Pa. Man Charged with Murder After He Allegedly Staged Wife's Suicide 34 Years Ago
A 62-year-old Pennsylvania man is facing possible life behind bars after being accused of killing his wife more than 30 years ago, in what prosecutors described as an apparently faked suicide, PEOPLE confirms.
Carl Rodgers of Shermans Dale was arrested Monday morning and has been charged with the 1983 murder of spouse Debra Jane Rodgers, who is the mother of his child.
“For more than three decades, the family and friends of Debra Jane Rodgers have sought justice, and wondered if this day would ever come,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said during a Tuesday news conference.
“Thanks to a strong collaboration between the Pennsylvania State Police and our office, and the effective use of a statewide investigating grand jury, Carl Rodgers stands charged with murder,” Shapiro said.
Debra Rodgers was 23 when she was killed, according to Shapiro’s office.
Authorities said she was living with her husband and their 5-year-old daughter in a trailer on the Rodgers’ family farm in Loysville, Pennsylvania, when she vanished on April 22, 1983, after returning home late from her job at a nearby state park.
Prosecutors claim that Carl Rodgers initially told police inconsistent accounts of what transpired the night his wife disappeared. According to a statement from Shapiro’s office, obtained by PEOPLE, Carl allegedly said his wife was depressed about her job and had expressed suicidal thoughts.
He later allegedly admitted to police that the couple had argued and he had grabbed her by the arm.
The day after she went missing, Carl called Debra’s family and told them she was gone, according to authorities. He led her relatives into the state forest to search for her and they ended up in a remote, heavily wooded area, where they found Debra’s abandoned car.
“The search was called off that evening without finding Debra,” reads the prosecutor’s statement. “Carl Rodgers refused to leave Debra’s car where he and the family had found it. Debra’s family members were concerned that Debra would be stranded in the cold without the car, but Carl insisted on driving it back to the farm.”
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On April 24, 1983, the search for Debra resumed and her mother soon found her remains “several hundred yards from where her vehicle was parked,” authorities said, “and her shirt was pulled halfway up her torso as if she was dragged to the location.”
“A knife was found near the scene with its sheath nearby, bearing the name ‘Carl,’ ” the prosecutor’s statement noted.
A coroner’s report determined Debra died of blunt force trauma to the head and torso — but, prosecutors said, both of her wrists had also been deeply slashed to make it appear as though she had killed herself.
However, “the coroner determined that several tendons in both wrists had been cut and that it was extremely unlikely the injuries were self-inflicted.”
Additionally, investigators learned Debra had recently applied for a job as an administrative aid with the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, which would have meant a pay increase. This undercut Carl’s statements about his wife being suicidal, according to authorities.
It is unclear why it took so long to bring charges in Debra’s death. Attorney General Shapiro’s office said the case was brought before a grand jury after prosecutors met to review multiple cold-case homicides in 2016.
The jury “reexamined all of the evidence and heard testimony from witnesses and experts” and then recommended the murder charge, prosecutors said.
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Carl Rodgers remains held without bail. It was unclear Wednesday if he has entered a plea or if he has retained legal counsel who could comment on his behalf.
PEOPLE was unable to reach Debra’s family for comment on the arrest.
“Since 1983, members of the Pennsylvania State Police have diligently investigated the untimely death of Debra Rodgers,” Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Mark Magyar said in a statement. “I commend the investigative dedication to bring resolution to the family of Debra Rodgers.”