Nearly four decades after a Ronkonkoma teenager was found stabbed to death near her upstate university campus, police are once again seeking the public’s help in solving the case.
Police have put Katherine Kolodziej’s picture on a billboard facing a busy two-lane highway, not far from where her half-clothed body was found in 1974.
“If the person who did this is still alive, I want him to know we haven’t forgotten what he did,” Schoharie County Sheriff Anthony Desmond said last week.
“It’s been 38 years, but we’re putting it out there again, continually hoping a lucky break will come our way,” he said.
A Connetquot High School graduate, Kolodziej disappeared on Nov. 2, 1974, after dancing with friends at The Vault, a Cobleskill Village bar. Her body was found weeks later, on Thanksgiving. She had been stabbed seven times, laid on a stone wall in a wooded area and covered with a red coat.
Over the years, police have questioned potential local suspects and investigated possible links to serial killers, including Ted Bundy, but got nowhere.
Now state troopers say they are taking a different approach: They aim to identify and interview every person who was in the bar that Friday night and early Saturday morning.
Kolodziej’s parents died several years ago, but her uncle, Charles Szydlowski of West Islip, said last year that he hasn’t lost hope that the killer can be caught — and the story behind the slaying revealed at last.
“If they can be sure, I certainly would like to know,” said Szydlowski, whose sister Hedwig Kolodziej spent the rest of her life mourning her daughter. “And in my prayers, I will tell my sister what happened.”
Szydlowski couldn’t be reached for comment on the latest developments.
The billboard near Cobleskill is an appeal for help: “1974 Unsolved Homicide. Katherine Kolodziej. 17 yr. Old SUNY Cobleskill student. Last seen leaving bar alone. Body found in field . . . Cash Reward up to $2,500. Anyone with information Please Call.”
Though investigators through the years have interviewed hundreds of people — including the entire student body at SUNY Cobleskill — they still hope to find new leads, Desmond said.
“There’s always somebody we might have missed, or someone who was reluctant to talk,” he said.
The billboard space was donated by a businessman whose father was the Schoharie district attorney in 1974. The sign is on Route 7 west of Exit 22 of Interstate 88, about six miles from campus. The reward is offered by CrimeStoppers.
State Police are leading the investigation, with the aid of the FBI, the Cobleskill and SUNY police, and the sheriff’s and district attorney’s offices.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 10,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
Sometimes, in the course of writing/posting to this blog I get the privilege of corresponding to the family and friends of people I write about. Many people have responded to my posts regarding the unsolved murder of college student Kathy Kolodzej. I lived in the same town, and was an acquaintance of Kathy’s, and her untimely death haunts me. My good friend Ramona was a close friend of hers.
Sherrie Anne Carville’s sister Susan, and I started a correspondence regarding my posts about Kathy. She was kind enough to share some memories about Sherrie, which I’ll post further on. Sometimes the focus is about how someone died and we forget the joy of simply having the person, however briefly, in our lives. Sherrie was a lovely young woman, much-loved by her family. She did not deserve to die.
From her sister Susan, “I am the younger sister of Sherrie Anne Carville. She was abducted, tortured, raped, and brutally murdered by John Hopkins. He left her in the woods on his parent’s property where she was found over seven months later. I have vivid recollections of that time in my life. I was 12 when Sherrie went missing. There were police and reporters continually flowing in and out of our home. After Sherrie was found and Hopkins was arrested one reporter had the audacity to hold a microphone to my Mother and ask if we thought it was an appropriate use of the taxpayer’s money to provide a prosecutor for my sister Sherrie’s case.”
Susan says, “My parents had to fight for representation and push to (have an) investigation into my sister Sherrie’s case as well as for Cecilia Genatiempo. Through research on their own accord, my parents brought the similarities up to the police and reporters on numerous occasions regarding the case of Joanne Pecheone , Kathy Kolodziej and many others that occurred as far away as Colorado, while John Hopkins was stationed there. Unfortunately it took over thirty years for someone ELSE to look into the connection between the cases.”
She adds, “While visiting family in Utica, NY a few years ago, my parents mentioned the possible connection to the Pecheone case to my cousin, who was and is currently an Assistant DA in Utica. Only through his actions was the case reopened and investigated.”
Those who have experienced the tragic murder of a loved one are particularly affected and have a fine-tuned empathy for others who have experienced similar tragedy. As Susan states, “My heart goes out to the Pecheone family, that of Kathy Kolodziej , those in Colorado and I’m sure many others. If my parents could connect the cases over 30 years ago why couldn’t the police? Why has nothing been done to bring some form of closure to the families left behind?”
When I replied to Susan’s comments on my Kathy post I asked her if she had any pictures of Sherrie or additional information she could share? She thanked me and sent two pictures of her sister, stating, ”Thank you for your reply and post. I have attached two photos of Sherrie. As far as further information I am not sure what you are looking for. My parents would be much more helpful but my Mother is in poor health and I’m not sure I want to place any undue stress on her.” I more than understand. My grandmother was murdered many years ago, when my mother was fourteen years old, and she will be seventy-six this year. She speaks very little of that time in her life and any information my siblings and I was obtained was from relatives and an old newspaper article from the Brooklyn Eagle.
