Category Archives: Death

Three Billboards, One for Each Decade

From Newsday



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.


Did You Know Katherine Kolodziej When She Attended Cobeskill?

Please share any memories you have from that time. What do you remember of the news reports, what was said on Campus, among your friends, local gossip or as a friend or aquaintance?

Sherrie Ann Carville and Joanne Pecheone Murderer Linked to Kathy Kolodziej

Case closed: Johnstown man likely murdered teen in 1972
Saturday, February 12, 2011

— 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
 Right Handed

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.”

iv. relative

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.”
 “That’s John”.
 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

i. bootprints

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.

V. Conclusion
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


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.”

Some similarities

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.

“Horribly wrong”

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.”

Possible lead in LI woman’s ’74 killing- Katherine Kolodziej

From Newsday


AP Photo



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.

Last week, law enforcement officials said serial killer John William Hopkins was responsible for the 1972 murder of another young woman in East Utica.

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

Kathy’s parents are gone, but Kathy is not forgotten.  The article, above shows the hard work and dedication of the detectives who have worked this case for many years.  Kathy’s case may never be solved, but her mother and father are now with her.
If anyone has any information, please contact NY State Police BCI Investigator Tom Cioffi.

Body of Lies CBS 48 Hours Mystery Transcript

Courtesy of CBS News

Jeami Chiapulis seemed to have lived quite the amazing life – highlighted by military combat, from Afghanistan to Iraq. He even had a photo of the elite Ranger unit he had served in.

It all appealed to single mom Leisa Hurst and her father, Lynn.

“I was impressed with him and everything else because of my military background,” Lynn Hurst tells “48 Hours Mystery” correspondent Maureen Maher.

“He seemed like a very nice man,” Leisa’s mother, Debbie Welch, agrees.

A man who sensed Leisa’s kids, Ashlyn and Tyler, were the way to her heart.

“He knew like our jokes and stuff,” Ashlyn says.

“He’d give us gifts and stuff,” Tyler adds. “And he’d get stuff for mom.”

Asked if his daughter was in love, Lynn Hurst replies, “Yeah. Oh, she was.”


Leisa was a graduate student living in Barstow, Calif. The mother of two young girls had lived 31 years without making an enemy. That’s why, in the hours after she went missing in January 2009, it made no sense at all.

Leisa grew up surrounded by love and the safety and security of close family. Those were the gifts her parents, Lynn and Debbie, and her older brother, Valden, gave the little girl.

“[She was] happy-go-lucky, always smiling,” Lynn says. “I think what really set her off her personality was her deep blue eyes.”

Leisa’s parents describe her as more of a tomboy than a girlie girl. “She played baseball,” Lynn says. “She was very good.”

Home was the endless, starkly beautiful desert, outside Barstow. Lynn was a Vietnam veteran; a working man. Debbie worked as a medical assistant. “It was a good place to raise kids,” she tells Maher, smiling.

Debbie says her outgoing daughter wasn’t a kid for very long. “And then [she] just blossomed into a beautiful woman, I thought.”

Leisa was an adventurous teenager and struggled to manage all the new-found attention from the boys. She was unlucky at love, starting with her high school boyfriend, Jesse Pouvaranukoah.

“So when she came home and told you she was pregnant what was your reaction?” Maher asks Debbie.

“I wanted to strangle her, but I mean there’s not much you can do,” she replies. “You realize you gotta be there for your kids.”

Baby Ashlyn was born.

“I told her I’d be there,” Lynn says. “And I was.”

Leisa’s family was incredibly supportive and the teenager worked hard at being a good mom even after she and her boyfriend broke up.

“She was a little scared at first, but realized she was bringing a life into the world, and she was accepting it,” Debbie says. “She was really proud of [Ashlyn].”

There would be another relationship with cross country truck driver Ruben DeLeon. It was serious, lasting almost 5 years.

Leisa got pregnant again, with daughter Tyler. Leisa and Ruben seemed ready to be a real family.

