Man questioned in Chambersburg slayings

November 05, 1998|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - A suspect was being questioned Wednesday in the slayings of two people and the wounding of a third a day earlier, according to Chambersburg Borough Police.

Michael Brandon Singley, 22, of 1126 Brandon Drive, was taken into custody at his home at about 1:30 p.m., Chambersburg Police Chief Michael DeFrank said.

Singley was being questioned about the deaths of James Edward Gilliam, 39, of 395 Elder St., and a woman believed to be Christine Rohrer, 23, of 391 Elder St., authorities said. Another man, Travis E. Rohrer, 22, Christine Rohrer's husband, was wounded in the incident.

A York (Pa.) Hospital spokeswoman said Wednesday evening that Rohrer was in serious condition in the intensive care unit after undergoing surgery.


DeFrank said that at about 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, the department's tactical team was deployed around Singley's home and prepared to enter the single-story rancher.

"We managed to get through to the suspect by cellular phone and negotiated with him for about 30 minutes," DeFrank said. Officers arrested him as he came out the back door.

DeFrank said Singley was armed with a .44-caliber revolver, "but he laid the gun down before he came out."

Singley was alone in the house, DeFrank said.

Police were called to 391 Elder St. shortly before 8 p.m. Tuesday for a report of gunshot injuries. When they arrived, police found two men outside the duplex, one dead, the other seriously wounded.

Christine Rohrer's body was found inside 391 Elder St.

Two hours before Singley was taken in for questioning, DeFrank held a news conference at Borough Hall. There he identified Gilliam, who lived in the other side of the duplex, as the dead man and said police were looking for a local man in connection with the killings.

Christine Rohrer's body was not removed from the house until Wednesday afternoon, a fire policeman at the scene said.

Authorities had not released the cause of her death as of Wednesday evening.

'Unusual crime scene'

Press conferenceAsked at the press conference why it was taking so long to move the body, DeFrank called it "a very unusual crime scene. My opinion is this will be a very unusual investigation."

DeFrank said that in his 30 years as a police officer, this "is one of the most difficult investigations and crime scenes I've ever been involved in."

Franklin County Chief Deputy Coroner Jeffrey Conner said he and detectives Matt Cody and Scott Mummert were taking care to prevent contamination of the scene.

Neither DeFrank nor Conner would comment on the manner in which Rohrer died.

DeFrank would not say what connection Singley had to any of the victims. A relative of the couple who asked not to be named said he was related to Travis Rohrer.

The police chief would not say how Singley became a suspect, but hours before the arrest, the Rohrers' red Jeep Cherokee was found on Geyer Drive, a street under construction a block from Singley's house.

'Help me'

Jacquie Speer, of 645 Pleasant St., lives across an intersection from the duplex where the crime occurred. She was upstairs reading a murder mystery novel when she heard two shots.

Speer said she lived in Baltimore until three weeks ago and realized the sounds were not backfires. She went downstairs and saw a red Jeep Cherokee being driven away.

Although it was dark, she said the driver appeared to be a young white male with dark brown hair.

"We heard some guy yelling 'Help me, Help me,'" she said. She said she and her aunt, with whom she lives, saw two men lying on the ground.

Left for dead

Gilliam and his girlfriend, Deb L. Hock, 33, of the same address, had just returned to the house when the shots were fired, according to Gilliam's father, the Rev. James E. Gilliam of New Millport, Pa.

Hock said she was shot at and left for dead after she and Jim Gilliam arrived home at about 8 p.m.

"We started to walk into the house and we heard two shots. We thought, 'Oh my God, what was that?'" she said.

She said that in a matter of seconds, someone burst out of the home and turned to shoot at her and her boyfriend. She fell to the floor and pretended to be dead.

"I wanted to touch Jim (Gilliam). I couldn't. I knew if I did he would start shooting at me," Hock said. She said she did not move until she heard a car leave, then ran inside and called 911.

Just down the street from where Singley lived with his parents and younger brother, a neighbor said the family had lived there for years.

Christine Rohrer worked at Ausherman Bros. Realtors Inc. in Chambersburg doing title searches, according to co-worker Nicole Stine. She said Rohrer worked until about 6 p.m. Tuesday, just two hours before police found her body.

The couple had been married about two years, according to Jim Beckner, Christine Rohrer's brother. He said Travis Rohrer is an electrician.

As of Wednesday afternoon, his family had not been officially informed by authorities that Christine was one of the victims, he said.

She had four brothers and a sister, he said. Her parents are Henry L. and Barbara Beckner of Chambersburg.

"We know who he is," Beckner said of Singley. He did not elaborate.

The families of Singley and Travis Rohrer could not be reached Wednesday.

James Gilliam, a United Methodist minister in New Millport, Pa., said his son grew up in several Central Pennsylvania communities where the minister served churches, including Loch Haven, York, Williamsport and St. Thomas.

The younger Gilliam graduated in 1977 from Williamsport (Pa.) High School and worked for the last five years at Gilman Sky Inc., in Greencastle, Pa., as a forklift operator.

James. Gilliam said his son loved hunting and fishing.

He said his son and Deborah Hock were planning to be married, and that the younger Gilliam was fond of Hock's 12-year-old son, Andrew.

"They did things together. The boy will miss him," the said.

Staff Writer Richard F. Belisle and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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