“We speak of Sherrie often and even include her in regular family celebrations. A candle is lit every Christmas Eve in her memory and we all, including the family she never met, huddle in a big group hug wishing her a Merry Christmas. It always ends with twenty-two “I love you Sherrie” and lots of tears. John Hopkins nor time has erased the impact dear Sherrie had on us, our fond memories and our never-ending love for her.”
Susan comments on something that was hopefully considered by the investigators in Kathy’s case, “As John Hopkins was in the area at the time of Kathy Kolodziej’s disappearance, he was also in Colorado at the time of many murders referred to as the “Dunkin Donut Murders”. Coincidently, Cecilia Genatiempo was picked up at or near a Dunkin Donuts in Gloversville, NY. I recall my parents discussing this with local investigators at the time.”
Susan ends by saying, “After John Hopkins arrest and imprisonment his ability to torture our family did not stop. He befriended a woman who harassed my parents via telephone. She claimed to be his girlfriend and said he asked her to call them in regards to his final appeal. After he realized the appeals were over he committed suicide, or so we were told.”
In my research I found that he did commit suicide. In my thoughts I hope he is burning in Hell.
JOHNSTOWN — Oneida County authorities have closed a 1972 murder case, concluding that Fulton County’s only known serial killer, the late John W. Hopkins of Johnstown, raped and then repeatedly stabbed 19-year-old Joanne Pecheone and left her body tied to a tree along a wooded path in East Utica.
Oneida County District Attorney Scott D. McNamara issued a 13-page news release Friday detailing the evidence tying the case to Hopkins, who committed suicide in March 2000 while serving a sentence of 58 years to life for murdering two Fulton County girls in the late 1970s. He was 46 when he killed himself by cutting himself multiple times with a razor blade.
McNamara, relying heavily on two witnesses who observed a male teenager fleeing the scene, also discussed a recent analysis of DNA evidence including semen taken from the victim’s clothing.
While there was no conclusive link to Hopkins’ family DNA (a sample from a relative was compared), the report said, there was insufficient genetic material available for a finding. And, the report said, Hopkins’ DNA could not be excluded.
But, after nearly 40 years, the two witnesses told investigators that photographs of a then 19-year-old Hopkins depict the person they observed. One of the witnesses, then a 12-year-old boy, was snowmobiling on the trail that Jan. 12 when he saw the suspect run from the location of the body. The second witness saw the suspect speed off in a brownish two-tone sedan.
Also of interest in the case is a composite drawing created from witness descriptions provided to police in 1972. It shows a young man who parts floppy reddish blond hair on the right side — a rarity. Hopkins had reddish hair, and he also drove a two-tone Chevrolet Nova in 1972, matching the general description of the suspect’s vehicle.
The 12-year-old boy, who told investigators the suspect turned to look at him as he approached, described one ear being larger than the other.
Fulton County District Attorney Louise K. Sira, who began working with Oneida County investigators in 2007, said the ear abnormality is clearly visible in Hopkins’ high school graduation photograph.
Sira said the evidence is persuasive that Hopkins committed the Utica murder.
“Our fact patterns are very similar to the Utica case,” Sira said, while also citing the similarity in vehicles and the witnesses picking his photograph out of a photo array.
Sira said the composite drawing created in 1972 closely resembles Hopkins.
Investigators interviewed at least two of Hopkins’ childhood friends who were quoted as saying Hopkins did drive a vehicle matching the descriptions, that he would disappear for days, that he liked to visit college communities, and liked to carry a knife. They agreed he closely resembled the person depicted in the composite drawing.
Hopkins, who stabbed his three Fulton County victims, stood trial three times in 1980 in Fulton County Court. He was arrested the previous year after a 15-year-old female victim abducted near Northville and then taken to a wooded area in the town of Palatine survived wounds inflicted with a kitchen knife.
Oddly, he was acquitted of that attack, despite the eyewitness. He was convicted in Montgomery County Court on related charges in the same case.
In Fulton County, he was found guilty of the 1978 murder of 17-year-old Sherrie Carville, snatched while walking on Route 29 near a popular nightspot in Johnstown, and the 1976 murder of Gloversville teenager Cecelia Genatiempo, who was abducted while walking along South Main Street in that city.
Investigators working those cases at the time said they considered him a suspect in the 1974 murder of 17-year-old SUNY Cobleskill student Katherine Kolodziej, whose body was found that November in a Richmondville field.
Investigators said they had evidence that Hopkins was in Cobleskill during that period of time.
Interestingly, Oneida County authorities began investigating Hopkins as the possible killer of Pecheone at the suggestion of Sherrie Carville’s cousin, Assistant Oneida County District Attorney Todd Carville.
The Oneida County investigation was revived in 2001 when a joint task force of Utica and state police was created to re-examine the case.
In his report, McNamara noted that the assailant in both the Pecheone case and the attempted murder in Fulton County cut garments from the victim’s bodies and secured their heads during the attacks — a rope in one case and a purse strap in the other.
