cold case curiosity in chester county

A friend of mine sent me a link to a news story today.  It was a reprint of a Daily Local article from 1964 :

#TBT: Grave of missing child found, 1964 murder which shook Chester County

POSTED: 03/30/17, 8:17 AM EDT

Editor’s Note: This story is from the Nov. 30, 1964 issue of the Daily Local archives.

Connie Evans was found dead yesterday afternoon.

The West Goshen Township girl’s body was discovered by a Berwyn man, out for a walk, in a shallow grave just south of Chester and Berkley roads in Easton Township.

Police said the indications were the child was strangled….

Investigators said that the girl may have been slain shortly after she was last seen on Oct. 24. That was five weeks and one day ago.

The girl’s grave was about one mile southeast of the Easttown Township police headquarters, a mile directly south of Rt. 30 and a half mile north of Sugartown Road.

It was on the estate of Theodore K. Warner Jr. , a member of the township’s board of supervisors.

The girl’s mother, who lives in a tenant house on the Jerrehian estate, just above Rt. 29 and the West Chester bypass, was visited by Sgt. Francis Kofke of the West Goshen Township police force, last night….The girl’s grave was about 150 yards south of the supervisor’s home, near a large pine tree and in a fairly open area,” according to an investigator….The grave was 36 feet in from Berkley Road, at one side of a seldom-used path which is entered through posts of a wooden gate. A wooden fence which had stretched for some distance on either side of the gate has rotted away, and most of it is on the ground….Connie had left home shortly after 1 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 24, her 15th birthday. She walked south on Rt. 29 toward West Chester, to meet on the way a friend, John Launi, 15, of 208 W. Gay st. West Chester, as she had done several times previously….The crime was never solved though a local private detective says she knows who committed the murder.

 

Yes I watch way too many detective stories, so I Googled .  First of all, the article mentions the Jerrehian Estate. That means this girl and her mom lived on the old Sharples Estate in West Chester – where Greystone Hall is.

(The Sharples Estate’s Greystone Hall was the brain child of architect Charles Barton Keen who was the grandfather of one of my close friends.  I also remember when the Jerrehian family was fighting the West Chester Area School District over eminent domain. In more recent time, people have been up in arms about development on the Jerrehian Estate. But I digress.)

I Googled some more and came up with a Find A Grave page for Mary Constance Evans.  The Find A Grave page created by a Daniel Oh (whom I do not know how to reach in a timely manner) contained a piece by a private detective. Her name is Eileen Law, and I spoke with her this afternoon. I realized as I was reading what she wrote that I wanted her permission to republish what she wrote in it’s entirety, not just an excerpt.  So I looked up her office telephone number and gave her a call. What an awesome lady!  She gave me her permission so here we go:

Rest in Peace Connie Evans
By Private Detective Eileen Auch Law

On Saturday, October 24th, 1964, Mary Constance “Connie” Evans (her family called her “Conti”) left her home on the Jerrehian Estate at 1028 Phoenixville Pike in West Chester, (West Goshen Township) Pennsylvania at approximately 1:35 p.m. It was her 15th birthday. She formerly lived on Darlington Street in the borough of West Chester and attended North Junior High. She was to meet her boyfriend, John Launi, who was going to meet her halfway, and accompany her into West Chester so that she could buy a birthday present. Later, the two were to meet with her mother and aunts in town for dinner and a birthday cake her mom had yet to pick up. When John knocked at her mother’s door asking for her, Mrs. Evans knew something was wrong…

Mrs. Evans (also Connie) contacted West Goshen Police Department immediately. The first officer who responded was a friend of Mrs. Evans – Sgt. Fran. (He did not want his last name used.) He took down all of the information and Mrs. Evans was told that they had to wait another day before they could put the information about her disappearance out in case she was a runaway. Some thought perhaps she might have left to see her father in New Mexico and stay with him awhile. Mrs. Evans knew better…

A search team was put together and well over two hundred volunteers from law enforcement, Fame Fire Company, neighbors and friends combed a four square mile area. Blood hounds were brought in and tracked her scent to the vicinity of Phoenixville Pike and Route 322. Several private airplanes and two helicopters from the Willow Grove Naval Air Station crisscrossed the area for hours and reported seeing nothing out of the ordinary. Men on horseback, scuba divers who searched reservoirs, lakes and ponds were disbursed. Law enforcement set up road blocks questioning passersby to no avail. They all believed that there is no way Connie would have gotten into a vehicle with a stranger on her own volition. Further, many told me that she would have fought like hell anyone who tried to harm her.

