Suspect extorted Indiana County gun shop owner before killing him, police say

Paul Peirce
| Tuesday, March 25, 2014, 11:10 p.m.

An ongoing investigation of a Saltsburg man who is awaiting trial in Indiana County for the New Year's Eve slaying of a gun shop owner has revealed he extorted $146,000 from the victim.

Jack O. Edmundson Jr., 43, is in the county jail awaiting trial for first-degree murder, arson and aggravated assault for allegedly gunning down Frank S. Petro, 62, of Tunnelton.

He is expected to be arraigned this week on additional charges of dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities for the embezzlement, according to state police Trooper Jason C. Morgan.

In addition, Edmundson will be charged with burglary and theft for breaking into the home of a 71-year-old Saltsburg man three days before Petro's slaying and stealing more than $17,000 worth of collectors coins, stamps and jewelry, Morgan said.

“(Edmundson) entered the victim's residence and removed approximately $12,619 worth of collectors coins, $1,818 worth of collectors stamps, and $3,260 worth of jewelry. Some of these items were subsequently cashed in to a coin shop by the accused,” Morgan said.

Edmundson will be arraigned on charges of burglary, criminal trespass, theft by unlawful taking and receiving stolen property this week before Blairsville District Judge Jennifer Rega, the trooper said.

District Attorney Patrick Dougherty filed notice on March 7 that he will seek the death penalty againstEdmundson in Petro's slaying.

Edmundson's formal arraignment on the murder and arson charges is scheduled for Friday before Common Pleas Court Judge President Judge William Martin.

At the start of the murder investigation, state police disclosed that Edmundson, a former detective and police informant, shot Petro four times, killing him to cover up the extortion scheme.

Police allege Edmundson portrayed himself as an undercover investigator helping police investigate illegal raffle tickets sales that Petro was involved in for area community groups.

Although authorities said in January they believed Petro was being extorted since last fall, the extortions date to January 2013, Morgan said on Tuesday.

Police said that shortly before he was killed, Petro had learned he was being swindled.

State police said Edmundson confronted Petro for selling illegal raffle tickets for what appeared to be legitimate organizations and told the gun shop owner he could “make the case go away.”

Trooper Robert Valyo testified at a preliminary hearing on Feb. 21 that Edmundson telephoned 911 dispatchers after he shot Petro, claiming that he had killed him in self-defense.

Edmundson claimed Petro was the aggressor when he went into the shop and asked about brass for a memorial piece he was working on, Valyo said.

But two video cameras in the shop told a different story, Valyo testified.

The video footage shows that Edmundson entered the shop, reached behind the counter and grabbed a small-caliber gun, then shot Petro after a brief argument.

“His whole 911 call was deceptive,” Valyo told Indiana District Judge Guy Haberl. “He tried to maintain that Mr. Petro was the aggressor.”

Valyo said Edmundson may have planned the killing. He said Edmundson parked his vehicle at the Tunnelton Inn, more than 1,000 feet from Frank's Gun Shop, and walked through woods to the gun shop, where he confronted Petro about 1:30 p.m. Dec. 31.

Valyo said Edmundson took Petro's wallet after the shooting and removed items from it.

State police said Edmundson was shot in his right thigh during the scuffle with Petro and telephoned 911 for help, according to the criminal complaint.

“When (Edmundson) called, he told dispatchers he works as a paramedic and they needed to send a medical helicopter right away. He attempted to maintain throughout that Mr. Petro was the aggressor,” Valyo said.

Edmundson was hospitalized at UPMC Presbyterian in Pittsburgh for about a month. He remains in the Indiana County Jail without bond.

Edmundson, a former detective for the Lancaster County Drug Task force, served one year in prison after he was convicted of stealing $7,500 in platinum coins from a drug dealer and two telephone calling cards from another. He was paroled in 2001, according to online court records.

Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reachedat 724-850-2860

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