“I thought they were going to get married,” Lynn explains. “I thought Ruben and Leisa were gonna get settled down and have a family.”

Leisa even bought a wedding dress. But, as her mother explains, that didn’t work out.

“She got really upset and it tore her apart,” Debbie tells Maher. She says Leisa was so devastated, she cut up the dress with scissors.

So in 2005, Leisa became a single mother again trying to make it all work for Ashlyn, then 8, and Tyler, who was 5.

“She was our mother and took care of us. And she taught us a lot,” says Tyler.

Under the desert sky, the three girls settled down and began repeating the precious rituals of family that Leisa had learned as a child.

“I don’t think you could find a better person for her situation, raising two girls,” Lynn says. “They were very well brought up.”

Leisa Hurst, along with her two daughters, was finally growing up. She would attend Barstow College, with plans to become a teacher.

But Debbie says life without a partner was lonely and difficult for Leisa. “She really wanted to get married, I think, and settle down and have a family – someone to actually be there for her and be part of her life.”

Then, in October 2006, at Barstow College, she met fellow student Jeami Chiapulis.

“She said, “OK, do you want to go meet my new boyfriend?” Tyler recalls.

Jeami Chiapulis was anything but a typical student. He was a 34-year-old war hero and a cancer survivor. He had a big house, a big heart – and as far as Leisa could tell – he was single and available.

“Obviously, she wanted him to be in her life,” says Debbie.

And Jeami wanted Leisa in his life. She graduated and they were set to finally become a family. The kids and their single mom were thrilled.

“I really thought she had found the right person,” says Lynn.

So in January 2009, a new life seemed to be truly dawning for Leisa and her two girls. That’s why what happened next was such a surprise to Leisa’s family.

Leisa’s abandoned car had been found 50 miles south in the town of Hesperia.

“The police department came and knocked on my door,” Lynn says. “The windows down, the keys in the ignition. I say, ‘That’s not Leisa,'” Lynn tells Maher.

“My heart sunk,” says Debbie.

A massive search for Leisa Hurst would soon begin. And another search would also start to find out who Jeami Chiapulis really was.

When Leisa Hurst vanished on Jan. 22, 2009, and police told her parents that her car had been found abandoned, her parents knew something was very wrong.

“The car was in a place that it shouldn’t have been put,” says Leisa’s mother, Debbie Welch.

Leisa’s father, Lynn Hurst, immediately called her apartment and learned from his granddaughters, Ashlyn, 12, and Tyler, 9, that Leisa had not come home the previous evening.

“She’d never leave her kids that long,” Debbie explains. “It would just be school and then home.”

So where could Leisa be? The last person to have contact with her was her boyfriend, Jeami Chiapulis, who on that Thursday afternoon of Leisa’s disappearance had picked up her daughter, Tyler, from school, while Ashlyn walked home alone.

“I said, ‘Where’s Mom?’ And he said, ‘college,'” says Tyler.

Chiapulis told Tyler that her mother was at the University of La Verne in Victor Valley, where Leisa occasionally took graduate classes.

That night, Chiapulis got the girls settled in and he even picked up dinner.

“We just started like doing normal stuff, like homework,” Tyler says. “And then he left.”

Leisa rarely left the girls home alone, but when she did, she would always call to speak with them.

“Would she have gone out with girlfriends and partied all night?” Maher asks.

“There’s no way,” Debbie replies. “Leisa’s just too responsible. …She loved those kids.”

And that’s when her two little girls got scared.

“When it was 5:00 in the morning, I started freaking out,” says Ashlyn.

Detective Keith Libby from the Barstow Police Department opened the investigation into the disappearance of Leisa Hurst.

“Her oldest daughter is the age of my youngest son. So it was pretty difficult,” Libby says of the case.

From the very beginning, everything about Leisa’s case was suspicious – from the location where her car was found to what her boyfriend, Jeami Chiapulis, told Det. Libby the first time they met.

