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Man sentenced in 1995 death of his wife in Pa.

June 20, 2006|by JENNIFER FITCH

McCONNELLSBURG, Pa. - A man who pleaded guilty to the March 1995 murder of his wife has been sentenced to eight to 14 years in a state prison, Fulton County (Pa.) District Attorney Dwight Harvey said Monday.

Judge Carol Van Horn in the Fulton County Court of Common Pleas last week sentenced Stephen Alfred Vanderbeek in accordance with a plea agreement and sentencing guidelines for the third-degree murder and abuse-of-a-corpse charges Vanderbeek faced, Harvey said.

The judge also told Vanderbeek she would stay informed of any of his requests for parole, which could begin in seven years, Harvey said.

"I have assured the family and the judge assured the defendant, based on the lack of remorse, that we will be contacting the parole board," Harvey said.

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Eleven years after Vanderbeek strangled Cynthia Vanderbeek and covered her body with brush off Fire Tower Road on Tuscarora Mountain, he did not comment when given the chance in court, Harvey said. There was "not even, 'Gee, I'm sorry,'" he said.

"Even after all this time, he had nothing to say," Harvey said.

The abandonment of the body in the woods led to the abuse-of-a-corpse charge, he said.

Although abuse of a corpse is considered a misdemeanor, the third-degree murder charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years. That penalty dates back to the time of the murder but has since been changed by the Pennsylvania Legislature to a maximum of 40 years.

"If this (crime) had happened even 45 days later, the possible penalty would have doubled," Harvey said.

Vanderbeek, who had been living in Ridgewood, N.J., and working as a self-employed handyman, was 51 when arrested last June.

He never reported his wife missing, although her mother and sister filed a report that started a missing persons investigation by the Montgomery County (Md.) Police Department in May 1995. That investigation was not connected to the Jane Doe murder in Fulton County until December 2004, about 10 months after Pennsylvania State Police troopers put the case on the Doe Network, an organization that helps law enforcement solve cold cases.

The victim's identity was determined through a DNA test on her tooth. An autopsy determined that she was killed between March 22, 1995, and March 28, 1995.

Cynthia Vanderbeek's mother and sister became concerned when she failed to show up for a family event. She and her husband were supposed to visit on a return trip to Florida, where they lived.

The Vanderbeeks made their living selling clothes and boat-cleaning supplies at boat shows, the affidavit of probable cause filed in the case said.

In late March, Stephen Vanderbeek stopped at his mother-in-law's home without his wife, which was something he had never done before, the affidavit said.

He told the family his wife was in Chicago helping a friend at a boat show. Police said Vanderbeek withdrew $5,000 from the couple's joint account and also picked up $1,500 of the couple's money from his mother-in-law.

In August 1995, Montgomery County police interviewed Vanderbeek, who said he and his wife planned to separate and had been fighting about money, the affidavit said.

Vanderbeek told police he saw his wife in Orlando in April 1995, and the two decided to split.

Court records show that the couple spent the night of March 22, 1995, in a hotel in New York. On March 24, 1995, Stephen Vanderbeek spent the night alone in a motel in Clarksburg, W.Va., the affidavit said.

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