The following story ran in The Evening Standard on Thursday, Oct. 26, 1978.
An 8-year-old girl was raped and strangled.
A 17-year-old boy was shot three times in the head.
A 15-year-old McKeesport boy was burned to death.
These are three of the 18 unsolved homicides troubling police agencies in the district since 1973.
It is hard to imagine what kind of person could kill a small child. Or what kind of person could cold-bloodedly fire three bullets into an unsuspecting youth’s head.
What kind of person does it take to murder by dousing a teen-ager with gasoline and then setting fire to the youth?
These are questions that may never be answered.
Police are still probing these and other murders, using every resource at their disposal to track the unknown killers.
This reporter’s assignment was to compile a single story concerning some of the unsolved homicides committed in the district over about the last five years.
None of the victims was known by this writer. Yet, it is hard to remain untouched by the brutality of each case.
The story began by poring over newspaper clippings, many yellowed with age, about people who have one grotesque thing in common – each was murdered, suffering a violent, unnatural death.
And the murderers are getting away with it.
State police and other authorities can’t be accused of bungling their investigations. In most of the cases evidence is so flimsy even the most famous of fictional sleuths would be hard-pressed to solve the crimes.
All the scientific gadgetry in the world could be brought to bear but still no killer could be found and brought to justice.
This story concerns 18 deaths, all murders and all occurring in this corner of Pennsylvania since 1973.
There are other unsolved murders, some overlapping into Ohio and West Virginia. But these are probably cases which still remain fresh in many district resident’s minds.
The victims’ names are Jay Wolfe, Stanley Warzinski, Debra Makel, John Watson, Eric Doratio, Martin Furiga, Charles Lowry, Raymond Gierke, James Alford, Elizabeth Berquist, Roberta Elam, Susan Rush, Mary Irene Gency, Debbie Capiola, Brenda Lee Ritter, Wayne M. Alec, George L. Whirlow and Melvin Pike.
Several of these victims may have been slain by the same person. Police are sure they are not looking for just one killer for all these crimes.
There is always tragedy to murder. In these cases, the killers showed no respect for age or occupation, least of all for someone’s right to life.
Several of the victims were young women. They were sexually assaulted and then strangled. Police have theorized these may have been committed by the same person.
Another of the victims was a young prostitute. Still another was a teenager, respected in his community and maybe more importantly in his church for his belief in God.
Yet another of the victims was an elderly man, a jeweler.
State police have “strong suspicions” in several of these cases as to the identity of the killer. But there is not evidence to prove it.
Understandably, authorities are not revealing what this evidence may be. And, they cannot force someone into confessing since we are all guaranteed our constitutional rights.
Police have their hands tied in some respects by laws meant to protect the innocent but in some of these crimes, are giving ample protection to the guilty.
Sgt. Robert Dugan, Criminal Investigation Coordinator from state police Troop B Headquarters at Washington, heads the probes involved in seeking these killers.
“We have the scientific aids. Lab technicians, ballistics, photographers, the tools that are necessary to solve crimes,” he said.
“But you have to find the evidence and get cooperation from the public to solve these cases.”
“We can’t operate like they do on television. We can’t harass or badger someone.”
Sgt. Dugan said police must attempt to “build the case from another direction,” when there is strong suspicion aimed at one person, but not enough evidence to bring the suspect to justice.
He explained that state police are also hampered by their territory or “beat,” in solving murders.
They work mainly in rural areas.
“We rarely arrive at a scene to find someone with the gun still smoking in their hand,” he said.
There has also been the problem where someone is killed at one location and their body “dumped,” in a rural area, decomposing before discovery.
The more time between the killing and its discovery, Sgt. Dugan said, “the more of a buffer there is between us and the killer.”
And, without cooperation from the public, the policeman’s job is many times complicated.
“We are not miracle men. We’re only as good as the people on the street.”
There is a continuing investigation into each of these killings, Sgt. Dugan said. He added that while there may be nothing new on an unsolved murder, the book remains open until a killer is found and brought to justice.
“We may get some new information. So we track it down, check into it and add it to the investigation,” he said.
There an on-going probe into each of the following cases. Police are still searching, hoping in some cases, for leads strong enough to catch a killer.
They have been assisted in their probe by psychics, people who claim to have extraordinary powers or contacts with the spiritual world.