“She had no connection to that area,” Libby tells Maher. “…He was saying that they weren’t actually engaged.”

“Was he basically denying that they had a relationship?” Maher asks.
“Oh, absolutely.”

In fact, Chiapulis dropped a bombshell, telling Det. Libby he was actually married to a woman in the Army who lived out of state.

“It just didn’t make sense,” Libby says. “When I walked out of the house I was thinking this guy’s up to something…”

That was no surprise to Jaime Tatro, a woman who dated Chiapulis a lifetime ago.

“I think it’s very possible that he hurt somebody,” says Tatro, who lives in Georgia, 2,000 miles away from Leisa Hurst. Had the two young women ever met, Jamie would have cautioned Leisa to stay far away from Chiapulis.

It was 1992, and love at first sight, says Jaime. “I was a 16-year-old girl… impressionable, young… He was beautiful, rock star. Long, long hair.”

Chiapulis said he played the guitar and had a band. Asked if any of that was true, Jaime says, “I never even seen him pick up a guitar.”

The two dated for over a year and had a child together. But the more time Jaime Tatro spent with Chiapulis, the more lies she caught him in.

“…it was all coming out who he was and who I’d been with all that time,” she tells Maher.

Who is he, really?

“I don’t even think that he knows. …he will tell a lie and he will try to live it out, and after a while you don’t know what’s true anymore.

When Tatro broke off their relationship, Chiapulis drifted west and dropped off the radar until 2002, when he joined the United States Army as an infantryman based in Hawaii. He eventually settled in Barstow, Calif.

Science major Joyce Fransson remembers meeting Chiapulis in 2005, when he enrolled at Barstow College.

“Back then, he was very popular, everyone liked him,” Joyce tells Maher. “He was in my biology class… and he had a lot of charisma.”

He also told his new classmate he was a war hero. “He told me he was a Green Beret in the Army for 14 years and he was medically discharged from war wounds.”

While Chiapulis bragged to all about his war record, there was something he kept secret from everyone – the fact that he had a wife. In 2006, Chiapulis had married Army Lt. Col. Katherine Taylor. The couple shuttled between Barstow and her base in Texas.

“She had done some time in Iraq,” Libby explains. “And that she was stationed at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.”

With his wife away, Libby says Chiapulis had ample time to lead his double life.

“While she was deployed he was going to community college in Barstow College… he also was establishing relationships with several different women,” he says.

Including Joyce Fransson, who became much more than a friend.

“He told me he was single. He treated me like a queen,” Joyce tells Maher.
So not only was there Katherine, his wife, and Joyce – it was around this time that Chiapulis also began dating Leisa Hurst.

“Jeami Chiapulis was playing the field with many women,” says Libby.

While it is likely that neither his wife nor Leisa knew anything about the others, Joyce says Chiapulis had mentioned Leisa to her… describing Leisa as a student who had been harassing him for a date.

Over time, Leisa’s mother, Debbie, had begun to suspect something was not right with her daughter’s fiance.

“I kept telling her… ‘There’s something wrong,'” Debbie tells Maher. “‘He’s gonna hurt you.’ And we had a talk about that before all this happened.”

She says Leisa would tell her, “Mom, things are gonna be fine… we’re getting married.”

And when her daughter vanished…a mother’s intuition turned to dread.


The evidence was piling up. When detectives searched Chiapulis’ house, they hit pay dirt – Home Depot receipts listing items Chiapulis had just purchased, including bleach, duct tape, gloves, a pickaxe, shovel and a large trash barrel.

“It doesn’t take, you know, Scotland Yard to figure out that those are items that could be used to get rid of a body,” notes Libby.

There was the marriage and the receipts and there would be one other bizarre discovery in Chiapulis’ trash – a used condom.

“It just seemed disgusting to me the way he answered it,” Libby says. “He said, ‘Well, that’s Joyce.'”

