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A DECADE OF DILIGENCE
POLICE NEVER GAVE UP TRYING TO MAKE ARRESTS IN THE MURDERER OF JOYCE ANN
HARDING, WHO WAS SLAIN IN 1985

By DAWN SHURMAITIS; Times Leader Staff Writer

Sunday, October 29, 1995     Page: 1A

Within 48 hours of Joyce Ann Harding's disappearance on Sept. 19, 1985, investigators zeroed in on two suspects: members of the notoriously violent Warlocks motorcycle club.
    But it took 10 years of dogged legwork for investigators to secure enough hard evidence to implicate Mark Conaway and Larry Robbins in the shooting death of the 25-year-old Tunkhannock woman.
    From the start, police pegged Conaway as the trigger man and Robbins his willing accomplice. Residents of Delaware County outside Philadelphia, the bikers met Harding during a chance encounter in a Wyoming County bar.
    "They were always the prime suspects. There was never a question in investigators' minds," says Cpl. William Strong of the state police at Dunmore. "It was just a matter of getting proof."
    The crucial break?
    According to a source close to the investigation, a fellow Warlock "flipped," implicating Robbins and Conaway in exchange for a lighter sentence for another crime and entrance into the federal Witness Protection Program.
    The Warlocks are key to the investigation. During the years, police plunged deep into a Warlocks' world ruled by guns, drugs and bloody paybacks.
    Harding, say investigators who devoted their careers to exposing gang violence, was just one of six young Pennsylvania women killed during the years by biker outlaws from Delaware County.
    Why Harding, a data processor out for a night on the town with her best girlfriend?
    "The bitch got uppity," is what Conaway told his biker buddies, according to arrest affidavits filed Oct. 12.
    Piece by piece
    A tattoo, a shiny black BMW and a motel receipt provided the first links between Conaway and Robbins and murder.
    Police informants told investigators the bikers came north that September day to rip off a local drug dealer, but Conaway "screwed up, the whole deal went bad up there."
    After checking into the Skyline Motel, the bikers turned their BMW toward the Shadowbrook Resort's night club on state Route 6 near Tunkhannock.
    Inside, Harding chatted with old friends and new acquaintances.
    Within hours, she was dead. Her worried mother reported her missing the next morning, telling police that Joyce Ann would never stay out all night before a work day.
    Witnesses later interviewed by police put the three together -- at the bar, near the car, at the motel.
    One witness remembered Conaway in particular because of the unusual tattoo of a globe on the back of his hand. Delaware County police knew that tattoo and gave local police the name they needed: Mark Conaway, sergeant-at-arms for the Warlocks' motorcycle club.
    Inside Robbins' car, police found a motel receipt from the Skyline, dated Sept. 19, 1985. The clerk remembered Robbins from Room 202.
    Confident from the start and eager to get the bikers in custody, police initially charged Robbins with kidnapping, and Conaway with stealing towels and damaging a light fixture in the motel room. Police fully expected homicide charges would soon follow.
    But the case didn't hold up. In May 1985, insufficient evidence forced police to drop the charges.
    The investigation stalled. But police persisted.
    During the next decade, state police from the Dunmore and Tunkhannock barracks conducted hundreds of interviews, ultimately compiling a 300-page file.
    "You should never give up on homicide investigations," says Lt. Frank Hacken with the state police at Dunmore. "It comes down to hard work and dedication. That's what solves cases."
    That, and the testimony of two confidential police informants and a mysterious witness who waited nearly six years to tell his story.
    Lackawanna County Assistant District Attorney Andy Jarbola says one witness clearly saw Robbins and Conaway the night Harding disappeared. The two suspects were standing by a shiny dark BMW near a remote stretch of Routes 6 and 11 in LaPlume Township, just across the Lackawanna County line and 10 miles from Shadowbrook.
    Police theorize the two men were preparing to roll an already unconscious Harding 15 feet down an embankment. Once at the bottom, police say Conaway fired two bullets from a .38-caliber handgun into Harding's head. The bullets later were recovered from the ground beneath her body.
    Five weeks later, after heavy rains flooded the creek, a fisherman stumbled across Harding.
    The moon-faced girl with the wavy brown hair and dimpled cheeks was no longer recognizable. Her parents, Bev and Norman, had their only daughter's body cremated.
    Then, they waited for justice.
    After a comprehensive investigation and a two-year grand jury probe, investigators called the Hardings to the district attorney's office in early October. Murder charges would be filed within days.
    Bev Harding, who raised three children at the couple's ranch home in Tunkhannock, had never given up hope that Joyce Ann's killers would be charged. During the years, she wrote letters to politicians, death penalty opponents and even Oprah Winfrey and "60 Minutes."
    The Hardings couldn't be reached for comment last week. Jarbola says relief best describes their reaction to news of the arrests.
    A big man with a strong grip, Norman Harding shook Jarbola's hand hard.
    "He thanked us for all our hard work," Jarbola says. "He was visibly moved."
    Hell on wheels
    Back in their heyday, when bell bottoms and Beatles ruled, the Warlocks carved out a territory that cut across Philadelphia, Delaware and Chester counties, and southern New Jersey.
    The club formed six chapters, with an estimated 250 members.
    Police believe some members live in Luzerne County, but not enough to form an official chapter. The most visible and violent chapter, according to police, is in Delaware County.
