"I know when I was here prosecuting homicides in the District of Columbia, one of the most effective units here was the cold case squad, which had on it FBI agents, as well as Metropolitan Police Department homicide detectives working together."
It was the 15th of July 1991. A Monday. Forty year old Katherine Heckel called her two children, thirteen year old Alisha and nine year old John, just after 9am from her office at the Hammermill International Paper Company plant where she worked. She worked in the Human Resources Department there. Katherine lived with her husband of twenty years John Heckel and their two children in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, United States. That day, the children were at home as they were on summer vacation and John was in New York. He was attending field exercise training at Fort Drum military base in Jefferson County, New York as he was a non-commissioned officer in the U.S. Army. Katherine saw the children before she left for work that morning and she called them when she arrived at work to see how they were. They discussed what they'd have for dinner that night. She told them she would make pork chops.
Later that same day, Alisha called Katherine at work but was told by one of Katherine's colleagues that she went out for lunch. Alisha tried again after lunch but was informed that Katherine was still not back. When Katherine was not home by 6.30pm , Alisha called her grandparents, Clarence and Margaret Dolan, to let them know. Clarence and Margaret went to their house. They were immediately concerned as they knew Katherine would not have not returned home to the children. She was devoted to them. They called everyone Katherine knew but nobody had heard from her. Clarence reported his daughter missing.
Katherine and John Heckel with their children Alisha and John
John Heckel only discovered his wife was missing the next evening, the Tuesday evening, and he went straight home to Pennsylvania to help look for her. Police questioned John and checked out his alibi. The Fort Drum military base in Jefferson County, New York was around 7 1⁄2 to 8 hours away from Lock Haven. Police asked John about his relationship with his wife. John told police that in the weeks leading up to that day, Katherine wasn't her normal self. Her mother and colleagues agreed. She seemed preoccupied. But there was no indication that Katherine ran away and those who knew Katherine well were certain that she would never leave her children behind. That led police to suspect that foul play may have been involved in her disappearance so they had to ascertain when and where exactly Katherine was last seen.
Police established that Katherine went to work that morning as normal and she was there until lunchtime. But she never returned to the plant after lunch. Several of her colleagues recalled seeing her at work that morning and noted it was unusual for her not to return. Her car, which she had driven to work that morning in, was also missing.
As police spoke to Katherine's family, friends and colleagues more, they discovered that Katherine had arranged to meet a man called Dennis Taylor the night of the 15th of July. When police spoke to Dennis, he admitted that he was having an affair with Katherine but told police that even though they had arranged to meet that night at a local restaurant, Katherine didn't show up. When asked what he did instead, he told police that he played golf. That led police to look into John's actions again. Did he know about his wife's affair? John himself had an alibi but they looked into the possibility that he hired someone to possibly harm his wife. They found no evidence of that whatsoever. The search for Katherine continued.
Helicopters and cadaver dogs were used in the search for Katherine and three days after she was reported missing, on the 18th of July, her silver Ford Festiva vehicle was found in a parking lot at the Lock Haven Hospital. The keys were missing. There was no sign of Katherine.
Further investigation revealed that Katherine was also having an affair with another man called Loyd Groves. Katherine and Loyd worked together. Loyd was an industrial hygienist at the plant and was described by others as quiet. When police spoke to him, he told police that he knew Katherine through work only but he denied that they were having an affair and told police that they had never had a physical or a sexual relationship. He told police he was married with two young children. But some of their colleagues told police that they often saw him and Katherine together often.
When asked when he last spoke to Katherine, he said that he spoke to her on the morning of the 15th of July at work. He described that day as a normal day and that nothing out of the ordinary happened. Loyd told police that he got home at 5.30pm that evening.
The day after police spoke to Loyd, they spoke with him again at the Hammermill plant and told him that they believed he told lies and that he was having an affair with Katherine.They noted that he became defiant and loudly answered “no” to questions concerning the relationship. When asked again about the 15th of July, he told police that he could not recall that day and that he had a bad memory.
Loyd consented to a search of his van by police and they found two gym bags between the console area, a box of .25 caliber ammunition, a hunting knife, and duct tape. Loyd was asked about the ammunition that was found in the van and he told police that he owned a .25 caliber semi-automatic Colt handgun. He said it was in his desk at work as he planned to sell it because he no longer used it.
The firearm was recovered from a closed but unlocked desk drawer in his office at Hammermill and it was determined that it was functioning and capable of firing. There were five undischarged cartridges inside. It was capable of holding seven cartridges, six in the magazine and one in the chamber.
In the back of Loyd's van, there were two rows of passenger seats and couch seating behind them. In front of the couch seat and behind the second row of seats, police observed that an area of carpet on the sidewall had been cut in small sections. There was a small carpet sample lying on the floor and underneath it, a section had been cut out all the way down through the padding to the subfloor. Police asked Loyd about the carpet and Loyd told them that one of his children got tar on it so he had to cut it out.
