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Pennsylvania

Police make arrest in 1985 slaying of Pottsville boy, 13

| Friday, Aug. 22, 2008

SCHUYLKILL HAVEN -- A former small-time drug dealer was charged Thursday with the 1985 murder of a 13-year-old he suspected of stealing his marijuana plants, police said in an account that eased lingering fears that the boy was randomly attacked while out riding his bike.

Joseph Geiger, of Pottsville, was arrested on the 23rd anniversary of David Reed's disappearance and charged with third-degree murder and abuse of a corpse. Geiger, who was 20 at the time of the killing, denied the charges and said he barely knew Reed.

Until recently, the cause of Reed's death had been undetermined. State police exhumed the body in January after a fresh round of interviews led them to conclude the brown-haired, blue-eyed teen was a victim of foul play.

Police said Geiger and the teen went into a parked caboose in Schuylkill Haven to smoke pot and drink the night of Aug. 21, 1985. Geiger accused Reed of stealing his marijuana plants and then punched him in the face, causing him to fall backward and hit his head against a metal wall, police wrote in an affidavit.

Geiger allegedly dragged the body into a thicket near his house and left it there for months while his dogs gnawed on the remains.

Geiger, who is now 43 and unemployed, was arrested by state police as he left his home Thursday morning. At his arraignment, he held his head in his hands and squeezed his eyes shut as the charges were read to him. He said he couldn't afford a lawyer.

"I didn't do it," Geiger told reporters. "I didn't admit to nothing."

The unsolved case had long rattled this small town about 75 miles northwest of Philadelphia, with many residents wondering if the killer was still in their midst.

"This is probably the first step in closure not only for a wounded family, but for a community," said state police Sgt. Craig Stine. "I still receive phone calls from people that would be David Reed's age and generation, wanting to know what happened and are they safe in their community."

The boy's remains were examined earlier this year by Dr. Anthony Falsetti, a forensic anthropologist at the University of Florida. Two anthropologists who had initially theorized the boy might have succumbed to an undiagnosed case of diabetes agreed with Falsetti's findings that Reed suffered from head trauma.

The Schuylkill County coroner ruled Reed's death a homicide in July, paving the way for Geiger's arrest.

Reed's family, who believed the original investigation was inadequate, said Thursday that they were pleased an arrest had finally been made.

"I think it's long overdue and I'm glad they finally found whoever did this ... so that my nephew can finally be resting in peace," said his aunt, Judy Adams, who lives nearby.

"The feeling is hard to describe. After all these years, I never thought it would come down to this. You give up hope," said David's brother Joseph Reed, of Fort Myers, Fla.

Reed's father died when he was a toddler, and his mother died in 2001. A sister who encouraged police to renew their investigation, Virginia Meadows, died last year.

The case against Geiger is largely circumstantial. It is built on witness statements that portray him as a small-time drug dealer obsessed with finding out who was stealing the enormous marijuana plants he grew in the woods behind his house.

One witness interviewed by police said that Reed told her he stole plants from Geiger. Another witness claimed Geiger once pointed to Reed and said, "I hate that ... kid. He was messing with my pot plants. I'm going to get him." A third witness told police that he and Geiger were using cocaine a few years ago when Geiger admitted to killing Reed.

"If you ever want to murder somebody, do it in Schuylkill County because you can get away with it," Geiger allegedly told the witness.

Perhaps the most important break in the case came in February, when a man named John Fry told police that he was an eyewitness to the killing. Fry said that he was with Geiger and Reed in the caboose that night and that Geiger punched Reed in the face, knocking him unconscious.

But Geiger, in his own interviews with police, claimed that it was Fry who hit Reed. And Fry admitted to lying to police in the past about what happened that night, according to a police affidavit.

Schuylkill County District Attorney James Goodman would not address the evidence against Geiger. But police documents note that Geiger "was able to account for all of the known injuries to David Reed before the police or other medical experts were able to determine them." Geiger also changed his story several times, according to a police affidavit.

In an irony, Geiger was interviewed by a local TV station in December 1985, after Reed's remains were discovered in a wooded area on the edge of town. He told a reporter that his dogs had retrieved some of Reed's bones. "They came back the house and they were chewing on bones. At the time, I didn't think nothing of it," Geiger said.

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