How New Technology Solved the 1988 Erie Massacre

Erie police detectives went to Texas in 1990 and took blood samples from the main suspect, the victim’s grandson. Three decades later, new DNA analysis helped lead to an arrest in one of Erie’s coldest cases.

In September 1990, two Erie police detectives traveled to Texas to investigate the 1988 murder of 77-year-old Helen Vogt.

The journey was no secret. The Erie Times-News reported this.

The detectives’ visit was related to a grisly unsolved murder in Erie that stunned Erie police and the Erie County District Attorney’s office for more than two years.

The details of what the detectives did on the trip remained unknown to the public for decades.

Police and the District Attorney’s Office disclosed little information at the time, mainly because no arrests were made in the case.

The end of the journey was one of the most important events in the investigation into the death of Vogt, who was found dead in a bloodied and ransacked townhouse on the 2800 block of Zimmerman Road near Davison Avenue on the morning of 23 July. 1988. According to the coroner’s report, he was stabbed 51 times.

What happened on the detectives’ visit to Texas was revealed last week, when Erie County District Attorney Elizabeth Hirz announced that police had used state-of-the-art DNA analysis to trace Vogt’s 55-year-old grandson, Jeremy C. Brock, a resident of Austin, Texas.

On a visit to Austin in 1990, detectives collected material evidence that would prove crucial to ending the investigation and making an arrest in one of Erie’s coldest cases.

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As the final outcome of the trip illustrates, Erie police identified a prime suspect early in the case.

They also had a lot of evidence, including bloody washcloths and blood samples taken from the kitchen sink.

But the police had to wait for DNA technology to advance enough to verify their hunch.

As time passed, technology took hold.

“We didn’t have the capability then that we have now,” said 74-year-old James Schindel, who retired as deputy Erie police chief 14 years ago. “Forensic evidence and forensic scientists are ahead of the bad guys.”

Erie Police Chief Dan Spizzerny said he has also tracked down the matter. He joined the Erie police force in 1990 and served as a detective and supervisor of detectives before being named major in December 2017.

“We’ve done some cold case reviews over the years, and the last time we did it, they said the technology was coming closer,” Spizzarny said. “I’m excited that we were able to bring this to a conclusion for the family.”

Retired Erie police chief, 75-year-old Paul DiDionicio, who retired in 2002, after 14 years as chief and 35 years in total, recalled how investigators repeatedly returned to the Vogt investigation during his tenure. He said Spizzerny told him about Brock’s arrest and how investigators used the latest DNA technology to strengthen the case against him.

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“That technology is really something,” DeDionisio said.

search warrant in texas

Two Erie detectives traveling to Austin stayed there for several days, although the events of one day – September 18, 1990 – stood out after all these years. Gone are the days when the detective, Detective Sgt. Dominic DiPaolo and Detective James Washburn issued a search warrant for Brock. He was 21 at the time and living in Austin.

The service of a search warrant was made public in the criminal complaint against Brock, which was issued following his arrest. Erie Police and Pennsylvania State Police took him into custody on July 25 at the location where he worked in Austin.

On September 18, 1990, detectives issued a search warrant on Brock for “samples of blood, saliva, hair and full hand prints,” according to the affidavit of probable cause attached to the criminal complaint.

Erie police soon sent samples for DNA testing, but the results failed to provide enough evidence to charge Brock at the time, Hirsz said on July 26, when he announced that Brock had been arrested and Was kept in the Travis County Jail in Texas. ,

question about will

Detectives develop Brock as a suspect shortly after Vogt’s murder.

DiPaolo, 75, a retired district judge who was the case’s early principal police investigator, declined to comment for this story. Retired deputy police chief Skindale, who worked with DiPaolo, credited him with doing “a great job” on the case from the start.

According to an Erie Times-News story published in September 1990, shortly after Vogt’s death, detectives along with DiPaolo interviewed Vogt’s relatives in Erie. three days before his death.

“This is what bothers me,” one of Vogt’s sisters, now dead, recalled telling a detective, according to an Erie Times-News story.

When she revised her will, Helen Vogt had been living alone for almost six months.

Her husband, Herbert “Hubby” Vogt, a golf pro at Erie Golf Club for 37 years, died of a heart attack on February 11, 1988, while playing golf in North Miami Beach, Florida, where he and his wife died. Winter was home. , He was 81 years old.

The Erie County District Attorney’s office stated that its records include Helen Vogt’s date of birth as January 26, 1912, bringing her number to 76 at the time of her death. However, the probate records state her age as 77 and the coroner’s report in her case and her obituary state her date of birth as January 26, 1911, making her 77 years old. And investigators listed his age as 77 at the time of his death.

In the amended will she signed on July 20, 1988, Helen Vogt left half of her $377,982 estate, which included the Zimmerman Road townhouse, to her daughter and only child, Bonnie L. Mayor, also of Austin, Texas.