A man named Fred, who lived on Phoenixville Pike and who was getting his mail that afternoon, called police with some disturbing information. He told them he saw a man who appeared to be half black and half Hispanic or Italian drive by who had gone off the road a couple of times driving pretty fast. He says he got a good look at him, and what was disconcerting was that this man had an “arm lock around a girl’s neck who had dark brown hair – like he was hurting her – her head was flush up against him so he couldn’t see her face.” He was headed away from West Chester on Phoenixville Pike just before King Road.

West Goshen Police Officers Lt. Tom Flick, Sgt. Fran and others, talked about a man they knew from West Chester who matched that description and whom they knew had been in trouble with the law. They also learned he frequently beat up his wife. They contacted West Chester Police Department and asked if they had a picture of the alleged perpetrator. They did, and turned over a copy to them. West Goshen put together a composite of several different pictures of various people with the same look, and then went to see Fred. Without hesitation, Fred pointed to the man in question and said, “THAT’S HIM!!!”

They learned that this man, although from West Chester, worked picking up trash for a trash collector in the Berwyn area. Lt. Flick went down to the company and picked him up and brought him in for questioning. I’ll call the man “Ef.” He brought Ef into the station and learned that he had formerly been arrested for child molestation and rape, for which he served time in Eastern State Penitentiary. Ef continued saying: “I can’t go back to jail again. I can’t go back to jail.” West Goshen received a call from Ef’s boss saying: either arrest him or release him. I have unhappy customers who need their trash picked up.” They released him…

On Sunday, November 29th, 1964, at approximately 1:00 p.m., 36 days after Connie went missing, Joseph Celsi, 37, an insurance underwriter, while walking his dog along Berkley Road on the Theodore K. Warner Estate in Devon (about a half mile away from the Devon Horse Show grounds) discovered an area where his dog started to dig at. He saw strands of brown hair protruding from this area where it appeared another animal had started to dig. He found a hand…

He flagged down a passing motorist who contacted Easttown Township Police Department. Then Patrolman Stanley Scott (now a Judge) and Chief of Police John Bunce responded. Patrolmen Scott examined the shallow grave right beneath an evergreen tree. He dug Connie’s body up by hand. She was naked from the waist down. The black leather jacket and the watch she had been wearing were never found. That night, Mrs. Connie Evans, next to her friend, Sgt. Fran, stood mute as he showed her the clothing: a blouse, knee length dungarees, undergarments, and a gold friendship ring. When he asked if they were Connie’s, all she could do was nod her head.

An autopsy was performed by Chester County Coroner Thomas Monteith and the cause of death was listed as strangulation. Further identification was made with dental records. Over three hundred people attended the funeral of Mary Constance Evans. Many, like me, had never even met her. She is buried in St. Agnes Cemetery…

Many people were questioned. Theories and rumors abounded, including one that a teacher may have been involved, or a police officer or a high profile official. Each department had their own theory. West Goshen P.D. never stopped believing it was “Ef.” In fact, they picked him up again, and questioned him. They also wondered where his vehicle was. Ef told them that someone had stolen it. Based on the information they received from the resident Fred, they arrested him for Murder believing they had enough probable cause. Ef went before Magistrate Meredith Cooper, who believed there was not enough evidence to bind him over for court, and he was released…

Sometime much later, an Officer from Tredyffrin Township Police Department discovered an abandoned vehicle which appeared to have been “torched.” They were able to determine that the vehicle belonged to none other than Ef, with a West Chester address. The address was on Miner Street, right around the corner from where Connie had formerly lived. “Mrs. Ef” who had two children – a daughter and a son around Connie’s age, told them she had been separated from her husband. He would go there to visit his children on occasion. Sadly, back then, none of the departments shared information. West Goshen was not aware that Tredyffrin found a torched car belonging to Ef and Tredyffrin wasn’t aware that Ef had been picked up for questioning, let alone arrested…

