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MEMORIES REMAIN AS LIFE MOVES ON

By DAWN SHURMAITIS; Times Leader Staff Writer

Friday, August 30, 1996     Page: 1A

Ten years of daisies.
    Ten years of tears.
    Ten years of missing Betty.
    "Like any anniversary you relive the whole dramatic sense of everything that's happened," said Jack Tasker, Betty Wolsieffer's big brother. "It'll never disappear."
    On Aug. 30, 1986, Betty Wolsieffer was strangled as her only child lay asleep a few feet away. While Dr. Glen Wolsieffer has always insisted a dark-haired intruder broke in, knocked him out and killed his wife, in 1990 a disbelieving jury took 30 minutes to find the philandering dentist guilty of third-degree murder.
    Today, as they do every year at this time, Betty's family -- the Taskers of Wilkes-Barre -- will travel to Mount Greenwood Cemetery to lay fresh flowers on her grave.
    Marian Tasker is sure to bring daisies, because those were her only daughter's favorite.
    The daisies may be the same, but in the 10 years since Betty's death, a lot has changed:
    Glen Wolsieffer has served more than four years of an eight-to-20 year sentence for killing his 32-year-old high school sweetheart.
    Wolsieffer, now 43, is serving his prison term at the State Correctional Institution at Frackville, Schuylkill County. The ex-professional, who once operated three dental offices, now earns between 18 and 41 cents an hour at his prison job. He continues to appeal his conviction.
    Nancy Wolsieffer has remarried.
    Her late husband, Neil -- Glen's brother and the first person he called that August morning -- was killed after he turned his Honda into the path of an oncoming truck two months after Betty's murder. Neil Wolsieffer died Oct. 16, the day he reluctantly agreed to talk to investigators about Betty's murder.
    Carol Kopicki, one of at least two women Glen was having an affair with at the time of Betty's death, is back in the area after four years in Virginia.
    Kopicki, who met Glen during aerobics classes he and his wife were taking at a Forty Fort gym, is an instructor at The Odyssey Fitness Center in Wilkes-Barre. Divorced, she is raising the daughter she had with Glen.
    Danielle Wolsieffer, Glen and Betty's only daughter, is 15 and a high school sophomore. She lives with Glen's mother, Phyllis, in Wilkes-Barre.
    Couple's marriage had darker side
    Locally, the summer Betty was killed was notable for three events:
    The Smurl family of West Pittston claimed to be haunted by supernatural demons. The area's largest water company, PG&W, still reeling from the giardiasis crisis, broke ground for the first of its state-mandated water filtration plants. And in preparation for its grand reopening, the Paramount Civic Center was officially renamed the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts.
    Back then, Glen, Betty and Danielle Wolsieffer lived on tree-lined Birch Street in south Wilkes-Barre. Married 10 years, they had recently returned from a much-anticipated family trip to Disneyland.
    Glen was a dentist, a softball player and Rotary Club member. Betty, active in the Luzerne County Dental Society Auxiliary, was a housewife devoted to her child.
    The dark underside of their marriage -- Glen's late nights, his affairs, the lying -- didn't surface until after Betty's death. Her autopsy revealed she had been struck in the face before she was strangled with a soft object beside her bed.
    Janet Mackay, executive director of the Victims Resource Center in Wilkes-Barre, said the Wolsieffer case was a prime example of the way domestic violence cuts across all economic barriers, all social classes.
    Although the murder generated enormous publicity for the issue of spousal abuse, Mackay credits the 1991 creation of the Domestic Violence Task Force with ensuring action continues to be taken.
    "We don't tolerate domestic violence in Luzerne County," she said. "Police are trained to make arrests."
    Story went national with book, TV shows
    The crime and subsequent arrest made national news, generating a book, "Murder at 75 Birch" and stories on "A Current Affair" and "Crimewatch Tonight."
    When it comes to handing out kudos, five investigators and two prosecutors are given the most credit for putting together a case solid enough to land Wolsieffer behind bars: Bill Maguire, Bob Mitchell, Gary Sworen, Stan Jezewski, Carl Allen, Tony Sarcione, Bill Keller.
    "We got tremendous, unbelievable cooperation," Jack Tasker said of the investigators' constant contact with the victim's family.
    "(Then district attorney) Corry Stevens, to me, was super."
    The law and order team members who once worked so closely together have since gone many separate ways.
    Maguire, former captain of detectives of Wilkes-Barre police, has retired, along with former state Troopers Allen and Jezewski, who is working for the district attorney. Sworen remains at the district attorney's office, but Keller has returned to private law practice.
    Special prosecutor Sarcione, formerly with the state attorney general's office, is district attorney of Chester County. Mitchell has been promoted to Maguire's old job, captain of detectives. Stevens is a county judge.
