Homicide affidavit details final days of Penn State professor’s life

A Pennsylvania Furnace man has been charged in the death of Penn State professor Ronald Bettig.
A Pennsylvania Furnace man has been charged in the death of Penn State professor Ronald Bettig.

An affidavit of probable cause released Friday revealed details of how a Penn State professor was allegedly persuaded to travel to a quarry where he was killed.

Penn State professor Ronald Bettig’s death, as described in the affidavit, was the result of an alleged scheme concocted by two of his friends, George Ishler Jr., 39, of Pennsylvania Furnace, and Danelle Geier, who was living with the professor in Lemont. They allegedly thought, Ishler said in an interview with police, that they could benefit financially from Bettig’s death, because the professor had recently signed a last will.

Ishler was charged with first- and third-degree murder in Bettig’s death. Geier has not been charged with any crimes, according to court records.

Ishler reported Bettig, 56, missing to police on Monday, prompting State College police to launch an investigation.

The case was turned over to state police on Wednesday, according to State College police Lt. Keith Robb, the same day Bettig’s vehicle was found near Blackhawk Quarry at Brush Valley and Rimmey roads in Potter Township. Police canvassed the area and found Bettig’s body in the quarry.

Geier told police on Thursday that she and Ishler told Bettig that Ishler grew marijuana plants near the quarry. Ishler proposed that he and Bettig harvest the marijuana together, according to the affidavit.

The trio subsequently traveled to the quarry, located in the midst of rolling farmlands, on Aug. 12 when Ishler and Bettig allegedly got out of the car, leaving Geier behind. Ishler returned later and allegedly told Geier that he pushed the professor off the ledge to his death, the affidavit said.

Ishler, in an interview with state police at Rockview on Friday, recounted “different accounts of what (led) up to and (preceded) Bettig’s death.” The affidavit said he told authorities he pushed Bettig off the quarry’s ledge, heard a “crunch” and then left the scene. Ishler later staged the scene with items — including water bottles, a flashlight, a small hand rake and a bag — that were removed from Bettig’s residence, the affidavit said.

Geier and Ishler, according to the affidavit, originally planned to drown Bettig in the ocean during a trip to Rehoboth Beach in Delaware. Instead, the pair allegedly devised a plan to kill Bettig at the quarry on Aug. 12 when they returned from Delaware.

In addition to first- and third-degree murder charges, Ishler was also charged with aggravated assault and tampering with evidence. He was denied bail by District Judge Thomas Jordan. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for Aug. 31.

According to Penn State’s website, Bettig joined the College of Communications in 1988 and was an associate professor of media studies. He taught courses on the political economy of communications and had authored at least two books on the subject.

Penn State released a statement about Bettig on Friday evening, detailing his accomplishments, contributions to the university and his relationship with students.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss. He was a part of the fabric of this college for many years. All except our very newest faculty and staff members very likely knew Ron, who was one of our longest-tenured faculty members,” said Marie Hardin, dean of the College of Communications. “Ron was the kind of teacher who connected powerfully with students, who found his classes in political economy — at both the undergraduate and graduate levels — transformative.”