Death in the House of Broken Hearts

A small Pennsylvania town revisits the grisly four-decade-old torture and slaying case of a teenage girl.

By Martha Shaak & Kevin Uhrich
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 2 | Posted Jan. 16, 2008

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Two views: Although Det. Roland remains convinced that Root (shown at his arrest) was guilty, another detective left a recent interview with Root convinced of his innocence. (Courtesy of the Lebanon Daily News)
In the weeks following the murder, an unidentified witness told police that Peggy Reber was spotted in the city's downtown area about a mile from the Maple Leaf around 8 p.m.--seven hours before her body was found.

The girl thought to be Peggy was crying, said the witness, according to newspaper accounts. The newspapers also ran notices for information from that person and anyone else who may have seen a girl in an orange dress. But no one came forward.

Besides Mary Alice Reber's male friends and the now-deceased Graeff, six people were known to have a key to the apartment: Mary Alice, Peggy, Kathy, Ray and Dick Boyer, and Root. (This was according to research by Carmean, who died in 2001 at age 97. Her book on the local court system and the three killings was published in 1994.)

Root in his mugshot.

The Reber trial had been recorded but never transcribed (to save costs)--which is why most of the facts on the Reber legal proceedings had to be culled from what few court documents exist, as well as eyewitness and newspaper accounts.

Roland says he thinks the evidence used in the trial--the bow, the murder weapon, the blanket and other bits and pieces of the Reber apartment--were lost in flooding caused by Hurricane Agnes in 1972.

Root became a suspect largely because he matched the description provided by Jones and beer distributor Betty Wenzler, and his were among the pubic hairs that were found (along with those of several other men) on the blanket used to cover Peggy's lifeless body by Beard and Mary Alice Reber, who told police she'd been "entertaining" migrant workers in Atlantic City at the time of the murder.

Though Peggy Reber's breast was amputated after her autopsy and sent for analysis to the FBI crime lab in Washington, no bite-mark evidence could be developed to use against Root, whose wife Virginia sat right behind him with their two small daughters in court throughout the trial.

One of the detectives who reopened the case recently tracked Root to a prison "somewhere in the Southwest." But after a five-hour chat, the detective left convinced of Root's innocence.



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1. noname said... on Dec 11, 2008 at 07:21AM

“what a jerk to say that Peggy was a "bad,bad girl." You put down the victim...sick statement.”

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2. RACHEL KRISSINGER said... on Mar 21, 2014 at 05:59AM

“THERE IS NOTHING "QUAINT" ABOUT LEBANON, PA. THIS TOWN IS STILL RUN BY THE SAME TWISTED, MONEY GRUBBING, POWER HUNGRY PEOPLE WHO RAN IT THEN.PEGGY WAS MURDERED HERE TO SHOW THAT PEGGY AND ANYONE LIKE PEGGY WERE NOT GOING TO BE ALLOWED "THE GOOD LIFE"! THESE MURDERING BASTARDS STILL DINE ON STEAK & WINE ALL THESE YEARS LATER, WHILE PEGGY NEVER HAD A SHOT AT ANYTHING.”

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