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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It was 3 in the morning when Mary Alice Reber returned to her home in Lebanon, Pa.--a laid-back town of about 35,000 located 80 miles west of Philadelphia--from a weekend in Atlantic City.

When the 36-year-old platinum blond entered her apartment that early spring morning in 1968, she found someone lying on the floor in one of the bedrooms.

The apartment was dark, and Reber thought it was just some drunk crashing at her place again. So she walked across the hall to ask a friend to help her get whoever it was up and out.

But the person on the floor turned out to be Reber's 14-year-old daughter Peggy. The girl had been beaten and viciously bitten on her upper body. She'd been strangled with either an electrical cord or a scarf (depending on whom you asked afterward), sodomized with a mop handle or a jar (again, depending), and sexually assaulted with an archer's bow, the pointy tip of which came to protrude from her upper chest.

In country: The murder of Peggy Reber and two other women four decades ago in Lebanon still haunts former police detective Cliff Roland (left). (Photo courtesy of the Lebanon Daily News)

A drifter on the lam from nearby Lancaster County was charged in the crime but acquitted by a largely female jury after a sensational 10-day trial. After that, the hunt for Peggy Reber's killer came to a halt.

Today--40 years later--police have reopened the case, largely because of the agitation of citizen investigator Michelle Gooden, a Lebanon native and freelance writer who has for the past few years been needling police and local officials.

By reopening the case of this hideous torture slaying, police have given hope for some small measure of justice in the murder of this teenage girl--and frankly, justice for those like me who will never forget what it was like coming of age during those terror-filled days in Lebanon.


Cliff Roland, who was chief of detectives with the Lebanon Police Department in 1968, investigated not only Peggy Reber's murder but the shooting death of 21-year-old Sandra Herman the previous October by her jealous estranged husband John, who was later convicted of the lesser charge of manslaughter.

After the Reber trial concluded in February 1970, Roland headed up yet another investigation--the death of Rachel Harris, a 52-year-old divorcee and single mother with a penchant for men in uniform. The medical examiner determined Harris wasn't actually strangled, as investigators had initially believed, but had died after administering fellatio to the Army officer later acquitted in her death.

In three years, there had been three murders and two acquittals.

News of the murders in Lebanon--a quaint, understated town best known for its smoked bologna and steel manufacturing--began making unwanted headlines, and became the butt of jokes in some fairly unlikely places.

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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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