The following is part of a weekly series on unsolved homicides and suspected homicide cases in Fayette County and the surrounding area.
State police have chased down many leads in pursuit of the people who killed a teenager and prominent business man 40 years ago in Fayette County.
Police theorize that the night Earl "Jay" Wolfe, 17, was killed on Feb. 3, 1973, he may have unknowingly witnessed the tail-end of the robbery of Stanley A. Warzinki, 65, a Uniontown jeweler, who would also meet a tragic end in this twisted tale of events.
“Since that time from 1973, as you can tell from these thick binders, there's probably 10,000 man hours from state police investigating it, anywhere from known burglars in the area, to Fayette, Westmoreland, Greene counties all the way to mafia ties in Pittsburgh,” said Trooper John F. Marshall, who oversees the cold case investigations for the state police station in Uniontown.
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, a popular student at Laurel Highlands Senior High School, 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. Police said though Mark Wolfe lost the suspicious car, his brother was able continue his pursuit. He chased after the criminals, who then found a spot along a secluded stretch of Bennington Road, near a cemetery on the outskirts of Hopwood.
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. His body was discovered slumped over the wheel of his Ford Mustang around 9:30 p.m.
Police said Wolfe may have been thinking that the people in the car he was chasing may have been involved in the burglary of his family's business, and he was not aware of the Warzinski home invasion. Marshall said a possible motive behind Wolfe's murder was that he may have been able to identify Warzinski's robbers and possibly knew their license plate number.
“The initial motive of these two things tied together would be the home invasion robbery of Mr. Warzinski's residence in which Mr. Wolfe observed the vehicle and subsequently followed the vehicle, which led to his death,” Marshall said. “The theory has it that Mr. Wolfe, even the family believes this, that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time."
But that's not the end of the story.
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. Police said an autopsy revealed that Warzinksi, who was known to carry large sums of money, had sustained multiple rib fractures, head cuts and loss of teeth. Marshall said the house didn't burn to the ground, and investigators were able to search it.
They noted that no large sums of money or jewelry were found.
“One of the theories is that Mr. Warzinski was beaten until he was unconscious and then just left there due to the fact that Mr. Wolfe interrupted the home invasion,” Marshall said. “They killed Mr. Wolfe and then came back a couple of days later and lit the house on fire.”
Marshall said investigators have been pursuing leads in earnest since Wolfe and Warzinski were murdered.
“State police, FBI and local authorities, attorney general's office used every means available -- search warrants, wire taps, psychics -- everything they could think of,” he said.
Because the case is 40 years old, Marshall said, there are challenges to investigators. Suspects may no longer be in the area, or may have died.
“Some people of interest die whether from natural causes or themselves getting murdered. That area of investigation ceases to exist after they pass away,” he said.
Marshall said there are people involved somehow with the case that don't even want to speak of suspects who are deceased.
If the primary suspect is deceased, police would still carry the case to the district attorney, who would take it to a grand jury as if the suspect was still alive so as to close out the case, Marshall said.
But there are still those among the living who may know something.
“Reading this case over and over and over and over, I know of at least two or three gentlemen that are still alive that could have information,” Marshall said.
He said there is a chance the case can still be solved, and a reward fund established years ago is still available.
“There's things that can be done,” Marshall said. “There are people still alive on this incident. Hopefully, one of these individuals comes forward and gives us the truth. And then, once we have that truth, we match it to the physical evidence at the scene, we match it to just about everything else. Then, from there, if we are confident everything matched, we would certainly take it to the district attorney and to the grand jury and present that case.”