In both those cases, the suspect used the victim’s shoelaces to secure them. Pecheone’s shoelaces were attached to a tree limb and used to tie her hands above her head.
In his confession in the Carville murder, the report found, Hopkins admitted tying her hands behind her back.
The 15-year-old survivor was gagged with a sponge in her mouth and a piece of clothing was stuffed in Pecheone’s mouth.
[Utica, NY] – February 11, 2011 – Oneida County District Attorney Scott D. McNamara in conjunction with Utica Police Department Chief Mark Williams and the New York State Police jointly announce the following:
On today’s date, members of the Utica Police Department, New York State Police and the Oneida County District Attorney’s Office met with family members of the late Joanne Pecheone to discuss and report upon the status of their joint long term investigation into the homicide case involving Ms. Pecheone’s death on January 12, 1972. As of the present date, the investigation has yielded a great deal of information. What follows is a synopsis of the various stages of the investigation and a conclusion as to the current status of same. Witnesses will be referred to generically and not specifically identified by name:
I. The 2001 Investigation:
On January 12, 1972, the lifeless body of Joanne Pecheone, a 19 year old St. Francis DeSales student was found on a wooded pathway that intersected and ran diagonally off of South Park Drive in Utica, NY. Evidence indicated that Joanne Pecheone had been raped and also stabbed seven times. The pathway was a commonly used shortcut for residents of a nearby residential neighborhood where Ms. Pecheone lived. A massive homicide investigation by the Utica Police Department ensued. Hundreds of leads were developed and witnesses interviewed. The original investigation did not result in an arrest of any person.
In 2001, through the efforts of then-District Attorney Michael A. Arcuri, the Utica Police Department and the New York State Police, a joint task force was formed to re-investigate the unsolved 1972 killing of Joanne Pecheone.
The task force consisted of Inv. Robert Russell, Utica Police Department, Inv. John Fallon, New York State Police and Investigators James Helmer and Peter Scalise, Oneida County District Attorney’s Office.
The task force operated for more than one year, investigated several hundred leads and conducted several hundred interviews.
As a consequence of these efforts, several persons of interest were developed.
Because Joanne Pecheone had been the victim of a sexual assault during the course of the killing, numerous items of biological evidence that had been retained from the original investigation were located and submitted to the New York State Police Forensic Investigation Center. It was hoped that the significant technological strides in forensic science and DNA since 1972 might yield useful, probative evidence. Additionally, some unidentified hairs from the original evidence processing were submitted to a private laboratory in Pennsylvania, in the hopes that mitochondrial DNA testing might yield information as to the identity of the source for such hairs .
As a consequence of all of the various DNA tests conducted, the only useful result developed was a partial DNA mixture profile from a semen stained area of Ms. Pecheone’s coat that she was still wearing at the scene. The DNA profile developed was consistent with the DNA of Joanne Pecheone, admixed with the DNA of at least one unknown male. The mitochondrial DNA analysis of the hair evidence revealed that the hairs came from Ms. Pecheone herself.
DNA samples were obtained from each of the persons of interest that had been developed throughout the course of the investigation. Such profiles were compared to the DNA mixture from Ms. Pecheone’s coat, and all such persons were ruled out as possible contributors.
Four suspects, including among them Bernard Hatch, were specifically excluded through DNA analysis.
The 2001 investigation resulted in no arrests and no identification of the party responsible for Ms. Pecheone’s death. II. Further Laboratory Submissions – 2002 through 2010
In 2002, the formal Task Force dissolved. However, the case remained open as an unsolved homicide and evaluations continued to be conducted upon the items of physical evidence that had been retained.
Laboratory submissions continued in 2002, 2003 and again in 2007.
Standard DNA testing by the New York State Police Forensic Identification Center failed to yield any additional profiles, and their scientists recommended that a different type of testing – y-STR DNA testing – be conducted. y-STR DNA testing focuses analysis upon the male-specific y chromosome.
Because y-STR testing is not available at the State Police Lab, in 2010 several items of evidence were submitted to Labcorp in North Carolina for such testing to occur.
A partial y-STR profile was developed from two pieces of evidence – a cutting of a section of Ms. Pecheone’s coat lapel containing sperm and non-sperm components and an extract of a cutting from the waist area of Ms. Pecheone’s panty hose. III. Further Developments in 2007
In 2007, Investigator James Helmer was approached by Assistant District Attorney Todd Carville and was asked if the Task Force had ever considered an individual by the name of John Hopkins as a potential suspect in their investigation. Through conversations with ADA Carville as well as subsequent research, Inv. Helmer learned the following:
That Carville’s cousin – Sherrie Carville – a former Utica resident, had been murdered in 1978 in Johnstown, NY where she was then living.
That a suspect named John Hopkins had been arrested by the New York State Police in 1979 on charges of Rape, Sodomy, Kidnapping and Attempted Murder of a 15 year white female. The crime had occurred in Montgomery County. The victim – referred to hereafter as “the 15 year old” – survived her encounter and was able to describe her ordeal.
