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‘Smiley face’ brings Scranton family grief

Retired NYPD detective still working case made contact with family.

The 2007 death of their son Matthew Grendel could be connected to others committed by a group targeting young men across the country, and Patty Grendel and her husband Dennis are ‘willing to talk with anybody’ to help end the killings. The couple visited their son’s gravesite in the Cathedral Cemetery, Scranton.

DON CAREY/THE TIMES LEADER

Grendel

SCRANTON – Near the creek where Matthew Grendel’s body surfaced two years ago, sinister graffiti glared back at a retired detective on the trail of suspected serial killers.

The 20-year-old college student’s disappearance sounded eerily similar to the other cases Kevin Gannon and his team investigated. The similarities brought them to Grendel’s house in Minooka and to Roaring Brook by the falls under the Harrison Avenue Bridge in 2007.

The killers they were tracking left a crudely painted smiley face at the spot where some of the victims’ bodies were put in water.

“We did find a smiley face down there,” Gannon said Wednesday.

He declined to say where the graffiti was found, but said it matched what he and others of the Nationwide Investigations team discovered when looking into other deaths around the country.

“The case appears to be connected to our pattern that we’re looking at,” Gannon said from his home in New York state.

Grendel traveled back home from Philadelphia where he was a junior studying biochemistry at the University of the Sciences.

His parents last saw him March 10 at their Cedar Avenue house when he left with friends to party at the St. Patrick’s Day parade.

After becoming separated from his fellow revelers, a friend called Grendel on his cell phone at 4:17 p.m. that day. Grendel said he was at a party near the university. The school is within walking distance of Roaring Brook where Grendel’s body was found 78 days after he disappeared.

His death was ruled accidental and his cell phone was not found.

Patty Grendel recalled her husband Dennis telling her two men stopped by one night before their son’s body was found. She was not yet home from her 3 to 11 p.m. shift at St. Joseph’s Center. “They gave my husband their card,” she said.

The couple, who have a son and daughter older than Matthew, in turn ran it by the Scranton Police, who verified that the visitors were whom they claimed to be.

A call to Scranton Police Chief David Elliot was not returned Thursday.

At that time the couple had not heard of the group suspected in the “Smiley Face” killings.

“I didn’t think anybody knew what to do,” she said.

Television broadcasts about the killers has piqued her interest and elicited an offer to help.

“If this is true, I don’t want this to happen to any more boys,” she said.

Grendel said her husband feels the same way. “Anything he and I can do. We’re willing to talk with anybody.”

A week ago Thursday on CNN’s Larry King Live show, Gannon discussed the investigations of the nearly 40 suspicious deaths of college-age men in more than 10 states that he believes are connected.

The men between the ages of 19 and 23 disappeared after drinking in bars. Gannon’s group contends the men, all highly intelligent and athletic, were drugged and abducted, and possibly held for a period of time before being put in water.

“We have enough to prove at least 10 or 12” were murdered, Gannon said.

The 12-year-old case of Patrick McNeill is one of them. It was the first Gannon investigated and the one that motivates him to solve the killings. “I’ve made relationships with these families,” he said.

McNeill, 21, a Fordham University student, went missing in February 1997 after last being seen at a Manhattan bar. His body was found two months later in the East River.

Gannon’s television appearance followed Kristi Piehl’s on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on March 23.

Piehl, a former investigative reporter for KSTP-TV in Minneapolis, Minn., recently added Grendel’s case to her list.

Working on her own, Piehl’s efforts run parallel to Gannon’s and the two met when she was reporting on the Halloween 2002 disappearance of Chris Jenkins. His body was found the following February in the Mississippi River.

“These are happening in different jurisdictions,” Piehl said of the deaths.

Some occur on the same night in different states, which leads her to believe more than one person is involved. Often the medical examiner rules the death a drowning and the police call them accidental, she explained.

The Jenkins case was ruled a homicide. It is an open investigation, however, not an active one, she said.

“In most cases the police wouldn’t have any other option to do what they’ve done,” Piehl said.

Her goal is to have federal authorities take over, something Gannon also wants done.

“Eventually we’ll force them to get involved,” Gannon said.

In the meantime, Grendel said if her son was killed, she wants to let the person or people involved know that she forgives them.

But she said she understands there are also legal issues to be addressed if others were involved in the death.

She continues to pray for help by asking that “the Lord convict their heart so they could not live another day without confessing about what they’ve done.”

If the person or people were intoxicated at the time and forgot what they did, she prays “the Lord would bring it to their memory,” she said.

On the Web

For information about retired NYPD Det. Kevin Gannon and other investigators looking in to the “smiley face killers,” visit http://nationwideinvestigations.us

To read Kristi Piehl’s investigations into the deaths visit www.sfkillers.com.

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