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Investigation Step By Step:How Joanne Pecheone's killer was found almost 40 years later
UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - The Oneida County District Attorney's Office says they believe they have identified the person who raped and murdered Joanne Pecheone as she walked home from school in Utica back in 1972.
According to District Attorney Scott McNamara, John Hopkins, a man who was serving time for similar crimes to other victims when he committed suicide in 2000, is the one who committed the crime.
On Friday, February 11, 2011, members of the Utica Police Department, New York State Police and the Oneida County District Attorney's Office met with family members of the late Joanne Pecheone to discuss and update them on the long-term investigation.
The original 1972 investigation:
On January 12, 1972, the lifeless body of Joanne Pecheone, a 19 year old St. Francis DeSales student was found on a wooded pathway that intersected and ran diagonally off of South Park Drive in Utica.
The District Attorney's office said that evidence indicated that Pecheone had been raped and also stabbed seven times.
The pathway was a commonly used shortcut for residents of a nearby residential neighborhood where Pecheone lived.
A massive homicide investigation by the Utica Police Department ensued, with hundreds of leads developed and witnesses interviewed.
The original investigation did not result in an arrest of any person.
DNA Science and the 2001 investigation:
In 2001, through the efforts of then-District Attorney Michael A. Arcuri, the Utica Police Department and the New York State Police, a joint task force was formed to re-investigate the unsolved murder.
The task force consisted of Inv. Robert Russell, Utica Police Department, Inv. John Fallon, New York State Police and Investigators James Helmer and Peter Scalise, Oneida County District Attorney's Office.
The task force operated for more than one year, investigated several hundred leads and conducted several hundred interviews.
As a consequence of these efforts, authorities said several persons of interest were developed.
Since Pecheone had been the victim of a sexual assault during the course of the killing, investigators said numerous items of biological evidence had been retained from the original investigation, were located, and then submitted to the New York State Police Forensic Investigation Center.
It was hoped that the significant technological strides in forensic science and DNA since 1972 might yield useful, probative evidence.
Additionally, some unidentified hairs from the original evidence processing were submitted to a private laboratory in Pennsylvania, in the hopes that mitochondrial DNA testing might yield information as to the identity of the source for such hairs .
As a consequence of all of the various DNA tests conducted, the only useful result developed was a partial DNA mixture profile from a semen stained area of Pecheone's coat that she was still wearing at the scene.
The DNA profile developed was consistent with the DNA of Joanne Pecheone, and mixed with the DNA of at least one unknown male.
The mitochondrial DNA analysis of the hair evidence revealed that the hairs came from Pecheone herself.
DNA samples were obtained from each of the persons of interest that had been developed throughout the course of the investigation. Such profiles were compared to the DNA mixture from Pecheone's coat, and all such persons were ruled out as possible contributors.
Four suspects, including among them Bernard Hatch (aka The Potato Hill Killer), were specifically ruled out through DNA analysis.
The 2001 investigation resulted in no arrests and no identification of the suspect responsible for Pecheone's death.
Task Force dissolves, but case remained open:
In 2002, the formal Task Force for the investigation dissolved, but the case remained open as an unsolved homicide and evaluations continued to be conducted upon the items of physical evidence that had been retained.
Authorities said laboratory submissions continued in 2002, 2003 and again in 2007.
Standard DNA testing by the New York State Police Forensic Identification Center failed to yield any additional profiles, and their scientists recommended that a different type of testing - y-STR DNA testing - be conducted. y-STR DNA testing focuses analysis upon the male-specific y chromosome.
Since y-STR testing is not available at the State Police Lab, in 2010 several items of evidence were submitted to Labcorp in North Carolina for such testing to occur.
A partial y-STR profile was developed from two pieces of evidence - a cutting of a section of Pecheone's coat lapel containing sperm and non-sperm components and an extract of a cutting from the waist area of Pecheone's panty hose.
Further Developments in 2007:
In 2007, Investigator James Helmer was approached by Assistant District Attorney Todd Carville and was asked if the Task Force had ever considered an individual by the name of John Hopkins as a potential suspect in their investigation.
