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Burkett's body found

Coroner says man accused in slayings died of self-inflicted gunshot wound to head

Coroner says man accused in slayings died of self-inflicted gunshot wound to head

August 25, 2006|by JENNIFER FITCH

MERCERSBURG, PA. - A Pennsylvania man charged in the deaths of his estranged wife and neighbor last month was found dead Thursday by a farmer working in a Montgomery Township field.

Pennsylvania State Police said the badly decomposed body was that of Curtis E. Burkett, 41, who was charged with shooting Cathy Burkett, 39, in their Garnes Road home and shooting William Ray Zimmerman, 50, at Longview Campground on July 28.

The campground is approximately a half-mile from where Curtis Burkett's remains and pickup truck were found along Mt. Pleasant Road.

Franklin County Coroner Jeffrey R. Conner pronounced Curtis Burkett dead at the scene and identified the cause as a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

"I'm listing the date of death as the same date as the other two," Conner said.

Curtis Burkett's identity was confirmed through dental records with Dr. William E. Black of Chambersburg, Pa. The body has been released to the family, Conner said.

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During a three-state manhunt, police asked the public to be on the lookout for Burkett's 1980s Ford pickup painted in camouflage. He was last seen driving the truck away from the 7:30 p.m. close-range shooting of Zimmerman.

"I didn't know what to think when I saw the truck," farmer Chester Martin said.

Martin called 911 around noon Thursday after spotting the truck while "chopping" corn in his field a quarter-mile from the road.

Martin said he paused, approached the truck and found a man's body outside the passenger's side of the truck. A rifle was resting on the man's lap, Martin said.

The truck, which was removed about 2:30 p.m., was on a grassy strip between the field's edge and a row of trees, according to Martin.

Martin thinks those trees likely obscured the view from search helicopters, which also had been overhead earlier this year when a small plane was missing. That plane and the body of its pilot were found about five miles away in the same township.

Martin, who has farmed the land since 1998, said he continued with his field work as police and the coroner worked at the scene.

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