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.