Sgt. Dugan said that on two occasions psychics visited sites where murders occurred. “They couldn’t give us anything new, anything substantial,” he related.
In several other cases, concerned people have started reward funds. These have never been claimed.
What follows is a chronological listing of these killings. The first two, police feel, may have been connected; they may have been done by the same killer or killers.
These concern Earl J. (Jay) Wolfe, 17, of 58 Woodstock Ave., Hopwood, and Stanley A. Warzinski, 65, of 470 E. Main St., Uniontown.
Jay Wolfe was shot to death. Someone fired three .380 caliber semi-automatic pistol slugs into his head.
His body was found in his car Feb. 3, 1973, just off the Bennington Road in Hopwood.
Jay was last seen chasing a suspicious car – trying to get a license number – that he had observed near his father’s garage on Bradbury Avenue in Uniontown.
A half-hour later he was found dead.
In this case a reward was established, totaling about $15,000, in an effort to bring the killer to justice.
Two days after his killing, police found the body of Stanley Warzinski in the burned out basement of his home.
Warzinski, who had operated a jewelry store in Uniontown for a number of years, had been beaten and then dragged into the basement of his home where his body was set on fire.
Official cause of death was listed as asphyxiation due to the burning and shock.
Firemen discovered the murder victim when they responded to a fire at his home. That was on Feb. 5, 1973.
Authorities feel robbery could have been the motive in the Warzinski killing since it was common knowledge he carried large amounts of cash.
He was also known to have carried a gun. Police feel pools of blood found outside the house may have been from gunshot wounds the victims inflicted on his attacker or attackers. An autopsy showed later Warzinski had not lost that much blood in the beating.
At the time, police indicated the Warzinski and Wolfe murders were connected. Warzinski’s home was located less than a block away from where Wolfe spotted the suspicious car. A theory is whoever was in that auto was “casing” Warzinski’s home. It was determined his home had been ransacked before it was set afire.
In both murders, police began looking for a suspect, a man possibly in his middle 40s with short, tapered hair and a mustache. This suspect was a white male, police said, with a rough complexion and possibly acne scars on both cheeks.
No such person was ever caught.
District residents were shocked at the brutality of these two killings. But less any a year later, that shock turned to fear.
On Oct. 5, 1973, the body of Debra Makel, 8, of Rices Landing was found not more than a quarter of a mile from her home.
She had been raped and strangled.
Police swarmed through the community searching for her killer, a probe that delivered no suspect.
The child had been the object of a two-day search. Her body was found beneath brush and logs along the bank of a stream bed at the site of an old distillery at Fern Cliff.
Investigators said Debra had gotten off her school bus Friday afternoon, Oct. 5. She left her school books and a package on a table and then left home to play. She was never again seen alive.
Two cousins found her body. One of her legs stuck out from under the brush. She was wearing brightly striped stockings, the same articles of clothing she wore to third grade classes Friday at Dry Tavern School.
State police said everything possible was being done to find her killer.
A reward fund was set up. It has gone unclaimed.
In April 1974, Dr. David Hoy of Paducah, Ky., a lecturer, psychic and showman came to the area and visited the scenes of the Makel and Wolfe murders.
He said he “felt certain,” he knew those involved in the Wolfe slaying exactly how it happened. He passed this “information” on to state police.
He also said he had given state police a description and name of the killer of eight-year-old Debra Makel.
However, what information he gave police proved insufficient for them to make an arrest that would stand up in court.
A few months later, on May 2, 1974, another murder was discovered.
John David Watson of Wheeler, near Connellsville, had gone out the night before to make a purchase at the store for his mother.
The next day his body was found in the Morrell area.
He had been shot in the head.
The discovery brought an end to the search for the 14-year-old boy who had been reported missing when he didn’t return home.
It also gave police another unsolved murder.
On July 2, 1975, Martin Furiga of New Eagle was reported missing.
Five months later his decomposed body was found in the woods off the Summit Road near Laurel Caverns.
He had been shot to death.
The next several killings in this region occurred within about one year and the victims were all young women; each was sexually assaulted.
Circumstances around the five different killings led authorities to believe they were searching for one killer. However, as the probe went on, police began to believe the killings may not have been done by the same person.
The first of these occurred the day before Thanksgiving in 1976.
Susan E. Rush, 21, left her job at the Washington Mall that evening, Nov. 24, reportedly with plans to join her family at church.