During police questioning on those initial charges, Hopkins had also admitted to the killing of Sherrie Carville and also the abduction, rape and murder of another individual – Cecelia Genatiempo – in 1976. Both other crimes had occurred in Fulton County.
That Hopkins stood trial separately for all three criminal transactions – the attempted murder of the 15 year old, the rape and murder of Sherrie Carville, and the rape and murder of Cecilia Genatiempo.
That as to the killing of Cecilia Genatiempo, John Hopkins was convicted after trial on November 24, 1980 of two counts of Murder, Second Degree and Kidnapping, First Degree in Fulton County Court. He thereafter received a sentence of 25 years to life, imprisonment.
That as to the killing of Sherrie Carville, John Hopkins was convicted after trial on March 3, 1981 of two counts of Murder, Second Degree, one count of Rape in the First Degree in Fulton County Court. He thereafter received a sentence of 25 years to life for the murder conviction and 100 months to 25 years for the rape conviction.
That as to the attempted killing of the 15 year old female, John Hopkins was convicted after trial on August 18, 1981 of Attempted Murder, Second Degree, Assault, Second Degree and Criminal Mischief, Fourth Degree in Montgomery County Court and thereafter received a sentence of 8 and 1/3 to 25 years imprisonment.
That John Hopkins died on March 11, 2000 while confined at Great Meadow Correctional Facility. The cause of death was ruled a suicide.
a) Fulton and Montgomery County cases examined
Inv. Helmer met with representatives from the New York State Police, New York State Inspector General’s Office and Fulton County District Attorney Louise Sira in the Fall of 2007. The purpose of such meetings was to examine the facts of the Fulton and Montgomery County cases against John Hopkins. Inv. Helmer was given access to the files maintained by said agencies. Upon examining the facts of the attempted murder of the 15 year old as well as the murders of Carville and Genatiempo and comparing same to the known facts surrounding the death of Joanne Pecheone, Inv. Helmer discovered the following:
i. points of similarity to present case
The 15 year old victim was a white female. Carville and Genatiempo were both white females, 17 years of age, with long dark hair. Joanne Pecheone was also a white female, 19 years of age with long dark hair.
The 15 year old victim was walking alone on a roadway when she was forced into a vehicle at knifepoint. Genatiempo was walking alone on the side of a road in Gloversville when she was forced into a vehicle at knifepoint. Joanne Pecheone was walking alone on a pathway near South Park Drive in Utica when she was attacked. Her wounds are indicative that a knife was involved.
The 15 year old victim was discovered in a wooded area, alive and bleeding. The bodies of Carville and Genatiempo were discovered in wooded areas. Joanne Pechone’s body was also located in a wooded area.
The 15 year old victim was stabbed in the back with a knife. Knife wounds were inflicted upon Genatiempo during the course of the killing. Multiple knife wounds were also inflicted upon Joanne Pecheone.
The 15 year old victim had had her shoelace removed by Hopkins. She was tied up during her ordeal. Carville’s hands were tied behind her back when she resisted Hopkins, according to his own admissions to police. Hopkins described Carville’s shoes as laced boots that were similar to his 15 year old victim’s boots. Joanne Pechone was found with her hands tied above her head to a tree. Her own shoelaces were used to accomplish this.
The 15 year old victim’s bra was cut through the front during her encounter. Her pants and underpants were removed. Joanne Pecheone was found with her pants pulled down and cut up one side, pantyhose pulled down, and no underwear. Joanne Pecheone’s bra was also cut through the front. When the bodies of Carville and Genatiempo were discovered, items of clothing had also been removed from them.
The 15 year old victim was gagged with a sponge in her mouth and rope tied around her head during her ordeal. Joanne Pecheone was found gagged with a piece of her own clothing in her mouth and a strap from her purse which was tied around her head.
All 4 individuals – the 15 year old, Genatiempo, Carville and Pecheone – were complete strangers to Hopkins.
All 4 individuals – the 15 year old, Genatiempo, Carville and Pecheone – were vaginally raped.
ii. noteworthy admissions
The Fulton County charges concerned the killing of two persons – Carville and Genatiempo – on two different dates. The Montgomery County case involving the 15 year old female was not a completed murder because she survived the encounter.
After his arraignment and while confined to the Montgomery County Jail awaiting trial concerning the Attempted Murder case, during a conversation with a corrections officer, John Hopkins acknowledged responsibility for not two, but three (3) killings. Hopkins did not provide any details on the third killing.
During the police interview that gave rise to the Fulton and Montgomery County charges, John Hopkins also provided the following by way of explanation for his actions:
“I have told this because I know I’m ill and require professional help. I don’t know the lifes of CC [Cecelia Genatiempo], Carville and caused injuries to the [15 year old] girl. The pressure builds up in me and I took the lifes of CC, Carville, and I don’t want to hurt or kill anyone else. Please help me.”
