Crime

Unsolved: How Ferguson Township police are tackling cold cases in new ways

Video: Ferguson Township police chief speaks on homicide

Ferguson Township police chief Diane Conrad gives an update on the homicide of Jean Tuggy.
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Ferguson Township police chief Diane Conrad gives an update on the homicide of Jean Tuggy.

There are more than 700 pages in the Ferguson Township police file on Jean Tuggy, the 60-year-old woman found dead in her Pine Grove Mills home in an intentional homicide nearly three years ago.

And that’s just a start to answering the question: “Who would want to kill Jean?”

Now, thanks to a newly formed Ferguson Township police cold case unit, there are two dedicated detectives tasked with answering that question. They have already begun by sifting through Tuggy’s file and the files of two other women whose disappearances remain unsolved — Jennifer Cahill-Shadle and Hyun Jung “Cindy” Song.

For almost three months, Ferguson Township police detectives Josh Martin and Caleb Clouse have been poring over police reports, interview transcripts, crime scene evidence and tracking down possible witnesses to try to find out what happened to these women.

And with the help of the Centre County District Attorney’s office, they are able to lay the groundwork for arrests leading to prosecution — or in some cases, determine if a crime has been committed.

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Photos Provided/CDT file

Jean Tuggy

Jean Tuggy was described by friends, family and neighbors as a friendly, kind woman who was a bus driver for the State College Area School District and lived alone, the Centre Daily Times reported shortly after her death.

A friend who came to check on her welfare discovered Tuggy on Jan. 20, 2016. In an autopsy the next day, Centre County Coroner Scott Sayers determined that a gunshot wound to the face, fired from inside her home, killed Tuggy. He ruled the death an intentional homicide.

After the discovery of Tuggy’s body, Ferguson Township police said there was no sign of forced entry and that they had not determined whether items were missing from her home.

There is an outstanding $5,000 reward from the District Attorney’s office and Board of Commissioners for anyone with significant information that may help break the case.

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Nabil K. Mark Centre Daily Times, file

“A high percentage of homicide cases are (where) ... the victim knows the killer,” said Martin.

Martin and Clouse said their main task right now is looking over Tuggy’s case file and trying to find anyone who was missed or overlooked in the initial investigation.

Friends and family were baffled at Tuggy’s death, the CDT reported, because they could not think of anyone who would want to harm her.

Finding a person with motive to kill Tuggy has not been easy, said Clouse, because she was an older woman, with not much family, who lived alone.

“I’m sure somebody will rise to the top,” said Martin.

The detectives have talked to many people and are starting to do some more interviews, they said. They also spent a couple of weeks developing a timeline of events leading up to and following Tuggy’s death.

“We have preserved all the evidence we have,” said Martin. That includes any video surveillance or electronic records from the time of Tuggy’s death. “We are really trying to narrow down these things.”

“With all these cases, the two of us are very motivated .... It’s quite a challenge,” said Martin.

The detectives want to “do it right” and “bring this to a contemporary status,” said Clouse.

Centre County District Attorney Bernie Cantorna said his office has been working with Ferguson Township police to bring in outside agencies to look at the Tuggy case, including the state Attorney General’s office.

“They are not the only set of fresh eyes that are being brought into the case,” Cantorna said.

Keeping the Tuggy case in the public spotlight is also very important, he said.

But, he said, the rest of the details of Tuggy’s autopsy will probably not be released.

“That’s the kind of stuff that is case specific,” said Martin. “We don’t want a bad confession .... That stuff (more autopsy details) probably will never come out.”

In police investigations — especially unsolved cases — police withhold important information so that they can check information they receive against actual details of the case to confirm its truthfulness.

Though the detectives acknowledge their task is daunting, they have embraced the challenge.

“Somebody knows something about who killed Jean,” said Martin.

Jennifer Cahill-Shadle

The disappearance of Jennifer Cahill-Shadle, a mother of three, threw some of her family members for a loop. She had recently returned to the State College area after living with her mother and stepfather in Orwigsburg, and was alternating between staying with friends and at motels. Security footage and eyewitnesses placed Cahill-Shadle, 48, near the Don Patron restaurant in the parking lot of the North Atherton Street Wal-Mart between 10 and 11 p.m. on May 15, 2014.

Then, she vanished.

Her cell phone had died during or before the time she reached Wal-Mart, and she placed a call to one of her children from the phone at Wal-Mart that afternoon.

With no fixed address — and having recently checked out of the Rodeway Inn on North Atherton Street — Cahill-Shadle’s disappearance wasn’t reported to police until six days after she was last seen.

In August 2014, three months after Cahill-Shadle disappeared, Ferguson Township police released more information on her whereabouts in the days leading up to her disappearance. They released a picture of a receipt from Champs Sports Grill, where she was seen with a table of four middle-aged Hispanic men, the CDT reported. It is not known whether those men have been identified or have talked to police.