    Like their more prominent brothers-in-arms, the Hell's Angels, Warlocks ride only American made Harley-Davidson motorcycles while sporting club "colors" on denim jackets with cut-off arms.
    The bikers always wear diamond-shaped patches with the words "one percent" in the middle, to signify they are among the 1 percent of the population that does not obey the law.
    Homicide. Rape. Robberies. Aggravated assault. Loan sharking. Arms dealing. Murder for hire. Warlocks do it all, says Detective Paul Snyder, a former member of a special gang task force formed in 1976 to infiltrate gangs and prosecute criminal members. Snyder is a detective with the Upper Darby Township Police Department.
    The Warlock's specialty, according to Snyder, is the manufacture and sale of methamphetamine, or speed. In recent years, the gangs have moved more of their laboratories to rural areas in Northeastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey, where the strong odor from cooking speed is less likely to be detected.
    In the last 20 years, Warlocks have been suspects in 12 homicides in the two-state region. Snyder can still tick off the names of four women -- one only 15 years old -- killed by a single shot to the head and dumped in remote locations outside Philadelphia in 1976.
    The women knew Warlocks, either through dating or drug dealing. Police dubbed the spree "The Marsh Murders." The homicides remain unsolved, but Snyder says investigators are certain that Warlocks were responsible.
    "They wreak havoc on everybody," Snyder says.
    Warlocks' defender
    One of the most infamous Warlocks is Robert "Mudman" Simon, who gained national attention in May for shooting a South Jersey policeman 11 weeks after Simon's parole on a murder charge.
    Mudman served 13 years in a Pennsylvania state prison for shooting a 19-year-old Delaware County secretary in the head with a .38-caliber handgun and dumping her body in a strip mine near Hazleton.
    Police say Simon killed Beth Jean Dusenberg for acting cocky and refusing to be "trained" -- vernacular for a Warlock gang rape. Seven years after the 1974 murder, three Warlocks -- convicted felons nicknamed Skraggs, Mountainman and T-Bone -- agreed to testify against Simon in exchange for lighter sentences on a variety of charges.
    Mudman's attorney was John G. McDougall, who's earned a reputation as "the Warlocks' lawyer" for representing numerous club members during the last two decades.
    McDougall, of Delaware County, will represent Robbins and Conaway during their preliminary hearing Friday before District Justice Carmen Minora of Scranton.
    "Certainly, a number are pretty vicious," McDougall says of the Warlocks.
    But his clients, he says, are pleading not guilty to killing Joyce Ann Harding.
    Anything goes
    Larry Robbins -- husband, father of three, sometime tree surgeon and self-employed salesman, according to his arrest affidavit -- is a "bright, capable, confident guy," says McDougall.
    Police say he is a career criminal, an accomplice in Harding's murder. Conaway, say police, was the hit man.
    The two men go back a long way.
    In 1985, the same year Harding was killed, police records say Conaway and Robbins were paid $500 by a Kennett Square landlord to force a tenant from his apartment. The tenant was beaten with baseball bats, but McDougall says his clients weren't responsible.
    They took the money, but changed their mind about actually carrying out the attack. McDougall thinks the landlord did it.
    Both men served time for conspiracy to commit assault.
    Snyder, who has been following the Warlocks as closely as McDougall during the years, says violence -- particularly against women -- is a way of life for club members.
    "I've seen some bikers beat their old lady because they didn't cook breakfast right," Snyder says. "They have no remorse. They just do what they got to do."
    Sitting in jail
    Among the tattoos that cover Conaway's entire upper body and arms is one of a .45-caliber handgun, which Snyder says is the Warlock sign for "the enforcer."
    Conaway was a Warlocks' sergeant-at-arms, which Snyder says means he was in charge of the Warlocks' arsenal. In 1988, Philadelphia police stopped Conaway's car and found a sawed-off shotgun, cattle prod, a .22-caliber rifle with silencer, electric shock gun, rubber gloves, handcuffs, $1,000 in cash and instructions for building a silencer.
    The weapons' offenses got him a 10-year sentence in state prison. The state tacked on an additional 37 months after Conaway paid a prison guard to smuggle in steroids.
    Conaway remains in the State Correctional Institution at Dallas. Robbins, who was free at the time of his arrest, is in the Lackawanna County Jail.
    Conaway, 37, of Drexel Hill, is charged with criminal conspiracy to commit murder, first- and third-degree murder and voluntary and involuntary manslaughter.
    Robbins, 43, of Glen Mills, is charged with criminal conspiracy to commit murder, murder in the first and third degree as an accomplice and involuntary manslaughter as an accomplice.
    Robbins could not be reached for comment. Conaway refused comment. The district attorney is considering the death penalty.
    Still active
    Law enforcement officials in Pennsylvania and New Jersey say bikers still ride, fly colors, commit crimes.
    "We've seen more activity in the last 18 months than in the previous four or five years," Detective Jack Azpell of the Delaware County Criminal Investigation Division recently told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "The outlaw-biker lifestyle has not changed. They're still doing the same things they were doing in the '70s and '80s."
    But during the years, some Warlock leaders died, others landed in prison. That, says Snyder, might explain why long-reluctant Warlocks finally came forward to testify against Robbins and Conaway.
    "This group uses a lot of fear and intimidation to prevent people from testifying," Snyder says. "I'm so glad the investigators finally got what they wanted."
    Joyce Ann Harding
    Mark Conaway
    Larry Robbins
   
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