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May 4, 1960


Appeal, No. 49, March T., 1960, from order of Court of Oyer and Terminer of Washington County, Sept. T., 1959, No. 4, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Leslie Normand Deyell. Order affirmed.


A. J. DeMedio, Assistant District Attorney, with him Michael A. Hanna, District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellant.

Robert L. Ceisler, with him John Solomon, for appellee.

Before Jones, C.j., Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Bok and Eagen, JJ.

Author: Eagen

[ 399 Pa. Page 565]


The defendant was indicted and tried for the murder of Rose Popiolkowski Price. At the conclusion of the Commonwealth's case, the trial judge sustained a demurrer to the evidence because the corpus delicti had not been established. The Commonwealth appeals.

In evaluating the correctness of the court's ruling in sustaining the demurrer, the evidence must be read in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth's case: Commonwealth v. Shiroff, 131 Pa. Superior Ct. 565, 200 Atl. 204 (1938). Substantially, the Commonwealth's evidence proved the following facts. The deceased, about 43 years of age, was last seen alive by others than the defendant on Wednesday, February 18, 1959, about two o'clock a.m., in the Canon Cafe, Canonsburg, Washington County, Pennsylvania. She never returned to her living quarters or visited her usual habitats again. Because she lived an independent type of existence without close associations, no one was sufficiently interested to inquire into her disappearance or to report it to the police and, consequently, no investigation ensued immediately to discover her whereabouts. On May 29, 1959, about eight-fifteen o'clock p.m., two men, out berry picking, found her dead body in an isolated, uninhabited section of the county, in the area of an old cemetery.*fn1 A coat was draped over the shoulders and covered the lower part of her face and upper torso. Branches had been broken off a nearby tree and thrown over the body in an attempt to cover it from view. The left leg was curled or drawn up at right angles to the remaining portion of the body, with clothing disarranged. A medical pathologist performed an autopsy on May 30, 1959. He testified that the remains

[ 399 Pa. Page 566]

    consisted of a skeleton, with some partially mummified skin and a few portions of soft tissue remaining. He described the remains as "largely skeletonized"... "but not completely decomposed."*fn2 He estimated that the body had been dead and exposed approximately two months. He concluded that the skeleton was that of a female, approximately 45 years of age, with reddish brown hair. When asked to give his opinion as to the manner and cause of death, he said that death was probably SUDDEN, "due to natural causes or violent causes." He deduced this from the fact that the left leg was drawn up and not relaxed. He testified that there was no evidence of direct violence to the skull but that the "disarticulation or disorganization or falling apart or whatever you want to call it, was more advanced in the neck bones than in any other part of the skeleton." His opinion was that there had been something wrong with the neck first and that a hemorrhage near these joints would cause neck bones to decompose first. He then specifically stated that he could not render a firm medical opinion as to the cause of death.

The defendant lived in the house nearest (approximately three-tenths of a mile) to the site where the body was found. He was questioned, with others, as to whether or not he knew anything about the body found nearby and replied in the negative. On June 11, 1959, he was taken into custody by the State Police and county authorities and, when questioned, denied having known the decedent during her lifetime and ever having been in her company. (This was contrary to information received by the police from other sources.) He was kept in custody, questioned every

[ 399 Pa. Page 567]

    day, and finally, on June 18, 1959, he gave the police officers a written statement wherein he admitted being with the deceased on the early morning of February 18, 1959, the day of her disappearance. He said they met and drank together in two bars in Canonsburg and later drove out and "parked" in the area where the body was subsequently found; that the decedent resisted his advances, despite her earlier promises to engage in a sexual relationship for a price; that she got out of the automobile and ran up the road; that he ran after her and when he caught up with her, she was lying motionless on the road; that he felt her pulse; didn't know what had happened to her; became excited and scared; pulled the body off the roadway into a field; covered the body with branches and left. These admissions, realistically appraised, form a chain of circumstances which strongly point the ugly finger of suspicion at the defendant as having feloniously caused the unfortunate death of Rose Popiolkowski Price. However, when carefully analyzed, they constitute suspicion, at most. ...

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