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CDT file

Cahill-Shadle’s mother, Johanna Zmuida, has been vocal about wanting to get the FBI involved in her daughter’s case.

“We are getting nowhere with the police and would so much like to have (this case) handed to the FBI,” she told the CDT two years ago.

But police said they have made efforts to get the FBI involved.

“There are certain criteria for the FBI to take a case,” said Martin. “We have included the FBI and discussed certain aspects of the case with them.”

Ferguson Township police said they know most cases are now solved with electronic evidence, and have secured all the evidence they could from Cahill-Shadle’s disappearance. Cantorna — who has used cell phone records in many of the cases he has prosecuted — agrees.

“I haven’t had a case where a cell phone didn’t play an important role in the investigation,” he said.

Though Cahill-Shadle is still considered a missing person, “it’s something more than a missing person case obviously .... It’s presumed to be a homicide,” said Cantorna.

His office has requested the help of the state Attorney General’s office and a statewide grand jury.

“I can say that grand juries allow you to get a lot of information in a much more orderly manner than seeking search warrants,” he said. “They’re an investigative tool, and so investigation can mean investigating whether a crime occurred. It allows you to bring individuals in and ask them questions under process.”

Martin said Cahill-Shadle’s case was tough from the beginning because of the time gap between when she disappeared and when her family reported her missing, and the difficulty of getting a search warrant when there was no proof a crime had occurred.

But, there are leads the detectives can follow. They have reconstructed her timeline and talked to people who saw her the day she disappeared. They discuss Cahill-Shadle’s case at their monthly investigator meetings where all the investigators in the county convene in one space.

As far as Martin is concerned, there are only a few scenarios. She walked off and is living somewhere else under an assumed identity, or someone did something to her.

“Somebody knows something about where Jenny went,” he said.

“It’s important to keep this story alive and active because every time this account runs, the police receive information and there may be somebody out there who’s going to give up information to the police that results in real movement on the case,” said Cantorna.

With Jennifer, “our biggest goal is to figure out where she is, then we can figure out what happened to her,” said Martin. “Somewhere, somehow, we’re gonna get a break .... Somebody knows something and they’re probably waiting for us to talk to them.”

Cindy Song

Halloween night, 2001. After a night of partying and hanging out with friends, a 21-year-old Penn State student from South Korea named Cindy Song was dropped off at her apartment in Ferguson Township around 3:30 a.m. by a friend.

That was the last time anyone is reported to have seen the promising graphic arts major who was set to graduate that May.

Song and her friends went out to a costume party at Player’s Nite Club on West College Avenue — which became Indigo Nightclub in 2008 and is now The Basement Nightspot — and hung out at a friend’s apartment until after 3 a.m., when Song was dropped off at her West Clinton Avenue apartment, the CDT reported in 2004.

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Centre Daily Times

Police at the time believed Song went into her apartment because her roommate said she had left behind two pieces of her Halloween costume — she was dressed as a bunny in a pink top, brown, knee-length boots, bunny ears and a short white skirt with a cottontail pinned to the back, according to police.

In a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article from 2001, then-lead investigator Detective Brian Sprinkle, with the Ferguson Township police department, said he believed Song may have been abducted, possibly while walking to a 24-hour supermarket located 200 yards away from her apartment that she frequented.

From the beginning, police struggled to find suspects. But in 2003, the CDT reported, an informant named Paul Weakley told police that Luzerne County bank robber — and now-convicted murderer — Hugo Selenski may have kidnapped Song and buried her body somewhere in his home county.

When state police searched Selenski’s Luzerne County property in 2003, they found the remains of 12 bodies, but that information was only made public after the grand jury report was released in 2014. It was originally only revealed that five bodies were found, and four have been identified publicly. The fifth has been ruled out as the remains of Song.

“We have followed up on some leads that have led us to some people but there have been roadblocks,” said Martin of the Song case. “We sort of got stonewalled” looking into the Selenski connection.

All of Song’s dental records and DNA have been entered into the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), which is separated into two indices — one that contains DNA profiles from biological evidence found at crime scenes and the other that contains DNA profiles of individuals convicted of violent crimes.

So far, Song’s DNA profile hasn’t gotten any useful hits.

“The case is open and it is open because there is physical evidence .... There is physical evidence in the Selenski case that remains unidentified (that) under current scientific technology cannot confirm or deny the theory,” said Cantorna.

The Ferguson Township detectives believe there are avenues for them to pursue in the Song case.

“There is new technology and new things we can do with that technology,” said Martin.

There are leads with physical evidence, he said, and the cold case team plans to follow up on them.

Though Song’s case — like Jean Tuggy’s and Jennifer Cahill-Shadle’s — remains unsolved, Ferguson Township police now have two detectives working full-time to break these cases.

“We want to have justice for these three ladies,” Martin said.

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