Cold Case Investigators | Husband staged wife's 1983 murder to look like suicide

The family of Debra Jane Rodgers has finally received closure and is now closer to getting justice, according to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

The family of Debra Jane Rodgers has finally received closure and is now closer to getting justice, according to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

Rodgers' body was found cut and beaten in a wooded area of Perry County near Route 850 in April 1983, according to police. For three decades, the case remained cold, until 2016 when a meeting between the Senior Deputy Attorneys General Kelly Sekula and Heather Castellino, Pennsylvania State Police and the Perry County District Attorney's Office regarding the case resulted in a statewide investigating grand jury taking a second look at all of the evidence and listening to testimony from witnesses and experts, according to AG Shapiro.

The fruits of the effort being charges being filed against the victim's husband, Carl Rodgers.

"For more than 3 decades the family and friends of Debra have sought justice and have wondered if this day would ever come," Shapiro said.

Police say Debra Rodgers was 23 years old when she went missing April 22, 1983. At the time, she was married to Carl Rodgers with whom she and their 5-year-old daughter lived with at the family farm. She was working at Little Buffalo State Park and had just applied for a job with the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.

"Carl told Debra's family she was depressed over her job to the point of contemplating suicide. That was completely at odds with how her family and coworkers saw her and knew her," said Shapiro.

Police say the husband later admitted that he and the victim had gotten into an argument after she returned home late from work and that he had grabbed her by the arm the day she disappeared.

The next day, police say Carl Rodgers called Debra's family to alert them that she was missing. Rodgers and the family the began searching a heavily wooded area of the forest where they found Debra's car -- A car Carl insisted on driving back to the family farm despite the victim's family's insisting the car be left where it was found out of concern Debra would be stranded without it, according to police.

The victim's body was found the next day by her mother in a heavily wooded area the husband suggested searching, police say.

According to AG Shapiro, investigators made a point to note the body was found several hundred yards from where her car was parked and "her shirt was pulled halfway up her torso as if she was dragged to the location." A knife and sheath bearing the name "Carl" was also found at the scene, police say.

The coroner's examination of the body revealed both Debra's wrists had been slashed to "make it appear as though she had committed suicide," that tendons in both of her wrists had been cut and that it was "extremely unlikely" the injuries were self-inflicted, according to AG Shapiro.

"A knife was located about 15 feet from her body, its sheath a few feet away bearing the name Carl," said Shapiro.

Still, police weren't able to make an arrest.

Fast forward to 2016, they take a fresh look at the case and presented it to a grand jury.

"Carl Rodgers false narrative of his wife's suicide was disproved by many witnesses who testified to her positive state of mind as well as by a forensic pathologist who ruled the death a homicide," said Shapiro.

The Attorney General says it was these testimonies and a new set of eyes on the case that led to the arrest.

We also reached out to Rodger's attorney, Geoffrey McInroy, who sent us the following statement:

Defending a 35 year old murder case is not easy. It's a lot like working as an anthropologist to piece together something that happened so long ago. With dated forensic evidence, dated memories, witnesses forgetting details it becomes very difficult. Its taken the attorney general's office 35 years to get to this point and here I am at the beginning. I'm going to do everything we can to vindicate my client and hopefully when it comes time for a jury that vindication will come in the form of a not guilty.

Shapiro said, "Our message is clear - We have sought and are seeking justice."

You can watch AG Shapiro's full press conference here:

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