SHERMANS DALE, Pa. -- A Pennsylvania man was charged with fatally beating his wife more than 30 years ago, then slashing her wrists to make it appear she killed herself, prosecutors announced Tuesday.
Carl Rodgers, 62, of Shermans Dale, was arrested Monday in the death of his wife, Debra Rodgers, who was 23 when her body was found in a state forest several miles from his family's dairy farm in Loysville, about 30 miles from Harrisburg.
A coroner at the time ruled Rodgers' death a homicide, but no arrest was made. Prosecutors in the attorney general's office decided to bring the case before a grand jury last year after reviewing cold-case homicides with state police.
Rodgers was arrested at the feed mill where he worked and was jailed without bail. His attorney, Geoffrey McInroy, said Rodgers will plead not guilty.
In 1983, Rodgers lived with his wife and their 5-year-old daughter in a trailer near his parents' house. On April 23 of that year, he told her family that she had disappeared from their home. He claimed she was depressed about her job at a state park and was suicidal, according to a grand jury report.
The family mounted a search, and Carl Rodgers led them to her car, which was parked along a remote dirt access road, the grand jury said. Family members later discovered her body hundreds of yards away, at the bottom of a hill. The body looked like it had been dragged there and a knife was found nearby, its sheath bearing the name "Carl," according to the grand jury. Her wrists had been slashed.
A coroner at the time determined she died of blunt force trauma to the head, and said her wrists were cut after the fact "to imply suicidal activity."
The grand jury said it heard testimony that Debra Rodgers excelled at her job, had recently landed another state job that paid more money, and seemed happy, contradicting her husband's claims.
"The grand jury finds that Carl Rodgers concocted all the claims that Debra was depressed as well as the claims that she was struggling at work in order to support his efforts to make her death appear to be a suicide and not a homicide. He was the only individual with the motive to make her death appear to be a suicide," the grand jury said.
McInroy said it's too early to comment on how he intends to defend his client.
"I have to approach this like an archaeologist or an anthropologist and try to piece together what's left of the evidence and what's left of people's memories and from that formulate a credible defense," he said.
The grand jury did not hear any evidence that was unavailable to police and prosecutors in 1983, and it was unclear why charges were not brought at the time.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who was joined by Debra Rodgers' family members at a news conference Tuesday, said the grand jury took a fresh look at the case and pieced the evidence together "in a way that had previously not been able to be done."
"We don't give up on these cold cases. We don't let them go," he said.