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'The damage is already done'

| Thursday, Jan. 8, 2004

Don Hamilton eases the 30-inch-long piece of red oak into the wood lathe. In a couple of hours, it will become a spindle for a staircase, intricately carved into a pattern like thick, twisted rope.

But for now, it's just wood, plain and dull, until Hamilton cautiously peels away the layers.

It's a careful process, one that requires patience and restraint. It's not unlike what Hamilton and his family must practice as police search for the killers of his mother, Freda Dale, 89, who suffered a heart attack as she watched four men beat her husband in their Peters home almost a year ago.

"Sometimes, we were dissatisfied with the progress," said Hamilton, 62, a woodworker in Washington. "But we know the damage is already done and it will take time to get them."

Freda Dale's case was highlighted Dec. 6 on the TV show "America's Most Wanted." About 35 people called to say the suspects -- Michael Marks, 48, and his sons, Sonny, 27, and Adam, 24 -- were in Wichita, Kan., said state police Trooper Joseph Glover of the Washington barracks.

"I think 35 calls from the same area is pretty credible," Glover said. The TV show's Web site also said the Markses might be in Colorado or North Carolina.

Brad Bryant, a detective with the Wichita Police Department, said some of those tips came from police officers and other credible sources.

"We do believe they were here," Bryan said. "I can't tell you for sure if they're here now."

Peters police Chief Harry Fruecht, whose department is leading the investigation into Freda Dale's death, would only say his department is following every tip.

"There was a focus on certain areas, but we've moved on," he said, declining to provide further details. "I don't want to spoil things."

According to police, Michael, Adam and Sonny Marks pulled up to the home of Shannon and Freda Dale on Venetia Road on Jan. 29, 2003. Michael Marks made his way into the home after identifying himself as a gas company employee. The four men overpowered Shannon Dale, 91.

Freda Dale was bound and died of a heart attack. The fourth suspect in the case never has been identified.

Since then, the Markses have become suspects in more than 20 home invasions across the region and have been charged in White Oak and Forest Hills. They're also wanted in New Jersey.

Glover said Adam Marks is a suspect in a Dec. 12 home invasion in Washington County, the first sign he might have returned to the area. Glover declined to provide further details.

The men have proved elusive. They're known to hit multiple communities and then jump town long before law enforcement can connect the crimes.

Allegheny County Police Lt. Robert Downey Jr. said Steve "Two Bones" Mitchell -- a so-called "money man" whose job is to pay bail for the suspects and restitution to victims -- was ready to give up the Markses' location in exchange for the release of Miroslaw Gonteg, a suspect in crimes in Robinson and Ohio townships.

Downey said Mitchell in June told authorities the Markses might be in Houston, Texas, and said he'd give police more information when he returned to Pittsburgh. Two days later, he died of a heart attack.

"That just threw everything in that avenue up in turmoil," Downey said.

Still, any news is hopeful news for Hamilton.

These days, Shannon Dale remains resolute. He's determined to continue with his life, eager for the grass to regrow so that he can continue his work mowing for the township, Hamilton said.

"This didn't slow him down," Hamilton said. "He wants Mother back, and he wants those guys put away."

Back at the lathe, the once plain piece of oak is slowly transforming. Hamilton eases the blade gently across the smooth wood, showing hints of the intricate designs to come.

The work is delicate. Mistakes are time-consuming set backs.

"You've got firewood or you get hurt," Hamilton said. "This is a continuing process."

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