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Dying for Love
I.The CrimeEarly Thursday Morning
April 13, 2006
Blairsville, Pennsylvania1.The killer drove through the narrow streets of the small town in west-central Pennsylvania. It was raining lightly, a midnight off-loading of warm, wet, windy, fat drops torpedoing down from the muggy darkness above. The intermittent spatter rendered the oily asphalt ahead shiny in his headlights. The atmosphere was pregnant with the sullenness of heavier thunderstorms that threatened from the northwest. It was the sort of edgy night that could make anyone sweat and wish it would just get it over with and pour.The wipers slapped desultorily back and forth across the killer's windshield, beating a refrain of inevitability: the time had come, had come, had come, had come, in an almost maddening cadence. Something had to give, there had to be an end to it. The killer was more than ready to make sure it all stopped for the sake of peace, and maybe happiness.The houses of the small town were older and the streets narrow, like many in this semirural stretch of Pennsylvania an hour or so east of Pittsburgh, before automobiles had been invented--well lived-in, yet well loved for more than a century, history in their front yards, their porches, their backyards, their sidewalks; in their Lions Club, Rotary club, Elks Lodge, and VFW, and in their churches; in the bandstand onthe west end of town just before the Conemaugh River, the venerable high school recently converted to upscale office space, side by side with a local trade school, and especially the trees. In this town, moving from one economy to another, many generations had grown up, from toddlers to grandparents: almost everyone knew who everyone else was, if not by name, then by sight; and if not by sight, at least by reputation. This was the heartland of America, at least as the myth tells us it should be, and sometimes it really is.By day, the large, well-branched trees provided comfort and shade for their small, welcoming neighborhoods. Elms and larches, mostly, where, under their protective umbrellas, children played in close-knit groups. But by night, in a sultry, threatening storm like this one, those same trees loomed dark and sinister, branches whipping violently in the warm gusts, their large trunks potential lightning rods, every one. And then a thunderclap followed three or four seconds later by the flash, and the smell of ozone. The unpredictable dance between the utter blackness above and the sudden lightning made it easy to think something demonic was hovering in the air. It was certainly safer to pull the covers over one's head and wait for a quieter, drier, cooler, saner dawn.
The killer turned off the small, two-lane highway, Route 217, then found his way into a narrow alley and parked. After some minutes he got out of his vehicle and made his silent way toward the rear of the darkened house, padding in his sneakers through the small puddles toward the back door, which he knew would be unlocked.Sometime a little after 1:00 a.m., he slipped through the back, moved through the darkened kitchen and dining area, down the hall, and came upon his target dozing on a sofa in the small living room.What happened next would become a matter of speculation. Did Dr. John Yelenic, a well-regarded thirty-nine year-oldBlairsville dentist, awaken and recognize the intruder? Were harsh words exchanged? Was there an argument, then a struggle? Why had the killer come in the middle of the night? Only two people could say for sure, and within a very few minutes one of them would be dead.Later, the neighbors would try to puzzle out what took place that night on South Spring Street in Blairsville. Some thought they heard two men shouting in the early morning hours, between 1:00 and 2:00 a.m. Several thought they'd heard screaming--horrible, bloodcurdling screams, as if a pig were being slaughtered, as one later put it. They said neighborhood dogs began barking. But at least one neighbor thought that the argument had taken place much later, say, around 3:00 or 3:30 a.m or even later than that.So, had there been two arguments, two different confrontations? Or even two different intruders, but only one killer?Whatever the time of the disturbance, by all accounts, by 4:00 a.m. the dogs quieted again and the neighborhood settled back to sleep. The volatile, thunderous storm drifted off to the east, giving way to a gray, uncertain mist in the ensuing, cooler dawn.
Sometime the following day--still April 13, 2006--a postal delivery person arrived at the old house at 233 South Spring Street, stashing letters in the box and magazines in the lower rack, right next to the front door. Whoever delivered the mail seemingly did not notice the narrow broken window next to the front door, or the broken glass underfoot, or the red streaks that cascaded all the way down the front wall to puddle on the wooden porch below. Nor did the mail carrier notice the unmoving sweat-suit-clad legs on the other side of the bloody window.