Through conversations with ADA Carville as well as subsequent research, Investigator Helmer learned the following:
*That Carville's cousin - Sherrie Carville - a former Utica resident, had been murdered in 1978 in Johnstown, NY where she was then living.
*That a suspect named John Hopkins had been arrested by the New York State Police in 1979 on charges of Rape, Sodomy, Kidnapping and Attempted Murder of a 15 year white female. The crime had occurred in Montgomery County. The victim - referred to hereafter as "the 15 year old" - survived her encounter and was able to describe her ordeal.
*During police questioning on those initial charges, Hopkins had also admitted to the killing of Sherrie Carville and also the abduction, rape and murder of another individual - Cecelia Genatiempo - in 1976. Both other crimes had occurred in Fulton County.
*That Hopkins stood trial separately for all three criminal transactions - the attempted murder of the 15 year old, the rape and murder of Sherrie Carville, and the rape and murder of Cecilia Genatiempo.
*That as to the killing of Cecilia Genatiempo, John Hopkins was convicted after trial on November 24, 1980 of two counts of Murder, Second Degree and Kidnapping, First Degree in Fulton County Court. He thereafter received a sentence of 25 years to life, imprisonment.
*That as to the killing of Sherrie Carville, John Hopkins was convicted after trial on March 3, 1981 of two counts of Murder, Second Degree, one count of Rape in the First Degree in Fulton County Court. He thereafter received a sentence of 25 years to life for the murder conviction and 100 months to 25 years for the rape conviction.
*That as to the attempted killing of the 15 year old female, John Hopkins was convicted after trial on August 18, 1981 of Attempted Murder, Second Degree, Assault, Second Degree and Criminal Mischief, Fourth Degree in Montgomery County Court and thereafter received a sentence of 8 and 1/3 to 25 years imprisonment.
*That John Hopkins died on March 11, 2000 while confined at Great Meadow Correctional Facility - the cause of death was ruled a suicide.
Examining Fulton and Montgomery County cases:
Investigator Helmer met with representatives from the New York State Police, New York State Inspector General's Office and Fulton County District Attorney Louise Sira in the Fall of 2007.
The purpose of the meetings was to examine the facts of the Fulton and Montgomery County cases against John Hopkins. Investigator Helmer was given access to the files maintained by said agencies.
Upon examining the facts of the attempted murder of the 15 year old as well as the murders of Carville and Genatiempo and comparing them to the known facts surrounding the death of Joanne Pecheone, Investigator Helmer discovered the following:
Similarities to the Pecheone case
*The 15 year old victim was a white female. Carville and Genatiempo were both white females, 17 years of age, with long dark hair. Joanne Pecheone was also a white female, 19 years of age with long dark hair.
*The 15 year old victim was walking alone on a roadway when she was forced into a vehicle at knifepoint. Genatiempo was walking alone on the side of a road in Gloversville when she was forced into a vehicle at knifepoint. Joanne Pecheone was walking alone on a pathway near South Park Drive in Utica when she was attacked. Her wounds are indicative that a knife was involved.
*The 15 year old victim was discovered in a wooded area, alive and bleeding. The bodies of Carville and Genatiempo were discovered in wooded areas. Joanne Pechone's body was also located in a wooded area.
*The 15 year old victim was stabbed in the back with a knife. Knife wounds were inflicted upon Genatiempo during the course of the killing. Multiple knife wounds were also inflicted upon Joanne Pecheone.
*The 15 year old victim had had her shoelace removed by Hopkins. She was tied up during her ordeal. Carville's hands were tied behind her back when she resisted Hopkins, according to his own admissions to police. Hopkins described Carville's shoes as laced boots that were similar to his 15 year old victim's boots. Joanne Pechone was found with her hands tied above her head to a tree. Her own shoelaces were used to accomplish this.
*The 15 year old victim's bra was cut through the front during her encounter. Her pants and underpants were removed. Joanne Pecheone was found with her pants pulled down and cut up one side, pantyhose pulled down, and no underwear. Joanne Pecheone's bra was also cut through the front. When the bodies of Carville and Genatiempo were discovered, items of clothing had also been removed from them.
