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.”
By SOPHIA CHANG AND GARY DYMSKI
William John of the state troopers appealed to anyone who had known Kolodziej from Connetquot High School to contact the New York State Police.
She was found stabbed to death 36 years ago, her body carefully arranged atop a stone wall in a field near upstate Cobleskill.
Now, with the recent disclosure that a nearby decades-old killing had been solved, the unsolved murder of Ronkonkoma teenager Katherine Kolodziej is getting fresh attention.
While Hopkins had been previously named a suspect in Kolodziej’s murder, police are again exploring the possibility that he killed her.
“He was always looked at. We’re going to look at him again,” said state trooper Tom Cioffi.
Kolodziej’s parents died several years ago, but closure on the case would bring relief to her uncle Charles Szydlowski, 80, of West Islip. “If they can be sure, I certainly would like to know,” said Szydlowski, whose sister Hedwig Kolodziej spent her life mourning her daughter. “And in my prayers, I will tell my sister what happened.”When she disappeared walking home on Nov. 2, 1974, Kolodziej was 17 years old and a freshman at State University of New York in Cobleskill, where she was studying animal husbandry.
Her partially clothed body was found on Thanksgiving Day – she had been stabbed seven times, then laid upon a stone wall and covered with a red coat.
Sixty miles away in East Utica, Joanne Pecheone, 19, was found raped and stabbed to death in 1972. Her case remained open until last week, when the Oneida County district attorney announced that Hopkins was the last remaining suspect, based on DNA and witness evidence.
At the time of his arrest in 1979 for the rape of a 15-year-old girl, Hopkins had confessed to killing three women but named only two: Cecilia Genatiempo, 17, killed in 1976 and Sherrie Lynn Carville, 17, in 1978. Police now believe that Pecheone was the third.
Hopkins killed himself in 2000 while serving a prison sentence in an upstate jail.
Suspected link in cases
Schoharie County Sheriff Tony Desmond, who had been a state police trooper when Kolodziej was killed and worked on the case, believes there is a link between Hopkins and Kolodziej as well.
“Three of the victims were the same age as Kathy,” he said Friday. “And if you look at the pictures of some of these victims – the hairstyle, parted in the center, long, combed down – it’s similar. And they were all college students.”
But senior investigator William John of the state troopers said evidence leading to Hopkins was still scant.
“We’re not sure it was Hopkins. We’re looking at means and opportunities,” John said, noting that Hopkins raped his victims and there was no evidence that Kolodziej had been sexually assaulted.
He added that other men who were her college classmates are now being sought for interviews.
John appealed to anyone who had known Kolodziej from Connetquot High School to contact the state police. In particular, he said he wants to hear from “anyone that knew her back in high school or received any correspondence from her that would have a guy’s name in it.”
On the night she went missing, Kolodziej was dancing with some friends at The Vault, a popular hangout in Cobleskill at the time, Szydlowski said.
Kolodziej’s roommate told her that the group they were with was leaving, “but Kathy said to go ahead and that she was going to stay,” Szydlowski said Friday.
The morning after Kolodziej went missing, Szydlowski’s sister called him on the telephone. “She said, ‘Charlie, Kathy is laying on side of the road somewhere dead, I know it.’ ” He tried to tell his sister that her only child would turn up safe.
“I said, ‘Heddy, there are 13 million people in New York State. What are the chances this is going to affect us this way?’
“But she was right. Her first thought was her daughter was dead, and she was right.”
With John Valenti and Yamiche Alcindor