Cold Cases: Talk Of The Town
A 15-year-old high school cheerleader named Patty Rebholz was brutally strangled and beaten to death.
You can find Patty's name and a message etched on the sidewalk leading to the town pool: "Knowing who, we wonder why. Her life too brief, but not forgotten." Correspondent Harold Dow reports on this unsolved murder.
"[She was] perfect in every way," recalls Patty's older brother, Mel Rebholz. "Good-looking, sharp, popular, friendly, very warm heart. She was the A-student in school, made me look bad."
Mel said his parent's lives were devastated after Patty's murder. "It was the saddest thing to see. Neither one ever fully recovered from that night," he says, adding that it changed Greenhills forever. "I think people realized there's evil out in the world."
Former resident Richard Kuhlman was just a child when Patty was murdered. "It was like the first big scare of your life," says Kuhlman. "And everybody talked about it. It was the big ghost story of growing up."
Kuhlman left Greenhills for Hollywood to become an actor. But when the ghost story from his childhood remained an obsession, he decided to find out what happened. "I explored it and I found something worth talking about again," says Kuhlman, who investigated Patty's unsolved murder, studied the evidence and interviewed witnesses.
Kuhlman wrote a screenplay about the unsolved murder, but more than that, he helped revive the case. "I feel like with this investigation, I've gotten to know her. And care about her," he says. "I've been kind of doing what was supposed to be done."
48 Hours brought Kuhlman back to Greenhills to show us what he discovered. He showed Dow the sight of a dance party that Patty attended back in Aug. 8, 1963.
"She got here about 8 o'clock and there would just be kids dancing. It was a summer kind of tradition, every Thursday night," says Kuhlman. "And around 9:30, she called Mike Wehrung."
Wehrung, 15, was a football player at Greenhills High School. He was dating Patty and he had told her not to go to the dance. "He didn't like coming up here, and he didn't want her to be up here on her own," says Kuhlman. "Jealousy, I guess."
Wehrung was at home that night with friends. His friends went out after Patty called, but Wehrung stayed home. Shortly after 9:30 p.m., Patty left the dance and started on the 15-minute walk to Wehrung's house.
Patty never made it there. No one really knows what happened next, but hours later, when Patty didn't return home, her father called the police. A frantic search began, and at one point, Patty's brother, Mel, searched with Wehrung.
"He got in the car, was acting kind of strange-like. He was gonna help us look," recalls Mel Rebholz. "But I think he was only with us for about 10 or 15 minutes, and then he wanted to go back to his house."
The next morning, police found Patty's body in the backyard, across the street from Wehrung's home. She had been strangled and beaten, apparently with a fence post. Patty's father broke the news to the rest of the family.
"At that point we just went crazy," recalls Patty's brother, Mel.
According to what Kuhlman has learned, Wehrung had a different reaction to the news. "Michael came out on his porch and looked across at what was going on," says Kuhlman. "There was a body being covered, and there were police around, and somebody went over and said to Michael, 'Hey, that's Patty's body.' He didn't come over to investigate. He went inside and went to bed."
Diana Rabert, Mel Rebholz's high school sweetheart, spoke with Wehrung that morning. "He said that Jack Leach, who was the police officer who found her, was trying to pin it on him, and of course, I was shocked," she says.
"How could he think that? And then he said he'd been working on the car the day before and he had a scratch on his arm and he said he had wiped it on his pants. And he said Mr. Leach had taken his jeans. ...And then he told me he had gone to meet her. And he said he'd walked over there and I remember he said he practically walked past the body."
In a 1963 news report, police said the blood on Wehrung's jeans matched Patty's blood type. Police seemed to be closing in on a suspect. They also said that Wehrung didn't perform well on lie detector tests.
Wehrung went on television to defend himself, but Mel Rebholz says, "After we put two and two together and started thinking about exactly what had happened, there was no doubt in our mind who had done it."
Then came a shock. A juvenile court judge named Benjamin Schwartz ordered police to stop questioning Wehrung. He then sent Wehrung to a North Carolina Military Academy. And the investigation came to an end.
Schwartz, who has since passed away, believed police had improperly questioned Wehrung, which led to his controversial decision.
"He really obstructed justice by doing something like that," says Mel Rebholz. "And I can't explain or understand why he made that kind of decision. But we've all had to live with it for 37 years."
Wehrung was never charged with the murder. And the investigation grew cold, until 37 years later, when prosecutors - using old evidence and new techniques - were hoping to finally solve the murder of Patty Rebholz.
"We needed an explanation," says Mel Rebholz. "We needed an explanation. We needed the facts to come out and they never did come out."
Now 56, Wehrung still lives in the Greenhills area, where he works for a roofing company. He's married, with grown children and five grandchildren – and he lives less than five miles from where Patty was murdered.
Solving Patty's murder seemed impossible, until a new crime lab opened near Greenhills.
Hamilton County prosecutors Mike Allen and Mark Peipmeier reopened the investigation in 1999, hoping to find DNA evidence to break the case. They thought they could get DNA from the clothing Patty and Mike wore that night.
"Obviously if we were able to get a link through DNA or some other blood evidence, it would be a huge break in the case," says Allen.
But they immediately ran into a roadblock. Over the years, the evidence has been damaged in a flooded basement.
"I can only speculate as to why the DNA hasn't been preserved better than it has. But I think it probably has something to do with the flood," says coroner Lee Parrot, who tested the clothing and couldn't find any DNA.
The prosecutors decided to present their case to the grand jury, and they said they found new witnesses who were coming forward for the first time.
"We feel we're building a strong circumstantial case," says Allen. "People's memories from 1963 are pretty good about this case. Although, granted, it's 37 years ago, a traumatic event like this, people remember."
Prosecutors also had another angle. Wehrung has never fully accounted for his whereabouts at the time of Patty's murder.
"At that time, no one else is around. Someone did this pretty much in the heat of the moment, I would think, and it's someone that knew her, I'm convinced, who did this case," says Peipmeier. "It's my belief, yes, that she definitely knew her killer."
Patty Rebholz would finally have her day in court – 37 years after her death. And after just one day of testimony, Wehrung was indicted for the murder of Patty Rebholz.
Update: When the trial began in 2001, prosecutors did everything they could to convince the jury that Michael Wehrung was the only person who could have killed Patty Rebholz.
But Earle Maiman, Wehrung's defense attorney, knew they were missing one crucial piece of evidence. "There's not one piece of paper, not one, that says there's blood of Pat Rebholz's type on Michael Wehrung's pants," says Maiman. "This was a case that was 37 years old, and there didn't appear to be any evidence that would link Mike Wehring to this crime."
"The evidence had deteriorated so much that they were not able to extract any DNA," says Allen. "We still felt very early on that even without that evidence, we had a triable case."
But in the end, the jury came to a different conclusion: not guilty.
"Ultimately the reason the case was won is because the truth is Michael Wehrung didn't commit the crime," says Maiman. "Juries generally do find the truth and this jury unquestionably found the truth."
"Anything can take place," says Allen. "While we certainly don't agree with the verdict of the jury, we accept it. That's our system. You accept it and you move on."
For the community of Greenhills, Ohio, the truth of what happened to Patty Rebholz may never be discovered. But Mel Rebholz knows that one day, someone will answer for his sister's murder.
"There's a higher court that Hamilton County out there," says Mel Rebholz. "And I truly believe that, or I wouldn't have made it all of these years."
Mel Rebholz, the only family member devoted to fighting for his sister, Patty, lost his battle with cancer and passed away.
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