*The 15 year old victim was gagged with a sponge in her mouth and rope tied around her head during her ordeal. Joanne Pecheone was found gagged with a piece of her own clothing in her mouth and a strap from her purse which was tied around her head.
*All 4 individuals - the 15 year old, Genatiempo, Carville and Pecheone - were complete strangers to Hopkins.
*All 4 individuals - the 15 year old, Genatiempo, Carville and Pecheone - were vaginally raped.
*The Fulton County charges concerned the killing of two persons - Carville and Genatiempo - on two different dates. The Montgomery County case involving the 15 year old female was not a completed murder because she survived the encounter.
*After his arraignment and while confined to the Montgomery County Jail awaiting trial concerning the Attempted Murder case, during a conversation with a corrections officer, John Hopkins acknowledged responsibility for not two, but three killings. Hopkins did not provide any details on the third killing.
*During the police interview that gave rise to the Fulton and Montgomery County charges, John Hopkins also provided the following by way of explanation for his actions:
"I have told this because I know I'm ill and require professional help," Hopkins said. "I don't know the lives of CC (Cecelia Genatiempo), Carville and caused injuries to the (15 year old) girl. The pressure builds up in me and I took the lives of CC, Carville, and I don't want to hurt or kill anyone else. Please help me."
After reviewing the information on the Fulton County murders, Investigator Helmer obtained a high school year book photograph of John Hopkins who, having graduated high school in 1971, would have been 19 years of age at the time of Joanne Pecheone's death.
Photographic identification procedures were then initiated with a relevant eyewitness who had given information at the time of the original investigation in 1972 and an additional witness who had recently come forward.
At the time of the original investigation in 1972, a 12 year old witness was developed who had highly relevant information including the following:
*That on January 12, 1972, he was operating a snowmobile in the vicinity of South Park Drive in the City of Utica
*That the witness saw a male get up from a crouching position on a wooded pathway at the location later discovered as the scene of Pecheone's murder, proceeded to run down the pathway towards South Park Drive, lost his footing and turned back to look at the witness
*That the male continued to run down to South Park Drive and got into the drivers seat of a vehicle and sped off
*That the vehicle appeared to be a two tone automobile with a vinyl top that was darker than the bottom portion of the vehicle
*That the 12 year old then turned back and investigated the path by driving his snowmobile back and forth and ultimately discovered a body
*That the 12 year old did summon help from a passing motorist and the police were ultimately alerted
*The 12 year old witness was interviewed at length and a composite sketch of the suspect was prepared on January 13, 1972 as a result of the description he gave to the police.
Investigator Helmer compared the high school photograph of John Hopkins to the composite sketch of January,1972 and noticed striking similarities including hair style, eyes and the elongated shape of the chin in each.
With those similarities in mind, a photographic lineup/array was prepared utilizing the high school year book picture of Hopkins, and the witness on the snowmobile was found and his cooperation was once again requested.
In March of 2008, an identification procedure was undertaken and the witness was shown the photographic array. Prior to viewing the photographic array, the witness again described the person he saw back in 1972 noting that he had an elongated chin and his hair parted to the left side.
The witness also remembered the person's hair "flopping" as he ran. The witness selected the photograph of John Hopkins as the person he saw crouching and then running down the path the day that the murder was discovered.
The witness indicated that he remembered the eyes of the person he saw. The witness stated that, because of the passage of so many years, he could not be 100 percent positive.
After viewing the array, the witness looked at the composite from 1972 and confirmed that it was the same composite he had helped the police to create originally.
A female driver
A 20 year old female was driving in the vicinity of the homicide scene during the same time frame as the snowmobile operator's discovery.