IV. Further Investigative Measures – 2007 to 2011
After reviewing the information on the Fulton County murders, Inv. Helmer obtained a high school year book photograph of John Hopkins who, having graduated high school in 1971, would have been 19 years of age at the time of Joanne Pecheone’s death.
a) Eyewitnesses revisited
Photographic identification procedures were then initiated with a relevant eyewitness who had given information at the time of the original investigation in 1972 and an additional witness who had recently come forward.
i. snowmobile operator
At the time of the original investigation in 1972, a 12 year old witness was developed who had highly relevant information including the following:
That on January 12, 1972, he was operating a snowmobile in the vicinity of South Park Drive in the City of Utica
That the witness saw a male get up from a crouching position on a wooded pathway at the location later discovered as the scene of Pecheone’s murder, proceeded to run down the pathway towards South Park Drive, lost his footing and turned back to look at the witness
That the male continued to run down to South Park Drive and got into the drivers seat of a vehicle and sped off
That the vehicle appeared to be a two tone automobile with a vinyl top that was darker than the bottom portion of the vehicle
That the 12 year old then turned back and investigated the path by driving his snowmobile back and forth and ultimately discovered a body
That the 12 year old did summon help from a passing motorist and the police were ultimately alerted
The 12 year old witness was interviewed at length and a composite sketch of the suspect was prepared on January 13, 1972 as a result of the description he gave to the police.
Inv. Helmer compared the high school photograph of John Hopkins to the composite sketch of January,1972 and noticed striking similarities including hair style, eyes and the elongated shape of the chin in each. Because of this, a photographic lineup/array was prepared utilizing the high school year book picture of Hopkins, and the witness on the snowmobile was found and his cooperation was once again requested.
In March of 2008, an identification procedure was undertaken and the witness was shown the photographic array. Prior to viewing the photographic array, the witness again described the person he saw back in 1972 noting that he had an elongated chin and his hair parted to the left side. The witness also remembered the person’s hair “flopping” as he ran. The witness selected the photograph of John Hopkins as the person he saw crouching and then running down the path the day that the murder was discovered. The witness indicated that he remembered the eyes of the person he saw. The witness stated that, because of the passage of so many years, he could not be 100 percent positive. After viewing the array, the witness looked at the composite from 1972 and confirmed that it was the same composite he had helped the police to create originally.
ii. female driver
A 20 year old female was driving in the vicinity of the homicide scene during the same time frame as the snowmobile operator’s discovery. On February 27, 2009, Inv. Helmer and Inv. Terrance Oczkowski interviewed this witness and developed the following information:
That she was driving on South Park Drive, approaching Hills Drive
That she observed a bronze, brownish car driving erratically towards her at a high rate of speed, causing her to pull off the roadway
That the other vehicle approached hers and then stopped when they were side-by-side
That she rolled down her window and stared at the face of the driver
That the driver looked directly at her and did not say anything
That the car then departed at a high rate of speed and thereafter turned onto Tilden Avenue
That the driver she saw was described as a white male, oval faced, hair straight – “Beatles style hair”, late teens or early twenties, no glasses and dark eyes – brown or hazel, no facial hair with reddish blonde hair
After providing the foregoing details, the witness was shown the photographic lineup/array containing the photograph of John Hopkins. The witness identified photograph number 3 – the photograph of John Hopkins – as the person she believes she saw operating the bronze vehicle that day. She was also shown the composite sketch from 1972 and was “shocked” to see the similarity between the composite and the photograph she had selected.
iii. deceased motorist’s statement reviewed
Inv. Helmer reviewed a statement from an eyewitness who was also operating his vehicle in the vicinity of the crime scene at about 2:30 PM on January 12, 1972. The motorist, now deceased, had provided the police with the following information back in 1972:
That he was driving his vehicle north on South Park Drive in Utica
That he noticed a person on foot approximately 200 to 250 feet up the pathway that originates at South Park Drive
That approximately 75 yards or more from the pathway on the east side of the road he observed a “1969 or 70’ish” compact automobile parking
That said auto was a “cross between gold and bronze” and was “neither a sports model nor a full size auto”
That there were no flashers activated on the auto and he could not remember if it had a black top or not
That from his vantage point, the witness observed a white male emerge from the parked vehicle and proceed to run down the middle of the roadway in a southerly direction towards the witness’s vehicle
That the male ran to the west side of the roadway and to the left of the witness’ vehicle
That the witness looked in his rearview mirror and saw the male cross back over to the east side of the roadway, jump the culvert and run up the hill into the woods in a direction that would intersect the pathway
That the white male is described as 19 or 20 years old, fair skinned, 5 feet 9 inches tall, 150 pounds, sandy colored hair, wearing a very dark waist length jacket that was either buttoned or zipped closed. The male was holding his right hand to his side as he ran, “… as if he was holding something”.
That the male was wearing boots that were either zipped or buckled shut
iv. parked vehicle sightings on South Park Drive
During the original 1972 investigation, numerous individuals reported seeing a vehicle parked in an unlikely area on South Park Drive on the afternoon of the killing. The vehicle was described as parked on the east side of South Park Drive, facing north. This would have necessarily drawn attention because it was a section of South Park Drive with woods on both sides and not immediately in front of any homes or businesses.
