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Baldwin woman's body found in woods in Washington County

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Margaret Harding and Michael Hasch
Friday, Jan. 13, 2012
 

Karissa Kunco was too terrified to walk to her car alone after her boyfriend beat her in the Mt. Washington home they once shared.

He continued threatening her online on Facebook, even after police charged him with the beating, police said.

Now investigators are trying to determine whether the man she feared, Jordan Clemons, 22, is the person who killed the 21-year-old from Baldwin and left her body in a wooded area in Washington County.

"There's been a history of violence between the two of them," Baldwin police Chief Michael Scott said. "She was concerned enough to tell the people she worked with. People were telling us that they made arrangements so that when she went out, somebody would walk her to her car."

Waterline contractors discovered the body yesterday afternoon near Sabo Road in Mt. Pleasant, less than 24 hours after Kunco's parents reported her missing and told police about her violent relationship with Clemons. Her stepfather identified the body as Kunco, according to Washington County Coroner S. Timothy Warco.

Video surveillance at Parkway Center Mall showed Kunco getting into her car and driving away from work sometime between 5 and 6 p.m. Wednesday, Scott said. A friend was supposed to pick her up for dinner at 6:30 p.m., but neither Kunco nor her car were at her home.

Her family declined to comment.

About 75 people attended a candlelight vigil last night along Brookline Boulevard in Brookline.

Pittsburgh police charged Clemons with simple assault in December. Kunco told police that she found him asleep when she arrived at the Mt. Washington home on Dec. 18, according to the complaint filed against him. When Clemons woke up, he punched her in the face and head, and kicked her when she fell to the floor, the complaint stated. Kunco was treated for a concussion and filed a protection from abuse order against Clemons, writing: "I fear for my safety."

Police could not find Clemons to serve the arrest warrant, and he did not appear at the protection hearing, Scott said. Canonsburg police also were seeking Clemons in connection with a violent robbery on Jan. 8, according to state police Trooper Joseph Christy.

"All that led us to believe we needed to treat this with a sense of urgency," Scott said. "Unfortunately, this had an outcome we didn't want to see and hoped we wouldn't see."

Kunco's body was found about six miles from where police recovered her car in Cecil. Officers surrounded an abandoned house at the intersection of Meadow and Dogwood streets in Westland, where they believed Clemons was hiding. The home belonged to his grandmother.

Authorities issued an alert last night saying that Clemons had been seen entering the Northwest Savings Bank in the Wal-Mart store in Trinity Point shopping center in South Strabane about 7:05 p.m. He was wearing a black hooded sweatshirt and blue jeans and driving a red or maroon Chevrolet S-10 pickup truck.

Perry Ivery, 27, of Westland said Clemons, his cousin, "has been dealing with some very intense emotional issues" and that he has attempted suicide several times in recent days because he was upset about the suicide in March of his brother, Robert Clemons III, 33.

"Our prayers are with our family and Karissa's family as well. ... The whole situation is a tragedy," Ivery said.

Clemons is a 2007 graduate of Fort Cherry High School, where he was a running back on the football team.

His mother, the Rev. Freda M. Thorpe, has been the senior pastor of ReNewed Destiny Kingdom Ministries in Westland for the past eight years, according to her website. She could not be reached for comment.

Kunco's father told police that Clemons cashed his checks last week, Scott said. Shortly after he made the report, Kunco received a threatening message from Clemons through Facebook, the chief added.

Credit card transactions place the card Kunco was using first at the PNC Bank on Route 51 and Brownsville Road about 6 p.m. Wednesday, and then at a Circle K and a Wal-Mart in Washington County early yesterday, Scott said.

State police informed Kunco's family of her death at the Baldwin police station, the chief said.

"I'm shocked," said Julie Vojtash, 20, of Brentwood, who shared mutual friends with Kunco. "She was a good person, and she didn't deserve that at all."

Vojtash said Kunco, a 2008 graduate of Brashear High School, was the center of attention wherever she went and was always surrounded by friends.

"Everybody loved her and had respect for her," Vojtash said. "She had a ton of friends."

Scott said Kunco's family expressed "disbelief, and wishing that they had done more." Baldwin, Pittsburgh, Canonsburg, Cecil and state police worked together in investigating the case.

"There's a lot of agencies involved and a lot of places to track down," Scott said. "Unfortunately, we just ran out of time."

Staff writer Tony LaRussa contributed to this report.

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