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Pain remains despite arrest in 1973 murders of 2 women

“Janice is dead! Janice is dead!” a trembling Lucille Pietropola shrieked. A Virginia newspaper reporter had just called to talk about the murders of her daughter Janice and Janice’s friend, Lynn Seethaler of Penn Hills, both 19, in a seaside cottage here where they had been vacationing.

Janice’s younger sister, Judy, then 16, ran down the stairs of the family home on Golden Gate Drive.

“She screamed so bad that all of the neighbours came out of their houses,” recalled Judy Poklemba, now 62, of Monroeville. “I turned around and went to the kitchen and people were all standing along their backyards of Sara Lane.”

About 15 minutes later, detectives in suits from the Penn Hills Police Department walked up the front steps of the house. Mrs. Pietropola and her husband, Michael, were waiting.

“She’s screaming, she’s yelling out of the door, ‘Is it true? Is it true? Is it true?’” Ms. Poklemba said.

“They nodded their heads.”

And so began the decadeslong mourning of two promising young women, both 1972 graduates of Penn Hills High School, whose lives were taken before they had really begun.

In this sleepy beach resort, a block from where waves crashed against the shore, someone had raped Janice and fatally shot both young women in the head inside their cottage at Farrar’s Motel on 10th Street at Atlantic Avenue. Their bodies were found on the day they planned to fly back to Pittsburgh.

Virginia Beach police pulled out all the stops to find out who could have committed such barbarity. But the case went cold, leaving saddened and stunned residents of two cities 445 miles apart to grieve a mystery without resolution.

That is, for nearly 46 years. On April 8, Virginia Beach police arrested Ernest Broadnax in his apartment in a housing facility for military veterans in Queens, N.Y. Broadnax, a convicted felon with several state prison stints in New York, was charged with two counts of homicide and one count of rape. He waived extradition to Virginia Beach, where he is being held. There has been no preliminary hearing because Broadnax, who turned 81 in July, has yet to be ruled competent for adjudication. He was 34 at the time of the crime.

Authorities have said that Broadnax was arrested after they followed a “strong lead” and utilized “advanced forensic technology.” The New York Times, quoting an unidentified law enforcement official, said DNA evidence found at the crime scene was matched to Broadnax’s profile in a national database.

The case is the oldest here to be cleared by arrest. The tenacity of the Virginia Beach police to never give up on the case has been hailed by law enforcement, the victims’ relatives and friends, and the townspeople here who only knew Janice and Lynn as “those poor Pittsburgh girls who were murdered at Farrar’s.”

But the trauma in the years between the crime and arrest cannot be overstated.

“A little bit of us all died,” said Janice’s older sister, Michelle Vaglia, 66, of Apollo. “My mother was never the same. It ruined her life.”

“It ruined our whole family,” Ms. Poklemba added.

‘VERY NICE GIRLS’

Back in 1972, the graduating class at Penn Hills High School was so huge — about 1,250 students — that Valerie Scalzo didn’t even know her future husband, Edward Mittereder, was a classmate. About 30 years later, they met by chance at Dick’s Diner in Murrysville and discovered their shared history. Five years later, they wed.

But Ms. Mittereder knew Janice and Lynn because they stood out.

“They were both very smart girls, very pretty, very nice, very popular,” Ms. Mittereder, of Murrysville, recalled. “They were very nice to people. You’d go by them in the hall, and they would say ‘Hi’ and smile. They had lots and lots of friends.

“They seemed to be the best of friends. When you’d see one, you’d see the other one.”

Janice and Lynn became friends in their sophomore year. Janice had spent only half of her freshman year at Penn Hills High because the family had moved from Wilkinsburg in January 1969, her sisters said. Attempts to reach Lynn’s surviving siblings were unsuccessful.

Both had brown hair. Lynn, 5 feet, 7 inches, had blue eyes; Janice, 5 feet, 2 inches, had brown eyes.

Next to their senior photos in the 1972 Seneca, the Penn Hills High School yearbook, were these notations:

“Lynn Maria Seethaler — ‘Skinny’.Commercial.Booster Club.Rhythmettes.Student Council.Student Secretary.Secretary.”

“Janice Pietropola — Commercial.Student Secretary.Honor Guard.Booster Club.Junior Homeroom Treasurer.Secretary.”