The section of roadway described by witnesses would have been approximately 50 yards across from the area of the pathway where Joanne Pecheone’s body was discovered.
While there were variations from witness to witness, most seemed to provide the same basic description:
A single vehicle
Parked on the east side of the roadway
Either a Chevrolet Nova or a Nova-type of vehicle
Predominant body color of brown or gold
Black or dark colored top
v. incident 8 days prior to the murder
Also reviewed was a statement from a female pedestrian, originally taken by the Utica Police on January 12, 1972, concerning an encounter that had occurred on January 4th 1972 – eight days prior to the murder of Joanne Pecheone. The witness had provided, in relevant part:
That she got off of a bus at the intersection of Tilden Avenue and the Parkway, and was walking towards Hills Drive.
That as she walked she was preparing to take the pathway off of South Park Drive when she noticed a man following her.
That she had no idea where he came from.
That the male was 25 to 30 feet behind her and never said a word to her.
That she ran up Hills Drive to the nearest house and called her father to come and pick her up. As she ran, she could hear the person behind her running, but does not know where he went.
That the man was white, approximately 5 feet 7 inches tall, in his late teens or early 20’s, shoulder length blondish hair and wearing tan pants, black army boots, a long green army-type coat and a cowboy hat that was either gray or white in color.
vi. actual physical attributes
Through investigation and examination of arrest information and records within the possession of the New York State Department of Correctional Services, the following are the physical characteristics of John Hopkins that are on file with that agency:
Height – 5 feet, 10 inches
Weight – 157 lbs.
Eye Color – Brown
Hair Color – Red
Complexion – Light
b) Background information developed
Various former friends, associates and a close relative of John Hopkins were interviewed between 2007 and the present time – February of 2011. A number of items of relevant information were developed as a consequence of these interviews, as summarized below.
i. friend and associate #1
A male individual who identified himself as a close childhood friend of John Hopkins, provided the following:
That Hopkins would get in his car and take road trips and be gone for a day or two at a time.
That Hopkins had at least 6 different Chevrolet Nova vehicles over the years.
That one such Nova was a “primered, copper-tone Nova with a black vinyl top”
That Hopkins’ father owned a vehicle repair garage and that John had access to various cars at the garage and would take them out on occasion.
That Hopkins “had a thing for knives” and that both of them bought matching knives at one time, consisting of a 7 inch blade with a black handle with red stripes in the handle.
The witness was shown the 1972 composite sketch and made the following remarks:
“That really looks like Johnny.”
“There are a lot of similarities there”
“Bears resemblance, definitely.”
“Dark eyes stand out. John used to wear his hair that way”.
The witness also provided Inv. Helmer with photographs of some of the Chevrolet Nova automobiles driven by John Hopkins over the years. In two of the photographs, John Hopkins appears in the picture with the vehicle.
ii. friend and associate #2
Another male individual who also identified himself as a close friend of John Hopkins, provided the following:
That as teenagers, he and Hopkins would travel all of the time and visit college towns.
That John was prone to taking off all by himself a lot.
That John was “ … into knives and always carried a boot knife”.
That John would always wear a green or brownish, three quarter length army coat.
That John would commonly wear “ black, buckle, BF Goodrich boots”.
That he remembered that John would pretend to be a Trooper, try to pull people over on the road and when he did so, he would wear his green army coat and cowboy hat.
The witness was shown the 1972 composite sketch .and made the following remarks:
“That almost looks like him”
After staring at the composite for several more minutes in silence, the witness further provided the following:
“Maybe I just don’t want to admit it to myself, the eyes are perfect, the eyes are a dead ringer.”
“If the chin was up a little bit, it would be a dead ringer for John … wow.”
“His high school picture, I remember, looked like this, that’s John, the more I look at it.”
“Maybe I don’t want to tell myself that it’s him. Looks like John. That’s him.”
iii. friend and associate #3
Another male individual who also identified himself as a friend of John Hopkins, and that he knew him since the 1960’s, when shown the 1972 composite sketch, made the following remarks:
“That’s how he wore his hair.”
“That’s very similar.”
“The jaw line is the same.”
“That drawing is dead on.”
A close relative to John Hopkins, gave numerous details that were significant to the investigation, providing:
That because his father owned a repair shop, John Hopkins had access to a number of different vehicles.
That John would take vehicles from his father’s garage and drive them around.
That John would leave all of the time and live out of the trunk of a car and always had clothes in his car and trunk.
That John Hopkins stated that he visited Utica “..once in a while”.
That John was in college for criminal justice and took the New York State Trooper examination.
That John would ride the NYS Thruway wearing a cowboy hat and pretending to be a Trooper. The Cowboy hat was gray and John also wore a green army jacket.
That he remembers John’s father melting down an old hickory knife that John had gotten from a tannery with a torch, because John “…had done something bad with it”.
The relative/witness was also shown the 1972 composite sketch and after viewing same, stated the following:
“I think I’ve seen this before, but don’t remember why.”