Police spoke to his children and their friends. One of his son's friends, Corey Motter who was fourteen at the time, told police that he saw a reddish brown stain on the carpet in the area where the carpet had since been cut out. He was often in the van. He could not remember seeing the replacement carpet pad on the floor. His friend, Loyd's son, told him that the stain was there because his dad had just shot a deer and this was the cause of the stain.
When asked when he saw the stain, Corey told police it was the 12th of July. He also told police that he was in the van sometime after July 15th and he noticed the replaced carpet spots then.
Possible blood stains were removed with Q-tips and sent to the crime lab from the van. An additional three other possible blood stains were located in the van and sent for testing. One was found on the driver’s side wall by the second set of passenger seats and the rear bench seats. Another one was found on the area by the wood and one was found above the ashtray.
It was determined that several of the samples taken from the van contained human blood. There was an insufficient amount to determine any blood type. Despite rumors and some in the community believing that Loyd was responsible for Katherine's disappearance, the case went cold. The Prosecutor believed more evidence was required to secure a conviction especially in circumstances where Katherine's body had not been found.
In 2013, due to advances in testing, the blood samples were analyzed again. In the early 1990s, a large sample was needed to find a DNA match but in the mid-1990s a technique was developed to copy DNA which allowed an analysis to obtain DNA matches from small samples of DNA.
Sarah Kucherer, a DNA expert, worked as an analyst at the Pennsylvania State Police Crime Lab in Greensburg, Pennsylvania and she analyzed the blood samples in the case and generated a DNA profile from the small piece of carpet from the rear driver’s side wall. That analysis indicated that the sample contained Katherine's DNA.
Michael Hutson, a retired FBI agent, interviewed over 100 witnesses and discovered Katherine had been in Loyd's van on a number of occasions in the timeframe leading up to her disappearance despite Loyd's claims that he only knew her through work.
Loyd was arrested and charged with murder on the 29th of January 2015. The Trial began in November 2018.
John and Katherine Heckel
It was the Prosecution's case that despite the fact that Katherine's remains were never found, she was dead and she was killed by Loyd Groves. The Prosecution told the Court that there had been no trace of Katherine since the 15th of July and there was no evidence she was alive. The Court heard that they believed Loyd killed Katherine because she wanted to end their affair as she had recently reconnected with a friend from school called Dennis Taylor.
The Prosecution told the Jury that just three weeks after Katherine went missing, Loyd moved his family to Beaver in Pennsylvania.
The Court heard about the day Katherine went missing.
Dennis Taylor testified. He told the Court that he had two phone conversations with Katherine on the 15th of July. Dennis testified that the first conversation was normal and they arranged to meet that night at a local restaurant. The second conversation was not their usual type of conversation. It took place , Dennis testified, at 11.30am and Katherine told him she was going to lunch with Loyd so that she could end the relationship. He described her as being upset and frightened on that call. Dennis told the Court that he called her back ten minutes later but was informed that she had already left.
Dennis testified that when he did not hear from her later that day, he went golfing with friends.
The Court heard testimony from a number of people who worked with Katherine and Loyd. The Jury heard that on the morning of the 15th of July, there was a meeting at the plant. Katherine was at the meeting and Loyd entered the room, slammed the door, walked through the room and exited via the door at the end of the room.
Ken Anderson, an employee at Hammermill plant, testified that he heard an argument between Katherine and Loyd in a conference room on the 15th of July. Another employee, Jean Carter, testified that she saw Katherine in the company parking lot at noon that day and she noticed Loyd sitting in his van staring at Katherine. She told the Court that he appeared angry and red faced.
Carol Smith, who shared an office with Katherine, testified that she looked out the window at work to see if she could see Katherine's car when she didn't return to the office after work. She did not see it. When Carol left work at 4pm, she still did not see Katherine's car in the parking lot or Loyd's van. She told the Court she saw Loyd the next day at work and that he appeared:
“uncomfortable with a terrified look on his face.”
Kerry Moore, an employee at Hammermill plant, testified that he had a meeting arranged with Loyd for the 15th of July at 2pm but Loyd did not attend that meeting.
The Court heard testimony from the Hammermill communications manager, Julie Brennan, in relation to communication she received on the 18th of July. She received a note which asked her to urgently call Loyd which she did.
During that call, Loyd told her that the police had questioned him and they searched his van and desk. He called to make sure she remembered talking with him on the 15th of July. He told her it was clear police saw him as a suspect. She asked him where he went to lunch on the 15th of July and he told her that he did not remember.