Chiapulis was with Joyce Fransson the night Leisa disappeared.

“And the last thing he said to me was, ‘Promise never to tell anybody, no matter what happens, in your life'” Joyce tells Maher.

“They had sworn to take it to their graves,” says Libby.

Four days into the investigation of Leisa Hurst’s disappearance, Detective Keith Libby knew he had his man: Jeami Chiapulis. So did Leisa’s mother.

“In my gut, I kind of felt it was Jamie,” says Debbie Welch.

But even with the discovery of Chiapulis’ marriage and the receipts showing his purchases for duct tape, gloves, a pickaxe and shovel, there was still no body.
“I was thinking definitely foul play,” Libby says. “I was thinking he could have killed her.”
Desperate for answers, they focused on the woman Chiapulis had told police he was with the night Leisa disappeared. Like Leisa Hurst, Chiapulis had promised to marry Joyce Fransson.

“I didn’t think there was anyone else,” Joyce tells Maher. “He told me that was his heart’s desire.”
But that is not what Joyce told Det. Libby when he interviewed her just four days after Leisa disappeared.
“She said she hadn’t seen him in over a year,” Libby says. “It took my pointing out to her that we’d found a condom and it might have her DNA evidence on it for her to say, ‘OK, I was there on Thursday night. And I had sex with him.'”
That is all Joyce would tell police. She failed to mention the night that Chiapulis had called her in a panic with an odd request: Could she help him get rid of a car. It also happened to be the very same night Leisa Hurst went missing.

Chiapulis said he needed to help a friend who had fallen behind on car payments. He needed someplace to dump the car so it would appear that it had been stolen.
“I never had a reason to distrust him,” says Joyce.
Joyce had Chiapulis follow her to the town of Hesperia – to a neighborhood she said had a bad reputation for crime. They left the car on a roadway with the windows down and the key in the ignition. After ditching the car, Joyce and Chiapulis drove back to his house where they had sex, and according to Joyce, that’s when he told her a truly unbelievable story.

“He told me that he had family in the Mafia and they had recently delivered him a package,” Joyce explains. “And he was being threatened to get rid of it immediately… It was a trash can… a sealed trash can with duct tape.”

So now, just hours after dumping a car, Joyce and Chiapulis then drive to a remote part of the desert where, she says, Chiapulis spent hours digging a hole to dump that mysterious package.

“You never saw what was in there?” Maher asks Joyce.

“No,” she replies. “I was in the car. I stayed there the whole time that he dug the hole. He kept telling me, ‘Don’t worry about it.'”

Joyce claims she was too scared and too confused to say no.

“Joyce, this is crazy. Did you not say, ‘No way?’ What was going through your mind?” asks Maher.

“I did say that to him,” she replies. “But I didn’t know what else to believe or what to do.”

“And did you wonder what might have been in the trashcan?” Did you think Mafia, trash can, body?”

“Everything crossed my mind.”

That is except for telling Det. Libby what she knew.

“I was scared,” Joyce says of her interrogation. “When they said there was a missing person I just totally froze. …I panicked.”
And with no physical evidence to tie Chiapulis directly to Leisa’s disappearance, the investigation came to a halt.

But Libby was about to get help from an unlikely investigator, Leisa’s brother, Valden, who had gone to Hesperia looking for his sister just hours after they discovered she was missing.
“Valden had recovered a pair of orange rubber gloves and a plastic shower cap… lying in the roadway,” Libby says. “The important thing he did was he took a photograph of them. A nice, clear, digital photograph which showed the condition that they were found.”

Valden handed the cap and gloves over to Chiapulis.

“Whether it was intentional or otherwise, he never mentioned to Jeami Chiapulis that he took the photo,” says Libby.

Chiapulis would turn them over to police 5 hours later. It wouldn’t take long for the detective to make a startling discovery – “He switched these around.”

