It was a snowy Saturday night 41 years ago when Mark Wolfe decided to make a pass by his family’s lumber and trucking businesses in South Union Township.
Wolfe, 16, and the proud, new owner of his first car, a 1961 Chevrolet Biscayne, headed for the lot at Wolfe and Wolfe Lumber and Wolfe and Wolfe Trucking to make sure nothing was amiss. A tractor-trailer had been stolen from the lot the previous night, and Wolfe said his father had always instilled in both of his sons — Mark and his 17-year-old brother Jay — an understanding of protecting the family’s interests, whether at their Hopwood home or at the family businesses. He had asked the boys to keep an eye on things whenever they were in the neighborhood. Mark Wolfe said he just wanted to make sure, as he puts it, “that everything was kosher.”
“I saw this Lincoln — brand new, black Lincoln — sitting where the trailers are dropped,” Mark Wolfe, now 57, said Jan. 28. It was his first interview, outside of police interviews, about the day his brother Earl “Jay” Wolfe was gunned down. A gold medallion with hands clasped in prayer rocked away from his sweater as he leaned forward, eyes narrowing. “I talked to the guy in the car three times. I talked to him!”
It was either that man or his accomplice who later got into the now infamous black Lincoln who would eventually kill Mark Wolfe’s boyhood idol and his closest friend — his brother.
The worst night
Mark Wolfe still lives in Hopwood more than four decades after that tragic night and said that he can still hear the voice of the man sitting in the car, which was parked on private property owned by the Wolfe family, when Mark Wolfe asked him his business.
“He said he was waiting on his girlfriend but disguised his voice when he said it,” he said.
For the next 15 minutes, Mark Wolfe said the car kept circling the area, on Crossland Avenue, Route 40 and Tuskegee Terrace, and he eventually approached the man again and told him the business was private property. Mark Wolfe said said he spent a few more minutes at the business after this encounter and then went to his grandfather’s home on Bradbury Street, just outside the Uniontown city limits, and reported what was happening. As he did so, he spotted the car parked on Bradbury Street outside of his grandfather’s residence.
“I said, ‘Pappy, that’s the Lincoln that keeps going around and around,’” Mark Wolfe said, his scratchy voice rising in excitement, recounting the night, blow by blow.
His grandfather took a look at the car and then gave his grandson simple instructions.
“He said, ‘Leave it alone and go home,’” Mark Wolfe said.
He said he still wonders to this day what might have been if he had taken that advice, or if his brother, whom he had idolized his whole life, hadn’t arrived a few moments later. Because, once Jay Wolfe arrived, Mark Wolfe was going to do whatever his brother thought was best.
“He (Jay Wolfe) was annoyed at me for not getting a license plate number,” Mark Wolfe said, chuckling.
Moments after that, Mark Wolfe said that the final act of the worst night of his life began.
Just too fast
“All I remember is seeing a guy run past my car and jump into the Lincoln and my brother getting right on its tail as they pulled away. He (Jay Wolfe) had a fast car, a Mustang...and the Lincoln was fast. I tried to keep up with them but my car wasn’t fast...when I was pulling out by Dairy Queen where Pappy’s (bar and restaurant) is now, they were already down the hill. I lost them at the old Howard Johnson’s. Less than a minute later, they shot him in the head and left him for dead,” Mark Wolfe said.
He said the Ford Mustang and Lincoln spun out on a snow-covered Bennington Road in North Union Township.
Mark Wolfe said once he lost his brother and the mysterious men in the Lincoln, he took a friend who had been with him throughout the evening home, and then went to his family’s house in Hopwood. No one was there.
“No Jay. No mom or dad. No sister Nancy,” he said.
About 10 minutes later, Mark Wolfe said his uncle came to the house and asked him to ride with him to get donuts for Sunday morning church services the next day.
However, after they left the house, they didn’t go for donuts but instead turned down Bradbury toward Mark Wolfe’s grandparent’s residence.
“Cars were all up and down the street and right then I knew something was wrong. I just didn’t know what.”
When he got inside, his parents broke the news.
One of the occupants of the Lincoln had exited the car, walked to Jay Wolfe’s car, and ended the Laurel Highlands senior’s life. The footprints to and from Jay Wolfe’s car door were still visible in the snow when investigators arrived shortly thereafter.
