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By the hand of a stranger

Random nature of Pa. woman's slaying unusual

Random nature of Pa. woman's slaying unusual

September 01, 2007|By DON AINES

STATE LINE, Pa. - The killing of a person by a complete stranger, such as the shooting of Betty Jane Dehart last week, is relatively uncommon, with most homicide victims likely to die at the hands of someone they know.

Paul Devoe, 43, a suspect in five killings in Texas, has been charged in the death of the 81-year-old retired seamstress and great-great-grandmother, whom Pennsylvania State Police said he killed for her car. In a statement to police after his capture Monday in Shirley, N.Y., Devoe said he was having car trouble, and saw Dehart sitting on her porch and a car in the driveway.

Donald Ream, Dehart's next-door neighbor on North Young Road, said Devoe could just as easily have picked his house, although one of his dogs loudly announced the arrival of a visitor Friday. Ream said he recognizes the random nature of the crime.

"All you have to do is pick up the papers" to read about similar killings across the country, the former security guard said. "This time, it happened next door to a lovely lady we thought an awful lot of."

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"I'm not doing anything differently," Ream said when asked if he has taken any additional precautions since Dehart's body was discovered Monday. Ream said he realizes most people are not killed by strangers, and noted that Devoe knew at least some of the people he is suspected of killing in Texas.

Between 1975 and 2005, U.S. Justice Department figures show 594,276 homicides committed in the United States. Of that figure, about 14 percent were stranger-on-stranger killings.

Department statistics show that more than half of the murders during that 30-year period were committed by spouses, family members or other acquaintances of the victim.

The largest category, however, is one in which a relationship between the killer and victim never was determined, about 35 percent of cases. That figure might have more to do with the fact that the clearance rate for homicides was 62 percent in 2005, according to the department's Bureau of Justice Statistics.

"In the vast majority of homicides, there was some level of relationship ... some previous interaction," Franklin County District Attorney John F. Nelson said. He could recall only one other case in his career where no previous link was established between killer and victim.

There have been four murder-suicides in the county since 2006, three of which were domestic in nature and one that began with an argument in a bar. No charges have been filed in the case of a county man whose body was discovered last summer in Huntingdon County, although an escaped Franklin County inmate who once worked for the victim was taken into custody after fleeing police in the dead man's car.

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