By JOSEPH MALLIA email@example.com
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.
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
Cold Case But Not Forgotten-State Police BCI Investigator Tom Cioffi Hunts for the Killer of Katherine Kolodziej
Clues still being sought in death of college teen more than 36 years ago By BRYAN FITZGERALD Special To The Times Union Published: 12:00 a.m., Monday, January 3, 2011
COBLESKILL — The life of Katherine Kolodziej is divided into three cardboard boxes.
Her last name is written on each in black marker. Two are at the State Police barracks in Rotterdam, the other at their station in Cobleskill.
Inside are photos of the 17-year-old blonde, blue-eyed Long Island native smiling for her class picture, along with her public records and letters she received from her mother.
So is Kolodziej’s autopsy report, thousands of leads and interviews relating to her brutal murder and crime scene photographs of her body laid out on a stone wall in a field in Richmondville in November 1974.
Kolodziej’s parents have been dead for several years. She was an only child.
The only calls police receive about the status of her case are twice-yearly inquiries from a former college classmate of Kolodziej’s who lives in Florida.
If the State Police were to stop investigating Kolodziej’s death tomorrow, it’s likely not many would notice. But two law officers — a veteran State Police investigator and the only still-active police officer who worked the case when Kolodziej died — are renewing the hunt for her killer.
“I still think this case can be solved,” State Police Investigator Tom Cioffi says, “I really do.”
Around 1:30 a.m. on Nov. 2, 1974, Kolodziej left The Vault, a popular college bar on the corner of Grand Street and Main Street in Cobleskill, to make the one-mile walk back to campus alone. She was never seen alive again. Her body was found 26 days later on Thanksgiving, barefoot and naked from the waist down and carefully placed on a stone wall in the hills of nearby Richmondville.
She had been stabbed in the back seven times with two different weapons.
The investigation into Kolodziej’s murder has now lasted more than twice as long as her life.
Cioffi, a State Police investigator for 10 years, was given her case two months ago after the officer who was handling it stepped down.
A Schoharie County native, Cioffi remembers the Kolodziej case from his days at Richmondville High School.
Cioffi recently collaborated with the only remaining active police officer from day one of the investigation, Schoharie County Sheriff Anthony Desmond.
“All law enforcement officers have one case that stands out in their career, which they want solved. The Kolodziej case is mine,” Desmond says.
Next week, Cioffi and Desmond will appear on a local talk radio show to discuss the case for the second time in three months.
Desmond still talks about the case with old colleagues, swapping theories about suspects and motives as if it were that day in the fall of 1974 when her body was found.
While Desmond and the State Police were forming a search party in the area, a group of hunters approached them and said they had found a blue woman’s shoe on the side of McDonald Road in Richmondville.
Police found another shoe up the road, and then discovered Kolodziej’s body about 100 yards away.
Investigators interviewed the entire SUNY Cobleskill student body. They also talked to Volkswagen Beetle owners in the area — somebody reported seeing someone matching Kolodziej’s description getting into a yellow one after she left the bar — and anybody who had a connection to the murder of any young woman in the Northeast.
Convicted serial killers Theodore “Ted” Bundy and Lewis Lent were questioned about the case.
Donald Sigsbee and John William Hopkins, both of whom were convicted in the murders of young women in central New York, were considered prime suspects. Police could never tie either of them to the area at the time of the murder.
“It’s one of those cases where everybody who’s investigated it” has their own top suspect, Cioffi said.
Cioffi says State Police still receive about a half dozen tips a year. He would like to be able to retrace her last steps, but all investigators know is that she left the bar alone and may have gotten into the Volkswagen.
Kolodziej would be 53 years old today. She was just two months into her first semester of college when she was killed.
Police say her killer, if alive, is now likely 50 to 70 years old.
Ask people in the town about the Kolodziej case and some of them remember hearing something about a young college student found murdered in the woods decades ago.
But most of them shake their heads, having forgotten about it long ago.