Chiapulis had actually given police a different pair of gloves and a different colored cap. But why?
“One of the biggest items of evidence, was those gloves and the shower cap that were found near Leisa’s car, and the fact that they had been tampered with and that he had done something to try to avoid detection while driving the car, and then trying to avoid prosecution by destroying the evidence,” Libby explains.

And with that, a critical piece of the puzzle fell into place: the Home Depot receipts and Chiapulis’ bizarre double life. Now Det. Libby felt he could make a strong case against Jeami Chiapulis.
“We obviously knew we that there were gonna be some challenges without her body,” he admits. “However, we were confident that we had a good case circumstantially.”
Libby would get no help from Chiapulis, who was no longer talking because he had committed himself to a local psychiatric ward.
“Do you think he was just trying to set up an excuse?” Maher asks Libby.
“He’s probably trying to buy time by being in the hospital,” he replies, “…to set up an insanity defense.”

Three weeks after Leisa Hurst disappeared, and on the same day Chiapulis checked out of the mental ward and into a motel, police moved in.
Jeami Chiapulis was arrested and charged with Leisa’s murder. But where was Leisa?
“I felt that his arrest might shake loose some information … leading to the whereabouts of Leisa Hurst,” says Libby.
Leisa’s family was already dealing with the painful reality that she would likely not be found alive, but they still desperately wanted to bring her home.
“We went out looking for her. And we kept looking for her,” says Debbie.
Chiapulis, however, remained silent. Soon, the entire community would join in the search… hundreds of volunteers canvassed the vast California desert looking for Leisa.
“This is almost the perfect place to bury a body,” Maher notes while flying over the desert with Det. Libby.

“If you just took the area that we’re looking at and you tell somebody to ‘go look for a body,’ then it’s just virtually impossible if it’s buried and concealed well,” he says.

To find Leisa, investigators might be forced to make a deal with the one person who knew where she was.

While the community searched for one of its own, Leisa Hurst’s family prayed that they would find the young woman they all loved.

“It just isn’t fair,” her mother, Debbie Welch says. “I need closure and so do my grandkids and family.”

Initially, right after he was arrested, Jeami Chiapulis remained silent over the whereabouts of Leisa Hurst. And without her body, Prosecutor Sean Daugherty could not seek the death penalty.

Asked how certain he was that Chiapulis killed Leisa, Daugherty replies, “I’m absolutely certain without a doubt.”

But Leisa’s loved ones had their own ideas about justice.

“He shouldn’t be able to be alive,” says Leisa’s daughter, Ashlyn.

Asked what she would like to have done, Debbie says, “Tie him down just leave him there.”

The truth was Leisa Hurst, who thought she had found the man of her dreams, had actually encountered a nightmare.

“He’s manipulative and diabolical,” Libby explains. “Jeami Chiapulis had built a life that didn’t actually exist, that he was a war hero, that he was a combat veteran. Later, I found out that he’d never seen any type of combat. He wasn’t a Ranger at all.”

“Did he tell women that he had cancer?” Maher asks.

“Yes. He never had cancer,” Libby says. “He would also come across as ‘I care. I’m the man you’re looking for in your life. I’m a good listener.'”

“And was he any of those things?”

“Not at all… I don’t know that he can ever tell the truth.”

With Chiapulis keeping quiet, there was little hope of ever finding Leisa’s body. Still, District Attorney Daugherty thought he could make his case for murder and get Chiapulis locked up for life.

“I thought it was convincing and compelling enough to take to a jury and go… this all points in one direction,” says Daugherty.

Getting Chiapulis convicted of murder was key, but so was bringing Leisa Hurst back to her family. To do so, Daugherty was forced to make a deal with the devil: In exchange for a reduced sentence, Chiapulis would admit to killing Leisa. But even more important, he would have to reveal where in the vast, hot, unforgiving desert he had buried her body.


“When he brought us out here we were walking, he was shackled,” Libby says. “Had he not told us, we wouldn’t have found her. We were searching 50 miles south of here.”