Her sisters said Janice had excellent grades and a strong work ethic, waitressing at the Gold Circle restaurant and later doing secretarial work at Howard Hanna during her high school years. She saved so much money that she was able to buy herself a new white Volkswagen Beetle.

“A former boyfriend described her as the ‘nice, sweet girl next door,’” Ms. Poklemba said. “I think she was nicer than all of us.”

“She was smarter than all of us,” added her sister, Ms. Vaglia.

After graduation, Lynn worked as a secretary at Dun and Bradstreet Inc. Janice was a secretary for the Urban Redevelopment Authority in East Liberty. She was considering college and a career in law or journalism.

But in that fateful summer of 1973, Janice and Lynn were seeking fun and relaxation. Sun, surf and, they believed, safety awaited.

‘HAVING A GREAT TIME’

For Janice, “this was going to be the big vacation,” her sister Ms. Vaglia recalled.

Janice was so conscientious that she passed up a family vacation to Disney World when she was 17 because she didn’t want to miss work. But in 1973, she was ready for a break before starting a new job and possibly college.

The trip nearly didn’t happen. Initially, eight young women had planned to go, but six of them backed out for one reason or another, leaving only Janice and Lynn.

“I do remember them being really upset and deciding whether they were going to go or not,” Ms. Poklemba said. “I remember Janice saying, ‘I don’t really want to go, but I’ll go for Lynn,’ and Lynn kind of felt the same way.”

Virginia Beach was nothing like it is now. The city where the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean meet had a population of 198,700 in 1973. Today, it is more than double that, making it the largest city in Virginia, but it retains a lower-than-average violent crime rate, as it did in 1973.

“The types of controversies that we had then, people liked to cruise on Atlantic Avenue. That was the so-called big issue then that had to be addressed,” said Linwood Branch, 64, a lifelong resident and a city councilman from 1992 to 2002.

Mr. Branch’s family owned the one-story Lynn-Dee Motel on 11th Street. It was next to Farrar’s Motel on 10th Street, also family-owned and one story. Farrar’s had 30 units, including four cottages. It was opened in the 1940s by “Daddy” Bill Farrar and passed on to his children, including his daughter, Sadie Taylor.

“Back then, there was not a lot of crime,” said Mrs. Taylor’s son, John, now 71, a lifelong Virginia Beach resident. “There were a lot of wood frame motels along the boardwalk.”

“The resort then was seasonal and was basically made up of mom-and-pop motels,” Mr. Branch said. “We had young people and families. It really was a personal type of relationship. Farrar’s had the same thing.

“Pittsburgh was a huge draw for us. (They) would bring Iron City beer, and we’d catch crabs and eat together.”

That was the safe, homey, laid-back environment that Lynn and Janice entered when they checked into Farrar’s on Monday, June 25, 1973. They stayed in the first cottage nearest the beach. It contained a bedroom, a living room with a couch that pulled out into a bed, a kitchen and bathroom.

At the time, Mr. Branch said, Virginia Beach had a lot for young people to enjoy, such as music and dancing in rocking clubs and bars, among them The Shack, The Peppermint Beach Club, Rogue’s Gallery. All of them are gone now.

Mr. Branch’s grandfather died in 1977. “If he came back down to Virginia Beach and was transported to Atlantic Avenue, he wouldn’t know where he was,” he said. In the early 1980s, Mr. Branch bought Farrar’s and demolished it and the Lynn-Dee and constructed a multistory Days Inn. Similar development continued along the beachfront into the ‘90s with national chains and high-rise hotels.

By all accounts, Lynn and Janice were having a ball. They hung out with other young people, went on a few dates, enjoyed the sun and ocean.

“We all got postcards,” Ms. Poklemba recalled. “They said, ‘Having a great time.’”

And there were pictures. One in particular stands out: Lynn and Janice outside the front door of their cottage at Farrar’s. Arms wrapped around each other, they’re glowing.

Lynn and Janice were scheduled to check out on June 30. Mr. Taylor was working in Farrar’s office that Saturday.

It was 11 a.m., an hour before checkout. He wondered why the Pittsburgh women in Cottage No. 1 hadn’t indicated their plans so he could schedule housekeeping. He grabbed a key and headed to their cottage.

He knocked. No response. He opened the door a crack, just enough to see a foot on the floor in the living room. He thought someone was sleeping and went back to the office.
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