A small Pennsylvania town revisits the grisly four-decade-old torture and slaying case of a teenage girl.
Lean and lanky, Root bore a striking resemblance to police sketches provided by Marlin Jones. Authorities also had descriptions provided by local beer distributor Betty Wenzler, who was sitting on her front porch across the street from the Maple Leaf between 6 and 7 p.m.--around the time Roland believes Peggy was killed. She told police she saw a man in a metallic green jacket and green pants who looked like Root stop on the Maple Leaf's fire escape landing to comb his hair before walking away.
But the evidence was largely circumstantial. And most important, Root's teeth impressions didn't match the bite marks found on Peggy Reber's body. That seemed to seal it for the eight-woman, four-man jury, which took less than three hours to acquit Root on Feb. 19, 1970.
Ray Boyer, a 19-year-old friend of Root's, resided at the Reber apartment. He described himself as Peggy's live-in boyfriend. His 21-year-old brother Dick lived next door in another apartment at the Maple Leaf with Peggy's pregnant twin sister Kathy. Just two weeks before Peggy's death, I personally admitted Kathy Reber, Peggy's twin, to Good Samaritan to give birth. Dick and Kathy moved out of the Maple Leaf Apartments one day prior to Peggy's killing.
The bow used in the killing belonged to Ray Boyer, but he had the perfect alibi: He'd been arrested by Lebanon police at the Reber home the day of the murder. His crime: failure to pay child support to his estranged pregnant wife. Boyer had been sitting in a city jail cell when Peggy was killed.
A few days after Peggy Reber's death, there was a viewing and funeral. News photos show Mary Alice, Kathy and the Boyer brothers all grieving at the cemetery.
"They were involved so much with the mother and the daughters," Roland says of the Boyers, whom he says were never considered suspects. "Both of [the Reber sisters] were not good girls, if you understand. The mother [Mary Alice, who died in 2004] was a bad, bad person."
The Boyer brothers and Peggy's twin sister still live in the Lebanon area, not far from where the Maple Leaf--the former organ factory that had been converted into rental units by now-deceased Lebanon attorney Walter Graeff--once stood.
The building was demolished in 1969, a year before Root's trial began.
Graeff, a suspect for a time himself, was also Lebanon County's first public defender.
Kathy and Dick Boyer have been divorced for several years now.
"I'd rather not," Kathy says when asked to discuss the case. She apparently stays in touch with Ray Boyer, whose phone, she says, isn't working. A bad line disrupted a call to Dick Boyer, who didn't return subsequent phone calls.
Of the three deaths between October 1967 and June 1970, Peggy Reber's slaying in May 1968 was by far the most sadistic. It was the ghastliest crime ever committed in Lebanon--and would rival any ever committed in the entire state.
|Jewell Beard was the second person to see Peggy Reber's mutilated body. (Courtesy of the Lebanon Daily News)|
The killer bit off most of Peggy's left nipple, according to Roland and another witness, a woman Peggy Reber once babysat. The woman and her mother Jewell Beard were sent by Graeff to clean up at the murder scene a few weeks after police had finished their work.
Beard had also been the first person after Mary Alice Reber to see Peggy's mutilated body. She had described the girl's injuries in graphic detail often to her daughter, who's now in her 50s. She told her how she tried to move one of Peggy's arms, but rigor mortis had set in and the arm snapped back. The woman reports her mother saw that "a mop handle was pushed into her rectum and a lamp cord was around her neck. She was strangled, and my mother said her eyes were open, almost bulging."
Mary Alice Reber had failed to pay the rent, prompting landlord Graeff, a large, heavy man with a rough voice and a rough demeanor, to evict the Rebers and turn off the electricity.
The woman remembers the first thing she saw and smelled when she walked into the Reber apartment a week after the murder: "There was some type of meat thawing in the kitchen. I assumed Peggy had gotten it out of the freezer for that day's meal. Lots of flies. And there were lots of boxes lying around half-packed."
And in the bedroom where Peggy Reber was found there was "lots of blood on the floor that had seeped into the cracks in the tiles. Bottoms of boxes were literally stuck to the floor from the blood."
PW's Music Issue 2014