After hours of digging under the hot sun, detectives finally found Leisa’s body as Chiapulis looked on.

“There was no remorse. There was no emotion,” Libby says of Chiapulis. “It was a feeling of relief that we’d found her. And it was also a feeling of anger that we didn’t find her without his help.”

On Oct. 8, 2009, Leisa Hurst was finally brought home.

“It was very important to me because we could pay our respects to her,” says an emotional Lynn Hurst of his daughter.

Jeami Chiapulis got his reduced sentence – only 15 years to life in a California prison.

“That’s not justice,” says Leisa’s mother, Debbie Welch.

“I had to look at the benefits of recovering the body versus a life sentence,” says Daugherty. When asked if it was worth it to offer the plea, he says, “Yes. It was worth it.”

But at least one mystery remained: Chiapulis admitted to killing Leisa, but just how had she died? It was only after Chiapulis was sentenced that he agreed to tell police his version of what had happened, claiming it was an accidental drowning.

Det. Libby: And so you guys were having sex where initially? Where did it start?

Jeami Chiapulis: In the pool.

Det. Libby: And what happens while you’re having sex?

Jeami Chiapulis: I choked her in the pool… Leisa likes to be choked. She said it made it better. …She said she was very light headed and needed a break. So I went inside to get a drink, and when I came out to the pool she was face down in the pool. I thought she was just unconscious and she started turning purple and got very cold. And then of course I realized what had happened.

Police didn’t buy it for a minute, because they say the evidence refutes it all.

Investigators believe the bleach Chiapulis bought at Home Depot was used to clean up a bloody, brutal murder.

“I believe there was probably some type of violent altercation in the garage,” Libby says. “It probably involved some type of injury that it was a loss of blood.”

Asked what she thought happened that day, Debbie tells Maher, “I really don’t know what happened. I know if there was a fight Leisa would have fought as hard as she could.”

“Do you think he was planning this?” Maher asks Lynn.

“Oh, yeah.”

“For weeks?”


But why would the master manipulator want to kill the single mother of two little girls?

According to Libby, “His house of cards, if you will, was getting ready to fall in on him.”

Chiapulis was juggling Leisa Hurst and Joyce Fransson, two women who thought they were going to marry him. To make matters worse for Chiapulis, his wife, Lt. Col. Katherine Taylor, was about to return to California from her base in Texas.

“And I think he just had so much pressure coming with his wife showing up soon … and he knew that sooner or later the lies gonna fall apart,” says Libby.

Police now had their motive – a serial liar – a killer done in by his own conceit. But there was one more crucial question: Did Jeami Chiapulis act alone?

“She knew. She knew all along,” says Libby.

The police investigation was far from over, because Chiapulis finally revealed more about what happened the day Leisa Hurst died.

Chiapulis Police Interview: I told Joyce what had happened, and Joyce said, “Well what do you want to do?”

For the first time, Chiapulis would implicate his girlfriend, Joyce Fransson, telling cops he wasn’t alone when he buried Leisa Hurst in the desert.

With Jeami Chiapulis locked up, investigators turned their attention to his 24-year-old girlfriend, Joyce Fransson.

“If she didn’t dig, then she definitely helped him put Leisa’s body into that hole,” Det. Keith Libby tells Maureen Maher.

Investigator Libby believes Chiapulis had killed Leisa and that Joyce helped him bury her body in the desert – in a place where it would never be found.

“Yeah, she’s timid, she’s shy, but she had great motivation to keep it quiet,” Libby says of Joyce. “That was because she was saving her own butt and trying to prove her love for this guy.”

Chiapulis proved unworthy of that love. Questioned by police after his sentencing, he said that Joyce knew everything.

Jeami Chiapulis: Joyce came over that night.

Det. Libby: OK.

Jeami Chiapulis: And I told Joyce what had happened.

Det. Libby: Mm-hmm.

Jeami Chiapulis: And Joyce said, “Well, what do you want to do?”

