New evidence could help solve nearly 50-year-old murder case

HOPEWELL TOWNSHIP, Pa. — Newly discovered evidence in a nearly half-century old murder case may hold the key to solving a brutal crime.

It was the spring of 1974 when a young woman was found dead in a creek in Beaver County.

And now as Target 11 Investigator Rick Earle found out, investigators are hoping genealogy testing may help solve the case.

“She was just a very, very, friendly person. You know she’s very giving, caring. I mean she’d give her last dollar,” said Sharon Lindner, sister of the victim.

Lindner was 18 years old when her oldest sister, 23-year-old Annette Tokarz, was found dead in a creek in Hopewell Township in March of 1974.

To this day, the murder remains unsolved.

“I forgave that person a long time ago. I had to — not for them, for me.  It just eats you up. It’s so upsetting,” said Lindner.

It was just after 6 pm. when police got a call about a possible body in the creek at Lakewood Park. The caller initially thought it might have been a mannequin.

“Hopewell police go down and they have a body of a female, only partially clothed, and she is facedown and she’s in the water in the creek,” said Beaver County Chief Detective Andrew Gall.

Police immediately cordoned off the entire area and began an exhaustive search. According to police reports at the time, they recovered a pack of cigarettes, a handkerchief, a pajama top, a towel, and a wooden club that they believe may have been used in the attack.

But an autopsy later revealed that Tokarz was not beaten with a club, but forcefully drowned. Police believe her attacker had sex with her first.  They don’t know if she was raped or if it was consensual.  They suspect he then dragged her into the creek and drowned her.

“Even though she drowned in basically almost 2 inches of water is the idea. She was, there’s some abuse involving her body. It was clearly an assault of some type,” said Gall.

“When you interview people or talk to people they say, I never thought it would happen here.  I never expected something like that to happen here,” said Hopewell Township Police Chief Donald Sedlacek.

Lindner said she spoke with her sister about a week earlier, and she said she could tell something was bothering her.

“I think she was going to tell me something was going on,” said Lindner, who indicated that her sister never confided in her that day.

Police suspect Tokarz knew her attacker and went to the park willingly.

“I think we’re going to find she knew the guy and she went there voluntarily, but what happened there was not voluntary,” said Gall.

Detective Gall says investigators at the time documented Tokarz’s every movement. He complimented their hard work and said they eventually narrowed in on a suspect.

“Those guys tracked everybody and they had a good suspect,” said Gall.

The man that she was seen with in Aliquippa earlier that day was an acquaintance of Tokarz.

But as the years passed, Police never had enough evidence to file charges.

“Pat searched every piece of that evidence,” said Gall.

Gall said that one of his detectives, Pat Young, decided to take a new look at the old evidence and made an exciting discovery.

“What Pat did with an alternative light source was, (he) found ... a DNA sample in an appropriate place on her clothing,” Gall said, acknowledging that the DNA could be the missing clue.

The prime suspect in the murder had already passed away, but Detective Gall said a family member agreed to provide a DNA sample.

“They voluntarily gave us a sample,  and there were a lot of good reasons to think that was our guy. But that’s not his DNA,” said Gall, who has now cleared the prime suspect.

They also compared it to DNA from suspected serial killer Edward Surratt of Aliquippa, and other suspects in the same area who had been charged with sexual assault around the same time.  But they all came back negative.

“So you are back at square one now? asked Earle.

“Well, we’re not back a square one,” said Gall.

“You have a path you can take?” asked Earle.

“We have a path and we’re going to try genealogy but it costs money,” said Gall.

Crime solvers of Beaver County has agreed to cover the costs associated with the testing.

More than 50 cold cases across the country, most of them as old as the Tokarz case, have been solved by genealogy.

“The goal is that somebody who put their DNA into one of those genealogy banks will be a relative of the real person who committed this crime in 1974, and that person should be in their 70s or possibly even older. And there’s a good possibility that person isn’t even with us anymore, but the job is to solve the case. and the job is, we don’t give up because he still may be out there. And secondly and more importantly will be able to give an answer to Annette Tokarz’s relatives — to people who still survive her —and who we’ve talked to and still ask about her,” Gall told Earle.

“I think it would be good to know the person who did it can’t get away with it. You know, not out of vengeance.  You know, I had a lot of vengeance before,” said Lindner.

The quality of that newly discovered DNA evidence wasn’t good enough to enter into CODIS, the nationwide DNA registry, but it’s acceptable for ancestry testing. Detectives recently sent out the sample and are now awaiting the results.