The Court heard testimony from Katherine Groves. Katherine was married to Loyd when Katherine Heckel went missing. She told the Court that she remembered the 15th of July as it was their Anniversary. She told the Court they went for dinner that night. Katherine testified that Loyd returned home earlier that day which was unusual. It was a fifteen minute drive each way from the plant to the house. He returned home around lunchtime and was home for just fifteen minutes. She said it was around 12.45pm. When asked what he did during those fifteen minutes, she told the Court that he changed his clothes. She did not notice what condition the clothes were in that he changed out of as he always did his own washing.
She testified that he told her at some point after the 15th of July that he might be arrested for Katherine's disappearance.
When asked about the cut carpet in the van, Katherine testified that there was some discussion about a pad in the back area of the van sometime after the 15th of July and she heard Loyd say he needed the pad as oil had spilled on the carpet.
The Court heard testimony from a woman called Gayle Taylor. She worked with Loyd at the Portage County Health Department in Ohio. She told the Court that she found drugs in her son's room and told Loyd about it and she said:
“if the drugs don’t get him, I will.”
According to Gayle, Loyd said:
“I can show you how to get rid of a body so it can never be found.”
The Prosecution urged the Jury to find Loyd guilty of first degree murder.
It was the Defense's case that Loyd was innocent and that some of the evidence presented by the Prosecution only emerged years after Katherine went missing and as such, it could not be trusted.
They argued that there was evidence that had not been properly investigated against John Heckel and Dennis Taylor and the Court could not be sure that Loyd was involved in Katherine's disappearance.
The Court heard that John Heckel acknowledged the couple had financial issues which they argued about, he suspected his wife was having an affair, and that before he left for training, he thought she was considering leaving him.
The Defense told the Jury that John Heckel did and said some unusual things after Katherine went missing. The Court heard that he told police that he believed Katherine took money from their joint bank account. There was also an unusual incident that involved a swinger's magazine and John asked police if they thought the woman in the magazine was Katherine. Furthermore, the Defense told the Jury that John threw away Katherine's purse and photo ID after she went missing. They were found in a dumpster near the National Guard Armory in August of 1991.
The Defense questioned Dennis Taylor. Dennis admitted he only told police about his call with Katherine in relation to her telling him she was going for lunch on the 15th of July with Loyd in 2014. He did not mention it in 1991 when Katherine went missing.
The Defense told the Jury that Dennis said he was playing golf the day Katherine went missing. The Court heard that that alibi was checked some thirteen months later and the log in which Dennis would have had to sign when he was playing golf that day had pages missing from it.
The Defense told the Jury that Loyd's wife Katherine did not mention Loyd's actions the day of the 15th of July in 1991. The Defense asked Katherine when she told police that he returned home on the 15th of July to change his clothes and she admitted that she only told them in 2018. She testified that she lived with Loyd until they divorced in 2016.
In relation to some of the other evidence the Prosecution presented, the Defense told the Jury to disregard it as it wasn't relevant. They called a witness from Hammermill who claimed they believed they saw Loyd in the Hammermill office on the afternoon of the 15th of July. The Court heard testimony from another witness who believed he saw Katherine driving a vehicle a day or two after she was reported missing.
They also referred to the blood found in Loyd's car. They referred to Corey's statement in relation to the stain in the van and he told police he saw it on the 12th of July. That was three days before Katherine went missing and therefore, they argued, that the cut carpet was irrelevant to the case.
In relation to the speck of Katherine's blood that was found in the van, they argued that even if that was the case, Katherine cut her finger badly at work before that date so it could have happened then. They referred to the police file which contained a medical report from Hammermill which stated that Katherine cut her finger at work and it was so bad, it had to be treated three times. The report stated she had a laceration on her left index finger from slicing it with a butter knife on the 6th of 1991 but the exact month was not shown in the report.
Loyd was found not guilty of first degree murder. He was found guilty of third degree murder which indicated the Jury believed that Katherine was killed in a spontaneous act in the heat of the murder.
Loyd told the Court that he had “committed no crime.”
He was sentenced to a term of ten to twenty years’ incarceration.
Loyd appealed his conviction. In his appeal papers, he argued that the evidence from searches of his van should have been suppressed. He also argued that Dennis Taylor, with whom Katherine also was having an affair, should not have been allowed to testify.
The appeals court affirmed his conviction as they noted he previously consented to a search of his van and stated that the Jury could reasonably infer Loyd had a motive to kill after hearing the testimony of Dennis Taylor.
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"The criminal justice system will take a hard look at what happened to Matthew Eappen. It is up to the rest of us to take an even harder look at who is minding our children."
- Eileen McNamara, the Boston Globe
"The effects of abuse are devastating and far reaching. Domestic violence speaks many languages, has many colors and lives in many different communities."
- Sandra Pupatello
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