On February 27, 2009, Investigator Helmer and Investigator Terrance Oczkowski interviewed this witness and developed the following information:
*That she was driving on South Park Drive, approaching Hills Drive
*That she observed a bronze, brownish car driving erratically towards her at a high rate of speed, causing her to pull off the roadway
*That the other vehicle approached hers and then stopped when they were side-by-side
*That she rolled down her window and stared at the face of the driver
*That the driver looked directly at her and did not say anything
*That the car then departed at a high rate of speed and thereafter turned onto Tilden Avenue
*That the driver she saw was described as a white male, oval faced, hair straight - "Beatles style hair", late teens or early twenties, no glasses and dark eyes - brown or hazel, no facial hair with reddish blonde hair
After providing the foregoing details, the witness was shown the photographic lineup/array containing the photograph of John Hopkins.
The witness identified the photograph of John Hopkins as the person she believes she saw operating the bronze vehicle that day.
She was also shown the composite sketch from 1972 and was "shocked" to see the similarity between the composite and the photograph she had selected.
Deceased motorist's statement reviewed
Investigator Helmer reviewed a statement from an eyewitness who was also operating his vehicle in the vicinity of the crime scene at about 2:30 p.m. on January 12, 1972.
The motorist, now deceased, had provided the police with the following information back in 1972:
*That he was driving his vehicle north on South Park Drive in Utica
*That he noticed a person on foot approximately 200 to 250 feet up the pathway that originates at South Park Drive
*That approximately 75 yards or more from the pathway on the east side of the road he observed a "1969 or 70'ish" compact automobile parking
*That said auto was a "cross between gold and bronze" and was "neither a sports model nor a full size auto"
*That there were no flashers activated on the auto and he could not remember if it had a black top or not
*That from his vantage point, the witness observed a white male emerge from the parked vehicle and proceed to run down the middle of the roadway in a southerly direction towards the witness's vehicle
*That the male ran to the west side of the roadway and to the left of the witness' vehicle
*That the witness looked in his rearview mirror and saw the male cross back over to the east side of the roadway, jump the culvert and run up the hill into the woods in a direction that would intersect the pathway
*That the white male is described as 19 or 20 years old, fair skinned, 5 feet 9 inches tall, 150 pounds, sandy colored hair, wearing a very dark waist length jacket that was either buttoned or zipped closed. The male was holding his right hand to his side as he ran, "… as if he was holding something".
*That the male was wearing boots that were either zipped or buckled shut
Parked vehicle sightings on South Park Drive:
During the original 1972 investigation, numerous individuals reported seeing a vehicle parked in an unlikely area on South Park Drive on the afternoon of the killing. The vehicle was described as parked on the east side of South Park Drive, facing north.
This would have necessarily drawn attention because it was a section of South Park Drive with woods on both sides and not immediately in front of any homes or businesses.
The section of roadway described by witnesses would have been approximately 50 yards across from the area of the pathway where Pecheone's body was discovered.
While there were variations from witness to witness, most seemed to provide the same basic description:
*A single vehicle
*Parked on the east side of the roadway
*Either a Chevrolet Nova or a Nova-type of vehicle
*Predominant body color of brown or gold
*Black or dark colored top
Incident 8 days prior to the murder:
Also reviewed was a statement from a female pedestrian, originally taken by the Utica Police on January 12, 1972, concerning an encounter that had occurred on January 4th 1972 - eight days prior to the murder of Joanne Pecheone. The witness had provided, in relevant part:
*That she got off of a bus at the intersection of Tilden Avenue and the Parkway, and was walking towards Hills Drive.
*That as she walked she was preparing to take the pathway off of South Park Drive when she noticed a man following her.
*That she had no idea where he came from.
*That the male was 25 to 30 feet behind her and never said a word to her.
*That she ran up Hills Drive to the nearest house and called her father to come and pick her up. As she ran, she could hear the person behind her running, but does not know where he went.
*That the man was white, approximately 5 feet 7 inches tall, in his late teens or early 20's, shoulder length blondish hair and wearing tan pants, black army boots, a long green army-type coat and a cowboy hat that was either gray or white in color.
Actual physical attributes:
Through investigation and examination of arrest information and records within the possession of the New York State Department of Correctional Services, the following are the physical characteristics of John Hopkins that are on file with that agency:
*Height - 5 feet, 10 inches
*Weight - 157 lbs.