Like many of my friends and classmates, I became involved in this case when I was eleven years old. Connie lived a couple of miles away from where I grew up. I was told by my parents I was never allowed to ride my bicycle into West Chester again. Though I never met Connie, her school picture in the newspaper with a smile of what appeared to be a sweet girl haunted me. Even today, when I drive past the place she was last seen or her then home, I get a lump in my throat ~ just like so many other people I have talked with over the years…

When I became the District Attorney’s secretary, later a paralegal in 1971, I studied Connie’s file, vowing to find her killer. I met many in law enforcement back in those days from various departments, all sharing their own stories and memories. On December 23, 1998, Lt. Tom Flick, Lt. Richard Weimer, former Commander of the Pennsylvania State Police and with whom I worked as a Detective before, and Officer Phil (formerly of West Chester Police Department) stopped by my office unannounced. They saw a file I have kept on my desk all of these years with the label: “Connie Evans.” Tommy said, “How could you know anything about that case – you were a kid! I was the lead investigator.” I told him it had haunted me all of my life, and that before I died, I vowed to find out who did it. We all talked for at least four hours. I took copious notes, and we all agreed that we would form a team to prove who killed Connie. Of course, Tommy already knew. He just couldn’t prove it. We met frequently and unfortunately, Tommy and Dick passed away, Phillip who had come to work for me as my Chief of Security, retired, and I was left to do it on my own. Or so I thought…

Recently, information came to me about Connie’s case. I was told that the teacher in question had not only committed suicide, but left a note behind confessing to killing Connie, and that it had been turned over to the authorities within the past year or so. I contacted the District Attorney and several law enforcement officers from the various departments. None were aware of any such note. I spent days searching newspaper articles, pulling old records, talking to witnesses, old teachers and family members and going back over the notes I made from viewing the file many years ago, and the information Tommy had provided. I tracked down the teacher’s widow, and spoke with her, her sister and the teacher’s sister. I got to the bottom of how this rumor started and more importantly, how it snowballed and took on a life of its own. Each time it was repeated, most especially at class reunions, a new comment was added much like a “whisper down the lane” type thing. People just wanted to lay to rest unresolved questions desperately seeking answers for a young girl whose memory was forever embedded in their minds…

With the most recent rumors behind, I wanted to make good on my vow to resolve this case once and for all and, specifically, to concentrate on and learn more about Ef whom so many believed was responsible. Ef’s mother, from West Chester, had been raped by an African American man while she was married. She had other children before and after Ef was born. When Ef was in eighth grade, he had stolen money from his parents, and when he pulled a knife on his “father” that was the last straw: he was kicked out of his home. He lived on the street for a while, and went from home to home, and married a woman who was sixteen years old. I found their marriage license application for whom his wife’s father signed for her as she was a minor. They had two children who lived on Miner Street: right around the corner from where Connie lived. We believe she knew the children and their parents. Ef’s family had called him a “bad seed” as he was always getting into trouble. He had not only a juvenile record, but had been arrested for child molestation and rape and served time in Eastern State Penitentiary. Ef’s wife, now deceased, divorced him. When I pulled the records, she even listed the docket number of the Rape case in the divorce complaint. I was curious to see what address Ef had been served at: My heart pounded when I saw the address in Devon — it was exactly one block away from where Connie Evans body was found…

I learned through records, a police officer, Mrs. Evans and Connie’s best friend, that the day she went missing, she had started her period. It is our belief that Ef torched his car to hide blood and any other evidence left as a result of what was no doubt a struggle in that car. Yesterday, I tracked down and spoke with Fred, the man who identified Ef driving erratically with the girl in the car. He is 90 years old now, and says he remembers it like it was yesterday. He described the vehicle exactly like what had been found by Tredyffrin so many years ago. While there isn’t concrete proof that Connie got into Ef’s vehicle, we now know that she knew Ef, as he was the father of her friends and neighbor. She had no reason to fear him. There are so many other aspects to this story and case. I could go on for hours. I don’t believe it’s important…