When asked how the witness could tell, the witness said: “He always had his hair that way, parted to that side. That’s my [relative], you know how I can tell? One ear is bigger than the other, one of John’s ear was bigger than the other and it’s a family trait, one of my ears is bigger than the other.”
It should be further noted that on the 1972 composite sketch that was prepared with the assistance of the 12 year old witness on the snowmobile mentioned above, the left ear of the depicted person appears to be larger than the right ear.
On January 23, 2011, the relative/witness provided some additional commentary:
“The composite drawing did it for me, it was like a photograph for me, specifically with the one ear being bigger than the other one.”
c) Additional information
Upon reviewing the original scene evidence including reports and photographs, it was apparent that a set of bootprints were noted as starting in the area of South Park Drive where witnesses had noticed the parked car. These bootprints appeared to:
Take an easterly direction from the roadway into the woods where they intersected with the pathway
Intersect the pathway at the location where there is evidence that the initial struggle occurred. There were drag marks from this point of struggle for several feet until they terminated at the location of Joanne’s body, which was found with her hands tied to a tree limb.
During the original investigation in 1972, the Utica Police brought the scene photographs of the boot prints to 4 separate shoe stores in the area. All 4 stores confirmed that the bootprints were made by B.F. Goodrich soles.
Inv. Helmer was able to locate plaster castings of bootprints that were taken at the time that the crime scene was processed in 1972. An examination of the original scene photographs of the boot tracks described above as well as the original plaster casts yielded the following information:
That the tread pattern in the photographs appears to match the tread pattern of the castings that were preserved
That the tread pattern of both is consistent with a B.F. Goodrich type of boot
That the words “B.F. Goodrich” are actually visible in the photographs and on the castings
As stated previously by “friend and associate #2” above, John Hopkins would commonly wear “ black, buckle, BF Goodrich boots”.
ii. criminal profile
During the 2001-2002 phase of the investigation, the assistance of a criminal profiler was sought. Investigative materials were furnished to the profiler and ultimately a report was issued. It is noteworthy to point out that the report, received March 17, 2002, was written five years before the John Hopkins lead was developed in the case. The report provided, in part:
That the crime scene likely involved a single offender and not multiple offenders.
The offender was most likely between the ages of 18 and 24 at the time of the crime.
That the offender is a white male.
That the offender was likely a restless type who was always on the move.
That the offender was right handed.
That the defendant would be somewhat quiet and secretive with respect to his activities and true thoughts, exhibiting a reluctance to be open and trustful of others.
That the offender may have been noted to have interest in military style knives and similar weapons designed to be carried on the person.
That the offender was not from the immediate residential community at the time of the crime.
That the offender had likely driven or ridden through the general area a number of times prior to the crime, whether actually seeking to identify potential victims, or not.
That the offender did not know his victim.
That it was noteworthy that the offender removed Joanne Pecheone’s shoelaces and used them to tie her up.
That the offender may have attended a two year college program, but it is unlikely that he would have successfully finished it.
That the offender might have attempted to secure employment as a police officer or corrections officer, most likely at a local level.
During the course of the investigation, Inv. Helmer discovered that John Hopkins enrolled in classes at Fulton/Montgomery Community College in the Criminal Justice Program and withdrew after half a semester. It was further discovered that Hopkins had previously applied for the New York State Police examination.
V. DNA Comparison
As stated previously, a partial y-STR DNA profile was developed from two pieces of evidence – a cutting of a section of Ms. Pecheone’s coat lapel containing sperm and non-sperm components and extracts from a cutting from the waist area of Ms. Pecheone’s panty hose. It was necessary to obtain the y-STR profile of John Hopkins for comparison purposes.
All males in a lineage from father to son will share the same y-STR profile. Therefore, through the cooperation of a blood relative of John Hopkins, Inv. Helmer was able to secure a swabbing that yielded the y-STR profile of John Hopkins despite his having died in 2000.
A comparison was conducted by Labcorp between the y-STR profiles developed from the evidence found upon the body of Joanne Pecheone and the y-STR profile attributed to John Hopkins’ male family lineage, and the following results were obtained (in summary):
The partial profile developed from the evidence from the body of Ms.Pecheone contained insufficient genetic information for inclusionary purposes. This means that there was insufficient genetic information extracted from the evidence to definitively identify any male contributor.
However, John Hopkins cannot be excluded from the partial profiles developed from the evidence from the body of Ms. Pecheone.
It has been 39 years since the death of Joanne Pecheone. During those years, evidence has been collected, new leads developed, forensic proof evaluated, re-evaluated and more. The case has been aggressively pursued by different generations of law enforcement. All of this has led ultimately to the development of the facts cited above.
In view of the expansive history of the case, the volume of information collected and the implications of that information, it is our opinion that John Hopkins is the perpetrator of this crime. We are therefore closing the case as solved.
Katherine Kolodziej, 17, of Long Island, was a SUNY Cobleskill freshman when she disappeared Nov. 2, 1974, and was found stabbed to death in a field about five miles away on Nov. 28, 1974, less than 90 minutes southeast of Utica. State police continue to investigate her unsolved murder, and have not yet ruled out serial killer John W. Hopkins as a possible suspect after he was recently linked to the 1972 murder of Joanne Pecheone in East Utica.