*Eye Color - Brown
*Hair Color - Red
*Complexion - Light
Background information developed
Various former friends, associates and a close relative of John Hopkins were interviewed between 2007 and the present time - February of 2011. A number of items of relevant information were developed as a consequence of these interviews, as summarized below.
Friend and associate #1
A male individual who identified himself as a close childhood friend of John Hopkins, provided the following:
*That Hopkins would get in his car and take road trips and be gone for a day or two at a time.
*That Hopkins had at least 6 different Chevrolet Nova vehicles over the years.
*That one such Nova was a "primered, copper-tone Nova with a black vinyl top"
*That Hopkins' father owned a vehicle repair garage and that John had access to various cars at the garage and would take them out on occasion.
*That Hopkins "had a thing for knives" and that both of them bought matching knives at one time, consisting of a 7 inch blade with a black handle with red stripes in the handle.
The witness was shown the 1972 composite sketch and made the following remarks:
-"That really looks like Johnny."
-"There are a lot of similarities there"
-"Bears resemblance, definitely."
-"Dark eyes stand out. John used to wear his hair that way".
The witness also provided Investigator Helmer with photographs of some of the Chevrolet Nova automobiles driven by John Hopkins over the years.
In two of the photographs, John Hopkins appears in the picture with the vehicle.
Friend and associate #2
Another male individual who also identified himself as a close friend of John Hopkins, provided the following:
*That as teenagers, he and Hopkins would travel all of the time and visit college towns.
*That John was prone to taking off all by himself a lot.
*That John was " … into knives and always carried a boot knife".
*That John would always wear a green or brownish, three quarter length army coat.
*That John would commonly wear " black, buckle, BF Goodrich boots".
*That he remembered that John would pretend to be a Trooper, try to pull people over on the road and when he did so, he would wear his green army coat and cowboy hat.
The witness was shown the 1972 composite sketch .and made the following remarks:
-"That almost looks like him"
After staring at the composite for several more minutes in silence, the witness further provided the following:
-"Maybe I just don't want to admit it to myself, the eyes are perfect, the eyes are a dead ringer."
-"If the chin was up a little bit, it would be a dead ringer for John … wow."
-"His high school picture, I remember, looked like this, that's John, the more I look at it."
-"Maybe I don't want to tell myself that it's him. Looks like John. That's him."
Friend and associate #3
Another male individual who also identified himself as a friend of John Hopkins, and that he knew him since the 1960's, when shown the 1972 composite sketch, made the following remarks:
-"That's how he wore his hair."
-"That's very similar."
-"The jaw line is the same."
-"That drawing is dead on."
A close relative to John Hopkins, gave numerous details that were significant to the investigation, providing:
*That because his father owned a repair shop, John Hopkins had access to a number of different vehicles.
*That John would take vehicles from his father's garage and drive them around.
*That John would leave all of the time and live out of the trunk of a car and always had clothes in his car and trunk.
*That John Hopkins stated that he visited Utica "..once in a while".
*That John was in college for criminal justice and took the New York State Trooper examination.
*That John would ride the NYS Thruway wearing a cowboy hat and pretending to be a Trooper. The Cowboy hat was gray and John also wore a green army jacket.
*That he remembers John's father melting down an old hickory knife that John had gotten from a tannery with a torch, because John "…had done something bad with it".
The relative/witness was also shown the 1972 composite sketch and after viewing same, stated the following:
-"I think I've seen this before, but don't remember why."
-When asked how the witness could tell, the witness said: "He always had his hair that way, parted to that side. That's my (relative), you know how I can tell? One ear is bigger than the other, one of John's ear was bigger than the other and it's a family trait, one of my ears is bigger than the other."
It should be further noted that on the 1972 composite sketch that was prepared with the assistance of the 12 year old witness on the snowmobile mentioned above, the left ear of the depicted person appears to be larger than the right ear.
On January 23, 2011, the relative/witness provided some additional commentary:
-"The composite drawing did it for me, it was like a photograph for me, specifically with the one ear being bigger than the other one."
Upon reviewing the original scene evidence including reports and photographs, it was apparent that a set of bootprints were noted as starting in the area of South Park Drive where witnesses had noticed the parked car.
