YORK, Pa. — In November 1972, on a desolate stretch of road in southern York County, Pa., Anne Elder had a chance encounter with the Isaacs brothers, Carl and Billy.
Two months later, Elder was murdered, shot-gunned to death in her bedroom. No murder weapon was found. No physical evidence conclusively linked anyone to the homicide.
Carl Isaacs, however, had just escaped from jail. And he and Billy and two others had set off on what would become a multistate killing spree. Their roles in the murders of a Maryland man and a family of six in Georgia were proven.
The state of Georgia executed Carl in 2003. Billy served time in Georgia and Maryland.
Police feel confident that Carl Isaacs killed Elder, but they could never prove that. And so, 44 years later, police have no hope of officially closing the case unless new evidence arises or new witnesses come forth.
If ever the term cold case applied to a murder investigation, this seems to be it.
'More than likely,' he did it
At the request of the York Daily Record, Trooper Scott Denisch reviewed the Anne Elder murder file.
Denisch oversees unsolved crimes for Pennsylvania State Police. He explained that cold cases are not closed if the murder suspect is dead and there was not enough evidence to bring charges when the suspect was alive.
And that is the status of the Elder case, he said.
"More than likely, Mr. Isaacs is responsible for Anne Elder's murder, but that is not conclusive," said Denisch.
Despite investigators' opinions, he said, "there is no physical evidence linking Carl to the case."
The theory then and now is that Isaacs, who was 19 at the time, blamed Elder for his arrest in a string of burglaries soon after he met her in 1972. The murder, it is believed, was revenge.
Denisch said Trooper Mike Bonjo, the original investigator, "did a good job. He was thorough." Now retired from the state police, Bonjo declined to be interviewed.
The Isaacs brothers had been burglarizing rural homes when they ran their car into a ditch near Elder's house, about a 10-minute back-roads drive to anywhere, according to archived York County state police reports.
Elder, 58, gave the teens a lift into Stewartstown, Pa., the nearest town with any sizeable population, to get a tow truck.
In the meantime, someone stumbled across the Isaacs brothers' car. Police found stolen property from four or five homes in the back.
Carl was arrested, and Billy, who was 15, was sent home to his mother in Baltimore.
Elder was among a handful of people subpoenaed to testify against Carl in district court, but she didn't have to because he pleaded guilty. He was sent to a rehabilitation facility in Harrisburg, Pa.
Carl left that facility Jan. 14, 1973. Eight days later, Elder was found murdered.
Police in Maryland picked Carl up in February 1973. He was jailed in another minimum security facility in Maryland.
Pennsylvania State Police questioned him about the Elder murder and he denied any knowledge or involvement. He told troopers that after he left the Harrisburg facility, a man he knew picked him up while he was hitchhiking south and gave him a ride to Towson, Md.
After a riot at the Maryland jail in May 1973 where Carl Isaacs was being held, he, his half-brother, Wayne Coleman, and George Dungee, escaped
The trio went to Baltimore where they picked up Billy and hit the road.
A 19-year-old kidnapped in Pennsylvania was found dead in Maryland in May 1973. Four days later, in Donalsonville, Ga., the three escapees killed five members of a family whose empty house trailer they stopped at in search of gas. The wife of one of the men was raped and killed by Isaacs and the others. Billy, who later testified against his brother, denied taking part in the murder or the rape.
Police found the Isaacs brothers and the other two men driving through West Virginia. Tired and hungry, they were taken into custody without incident.
Carl Isaacs was sentenced to death. He ultimately was executed by lethal injection. Coleman and Dungee escaped the death penalty and were sentenced to life in prison. Dungee died in 2006.
Billy Isaacs pleaded to lesser charges, served 20 years in prison, received parole and was returned to Maryland in 1993. He was the only one tried for the murder of the Pennsylvania teen because, according to UPI archives, the others had received death and life sentences in Georgia. Billy was sentenced to 60 years in prison for the teen's murder.
Although records are not clear, it appears Billy was given credit against the 60-year sentence for the time he served in Georgia.
According to a Fulton County (McConnellsburg) News story, Billy was paroled by the state of Maryland in 1994. He died in Florida in 2009 at the age of 51.
When Carl was executed, he was the longest-serving death row inmate in the United States.
While he was on death row in 2001, Pennsylvania State Police questioned him a final time about Elder's murder.
"Carl did put himself at the scene," Denisch said.
But Isaacs told police the man who gave him a lift went into Elder's home and he stayed outside.
Troopers questioned the man. Denisch declined to identify him, citing the still-open status of the case.
The man confirmed he picked up Isaacs and drove him to Towson. He said he did not go near the Elder residence and he did not kill Elder.
Denisch said there is no physical evidence to support Isaacs' claim about the driver.
"What we have is just a serial killer giving a statement, 'It wasn't me, it was him,' " Denisch said.
Isaacs also could not provide any motive or theory for why the driver would want to kill Elder.
"It's just some cockamamie story Isaacs gave to the police," Denisch said.
Denisch said that Carl Isaacs, despite that lack of evidence to definitively corroborate his involvement, remains the state police's prime suspect.
"The feeling is he is responsible," Denisch said.
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