Cases go cold when there’s not enough evidence, leads, or suspects for police to continue to investigate. Sometimes, however, seemingly impossible to solve cases are solved with the help of new technology, time, and a fresh pair of eyes.
Recently, a Pennsylvania cold case was finally closed and the victim’s family finally got answers after 34 years. Tragically, however, the person police arrested for the crime had been right under their nose the entire time.
A Loving Wife And Mother
In 1983, Debra Rodgers was already a loving and devoted mother and wife at just 23 years old. On top of her responsibilities raising her 5-year-old daughter and taking care of the trailer that she lived in with her husband, Carl Rodgers, on his family’s farm, Debra was also a dedicated employee.
Debra’s Day Job
During the day, Debra worked at Little Buffalo State Forest, which wasn’t far from her home in Perry County, Pennsylvania. Not only did she like what she did for work, but she wanted to progress in her career. For that reason, Debra applied for a job with the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.
The New Job
Debra applied for a position as an administrative aid. If she got the job, she would have gotten a pay increase. Sadly, she never got to prove herself after being chosen for the new job opportunity because she disappeared on the night of April 22, 1983.
A Late Night
According to Rodgers, his wife came home late on the night of the 22nd after working at the Little Buffalo State Forest. That was the last time he saw her alive. Rodgers later explained that Debra left and never came back at some point that night.
The Search Party
When she didn’t return home the next day, he called Debra’s family members and told them that the 23-year-old was missing. That next day, Rodgers also suggested that the family start a search party and look for her at all the places and areas that she frequented.
A Bad Sign
On April 23, Rodgers led Debra’s worried family to the state forest where she spent so much time. They hoped she would turn up and that it was all a false alarm. However, the family became even more worried by what they found as they walked through the woods.
The Abandoned Car
Rodgers had led the family to a part of the forest that was pretty remote and heavily wooded. No one saw any sign of Debra the entire time they had been searching the woods, but as they headed deeper into the forest, they discovered Debra’s car.
The Search Is Called Off
Unfortunately, the car was abandoned in the woods and there was still no sign of Debra in the area despite the family calling out for her and looking for any trace of her. After they failed to find her, the search party was called off for the night and scheduled to start back up the next morning.
The Car Goes Home
However, before heading home, Rodgers insisted on driving Debra’s car home that night. Debra’s family pleaded with him to leave it. They feared that if Debra was somewhere in the woods, she would be stranded and left in the cold if they took the car from the spot where she left it.
The Next Morning
Yet Rodgers refused to listen to them and drove the car home that night. The next morning, the search party returned to the woods where they hoped to find Debra safe and uninjured. Once in the forest, Rodgers suggested that he and Debra’s brother search a ridge-line.
A Tragic Discovery
While the two men were searching the ridge-line, the rest of Debra’s family members continued to look through the forest. At one point that day, the search finally came to an end when Debra’s mother discovered her daughter’s body in an area of the woods Rodgers suggested she look. According to authorities, Debra’s body had been found just a few hundred yards from where the family had seen her car the day before. The police also noted that “her shirt was pulled halfway up her torso as if she was dragged to the location.”
An Investigation Begins
Authorities immediately started an investigation into Debra’s death. While searching the crime scene, police also noted that a knife had been discovered not far from the 23-year-old’s body. In addition, the knife’s sheath, which had the name “Carl” written on it, was found not far from the knife.
Questioning The Husband
At the time of the investigation, Rodgers was brought in for questions by police. One of their main objectives was figuring out what had happened to Debra on the last day she was known to be alive. Considering Rodgers was the last known person to see Debra alive, he seemed like a good place to start their questioning.
A Changing Story
Rodgers told police that Debra had been depressed because of her job at the state forest and claimed she had been suicidal. However, Rodger’s story wasn’t consistent. At another time, Rodgers told the police that he and Debra had gotten into an argument that night and that he grabbed her by the arm.
Not only was his own story inconsistent, but Rodger’s story didn’t seem to match other accounts about Debra from other people who knew her. According to everyone else, Debra was genuinely happy with her life as a mother and enjoyed her job. “That was completely at odds with how her family and coworkers saw her and knew her at that time,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said.
The Coroner’s Report
“His story never quite checked out,” Shapiro said of Carl Rogers. “It changed repeatedly.” However, that wasn’t the only thing that tipped police off to the fact that Debra hadn’t killed herself in the woods. When Debra’s body was found, both of her wrists had been slashed and it appeared to support the theory that the young mother had committed suicide. Yet when her body was sent off the be examined by a coroner, they discovered that Debra hadn’t died from the cuts in her wrists.
A Homicide Investigation
Instead, the coroner’s report announced that Debra had been killed by blunt force trauma to the head and torso. The cuts to the wrist were only there to make it appear as though she had killed herself. In fact, the coroner’s report explained that it also wasn’t likely that she even slit her own wrists. Since several tendons in both wrists had been cut, the coroner doubted Debra could have done that to herself. As a result of the coroner’s report, Debra’s death was ruled a homicide. However, no arrests were made and the case quickly went cold.
34 Years Later
34 years later, a grand jury in Pennsylvania reopened the case and looked at the evidence from the case. After speaking to experts and witnesses from the case, the grand jury recommended that Carl Rodgers be charged with the murder of his wife. In late 2017, the 62-year-old was arrested by Pennsylvania State Police after they showed up at his job and handcuffed him.
Justice Is Finally Served
“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 Shapiro said at a 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.”
“These cases never go away, much like the pain of the family members who lost a loved one,” Shapiro told reporters. “Our investigation, it is important to note, did not hinge on any one piece of new evidence or any bombshell revelation,” Shapiro added. “Instead, a closer examination of the facts and collaborative use of law enforcement resources led us to this day.” Rodgers is currently awaiting trial and if convicted of murdering his first wife, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. “We know you lived for decades with unspeakable pain, and we hope today that healing process can begin,” Shapiro told the family.