    "It was strictly a circumstantial case," recalls Jezewski of the four-year investigation. "It was a difficult case. But we thought we were going to win."
    The clues, as presented at trial:
    No evidence was ever found of the man Glen described to police. A renowned criminologist determined the crime scene -- the ladder the intruder supposedly used, the wounds on Glen's neck -- was staged. Hairs ripped from Glen's scalp were found under Betty's fingernails. And, the coroner testified Betty's face had been washed after her death.
    Everyone, investigators say, felt an obligation to the victim.
    "Everyone we talked to said she was a nice lady, an all-around person. A good mother," said Jezewski, a veteran of numerous homicide investigations.
    "This was one of the cases that sticks in my mind."
    Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. was a relatively green assistant district attorney when the murder investigation began in August 1986. Olszewski, who is the district attorney now, went to Mercy Hospital to take Wolsieffer's first -- and last -- statement to police. Wolsieffer was briefly hospitalized after complaining of head wounds he said were caused by the mystery man.
    "Here's a guy with a generally good reputation in the community who, at the same time, is beating his wife and ultimately killing his wife," Olszewski said. "I never believed him."
    Victim's brother can't forget her
    While news of yet another appeal is upsetting, the Tasker family is resigned to the workings of the American criminal justice system.
    "Betty doesn't have any appeal. That's the lousy deal," said Jack Tasker. "It's hard to take, but that's the system."
    Before the murder, the two families -- the Wolsieffers and the Taskers -- were close, united by the marriage of Glen and Betty. The weekend Betty was killed, Tasker was planning to play golf with Neil Wolsieffer.
    Times have changed.
    Tasker's three children are 20, 17 and 15. The youngest is a month apart in age from Danielle Wolsieffer. Jack Tasker laughs when he thinks of how grown up the cousins are, in high school and almost ready to drive.
    "She's so tall, so pretty," Tasker says of his niece, Danielle. "She's 100 percent Betty."
    The Taskers have little, if any, contact with Danielle now.
    "Glen was extremely upset with me," Tasker explains of strains that continue to exist. "All the bitterness hasn't helped anything at all."
    When Glen Wolsieffer is released, he may return to his hometown of Wilkes-Barre, where his mother and daughter still live on Magnolia Avenue, just a few blocks from Glen and Betty's old house on Birch. Tasker wonders what it would be like encountering his sister's killer on such familiar ground.
    "How do you even handle something like that? I'd rather not see him ever again," he said.
    If Betty had lived, Tasker is certain she would have had more children. Eventually, she would have gone into the insurance business with him.
    "We talked about that. She had such a great personality," he said. "People had trust in her."
    When he thinks about what might have been, Jack Tasker envisions his sister surrounded by a loving family, probably relaxing on a hot August day over iced tea on a big, wrap-around porch attached to a classic Victorian.
    Yeah, Tasker thinks. Betty would have liked that.
    Wolsieffer relies on public defenders
    An impoverished Wolsieffer is no longer represented by high-powered Boston attorney Anthony Cardinale or local lawyer Frank Nocito.
    Now, taxpayers are footing the bill for his continued appeals.
    Luzerne County Assistant Public Defender Bill Ruzzo and First Assistant Public Defender Al Flora Jr. are handling what's called a post-conviction petition.
    Such a petition is filed only after all appeals in Pennsylvania courts are exhausted, Ruzzo says. After taking a "fresh look" at the nearly 2,000-page trial transcript, the two public defenders will present their arguments in Luzerne County Court Sept. 23.
    Wolsieffer has a right to attend that hearing, but Ruzzo said he isn't yet sure if he will.
    His lawyers will argue two key points: that the 1990 jury trial was flawed and the court erred by admitting hearsay testimony and allowing the attorney general's office to prosecute the case without having proper jurisdiction.
    Both points have been raised, and shot down, in previous appeals.
    Even Ruzzo admits chances of winning this argument are slim, based on the percentage of appeals routinely denied at this level.
    "The chances are way in favor of the commonwealth," he said. "The commonwealth usually prevails."
    Wolsieffer will be eligible for his first parole hearing after serving the sentence minimum of eight years. Given the current hard-line approach toward convicts, Ruzzo said, it is unlikely Wolsieffer will win release the first time around, in 2000.
    "Wolsieffer is a model prisoner and there's been no misconduct. He's a prime candidate for release at the minimum," Ruzzo said. "But no one is getting parole."
    TIMES LEADER FILE PHOTO
    Danielle, Glen and Betty Wolsieffer in the mid- 1980s.
    TIMES LEADER FILE PHOTO
    Wilkes-Barre police remove the body of Betty Wolsieffer from her Birch Street home on Aug. 30, 1986.
   
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