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Son's car-crash story crumbles when bodies found

| Friday, July 15, 2011

Celeste Abbott's four children stayed with their stepbrother for three days at her Butler County home to feel close to the mother they thought died in a fiery car crash.

"They wanted to hold something of hers," said Abbott's sister, Eileen Whiting, 63, of Albion, N.Y. "They just wanted to be near her. They didn't know they really were near her."

State police on Thursday said the stepbrother, Colin Abbott, killed Celeste and her husband, Kenneth Abbott, and scattered their remains in a pond and around a 75-yard swath on the sprawling property on West Liberty Road in Brady.

"It looks like he attempted to burn the bodies and then threw a part of a body into a pond, which was probably much higher a month ago, but it has receded, so you can see the remains," said Assistant District Attorney Ben Simon.

Family members and neighbors said Colin Abbott, 40, of Randolph, N.J., told relatives the couple died in a crash on their way to Atlantic City, and their bodies were burned beyond recognition.

"I didn't think, 'Oh, we need to have this verified.' We heard this, and we're believing this is the truth," Whiting said. "He was going to send us some ashes, and we were going to sprinkle them here so the kids would have a place to go to grieve their mother."

Colin Abbott, a longshoreman outside New York City, was in the Morris County Jail in New Jersey awaiting extradition to Pennsylvania on two counts of homicide.

Investigators were trying to determine whether money was a motive. Whiting said the suspect told her he was the executor of both victims' wills and the sole beneficiary of his father's will. His father, Kenneth Abbott, retired from a pharmaceutical company and bought the 25-acre Brady property in 2005 for $875,000, records show. Garages on the property held a collection of at least 20 vintage cars and motorcycles, neighbors said.

"This is a very bizarre case," Simon said. "The investigation is ongoing, and we may find more information as this case proceeds."

Celeste Abbott, 55, was one of 10 children, Whiting said. Another sister contacted New Jersey state police to get information on the crash, but police had no records. New Jersey State Police asked Pennsylvania state police to do a welfare check on the home. Troopers found the remains on Wednesday.

About 12 forensic investigators from Mercyhurst College in Erie yesterday used a sifter to go through dirt looking for evidence and crews drained the pond.

Whiting said she was on her way to her mother's funeral when her niece called to say her sister had been murdered.

"It's bizarre and surreal," she said. "This is like what happens in movies and not in real life. I don't know what to make of it."

Celeste Abbott and Kenneth Abbott, 65, met when she was working at a toy show, Whiting said. They moved from New Jersey to Butler County in 2005. They married shortly after, Whiting said.

Celeste Abbott had nothing but kind words for Colin Abbott, Whiting said.

"When Celeste came into the picture, she got them reunited," Whiting said. "She said, 'I'm trying to get Ken and his son to be friends.' I don't know what their relationship was before that. She would say, 'Colin, he's a real nice boy.' "

In nearby Slippery Rock, the couple's friends and neighbors said they were increasingly perplexed and later skeptical after not seeing the Abbotts for a number of weeks.

"We just thought that things were not adding up," said Michael Bencic, majority owner of the Slippery Rock Sliders, a Prospect League amateur adult baseball team. Kenneth Abbott was part owner of the team.

Bencic last saw the Abbotts on June 4 at a game between the Sliders and the Butler Blue Sox.

"I think the last time anyone saw them around here was the next day. Then I noticed that he and Celeste were not coming to the games. I thought they were on vacation," he said.

Police have found a text message sent from Celeste Abbott's cell phone to Colin Abbott's on June 7 saying, "Hey, we're coming to Atlantic City, we're on our way," Simon said. Authorities believe Colin Abbott might have sent it to his own phone "just to cover his bases," Simon said.

On June 23, Bencic found notification on Celeste Abbott's Facebook page that she had "died suddenly." Yet the Facebook message made no mention of any car crash or of the death of Kenneth Abbott.

At about the same time, Bencic said he heard that Kenneth Abbott's son was staying in the couple's home.

"We thought it was weird that there was no memorial service, no mention of any of this in the newspaper," Bencic said.

Kenneth Abbott had two daughters and a son, said neighbor Jennifer Schmidt, a close friend. She said she never saw his daughters, but described Colin Abbott as a frequent visitor.

"When Colin would come to town, he would be excited," Schmidt said.

Colin Abbott told neighbors about the car accident. He said he didn't announce the deaths in the local paper because of his father's money. Schmidt said Kenneth Abbott retired from Warner-Lambert, a pharmaceutical company that merged with Pfizer in 2000.

Colin Abbott has a criminal record dating to 1996 in Morris County. In December 1996, he was accused of running over someone with his truck, then backing over the person, during a bar fight in Sussex County, according to the Star-Ledger newspaper in Newark.

New Jersey state police found Celeste Abbott's wallet and a loaded pistol when they searched Colin Abbott's home.

"Somebody needs to pay for this," Whiting said. "She didn't deserve any of this."

Anyone with information on the case is asked to call the state police in Butler at 724-284-8100.

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