pieces of evidence were withheld during his trials.

In June, following a series of rulings by federal court judges, Munchinski’s convictions were vacated, and he is now a free man, living in Florida.

While the families associated with those cases which police lave been able to solve have received some closure, Marshall said that “the list” will always exist, in one form or another.

Marshall said that although technology has advanced in ways unimaginable to detectives and investigators laboring in the 1970s, many of the same problems persist today.

Officers then and now often fall just short of solving a case – with everything from a single piece of evidence to a single witness statement keeping investigators from bringing closure to families who have struggled with without answers for years.

And just as they do now, investigators in the 1970s looked everywhere they could for answers, employing everything from a psychic readings to federal wire taps, in an attempt to resolve the cases.

Marshall said that while he has never employed a psychic to try and find those final puzzle pieces, he cam sympathize with that desperation.

“Our goal is to solve each and every one of these cases. They never are just a file or a number. We want to solve them to exact justice and to provide closure,” Marshall said.

He said that the cold case features are just one more way that he is trying to close the cases that weigh on him every day.

“These cold case articles have certainly been a help to us as the cases are brought back out into the light and people remember,” Marshall said. “We have gotten calls on them and have established new leads from some information, certainly.”

Anyone with information regarding any of the cold case homicides featured in the Herald-Standard is asked to call police at 724-439-7111.

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