According to court records, the other half of the property was to be divided equally between Vogt’s grandson, Brock, and his sister, Bethany L. Brock. But the money was to be kept in trust until the children turned 30 at the age of 20.

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According to court records, Vogt’s assets were distributed pursuant to his will in July 1990. The mayor could not be reached for comment for this story.

‘Highly sensitive detection of DNA’

To try to answer his questions about Jeremy Brock, the detective moved from Erie to Austin in September 1990. They made no arrests, but issued a search warrant on Brock and obtained blood samples and other evidence.

However, in 1990, DNA technology did not help.

The Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Forensic Services, Forensic DNA Division handles DNA evidence submitted by the Police Department. The Forensic DNA Division said in an email to the Erie Times-News that it established a program in the early 1990s to use DNA testing on crime scene evidence.

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“At the time of this crime,” the division said, referring to the Vogt murder, “the technique required a quarter-sized blood stain and would not have been appropriate for this case.”

DNA technology advanced after 1990. Nevertheless, the division said, “the case was initially submitted for analysis to the Forensic DNA Division in 2015, but no probable outcome was found. Improvements in testing capabilities allowed the evidence in this case to be re-submitted for trial.” allowed. 2020.”

The Forensic DNA Division said some of the improvements include replacing older, manual testing methods with “new extraction robotics and extraction chemistry.” Changes are allowed for testing small samples.

“These improvements in technology enable highly efficient recovery of DNA from even very small amounts of sample material,” Division said. “The test kits allow highly sensitive detection of DNA from a wide range of sample types, including diffuse stains.”

For investigators in the Vogt case, another breakthrough in DNA technology came two years ago. The Forensic DNA Division developed testing methods for mixed DNA profiles – methods of performing DNA testing on evidence believed to contain blood from multiple sources.

“In 2020,” the division said, “the DNA Laboratory implemented a new software program designed to analyze crime scene samples when a mixture of DNA is present from more than one individual. This software system allows DNA scientists to Complex DNA helps to interpret mixtures. Evidence samples. This ability separates components in a mixture so that associations can be better tailored to the evidence and the person of interest.”

a bloody washcloth

In the Vogt case, evidence collected in 1988 included a bloody washcloth found in Vogt’s bathroom tub. Police said evidence suggests someone tried to wash off the blood in the shower.

Erie police submitted the washcloth to the Pennsylvania State Police Forensic DNA Division as part of a recent investigation into the Vogt case, according to an affidavit of police and probable cause. The Division’s new testing methods include those that can detect DNA from blood samples from more than one person.

A “recent investigation,” according to the affidavit, determined that a washcloth found in a bathroom tub had a DNA profile consistent with a mixture of the two individuals.

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According to the affidavit, the two persons are Helen Vogt and Jeremy Brock.

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blood in the kitchen sink

The Vogt probe employed another advance in DNA technology. The Forensic DNA Division said it has also improved additional testing that targets the detection of male DNA and male Y chromosomes, as females have two X chromosomes and males have one X and one Y chromosome.

“The male specific DNA test is more efficient and examines more regions of the DNA molecule,” Division said.

In the Vogt case, the state police’s DNA lab examined blood samples from Vogt’s kitchen sink. According to the affidavit, Vogt’s DNA was on scraping.

Also according to the affidavit: “Partial Y chromosome DNA profiles, consistent with admixture, were obtained from scraping. The evaluation concluded that neither Jeremy Brock nor any of his paternally male relatives were identified as contributors of this DNA. I can be put out.”

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Based on DNA analysis and other evidence, Erie Police and the Pennsylvania State Police filed charges against Jeremy Brock. They are first-degree murder, a planned murder; second-degree murder, murder committed in the course of a crime, such as robbery; Grievous assault, burglary, burglary and tampering or forging material evidence.

At a hearing Friday in Travis County, Texas, Brock refused to waive his extradition from Texas to Pennsylvania. Her denial means that District Attorney Hirz will have to file for a governor’s warrant for his extradition, with another hearing in Travis County. The warrant is until October 27, but Hirz said she would file the paperwork as soon as possible.

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‘The Long and Hard Journey’

In announcing Brock’s arrest, Hirz described how the DNA test helped lead to the charges. He also praised the detectives and other law enforcement officers who had worked on the investigation over three decades.

“As it has been a long and difficult journey for all involved, our hearts are with Helen Vogt’s family and their loved ones,” Hirz said. “And while the arrest is in large part due to advances in DNA technology, it will not be possible, but for all those individuals who refused to give up and continue to work on the case.”

Erie’s retired police chief DiDionisio said he was grateful that the Vogt case was resolved with the arrest. He said that over the years, as he received updates about the investigation, he always believed that some sort of breakthrough – whether DNA or other investigative technology involved – would raise charges.

“There was always hope,” DiDionisio said.

Contact Ed Palatella at [email protected] follow him on twitter @ETNpalattella,

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