The next morning her car was found parked along North Avenue in Washington, her home town.
Susan was in the trunk. Dead. She had been raped and strangled.
On Feb. 13, 1977, nearly three months later, Mary Irene Gency, a 16-year-old North Charleroi girl, left her home to meet friends.
A week later she was found along a dirt road in Fallowfield Twp. She had been beaten to death and raped.
Slightly more than a month later, on March 17, Debbie Capiola, 17, of Imperial, disappeared along a busy road while going to board a school bus in the morning.
Her body was discovered in Washington County 10 days later, just a few miles from her home in Allegheny County.
Debbie had been raped and strangled, her blue jeans tied around her throat.
Her body was located near an old strip mine in Robinson Twp.
By the time the fourth rape-murder occurred, residents of this district were more than frightened. May women stayed home at night. Others purchased handguns for protection.
The feeling in the area where the murders occurred bordered on hysteria.
Brenda Lee Ritter’s death only brought more public outcry for authorities to find the murderer.
A pretty, 18-year-old from North Strabane Twp., Brenda was found May 19, her nude body left in an isolated area of South Strabane Twp.
She too had been strangled and raped.
Her car was found near her body.
All four of these girls were killed within several hours of their disappearance, according to authorities.
Although police involved in the probes never officially admitted the crimes were connected, there were “similarities,” involved in each slaying.
The fifth rape-murder to occur came on June 13, 1977, when a young candidate for the Sisterhood was found strangled several hundred feet from the Motherhouse where she was staying.
Roberta Elam, 28, was dragged into the woods, police said, near the Mount St. Joseph Motherhouse near Wheeling, W.Va. Police feel the killer used his bare hands to strangle the young woman.
Miss Elam, formerly of Allendale, N.J., was making a silent retreat at the Motherhouse. She had arrived there only two weeks before she was murdered.
Police theorize she was sitting on a bench near the wooded area, praying, when she was grabbed from behind and dragged away.
This fifth killing occurred within a 50-mile radius of Washington. State police from Pennsylvania and West Virginia conferred and concluded Miss Elam’s death was not related to the four others.
The one main thing each killing had in common with the other was the sexual assault.
Later that same year, yet another murder occurred, this time a little closer to home.
A McClellandtown man was found in the bushes outside his home.
Charles Lowry, 37, died after he was shot by an unknown killer.
An autopsy revealed there were 10 bullets fired into the Fayette County man’s body; six in his head, two in his chest and one in each hip.
That murder, police feel, occurred around noon Oct. 6.
Lowry, police believe, was shot near his home and his body dragged into brush a short distance away.
Rain-soaked ground revealed two small furrows leading away from the house which police theorize were marks made by Lowry’s feet as he was being dragged.
Less than two weeks later state police arrested two persons in connection with the killing. However, prior to a hearing for the pair, state police withdrew charges and both were freed.
State police, according to reports, apparently felt there was insufficient evidence at the time and wished to protect their case.
No other suspects have been charged with the killing.
In November, 1977, the district was horrified at the details of another murder.
Eric Doratio, 15, of McKeesport, was stuffed into a cardboard, industrial-type 50 gallon barrel, doused with a flammable liquid and then burned to death.
His body was discovered on a rural road in West Pike Run Twp., near Interstate 70 in Washington County, by hunters.
Washington County Coroner Farrell Jackson summed up feelings of many citizens when he said, “It takes someone fiendish to do this.”
Doratio’s body, found Nov. 29, was not identifiable at first.
It wasn’t until January this year that authorities, using dental records, were able to name the victim.
Police in Doratio’s hometown related Eric had been missing since Nov. 24 when he ran away from the McIntyre Shelter, a child welfare home in the Pittsburgh suburb of Ross Twp.
Coroner Jackson said the teen-ager died of massive thermal burns. It was believed he may have been unconscious when placed inside the barrel, “but he was alive,” Jackson said.
“We have no motive at all,” one state policeman said.
There were no clothes, shoes or other items on the body when hunters found the still burning barrel.
There were two killings discovered in this district in December, 1977, a month usually filled with yuletide joy and enthusiasm.
They were on Dec. 2, occurring in the small community of Bear Rocks in Bullskin Twp.
