Stakes raised on finding Arnold woman's killer after 20 years
Were she still alive, Stephanie Coyle would probably be celebrating her granddaughter's 40th birthday tomorrow with her family.
Instead, a slew of reward posters bearing her face line the streets of Arnold, serving as a poignant reminder of the grisly crime that rocked this small city 20 years ago tomorrow.
On July 16, 1993, Coyle was brutally murdered in her second-story Arnold apartment along Fourth Avenue. The mother of four was 74 years old and an active member of the community when she was stabbed to death.
Her unsolved homicide remains one of the Alle-Kiski Valley's most infamous and unsettling police cases. And, after 20 years without an arrest or credible lead, the victim's youngest son, Dan Coyle, is still fighting for a sense of closure.
“As long as I'm still breathing, I'm not going to give up on it,” he said. “I'm going to do everything in my power to keep this case alive.”
The 65-year-old Freeport man has made a biannual practice of posting a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of his mother's killer or killers. This year, Coyle and his family are upping the ante and bumping that reward to $90,000.
The $80,000 increase, Coyle said, was amassed from the personal finances of an intimate circle of friends and relatives. It was collected as a last-ditch effort to shed additional light on a gruesome crime that's been shrouded in mystery for two decades.
“I just know that there are people out there with additional information,” Coyle said. “People out there living who know who did it. If nothing's got them to come forward yet, then maybe the money will.”
The family's offer expires one year from today. The reward will probably be divvied up among all parties whose tips provide valuable information, he said, and will not be released until someone is convicted. More details can be found inscribed on the fliers the family posted on Thursday throughout Arnold.
Arnold police Chief Willie Weber leads the case investigation and initially responded to the crime scene as a patrolman. He anticipates the increase in the reward to have a modest impact on incoming tips and information.
“It's been 20 years, so we're not going to see an avalanche of information,” he said. “Given the economy and the publicity surrounding the case, though, I think we'll receive a couple new tips. Nothing anyone knows about that night can be considered trivial.”
The chief said the department, which works with Westmoreland County detectives and the Greensburg state police cold-case unit, receives about a dozen tips each year. Three of those tips since 2012 have cultivated active leads that investigators are pursuing.
He would not elaborate.
Despite a somewhat stagnant inflow of new information, case investigators have remained tight-lipped about the investigation, withholding all but a few facts from the public.
The concealment of information, Weber said, is a police tactic that can be useful during suspect interrogation. Suspects may incriminate themselves by divulging knowledge that has been withheld from the public. Investigators have interviewed about 35 suspects since 1993.
But with no one behind bars after two decades, the victim's family would like to see more information released to the public.
“What harm could it possibly do?” said Dan Coyle. “Twenty years of silence has gotten us nowhere. It's time to release all the facts so more people can hopefully come forward.”
One aspect of the crime that's never been released are the details of a design that was carved post-mortem into Coyle's back.
Forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht, who performed the autopsy in 1993, thinks the killer “may have been under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs” because of how they treated the body and the helter-skelter nature of the design.
The pathologist could not disclose any further information, but Coyle said that Wecht told him he was surprised the police have been unable to solve the case.
In a 2008 Valley News Dispatch interview, two retired FBI profilers said the killer likely knew the neighborhood and might still be living within walking distance of Fourth Avenue.
Weber put the chances of the killer still living in Arnold or New Kensington at 80 percent and said they're “still probably within reach.”
“There's someone out there with a lot of weight on their conscience,” Weber said. “We just hope they don't take that secret to their grave.”
Drastic changes since 1993 in Arnold's landscape, infrastructure and transient population lead Weber to believe that there's “a very slim chance” the crime will ever be solved. People's memories of that July night also fade with time, he said.
Coyle would be 94 today and, according to her family, most or all of her friends from the neighborhood are dead.
Those friends are what kept her in the neighborhood long after it slipped into poverty and played host to a significant portion of the Alle-Kiski Valley drug trade, according to the victim's daughter-in-law and Dan Coyle's wife, Barbara.
“We tried to warn her,” she said. “We tried to tell her to get out, but she loved the community and she loved her friends. She wasn't going to leave.”
Stephanie Coyle was drawn to the Arnold neighborhood to escape painful memories of her ex-husband. He had been terminally ill and committed suicide in 1960 while the family was living near Freeport. Years later, her boyfriend of several years suffered a fatal heart attack over a holiday dinner.
To distract herself from the pain, the mother of four volunteered daily at the Alle-Kiski Senior Citizens Center in New Kensington, where she called bingo and provided transportation to and from church services multiple days a week.
According to another son, Richard, she was involved in several Arnold social clubs and always saw the best in people — a quality that may have contributed to her untimely death.
“She was so loving and unassuming,” he said. “I hate to think it, but maybe it was her kindness to a stranger that ultimately lead to her killing.”
Her oldest child and only daughter, Sally Williams, remembers one Mother's Day when Coyle spent the entire day caring for an elderly woman with no remaining family.
“She was such a wonderful person, selfless and jovial,” Williams said. “You couldn't find a single person who didn't like her. That's why it's so hard to figure out a suspect or understand the situation.
“We just want it resolved. We want to know who did this so we can be a little more at peace.”
Until six months ago, Weber gave Dan and Barbara Coyle monthly updates on the case's status. The police chief ceased communication with the Freeport couple because “they were overbearing in seeking information” and is instead regularly updating Dan's brothers Henry in Minnesota and Richard, a retired psychology professor in Chico, Calif.
“They demand more information than I can release,” he said. “I understand that they're seeking closure, but they continue to press for confidential information.”
Barbara Coyle takes exception to the department's clandestine approach.
“We're very frustrated with the lack of communication across the board,” she said. “This is my husband's mother we are talking about. We deserve more information.”
Dan Coyle said people afraid to call police can call his Freeport home directly under anonymity. That number is listed in the Armstrong County phone book.
“No one will turn you in,” he said. “We just need to know. We need to end two decades of living in limbo.”
Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or firstname.lastname@example.org.