These bootprints appeared to:
*Take an easterly direction from the roadway into the woods where they intersected with the pathway
*Intersect the pathway at the location where there is evidence that the initial struggle occurred. There were drag marks from this point of struggle for several feet until they terminated at the location of Joanne's body, which was found with her hands tied to a tree limb.
During the original investigation in 1972, the Utica Police brought the scene photographs of the boot prints to 4 separate shoe stores in the area. All four stores confirmed that the bootprints were made by B.F. Goodrich soles.
Investigator Helmer was able to locate plaster castings of bootprints that were taken at the time that the crime scene was processed in 1972.
An examination of the original scene photographs of the boot tracks described above as well as the original plaster casts yielded the following information:
*That the tread pattern in the photographs appears to match the tread pattern of the castings that were preserved
*That the tread pattern of both is consistent with a B.F. Goodrich type of boot
*That the words "B.F. Goodrich" are actually visible in the photographs and on the castings
As stated previously by "Friend and associate #2" above, John Hopkins would commonly wear " black, buckle, BF Goodrich boots".
During the 2001-2002 phase of the investigation, the assistance of a criminal profiler was sought. Investigative materials were furnished to the profiler and ultimately a report was issued.
It is noteworthy to point out that the report, received March 17, 2002, was written five years before the John Hopkins lead was developed in the case.
The report provided, in part:
*That the crime scene likely involved a single offender and not multiple offenders.
*The offender was most likely between the ages of 18 and 24 at the time of the crime.
*That the offender is a white male.
*That the offender was likely a restless type who was always on the move.
*That the offender was right handed.
*That the defendant would be somewhat quiet and secretive with respect to his activities and true thoughts, exhibiting a reluctance to be open and trustful of others.
*That the offender may have been noted to have interest in military style knives and similar weapons designed to be carried on the person.
*That the offender was not from the immediate residential community at the time of the crime.
*That the offender had likely driven or ridden through the general area a number of times prior to the crime, whether actually seeking to identify potential victims, or not.
*That the offender did not know his victim.
*That it was noteworthy that the offender removed Joanne Pecheone's shoelaces and used them to tie her up.
*That the offender may have attended a two year college program, but it is unlikely that he would have successfully finished it.
*That the offender might have attempted to secure employment as a police officer or corrections officer, most likely at a local level.
During the course of the investigation, Inv. Helmer discovered that John Hopkins enrolled in classes at Fulton/Montgomery Community College in the Criminal Justice Program and withdrew after half a semester. It was further discovered that Hopkins had previously applied for the New York State Police examination.
As stated previously, a partial y-STR DNA profile was developed from two pieces of evidence - a cutting of a section of Pecheone's coat lapel containing sperm and non-sperm components and extracts from a cutting from the waist area of Pecheone's panty hose.
It was necessary to obtain the y-STR profile of John Hopkins for comparison purposes.
All males in a lineage from father to son will share the same y-STR profile.
Therefore, through the cooperation of a blood relative of John Hopkins, Investigator Helmer was able to secure a swabbing that yielded the y-STR profile of John Hopkins despite his having died in 2000.
A comparison was conducted by Labcorp between the y-STR profiles developed from the evidence found upon the body of Pecheone and the y-STR profile attributed to John Hopkins' male family lineage, and the following results were obtained (in summary):
*The partial profile developed from the evidence from the body of Ms.Pecheone contained insufficient genetic information for inclusionary purposes. This means that there was insufficient genetic information extracted from the evidence to definitively identify any male contributor.
*However, John Hopkins cannot be excluded from the partial profiles developed from the evidence from the body of Ms. Pecheone.
It has been 39 years since the death of Joanne Pecheone.
During those years, evidence has been collected, new leads developed, forensic proof evaluated, re-evaluated and more.
Authorities said the case has been aggressively pursued by different generations of law enforcement. All of this has led ultimately to the development of the facts cited above.
In view of the expansive history of the case, the volume of information collected and the implications of that information, it is the opinion of the Oneida County District Attorney's Office that John Hopkins is the perpetrator of this crime and they are determining the case to be solved.