Mark Wolfe said his life has never been the same.
On Feb. 5, 1973, two days after his brother’s murder, Mark Wolfe said state police troopers took him into the basement of the funeral home where Jay Wolfe was being viewed.
“They had me give the details for the sketch of the driver that night,” he said, shaking his head, the lines at the corners of his eyes crinkling — drawing down. “It (the composite sketch) has been in the paper and on TV news dozens of times since then. I gave the details right there in the basement.”
Those details — a bulbous nose, a full mustache — have also been examined over and over by each trooper who has been assigned the case, including current cold case investigator Trooper John F. Marshall.
Jay Wolfe was found with three bullet wounds to the head inside his car along Bennington Road, Marshall said, noting that investigators were able to quickly link his death to the beating death of a 65-year-old jeweler Stanley Warzinski, whose home and business neighbored Wolfe’s father’s business in South Union Township.
Police theorize that the driver of the Lincoln that night was a getaway driver for the second man who was inside Warzinski’s home, beating and robbing him.
Warzinksi’s house then caught fire the same day that Mark Wolfe was working out the facial details of the getaway driver with a sketch artist in the bowels of a funeral home.
Firefighters found the jeweler, who investigators said was known to carry big rolls of cash, beaten to death inside.
Marshall said that investigators have used just about everything to try and solve the case, from wire taps to psychics, but police have not been able to pinpoint who shot the outgoing boy, who was active in school and church, and worked at his father’s business, along with his brother, cleaning trucks on the weekends.
Mark Wolfe said that his brother’s death helped Uniontown and the surrounding area earn a nickname in the 1970s and 1980s — “Little Chicago” — because, as he puts it, “If you wanted to get away with murder, you came to Fayette County.”
While investigators then might have disagreed with that characterization, Mark Wolfe said that his memories can’t allow him to shake that descriptor for his hometown.
“Forty-one years later, there are people alive in this town that know exactly what happened, who was involved and who pulled the trigger,” he said. “It ate me alive that they got away with it.”
Longing for resolution
“Some people said it was the wrong place at the wrong time. I disagree,” Mark Wolfe said. “It was the right place at the wrong time. We were doing what we were taught to do, protecting the family business. We didn’t know they had murdered the jeweler. We didn’t know the Lincoln was the getaway car and Wolfe and Wolfe was the hiding place for the Lincoln. We were just protecting the business.”
And while he is ready to defend their involvement in the incident that claimed his brother’s life, he is unable to forgive himself for his role in it.
“I was the one who got Jay involved and that’s why I feel so guilty. If I would have just left, if I would have gotten the license plate number ... there are a lot of ifs and would of, could of, should of, it’s been hard on me,” he said. “It devastated our whole family. I have been pretty much a wreck all of my adult life. It’s unsolved and they will get so close and then something will happen. It’s heartbreaking.”
Mark Wolfe said he went on to become a successful car salesman in the Uniontown area and has continued to sell cars his entire life. He and his brother shared a love for automobiles. “We tinkered on cars together. I wanted to be just like him.”
He also married and had two children. Now divorced, he said his children, who live in Virginia, still come up to see him several times a year.
He said he was diagnosed with chronic major depression, which led to long battles with alcohol, battles he still wages.
And it is the lost lives, the “what could have been” for he and his brother, that still haunt him to this day.
He said he was on top of the world that Saturday, having received his Chevy Biscayne from his brother that morning as a gift. His brother had also gotten an acceptance letter to Penn State University that morning. The sky seemed the limit for two teenage kids from Fayette County.
Now, 41 years later, Mark Wolfe said he will settle just for a resolution to lay that fateful night to rest.
“My dad is still alive,” he said. “I’d love to see it for my dad, and mom would look down from heaven and say, ‘Finally!’”
Anyone with information regarding Jay Wolfe’s death is asked to call police at 724-439-7111.
Additionally, Marshall said Fayette County Crime Stoppers is offering up to a $1,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the case and Mark Wolfe said that $20,000 in reward money is still set aside in hopes that someone, someday might come forward with information that could crack the case.
Tips can be made by calling 1-888-404-TIPS.