Around 3:00 p.m. that same afternoon, nine-year-old Zachary Uss, who lived with his family next door, came onto thefront porch of the house owned by Dr. John Yelenic. He wanted to return a video game the dentist had loaned him a day or so earlier. Zachary saw that a small windowpane on the left side of the door had been knocked out. Broken glass was on the porch, and there were red streaks descending from the shattered frame and a red substance in a puddle below. He peered in through the broken window and saw the gray clad legs of a man lying on the floor in the entry hall. The upper torso was out of young Zachary's view, in the living room off to the left, and the legs weren't moving.Zachary retreated to his own house and told his older brother, Craig, seventeen, that something seemed wrong at the Yelenic house. Craig decided to look for himself.As Craig mounted the front porch, he, too, saw the broken glass and the red streaks running down from the broken window, and the red puddle on the porch. He looked through the shattered glass pane and saw the gray legs extending into the hallway. He called out to Yelenic but got no answer. Craig tried the front door but found it bolted from the inside. Reaching through the broken window frame, he slid back the dead bolt and, with his other hand, turned the doorknob from the front. He went in. Almost immediately Craig saw blood all over the entry hall on the floor, high up on the walls, even close to the entry hall light switch. He saw the curtains that normally hung over the door-side windows on the floor, crumpled with their rod, and splattered with a dark substance that looked like blood.Stepping carefully, Craig made his way halfway down the foyer to the living room. There on the floor he saw John Yelenic lying faceup, surrounded by splotches of blood, evidence of what was surely a horrific crime. Craig looked to see if his friend the dentist was breathing, but Yelenic's chest wasn't moving.Backing out of the house, Craig returned to his own home next door and called his grandfather, who lived a fewstreets away. Then Craig returned to the front porch, where he was soon joined by his grandfather, his grandfather's neighbor, young Zachary, and another boy from the neighborhood, one of Zachary's friends. The grandfather went inside the entry hall to make sure: yes, John Yelenic was definitely dead. Then he reemerged and called 911.
Blairsville patrol officer Donald Isherwood got the radio call just before 3:30 that afternoon. The dispatcher told him there was a medical emergency at 233 South Spring Street, a possible heart attack; just where this particular information came from, despite the bloody evidence, wasn't clear. Isherwood drove to the address. Alighting from his unmarked patrol car, he saw a gaggle of people milling around the porch in front of the front door. As he approached the porch, Isherwood could see a broken pane among three narrow windows along the left side of the door, and what appeared to be a stream of dried blood running down from the unbroken lower window to the porch. Isherwood noticed that glass from the broken window was on the porch, indicating that the breakage had come from inside the house. As he approached, someone on the porch opened the door for him. He told everyone to step back, then went inside to see for himself.There, lying faceup on the living room floor, was the horribly slashed body of the beloved dentist of Blairsville, John Yelenic. Drying, tacky blood was everywhere, and Isherwood could see at a glance that Yelenic was no longer of this world. He noticed what appeared to be a shoe print in the blood on the hardwood floor leading out of the living room into the hallway. Given that Yelenic was barefoot--not to mention the obvious wounds--Isherwood knew immediately that this had to be a case of murderous assault: clearly a second person had been present at or shortly after the time of death. Yelenic could hardly have made the shoe print himself.Besides the anomalous shoe print, the living room appearedto be in a state of disarray, with papers and photographs strewn around the floor and the furniture disarranged. It looked to Isherwood that there might have been a deadly fight. The television was still on, droning mindlessly, tuned to the Nickelodeon channel for kids.Isherwood backed out of the house and told the group on the porch to get away, to go home. Of course, the Uss contingent and everyone else present ignored him: Who could resist watching whatever was about to unfold, however gruesome? At least Isherwood was able to convince the growing crowd to get off the bloody porch. The rubberneckers reassembled in the narrow front yard, waiting to see what would happen next.A minute or so later, several emergency medical technicians arrived, responding to the same 911 call that had summoned Isherwood. The EMTs made their way through the gathering crowd on the front lawn and went into the house, Isherwood following, watching as one EMT held her hand to Yelenic's pulseless carotid artery to confirm that the barefoot man inside was dead. Isherwood called 911 and asked the dispatcher to send his supervisor, Corporal Janelle Lydic. Lydic soon arrived and stayed with the body while Isherwood checked out the rest of the house. It wasn't clear whether anyone else was still in the house at that point--another victim, or even the killer.After clearing the upstairs rooms and finding nothing unusual, Isherwood returned to the first floor. That was when he noticed what appeared to be more bloody shoe prints leading into the dining area, into the kitchen, and then to the back door, which was closed. Isherwood saw what looked like a blood smear on the handle of the back door. It seemed obvious that someone had slashed the dentist many times with a very sharp knife, left him to bleed to death on his own living room floor, and then exited by the back door, leaving the faint smear of blood on the knob. It was the onlyother way out of the house, given that the front door had been bolted from within.It also appeared that whoever the killer was, he'd rammed the dentist's head through the narrow window next to the front door while Yelenic might have been trying to escape, and maybe--well, probably--the killer had pulled Yelenic's head back and forth a few times through the broken window frame, which accounted for all the bloody streaks and broken glass and the puddling on the porch, the bloody sprays on the foyer walls, as well as some of the ugly gashes on the dentist's neck. The whole scene was gruesome, to say the least.A few minutes later Isherwood descended to the basement, where he found another puddle of tacky blood on the cement floor: the dentist's massive blood loss had seeped through the living room floor above, where it had dripped drop by drop, for many hours to make a large semi-coagulated puddle on the cement floor of the basement.Yelenic had been viciously slashed, cut to pieces, and then left to bleed to death. From any perspective, this was a horrible, sadistic, heartless murder, certainly one committed by someone who hated the victim. The bodily destruction seemed to show that much: such a frenzied attack as to leave so many large wounds had to be the work of someone who knew Yelenic intimately--or so all the forensic psychologists agreed. An attack with so much frenzied slashing almost always indicated an intense, personal, emotional relationship between murderer and victim.One could only imagine how the dentist must have felt in his final moments, knowing his life was about to end. The inevitable pain and panic would have made anyone scream in agony before his last breath. The killer was a sadistic brute--or out of his mind with rage.