Ef died in the late 1980’s. You won’t find his grave. He was cremated because his estranged family didn’t have enough money to bury him. His former wife has passed as well. So did another woman with whom he lived in Berwyn. I found and spoke with his daughter who told me she really didn’t know her father. She said he started drinking heavily in the 1960’s and became an alcoholic…

While there isn’t DNA evidence to confirm many years of searching and putting pieces of the puzzle together, Connie’s parents and those of us who have worked on the case over the years are satisfied that this can finally be put to rest. Next month will mark the 47th year she has been gone, but never forgotten…

I learned a few other things: for years, on the anniversary of Connie’s disappearance and birthday, West Goshen Police Department set up road blocks in the vicinity of Phoenixville Pike and Route 322 handing out flyers and questioning people with the hopes that they may have seen something. Sadly, I learned that Sgt. Fran was so upset and frustrated about the outcome of Connie’s case; he left the department and moved to Florida. He was instrumental in helping me. When I told him of my findings, he got so choked up he couldn’t speak and when he did, all he could say was “Thank you.” Lastly, I learned that as a result of this case and the impact it made on a young man who had volunteered on the search team to find her, he went into the legal field and has been a Court of Common Pleas Judge and sits on the bench today. He is known to be firm, but fair to all who come before him…

Mr. and Mrs. Evans wanted me to thank all of the people who searched for Connie, prayed for her, and more importantly, never forgot her. Mr. Evans specifically asked that this story be told to the news media to give people closure…

As for me, I’ve always believed that when Connie took her last breath on earth, she breathed new life in Heaven. What a life that must be! I’m cautiously optimistic that when I drive past the area where she lived, the lump in my throat will be replaced with a smile.

Detective Eileen Auch Law
President, CIA, Inc.
September 16, 2011
 
 Burial:
Saint Agnes Cemetery
West Chester
Chester County
Pennsylvania, USA 
Created by: Dan Oh
Record added: Jun 04, 2009
Find A Grave Memorial# 37913048

 

I know from Ms. Law that she has had people reach out to her since The Daily Local chose this particular case to highlight as a #TBT.  And if you read her words above, if DNA evidence had been in effect in the 1960s, her case would be officially solved, and there would be no mystery.

This story of Connie Evans has had a profound effect of so many people.  She is a teenager frozen in time ans space. A life just beginning when it was frozen in time by her murder.  She could be anyone’s child.  Her poor mom.  Her parents were split up at a time when it was hard for a woman to be on her own, let alone raise a child on her own. Connie inspired Eileen Law to become a private detective.

These cases involving children are the worst, and even if they are adults when something happens, they are someone’s children. Like another missing person case that has interested me because it started in Lower Merion Township where I once lived – the missing person case of a nurse named Toni Lee Sharpless. (Yes, the Magic Kingdom does have a slightly sordid underbelly, doesn’t it?) My pal, writer Kathleen Brady Shea wrote about Toni Sharpless in August, 2016.

Back to Connie Evans.

Where Connie Evans was found – near or on Berkley Road in Devon in Tredyffrin is an area quite familiar to me.  Especially since I occasionally photograph the old houses on the Tredyffrin House Tour for my friend Pattye Benson.

I never knew about Connie Evans until my friend who is a life-long Chester County resident messaged me the article today and said how her aunt, who was 14 at the time has never forgotten the story. Her aunt didn’t know her, but they were close enough in age growing up in Chester County and her death made an impact on so many.

What would Connie Evans have been like if she had lived? Would she have gone to college? Gotten married and had her own family? It’s so tragic.

It also makes you wonder what has become of the people who were her friends.  What about her boyfriend who was named John Launi? How did this horrific event impact all of their lives?

Life is a gift.  And once again after spending some time dwelling on the murder of Connie Evans today I am once again reminded of it. Love your friends and family.

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s