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Two charged in 1985 murder

April 11, 2000|By DON AINES

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - A man and woman who suspected their spouses were having an extramarital affair were charged Tuesday with plotting the death of the woman's husband, who disappeared 15 years ago, Pennsylvania State Police said.

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Ronald West Harshman, 51, of 11807 Clearview Road, Hagerstown, and Joan Snyder Hall, 56, of 12850 Grant Shook Road, Greencastle, were both charged with criminal homicide and criminal conspiracy in the death of Melvin E. Snyder, who was last seen May 25, 1985.

Both were arraigned before District Justice Shirley Shatzer Tuesday morning in Greencastle and were being held in Franklin County Prison without bond.

Melvin Snyder's body has never been found. Neither has a Titan .25-caliber semi-automatic pistol police alleged Ronald Harshman purchased in March 1985.

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The affidavit of probable cause alleges that Melvin Snyder, then 42, disappeared one year to the day after he became romantically involved with Ronald Harshman's wife at the time, now Teresa Harshman Young.

A break in the case came July 15, 1999, when state police went to Harshman's former home at 4230 Buchanan Trail West in Greencastle and found a spent .25-caliber shell casing about an inch under the ground. A ballistics expert compared that with a casing found in Snyder's barn shortly after he disappeared and determined both had been fired from the same gun, according to the affidavit.

"Finding that shell casing last summer and being able to show it was discharged from the same weapon was very significant," Franklin County District Attorney John F. Nelson said.

A search of the property in 1985 failed to turn up a shell casing, although police found several live shells, and Harshman said he didn't know what happened to the gun, the affidavit said.

Nelson said the 1985 search "was a very cursory search."

The Franklin County Investigating Grand Jury in October 1999 issued a presentment recommending Harshman be charged with criminal homicide. That document was unsealed Tuesday. There was no presentment for Hall.

In a presentment, a grand jury recommends that someone be charged. It is different from an indictment, which constitutes a charge.

Nelson said the case was presented to the investigating grand jury because "14 years of normal investigative procedures had not resulted in an arrest, so we decided to try something different."

The presentment said that in 1984, Harshman and Melvin Snyder both worked at Grove Manufacturing and knew each other socially. In May 1984, Snyder and the then Teresa Harshman became intimate, the document alleges. On June 7, 1984, Teresa Harshman told her husband she and Snyder were going to Billings, Mont.

When Melvin Snyder came to pick up Harshman's wife, Harshman left the house and ran his pickup into Melvin Snyder's pickup, the affidavit alleges. It additionally alleges that Harshman fired shots at Melvin Snyder but missed.

According to court records, Harshman was charged with recklessly endangering another person. In September 1984 he was placed on the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition Program for a month, court records said.

Melvin Snyder and Harshman's wife went to Montana but returned after a few weeks and reconciled with their spouses, the affidavit alleges.

Police allege Hall conspired with Harshman in the killing.

On May 25, 1994, 10 years after the affair began and nine years after Melvin Snyder disappeared, his former wife, now Joan Snyder Hall, was interviewed by police.

In the affidavit, police allege she told them "she wanted the victim dead because he had 'hurt her' by running off" with Harshman's wife.

She told Harshman what time Snyder "would be in the barn ... between 6:30 and 7 to feed the horses" and that he would probably not have his gun, police allege in the affidavit.

Police allege she said she saw her husband's body on the floor of Harshman's basement the next day.

Trooper Linnette Quinn, a police spokeswoman in the case, said there was "evidence of a struggle" in Snyder's barn after his disappearance, but she had no further information.

In 1992, Joan Snyder petitioned the Court of Common Pleas to have her husband declared dead from the date of his disappearance. Judge John R. Walker signed an order declaring him legally dead in May 1993.

Police said Harshman was arrested at Grove Worldwide in Shady Grove, Pa., and Hall was arrested at Sunnyway Food Market in Greencastle.

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