Faith in God played a role in consoling a family grieving over the loss of a young man murdered 40 years ago in Hopwood.
Earl “Jay” Wolfe, 17, was shot three times along a secluded stretch of Bennington Road on Feb. 3, 1973.
“You'll never forget it,” said Wolfe's sister, Nancy Wolfe Hough. “You really have to pray not to have resentment and hate. You definitely have to live the faith you were taught or you are not getting through it.”
In a wise tone of voice, Wolfe's father, Lavern added, “You are right.”
Police theorize that the night Wolfe was killed, he may have unknowingly witnessed the tail-end of the robbery of Stanley A. Warzinki, 65, a Uniontown jeweler, whose death would also play a part in this unsolved mystery.
Wolfe said he's lived four decades without his oldest son, without justice and without living in fear from those who have not paid for their crimes.
“You can't just keep this in the back of your mind forever,” he said. “It will drive you crazy if my wife and I would have dwelled on this. We had family to raise, other things in life.”
A good Christian kid
Jay Wolfe, a popular student at Laurel Highlands Senior High School, was band manager for the school's marching band. Family photos show Wolfe wearing a Laurel Highlands varsity letter jacket with a music stand embroidered on top of the LH.
“He wasn't football kind of cool,” Hough said. “He was friends with everybody. The poor kids, the rich kids. Just a good Christian kid.”
An active member of the Church of the Brethren, Wolfe was also president of the Youth Council of the Uniontown Area Council of Churches.
“He certainly was a young man who demonstrated the good qualities of a young man in Christ, with leadership ability and a willingness to use that ability to help other youth in our community,” said Eugene Hilton, president of the parent council of churches at the time in an article published in Uniontown's The Evening Standard in January 1975. “Life is so very hard to understand, particularly the suffering and pain, such as Jay's early death, but there is a greater wonder in God's love than the frailty and weakness of some people on this earth where we make our home for awhile.”
Hough recalled a recent story that shows what kind of person her brother was.
“He had a big heart,” she said. “He always wanted to help people. There was a lady that he worked with who was going through a divorce or something at Foodland. She didn't have a radio, so he gave her a radio. After all these years, about a year ago she came to give this radio back. She said, 'I want you to know I've had this all this time. He was a good bud and he always helped me out.' I never knew that story.”
Police believe the person or persons who shot Wolfe were casing Warzinski's home while the robbery was taking place. Police said the Wolfe family's business had been burglarized recently, so the family was on the alert for anything suspicious. Wolfe saw a suspicious car that night circling East Main Street near his family's business, police said.
Wolfe and his younger brother, Mark, got in separate cars to track a dark green Lincoln Continental during the early evening hours.
“They had no idea what was going on, one block up with this jeweler, you know,” Lavern Wolfe said.
Hough said in the wake of how their family business had been burglarized that maybe her brothers were trying to be heroic, as teenagers often aspire to be so as to please their parents.
Police said though Mark Wolfe lost the suspicious car, his brother was able continue his pursuit. He chased after the criminals, who stopped on Bennington Road to confront the teenager.
Authorities believe that one of the criminals got out of the Continental, walked up to Jay Wolfe's car and shot him three times in the head with a .38 caliber handgun.
Lavern Wolfe said the killers “knew a good place to shoot somebody -- between two cemeteries of all things.”
A night that changed everything
Police said the boy's body was found slumped over the wheel of his Ford Mustang around 9:30 p.m.
Hough said even after receiving a phone call the night Jay Wolfe was murdered, the family was still in the dark about what happened. They went to the hospital for more news.
“I couldn't imagine a parent getting that news,” she said. “We were sitting in ER, I just remember mom who kept saying, 'I want to see my son. Where is he? Where is he? Is he dead? Is he dead?' And the doctor, he couldn't even tell her. He just couldn't tell her.”
Lavern Wolfe said he doesn't remember the exact details of that night, but that's not such a bad thing.
“Maybe it is good that it left my conscious mind,” he said.
Warzinski's body was found in his East Main Street home two days after Wolfe's murder on Feb. 5. Police said Warzinski had been badly beaten and his body was doused in kerosene, set afire and then covered with a refrigerator.
Two murders within two days of each other leave Lavern Wolfe questioning Fayette County's criminal justice system.
“If you want to get away with murder, do it in Fayette County,” he said. “I've heard that all my life, and I am 83 years old.”
Wolfe said he'd like to see justice but realizes that after 40 years that may be difficult. The family has its own theories about the killers.
“It would give you some relief as to know who was actually responsible,” he said. “We are not actually 100 percent, but we have good ideas through the police and other people.”
Revenge was never an option for the Wolfe family.
“Honestly, I'm telling you, if it is not for your faith, there's no way you can think that way,” Hough said.
Faith in Christ guided the family to rise above.
“A lot of people say, 'Absolutely, I would have taken the law into my own hands and shot the guy myself or whatever,'” Hough said. “But you can't do that, not if you truly believe in your faith and what you've been taught. Not just say it, but live it. Then you are a true example.”
A better place
Hough said her mother, Donna, who died in December, had a vision about her son many years after his tragic death that allowed her some closure. She said for a long time, her mother could only remember her brother lying in the casket until she received a birthday message from son.
“She actually saw his face and talked to him,” Hough said. “It was a message from God. He told her 'I'm in heaven. I'm at peace. I'm sorry how things played out. Please, I don't want you to be sad anymore'...Sounds really corny, but she wouldn't make that up.”
Hough remembers seeing now-retired state police Trooper Jerome Venick shed a tear at her mother's funeral. Wolfe praised Venick and others detectives who worked closely with the case.
“All Venick wanted -- that was (my mom's) dying wish before she died -- was to have some kind of closure, and he couldn't give it to her,” she said. “He really wanted to solve that case.”
The family's faith endures.
“Absolutely, there's only one way,” Lavern Wolfe said. “You have to trust in the good Lord and keep living. We can't just throw the towel in … It's been rough at times.”
Hough said those involved will “have their day” in judgment in the afterlife if not sooner.
“God will make it right in the end,” she said.