“I still hope that somebody, sometime, somewhere will come up and say ‘I’ve lived with this as long as I can and I can’t take it anymore,’” Desmond says.
Homes have replaced many acres of forest in the hills of Richmondville since Kolodziej’s death.
The stone wall where her killer carefully placed her on her back is still intact, surrounded by brush that has slowly thickened over the years.
“At some point, no one may remember,” Desmond said.
Reach Bryan Fitzgerald at 454-5452 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SCHOHARIE, NY — Police investigators are looking for new leads in a nearly 25-year-old murder case — Schoharie County’s oldest unsolved homicide.
Katherine Kolodziej was a 17-year-old freshman at the State University College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill when she disappeared the night of Nov. 2, 1974. She left her friends at a Cobleskill bar and wasn’t heard from again.
On Nov. 28 of that year, her body was found five miles away in a Richmondville field. She was naked from the waist down and had been stabbed repeatedly in the back.
After years of fruitless investigation, police held a press conference Wednesday in Schoharie in an attempt to drum up new leads and finally solve Kolodziej’s murder.
“The purpose of this is to heighten awareness of what occurred, hopefully to develop the one lead that would break this case,” said Maj. Bart Johnson, Troop G commander. “This also reinforces the fact that (unsolved) homicide cases never close.”
Since Kolodziej’s death, more than 3,000 people have been interviewed, Johnson said, including the entire student body of Cobleskill Tech. The initial investigation revealed the following:
On the night of Nov. 2, at about 1:30 a.m., Kolodziej left a Main Street bar called the Vault (no longer in existence).
Partway between the bar and the campus, an elderly woman looking out a second-story window observed a woman matching Kolodziej’s description climb into the passenger side of a yellow Volkswagen Beetle.
About 15 minutes later, a delivery man at Agway near the campus saw a yellow Volkswagen Beetle in the parking lot and heard a woman yelling inside.
Police conducted a nationwide search of cars matching the description, but found nothing.
“We’ve been unable to identify the yellow Volkswagen or even that those events did take place,” Johnson said.
Soon after her disappearance, police were notified that a shoe matching a description of one belonging to Kolodziej’s was found on McDonald Road in Richmondville. On Nov. 28, 1974, police found Kolodziej’s body a half-mile from the shoe, in a field, on a low stone wall lined with trees and bushes.
“She was right on top of the rock wall,” said Investigator Peter Scotti.
No murder weapon was recovered, but police said she had been stabbed repeatedly with several different types of knives. Her wounds were in the back, back of her neck, and shoulders.
Police would not comment whether Kolodziej had been sexually assaulted. But police have DNA evidence of an unspecified type.
Serial killers such as Theodore “Ted” Bundy and Louis Lent were even interviewed in connection with Kolodziej’s death.
“It was determined they were not responsible and had nothing to do with the disappearance or homicide,” Johnson said.
Senior Investigator Michael Guiry said friends described Kolodziej, a Ronkonkoma native, as friendly and popular.
“I would say she was just an average 17-year-old girl,” he said. “She seemed to be happy-go-lucky.”
Her parents, Edward and Hedwig, still live on Long Island. The renewed push to solve the murder has raised painful emotions with her mother, Guiry said.
“Her father, his attitude was, it’s been 25 years. Forget about solving it. It’s not going to happen,” Guiry said. “But they’re 100 percent behind this.”
I submitted this article to A & E’s Cold Case File. Maybe they will investigate. I went to Connetquot High School with Kathy. I didn’t know her well but my friend, Ramona did. Ramona would visit Kathy’s parents. They lived a few blocks from me. Her mother always had roses growing along the fence and in the yard. I think one or both of her parents may still be alive.
Kevin K. Singer
The Daily Star
Thank you to all who have posted comments and memories. If any one has information regarding Kathy’s murder, or perhaps you were one of the students who was never interviewed, but have information, please contact the New York State Police as noted, below.
|If you have any information, please call: