Chief deputy coroner eyes top post

January 11, 1998

by Richard T. Meagher / staff photographer

click below for larger image (about 43K)


Staff Writer

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - As Franklin County's Chief Deputy Coroner Jeffrey R. Conner sees hundreds of dead bodies every year - some mangled in automobile wrecks, some killed violently by homicide or suicide and some lying in the peaceful repose of natural death.

He said 10 years on the job has toughened him against the gore that few of us ever see, to picking up and identifying and pronouncing dead the bodies of people killed in accidents, by drowning, by shootings and other violence and from natural causes.


Coroners investigate all accidental, violent, criminal, unusual, sudden or unexpected deaths, Conner said. They are lay coroners. The job does not require medical training.

Conner said one duty he hates is notifying the next of kin of people whose deaths he investigates.

"It's the hardest thing I have to do because I do them in person," he said.

"People usually know right away why I'm there. If I knock on your door at 2 o'clock in the morning and identify myself as the coroner then you already know why I'm there. The first question people ask me is who died," he said.

Conner, 42, has been earmarked as County Coroner Ken Peiffer's hand-picked successor. Peiffer, 61, who was elected to his first four-year term in 1988, said he is retiring when his current term expires at the end of 1999. Conner has already announced his intention to run for his boss's job.

"Jeff is well qualified. He's already passed his state exam," Peiffer said.

As coroner, Peiffer makes about $41,000. As chief deputy Conner is paid $10,920 for 14 hours a week although he said he usually works twice that long.

The coroner's department has 15 deputies including the wives of Conner and Peiffer.

"They issue press releases if we're not here so they have to be official," Conner said.

Deputies, who are paid by the call, are appointed by the coroner.

Conner gets 28 cents a mile for use of his vehicle, an aging Chevrolet Suburban that he paid to have painted and lettered. "The truck allows me to do my job more professionally," Conner said.

A sign painted on the rear reads, "This is a privately owned vehicle. It is not paid for at taxpayer expense."

The department has its own hearse to transport bodies to the Lehigh Valley Medical Center in Allentown, Pa., for autopsies. Deputy coroner's do the transporting, Conner said.

"We investigate cases side-by-side with the police," Conner said. "If I arrive on a homicide scene first I don't go in until the police get there . They do the same for me.

"I check the body for cause of death, to see if it was killed where we found it or someplace else, I interview witnesses, and check the scene then I compare my notes with the police, he said.

Conner said 90 percent of his cases concern death by natural causes. The departmehnt averages about 500 cases a year.

This past week Conner investigated the deaths of an elderly woman who was struck by a vehicle while she was walking to her mailbox and a man who committed suicide by shooting himself in the head with a shotgun.

"We usually investigate two or three homicides a year, but we had 10 between Christmas 1996 and Christmas 1997. All but two were domestic," he said.

Conner's day job is running his 17-acre, full-time auto salvage business on U.S. 30 West.

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