A little more than an hour after the body of Dr. Yelenic was found in his living room at 233 South Spring Street inBlairsville, the dentist's cousin, Mary Ann Clark, also in Blairsville, received a telephone call from a friend who resided at the end of Spring Street, a few blocks south of Yelenic's house. Something was going on, Mary Ann's friend told her, and it seemed to be happening right in front of John's house.Like what? Mary Ann asked. She had not been particularly close to her cousin in earlier years. Although they were fairly close in age, their families had been slightly estranged when they had been growing up. Over the previous few years, though--ever since John's divorce and child custody fight with his former wife, Michele--Mary Ann had come to know her prosperous cousin slightly better. In that time, in their periodic encounters, John had often complained to Mary Ann and to other members of their numerous, extended family in the Blairsville area, that the Pennsylvania State Police--or at least a few officers who wore the badge of that organization, also known as the PSP--were harassing him. And, John had complained, some had even threatened him. It was all because his estranged wife, Michele, had taken a Pennsylvania State Police officer as a lover, John insisted.State Trooper Kevin Foley was very big, very muscular, and very aggressive, and had friends in law enforcement who enjoyed giving Yelenic a hard time, John complained, all for the purpose of doing favors for their PSP buddy. Foley, John said, seemed to be acting as Michele Yelenic's "guided muscle," bent on intimidation.To Yelenic, Foley and his PSP pals had taken his ex-wife's side in the Yelenics' increasingly bitter divorce, causing it to drag on for years, and had even made devastating allegations against him. These claims had prevented him from seeing the child he and Michele had adopted in 2000, Jamie.To Yelenic, Foley and his fellow trooper, in the PSP were, for all practical purposes, a badge-toting goon squad, usingtheir size, legal authority, and threats to intimidate him, all on behalf of Michele Yelenic, Foley's mistress. The worst of it, as far as Yelenic saw it, was the cops' tendency to sneer at him, flaunting their machismo. A state police badge, Yelenic thought, gave any bully carte blanche to do what they liked, no matter how amoral they were. State cops, he thought, could get away with anything, even murder.Mary Ann, a conservative, law-and-order Republican, had always discounted her cousin's complaints of police harassment as paranoia. To her, it seemed outlandish that someone sworn to uphold the law, particularly state troopers, could so abuse their authority. To Mary Ann, John's claims about the PSP seemed some sort of emotional reaction to the fact that John's former wife was living with a state trooper--jealousy, probably, on her cousin's part.And for some years, Mary Ann was fairly sure John would get over Michele if he ever found the right woman. Because, she knew, what her cousin wanted most in this world was to have a wife who loved him, children to call him Daddy, and a future that would allow him to say he had fulfilled the tragically unrealized desires of his own dead father.Being a husband and father was all John Yelenic ever really wanted. He was, in a sense, dying for love; and when his first bite at this apple turned sour, John Yelenic was at turns amazed, then betrayed, and ultimately very bitter.His family and friends tried to tell him: This too shall pass. But it wasn't easy for a thirty-something to see his lifetime's dreams crumble, his place in his bride's bed taken over by a hard-bodied, badge-carrying bully who seemed to sneer at him even as he also captured the affections of Yelenic's young adopted son, accompanied by obscene allegations against him. But to Mary Ann Clark, it was absurd to believe that the Pennsylvania State Police, of all people, could ever have done what John accused them of.So when Mary Ann's friend telephoned, Mary Ann firstthought there must be some mistake. Why would all that emergency equipment be in front of John's house? It had to be a nearby dwelling, surely. But Mary Ann's friend was positive: all the activity was directly in front of the residence of John Yelenic, Mary Ann Clark's cousin.That was when Mary Ann for the first time began to wonder at least faintly, whether John might have been telling it true from the start--that maybe someone really had been out to get her cousin, even a badge-carrying member of the Pennsylvania State Police. This was even before Mary Ann Clark learned that John Yelenic, the beloved dentist of Blairsville, had predicted to his divorce lawyer that he would be murdered; that his ex-wife and her cop lover and maybe even other members of the Pennsylvania State Police would be involved; and that, because of this foreboding, John had even tried to set aside a fund of $10,000 to help investigate the authors of his demise--as he thought, members of the Pennsylvania State Police--so that he would not die in vain. But that peculiar fact wouldn't emerge until more than a year later.By then Mary Ann Clark had already made up her mind that the death of her cousin, whom she had doubted for so long, should not go unavenged. She wanted to make up for her earlier disbelief, even if she had to tear the Pennsylvania State Police apart piece by piece to do it. To Mary Ann, it was a debt that had to be paid, a debt of blood. And once Mary Ann Clark decided to do something, she wouldn't stop until the thing was finished. The Pennsylvania State Police would be in a world of trouble. Mary Ann Clark would see to that.Copyright © 2011 by Carlton Smith.