Chiapulis said Joyce helped him to plan the cover up.

Jeami Chiapulis: So we both agreed to bury her body. Joyce said she knew of a place.

Detective Libby confronted Joyce and broke her down.

“During that conversation she admits that she took him out to the desert, showed him where to bury the trash can,” Libby explains. “She denied knowing the body was in the trash can.”

But on Nov. 24, 2009, based on what Chiapulis had told detectives, Joyce was charged with five counts, as an accessory after the fact, in Leisa’s murder.

While awaiting trial, Joyce returned to the desert with “48 Hours” and her lawyer to tell her version of what happened.

“It’s a place I never wanted to visit again,” Joyce says standing at the burial site. “He spent hours there that morning digging it by himself and he discarded the contents of the can in the hole when I wasn’t looking.”

And she would swear to “48 Hours” that Chiapulis buried the mysterious package entirely on his own.

“I remember thinking, ‘Who is this person?’ He’s not the person I’ve known for four years,” says Joyce.

Says Libby, “I’ll bet that she … definitely knew that she was in that trash can when she showed up at his house. There’s no doubt in my mind.”

“Did you have anything to do with Leisa Hurst’s death? Maher asks Joyce. “No,” she replies,

“Anything to do with her murder?” “No.”

“Or the cover up of her murder?” “No.”

“The burying of her body? The cleanup after the murder?” “No.”

“Did you know that she had been murdered?” “No.”

“How could you sit on that information for 10 months and not tell anyone?” Maher continues.

“I couldn’t,” Joyce replies. “It was the most difficult time.”

“Did you not think about her family?”

“I did think about them… I just felt horrible. I felt like a monster,” cries Joyce.

“I think she really did know and she should also have to pay for that,” says Ashlyn.

“To me, I think she just put on a good act. I’m sorry,” says Debbie.

“And you think she knew exactly what was in the trash can?” asks Maher.

“Yes, I do.”

So on July 26, 2010, prosecutors would make that case with Jeami Chiapulis set to testify against Joyce.

“Joyce Fransson helped Jeami Chiapulis dispose of a body…” D.A. Sean Daugherty tells the court.

“When you were in court did you ever go up to Joyce and confront her?” Maher asks Debbie.
“No,” she says – but she wanted to. “I wanted to shake her and slap her across the face and say, ‘What is wrong with you? Why couldn’t you say something?'”

After just one day of trial, suddenly it’s all over. The judge unexpectedly offers Joyce Fransson a plea deal.

Joyce will plead no contest to all charges. Instead of a possible 5-year sentence, she will now serve only three.

While disappointed with the outcome, Leisa’s mother finally gets her chance to confront Joyce.

“We spent 10 months looking for her. And all you had to do is say, ‘I’m scared. Help me,'” Debbie tells her. “…You didn’t even ask for help. I can’t forgive you for what you did. I just pray that God can forgive you.”

“As close as we could get, justice was done,” says Daugherty. Yet no one seemed satisfied.

“It just makes me sick,” Lynn Hurst says, “‘cause they’re getting’ away with it.”

But Ashlyn and Tyler would rather focus on the mother they had and the future she was working so hard for.

“What do you think she would want for you and your sister when you get older?” Maher asks Tyler.

“To get a good career and go to college,” she says. “I feel she’s right there with me… and it feels like she’s watching me.”

While in prison, Jeami Chiapulis allegedly tried to hire a hitman to kill Joyce Fransson, Det. Keith Libby and Leisa Hurst’s two daughters.

Chiapulis will face murder-for-hire charges on Feb. 16, 2011.

Police say Chiapulis’ wife, Army hero Lt. Col. Katherine Taylor, had no knowledge of his double life. She annulled the marriage in December 2009.

Ashlyn and Tyler are being raised separately by their fathers.

This transcript of the show was

Produced by Jonathan Leach and Jamie Stolz ©MMXI, CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. If I give credit I hope it is OK to post here.  They did a great job with this show.