Raymond Paul Gierke, 28, of 294 E. Main St., Mount Pleasant, and James Peter Alford, 22, of Forbes Road near Greensburg, were found shot to death early that day.
Alford, police said, had left the A-frame cottage where he was wounded to seek assistance. The bleeding man pounded on the door of another home where occupants notified police.
When state police arrived, they found Alford, dead, on the porch of the home where he had sought assistance.
Gierke was found dead on the floor of a first-floor living room in the A-frame he had purchased recently.
Authorities said both men had been shot more than once. Neighbors reported hearing four shots.
Several days after the bodies were found, police said drugs or drug trafficking could have been linked to a motive for the two murders.
Two more murders were under investigation in this area in April of this year.
The first probe began when a human skull was dragged into the yard of a Hawkins Hollow home by a dog.
That was on April 15.
Three weeks later, Allegheny County Coroner Cyril Wecht said the skull from the body of Elizabeth Jane Berquist, a 24-year-old nurse from Elizabeth Twp. She had been reported missing Dec. 17.
Dr. Wecht said Miss Berquist, last seen by her parents, suffered a fractured skull. There was other evidence showing foul play, he reported.
Authorities searched the Hawkins Hollow area looking for other skeletal remains of the young woman. They came up empty-handed.
Only her skull was located here.
Four days after the skull was found, another killing occurred.
The victim this time was Melvin Pike, 63, of North Union Twp.
Sgt. Dugan, commending on this case, said it had “earmarks of a contract killing.”
Pike was shot at a Washington County gymnastics school where he was watching his 11-year-old daughter perform.
A hooded assailant entered the Canton Twp. Establishment and fired three shotgun blasts at Pike, striking the victim in the body numerous double ought buckshot.
Pike died several hours later in Washington Hospital.
Pike allegedly was involved in various criminal activities and was reported to have underworld connections.
Still, no firm motive has ever been announced for the killing.
He died April 19.
On Aug. 12, skeletal remains of a Colorado man were found in a wooded area near Twilight Borough in Washington County.
It took authorities a little more than a week to identify the latest murder victim as Wayne M. Allec, 23, of Lakewood, Colo.
He had been missing for nearly two months when the decomposed remains of his body were found scattered on a hillside by a contractor.
There was a bullet found in his head, police said.
Using closing and a white gold wedding ring found on the victim, police made their identification.
State police offered no theories on how Allec ended up there.
A former Perryopolis man was the last murder victim in this area to be listed among the unsolved homicides.
George Louis Whirlow, 60, of Scott Twp., a Pittsburgh suburb, was found early on the morning of Sept. 26 in a remote area of Fayette County.
Whirlow’s body was discovered by a school bus driver, over an embankment about four miles north of Grindstone in Jefferson Twp.
He had been shot three times.
Whirlow was reported missing Monday, Sept. 25, when he failed to report to work. He was a computer systems programmer at the U.S. Steel Building in downtown Pittsburgh.
His car was found on Tunnell Street near where he worked.
Police feel he may have been murdered near where his body was found. He was shot in the neck, chest and back.
There have been several others murders in this district during the past few years.
Two of these involved a young girl and an infant.
Police have arrested and charged suspects in both cases.
One involved Pamela Lee Norgren, 17, of McKeesport, whose body was found on the Monongahela River bank at Sprucetown. She had been stabbed about 50 times and also struck in the head.
And, this week a woman was charged in the death of a newborn baby, found Sept. 30 lying on the lawn of Frick Community Hospital at Mount Pleasant.
There still remain other suspects yet to be found for the other murders in this district. State police have an open appeal to the public that anyone with information can contact them.
It will remain confidential unless they were an eyewitness to the murder, according to state police.
There is also a chance that a killer might confess.
Also, in one of the more bizarre cases which may or may not be a murder, authorities searched German Twp. For a body after a piece of human scalp was found May 8 this year.
Dr. Wecht concluded it was from a middle-aged woman with brown and gray hair which had been tinted auburn.
The scalp was found not far from where Elizabeth Berquist’s skull was located. Dr. Wecht said it was not from her body.
Meanwhile, authorities will continue their work, adding to the many thousands of hours of investigations into these crimes in hope of finding the evidence to see justice according to today’s law done.
While it may be little consolation to the friends and families of the victims of these crimes, there is one fact that may be considered.
It comes from Biblical teaching that while someone may “kill the body, the soul is not destroyed.”