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Murder charge filed in 34-year-old Perry County cold case

Written by Rachel McDevitt | Nov 14, 2017 2:31 PM
debra_rodgers_cold_case.jpg

Debra Jane Rodgers with her daughter, Christine, 5, in 1983.

(Newport) -- Thirty-four years ago, a young woman was found dead in a creek bed in Perry County.

Now, police have charged her husband with murder.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced Tuesday a recent grand jury investigation was finally able to recommend charges in the death of then-23-year-old Debra Jane Rodgers.

"The grand jury was able to take the evidence that existed, hear from witnesses, hear from experts and piece it together in a way that had previously not been able to be done," he said.

Carl Rodgers, now 62, claimed his wife was depressed about her job and suicidal after she went missing in April 1983.

"That was completely at odds--completely at odds--with how her family and co-workers saw her and knew her at that time," Shapiro said.

Investigators said Carl Rodgers led Debra Rodgers' family to her abandoned car in a remote area of a nearby state forest, then insisted on driving it back home.

Her body was found shortly after with slashes to both wrists. A knife with the name "Carl" written on it was found a short distance away.

Debra Rodgers' shirt had been pulled up around her torso, as if she had been dragged to the spot.

A coroner determined her cause of death to be blunt force trauma, and that it was "extremely unlikely" the cuts to her wrists were self-inflicted.

Prosecutors said Carl Rodgers eventually admitted to having a fight with his wife about her possibly taking a new job in the days before her death.

"[Carl] Rodgers knew only the facts that a killer would know and gave inconsistent stories throughout to the police," Shapiro said.

Still, no charges were filed in the case for over three decades.

The case received renewed attention starting in 2016, when two prosecutors from the Office of Attorney General attended a monthly cold case meeting with the Pennsylvania State Police. Debra Rodgers' case was the focus, and prosecutors believed they had the resources to solve it.

The case was then taken before an investigative grand jury in Harrisburg, which recommended a homicide charge against Carl Rodgers.

Shapiro said he believes prosecutors have the evidence necessary for a conviction.

Rodgers is being held in the Perry County Prison without bail.

Police said he spent the last 34 years living in the area and working in Carlisle. He's been remarried twice.

Family members present for the announcement didn't want to be identified, but said they've never been able to make peace with Debra Rodgers' death.

They finally have an answer.

Now they're concerned for her daughter, Christine--who was five-years-old at the time of the murder--and what she'll have to go through as the case moves to trial.

This story has been updated with additional details. 

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