Mark Wolfe wanted to be just like his older brother, Jay.
The pair, at ages 16 and 17 respectively, had similarities that went beyond genetics. They had similar features framed by the same thin faces, they were the same size, had the same love of cars and the same drive to protect the family businesses.
These similarities may have played a part in Jay Wolfe’s death on a desolate road on a cold, snowy day on Feb. 3, 1973.
Mark believes the man that killed his brother mistook Jay for him. The brothers had no idea they witnessed a murder getaway when they saw a suspicious vehicle circling their father’s businesses.
“I firmly believe, without a doubt, they thought it was me,” said Wolfe, now 59, gripping both arms of a chair at his home in Uniontown. “They killed the wrong guy. But it worked out for them in the end because it’s still unsolved. They got away with murder.”
Wolfe’s life changed before he knew it had. He said his life fell apart that night, and he has struggled to move forward wracked with 43 years of guilt.
“My life just shattered from that day on,” he said, his eyes darting between a portrait of Jesus on the wall and and an Alcoholics Anonymous “Big Book” on the shelf. “Thank God for the Christianity in my life. God kept us from completely falling apart.”
Feb. 3, 1973
On the day he died, Jay Wolfe opened his acceptance letter to Pennsylvania State University. He planned to study business and eventually inherit the family businesses, Wolfe & Wolfe Trucking and Wolfe & Wolfe Lumber.
Their father, Lavern, would patrol the area around the South Union Township businesses every night before going home. When his sons earned their driver’s licenses, they did the same.
“Before we went home, every time, if we saw something fishy we would go up and look,” he said. “Stupid, yeah, because they could have had guns. But we didn’t know that. We didn’t know we were living in ‘Little Chicago’ in 1973.”
The previous day, something fishy did happen, and the brothers missed it. A truck was stolen and was not immediately noticed, so the teen boys went on high alert.
“The next day, here I am,” he said, and sung a line, “Super boy!”
“That’s how it all started. We were both on the case looking for somebody, something suspicious. We thought, ‘We’re going to be superheroes, protect dad’s business.”
Sure enough, Mark patrolled the businesses and found something suspicious. A Lincoln was parked on private property. Mark talked to the man in the Lincoln three times, changing cars each time to appear innocuous. He told the man he was on private property and had to leave.
“Oh, he left,” he said. “But he kept circling around for two hours. I thought, ‘Whatever this Lincoln is doing, here, I’m going to stick around to find out.’”
His grandmother told their grandfather she was concerned. Wolfe thinks she had a sense about impending danger. His grandpa then told him to drop his impromptu investigation.
But when Jay arrived, the older brother wanted to take the investigation to the next level. And Mark wanted to do everything his brother wanted to do.
“’If the Lincoln comes back, let’s chase it and get a license plate number,’” Wolfe said. “That was the last thing he ever said to me. That was the last chase we did, ever.”
Jay climbed behind the wheel of his Ford Mustang, and Mark climbed behind the wheel of his Chevrolet Biscayne.
The Biscayne was “no speed demon,” and trailed behind at Howard Johnson’s.
The Mustang was fast, trailing the Lincoln down snowy roads and finally ending pushed off the side of Bennington Road after Jay was shot three times in the head.
“I only had 16 years with Jay,” Wolfe said. “That’s not much time at all, when you think about it.”
Right place, wrong time
Wolfe likes to say he and his brother were in the right place at the wrong time. They were doing what they were supposed to do, protecting the family businesses. They had no idea what they had stumbled into.
“We never, in a zillion years, thought we were getting involved with a homicide,” Wolfe said. “We were young kids, and murder wasn’t even in our minds to begin with.”
Police believe the teens became tangled up in another murder. Jeweler Stanley Warzinski, 65, was found robbed and beaten to death in his home businesses which neighbored Wolfe & Wolfe.
Police believe the man in the Lincoln was the getaway driver.
Wolfe said Warzinski was a loaner. People did not know him well, but it was well-known he carried rolls of cash and flaunted it.
Warzinski’s house was burned down the day of Jay Wolfe’s funeral. The Laurel Highlands senior’s funeral drew a crowd of people that snaked down the streets of Uniontown.
“The line was so long you couldn’t see the end. They say it was the biggest funeral in Uniontown, ever,” he said.
Mark was relaying details of the man in the Lincoln for a composite sketch in the basement of the funeral home while his brother was laid out in an open casket with a deer eye in the place of an eye damaged by bullets.
“It was horrible. He was laying upstairs and I was coming up with a composite drawing,” he said.
Wolfe said he has seen the man in the sketch many times since that day, and believes police even brought the man in for questioning.
Getting away with murder
No charges were ever filed. Much of the evidence was destroyed, Wolfe said, in the jeweler’s house fire. The men that pushed Jay’s Mustang off the road were wearing gloves to hide fingerprints. There were no witnesses to Jay’s final moments.
And Mark’s composite sketch could only go so far, even though he looked the man in the eyes.
“I’ve seen the guy’s face, many times,” he said. “I’d say, ‘That’s the guy! Make him talk.’ They’d say, ‘This is Little Chicago. What are you gonna do?’”
He said there was a mafia presence in Uniontown at the time, and criminals would often evade police with the help of protective crime families.
The investigation has been an endless series of progress and setbacks.
Investigators thought they might find the murder weapon in a pond, so Lavern Wolfe paid to have it drained. Nothing related to Jay’s case was discovered.
State police Sgt. John Arminas tenaciously investigated Jay’s case from the beginning. At several points, Wolfe said he was close to breaking the case wide open. Arminas died suddenly in a car crash in 1997.
When asked if there were any developments within the last several years on the Wolfe case, recently retired state police cold case investigator Cpl. John Marshall’s answer was concise: “No. Nothing.”
43 years of guilt
“My life has been a wreck. Tragedy,” Wolfe said. “And it all started when I was 16.”
Wolfe speaks of his guilt in the same breath as he states facts that contradict his gnawing feelings.
“Why did I get Jay involved? Why didn’t a get a plate number? There are a lot of why, why whys that have eaten at me over the years. I’m just glad I didn’t suggest chasing him. That was his idea,” he said.
In 2014, Wolfe ended a long struggle with alcoholism that started after his brother’s death. He celebrated his 18-month anniversary of sobriety Jan. 31. He began to find life after Jay.
“Part of me died when he died,” Wolfe said. “I can’t die now. I need to be alive for my dad, for my kids. It’s up to me now.”
Wolfe’s mother died on Christmas day when she was in the hospital for a routine procedure. Now, his father is 85 years old and suffering from Alzheimer’s.
“I want closure for my dad while he’s still alive. He was always the rock of my family,” he said. “Now I got to be the rock.”
Wolfe said he thinks it is likely that the person who killed his brother has already died. But he said whether the killer is dead or alive has no impact on his family’s sense of closure if they know who killed Jay.
“Somebody’s got to know something. I know it’s been 43 years,” he said.
Wolfe said he hopes a child of the person who killed his brother will come forward. But what would drive them to do that?
“$20,000. That’s no chicken feed,” Wolfe said.
A group of supporters of the Wolfe family donated money that would be given to a person who comes forward with information to solve the case.
After 43 years, Wolfe thinks it’s time.
A spark lit in his eyes for the first time in a two-hour talk at the idea of his brother’s case being solved.
“I’d be so happy. So ecstatic. I’d probably throw the biggest celebration ever in Fayette County,” he said. “Something’s just telling me. I’ve got a really good feeling about this.”
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