Investigators may not have heard the last of local serial killer John William Hopkins.
Hopkins may be dead, but recent revelations that the former Johnstown man raped and killed 19-year-old Joanne Pecheone in East Utica nearly 40 years ago has since prompted state police to question whether the convicted murderer also may be linked to a similar unsolved homicide in the 1970s.
More than two years after Pecheone was brutally stabbed in 1972 as she walked home from school, another teenage girl was found stabbed many times and left in the woods near Cobleskill, about 60 miles southeast of Utica.
The victim, 17-year-old Katherine Kolodziej of Long Island, had just begun her first year at SUNY Cobleskill when she was last seen walking from a popular college bar during the early hours of Nov. 2, 1974.
Her body was found just after Thanksgiving that year, and investigators would spend the next several decades trying to determine who killed her, just as Pecheone’s murder had left investigators stumped in Utica.
Taking another look
But when news broke in Utica last Friday that Hopkins was Pecheone’s killer, Schoharie County Sheriff Tony Desmond’s eyes widened at the similarities between the two young girls’ deaths. Desmond was a state trooper when Kolodziej was killed, and he was never aware of Pecheone’s murder until now, he said.
“It jumped right out at me when I saw that because I knew the name John Hopkins,” said Desmond, who then alerted Troop G state police investigators about the news.
Hopkins was 26 when he was arrested for stabbing a 15-year-old girl in Northville, about 30 minutes north of Johnstown. Hopkins then admitted to killing three people, including Cecilia Genatiempo, 17, of Gloversville in 1976, and former Utican Sherrie Lynn (should be Ann) Carville, 17, of Broadalbin, in 1978.
Hopkins never revealed who the third victim was, but Oneida County prosecutors believe he was talking about Pecheone. Or could it have been Kolodziej, investigators in the Cobleskill area are wondering.
“I thought it is a very good possibility that Hopkins did commit this crime against Kathy Kolodziej, but I wouldn’t want to say at this time that he did it or didn’t do it,” Desmond said. “I wouldn’t want to focus on him right now and not be open to other people as suspects until we got more information concerning Hopkins.”
Now that Hopkins’s name has resurfaced, state police investigators are going to give him another look, Troop G Senior Investigator William John said this week.
“You have to be able to put Hopkins in the Cobleskill area at the time, and prove that he had the means and the opportunity to do the crime, and we’d go from here,” John said. “If you don’t have those two items, then you can pretty much rule him out.”
But some circumstances of Kolodziej’s murder are similar to how Hopkins attacked his four other teenage victims.
Years of investigation by Utica police and Senior Investigator James Helmer of the Oneida County District Attorney’s Office have revealed that Hopkins and one of his friends would frequently travel and visit college towns.
Pecheone was killed just a short distance from Mohawk Valley Community College in Utica, and Kolodziej’s body was found about 5 miles from the State University of New York College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill.
Kolodziej was stabbed seven times in her upper back, police said, just like the 15-year-old girl who survived Hopkins’ attack. Genatiempo and Pecheone also were repeatedly stabbed, and all five victims – including Kolodziej – were found in wooded areas.
At least one witness at the time described seeing a girl who looked liked Kolodziej get in the passenger side of a yellow Volkswagen Beetle near the SUNY Cobleskill campus, and a female was later heard screaming inside the car, police said.
Although witnesses after Pecheone’s murder described a young man driving a copper-colored Chevrolet Nova vehicle with a black top, local investigators have said that Hopkins had access to a number of different vehicles from his father’s repair shop.
When Kolodziej’s body was found Nov. 28, 1974, near Cobleskill in Richmondville, she was lying face up on top of a stone wall, Desmond said. Some of her clothes had been removed and a red coat was placed over her body up to her chin like a blanket, with rocks used to hold down the coat, Desmond said.
Both of her shoes were found along a nearby gravel road, Desmond said, and police continue to wonder whether the shoes were discarded immediately after disposing of Kolodziej’s body or placed there sometime after the murder to help police find her.
Kolodziej’s shoes were slip-on without laces, but Hopkins seemed to have a particular interest in his victims’ shoes, investigators said. Shoelaces were used by Hopkins to tie up both Pecheone and the 15-year-old girl during their attacks, and Hopkins had told police that he specifically remembered Carville wearing laced boots.
State police near Cobleskill continue to look for anyone who might know something about Kolodziej’s killer, and they hope someone will finally be comfortable coming forward with the truth so many years after her death, investigators said. No DNA evidence was recovered from Kolodziej’s body.
Two notable clues have led police to speculate that the suspect had feelings for Kolodziej: The way her body was purposely covered, and the fact that her stomach contained recently eaten food, suggesting that she shared a late-night meal with her killer, John said.
“Between that meal and where she was discovered something went horribly wrong,” John said. “A young freshman from Long Island, her first time away from home and being trusting, she had no reason not to trust someone at that point.”