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Man charged with murder in strangling death of wife

June 21, 2005|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

McCONNELLSBURG, PA.

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

A Jane Doe murder case that was 10 years old stumped police in two states until a missing persons Web site brought the agencies together to discover the woman's identity.

The victim was identified in December 2004 through DNA tests from her tooth as Cynthia Louis Vanderbeek, 47.

On Thursday, U.S. Marshals acting on a warrant issued by Fulton County Magisterial District Judge Wendy Richards Mellott arrested Vanderbeek's husband, Stephen Alfred Vanderbeek, of 33 Corsa Terrace, Apt. 11A, Ridgewood, N.J.

Vanderbeek, 51, is charged with criminal homicide, first-degree murder, third-degree murder and aggravated assault, according to an affidavit of probable cause on file in Mellott's office. He is being held in New Jersey pending extradition, Dwight C. Harvey, district attorney for Fulton County, said Monday.

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Harvey said an extradition hearing for Vanderbeek could be held as soon as today.

Cynthia Vanderbeek was strangled to death, police said in the affidavit.

Her decomposed body was found by a jogger on May 1, 1995, off Fire Tower Road on Tuscarora Mountain. Her body was covered with brush and there was no identification, jewelry or personal belongings to help police identify her.

An autopsy determined that she was killed between March 22, 1995, and March 28, 1995.

In May 1995, according to the affidavit, Detective Robert Nichols of the Montgomery County, Md., Police Department, acting on a missing persons report filed by Camille Catchpole and Sandra Difranco, the victim's mother and sister, began his own investigation.

The two investigations, one involving a murder of an unidentified victim, the other a missing persons case, continued independently for nearly a decade before they finally were connected in December.

Cynthia Vanderbeek's mother and sister became concerned when she failed to show up for a family christening, where she was to become a godmother to a niece in late March 1995. She and her husband were supposed to stop by on their way back to Florida where they lived.

The Vanderbeeks made their living traveling to boat shows selling clothes and boat-cleaning supplies, the affidavit said. Their last show was in Portland, Maine.

"Cindy was excited about this visit ... " a relative told police.

In late March, Stephen Vanderbeek stopped at his mother-in-law's home alone. He had never visited there without his wife, the affidavit said.

He told the family his wife was in Chicago helping a friend at a boat show. Police said Vanderbeek removed $5,000 from the couple's joint account in a Maryland bank and also picked up $1,500 from Camille Catchpole that she was holding for the couple.

In August 1995, Nichols interviewed Vanderbeek, who told him that he and his wife planned to separate and that they were fighting over money, the affidavit said. Sandra Difranco said her sister told her a year earlier about the couple's marital problems.

Vanderbeek told Nichols that he saw his wife again in Orlando in April 1995 when the two decided to split. He never reported her missing.

Court records showed that the couple spent the night of March 22, 1995, in a hotel in Hunter Mountain, N.Y. They checked out the next morning. The next night, March 24, 1995, Stephen Vanderbeek spent the night alone in a motel in Clarksburg, W.Va., the affidavit said.

In April 2004, Corporals Roger Smith and William Baker of the Pennsylvania State Police put the victim's case in the Doe Network, a volunteer organization that helps law enforcement agencies solve cold cases of unexplained disappearances and unidentified victims.

In December, police in Pennsylvania determined the victim's identity through a DNA test on her tooth.

The Doe Network helped them connect Cynthia Vanderbeek's identity to Nichols' case in Montgomery County.

Nichols found Stephen Vanderbeek in March 2004 in New Jersey, where he had been working as a self-employed handyman.

Harvey credited the police officers involved for their tenacity in staying with the case.

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