Check out this list of York County’s most notorious criminal cases in past 50 years


Brothers Zachary and Gregory Witman are seen in this 1990s family photo. Zachary, serving a life imprisonment after a conviction in the murder of his younger brother in their New Freedom home, was later granted a new trial. Background posts: 100th anniversary of drunken Pleasureville brawl, Relative: Evil in Hex murder came from outside and Death row survivor Ray Krone hopes book will open eyes about capital punishment and A list of traumatic, painful incidents that rocked York County.

The case of Zachary P. Witman, the subject of a recent post-conviction appeal ruling, is one of the most-watched criminal actions in more than four-score years in York County Court.
Zachary Witman was convicted in 2003 and later sentenced to life imprisonment for first degree murder in the death of his brother five years earlier.
Gregory Witman was 13 when he died. Zachary Witman was 15… .



Zachary Witman in 2007.
Gregory had been stabbed 65 times with a pen knife and almost decapitated.
York County Judge John Uhler based his decision for a new trial in 2007 on Witman’s attorney’s agreement to admit as evidence at trial a bloody pair of socks the teen-age defendant had been wearing when his brother was killed.

Uhler’s 2007 ruling was overturned by the state Superior Court in 2009. In 2013, he has an ineffective counsel (Post Conviction Relief Act) appeal before the Pa. Supreme Court.
Witman’s trial came soon after another set of landmark criminal proceedings – grand jury findings and subsequent trials of defendants in the late-1960s deaths of a black woman and white police officer.
York Mayor Charlie Robertson was acquitted and nine white former gang members implicated in the York riots-era shooting death of Lillie Belle Allen were convicted or pleaded guilty.
Later, three men were convicted in the shooting death of Police Officer Henry C. Schaad, the second riot victim.
According to “Never to be Forgotten” and stories in the York Daily Record/Sunday News, here is a sampling of other major criminal cases that ended in sentences to life imprisonment, death row or lengthy prison terms late in the 20th century and early in the 21st:
- The nine-day trial of Mark Newton Spotz, ending in a first degree murder conviction and death penalty sentence in 1996, perhaps drew more media and public attention than any other county court proceeding since the Hex Murder trial of 1929. In the Hex case, a trio of defendants were found guilty in the slaying of suspected witch Nelson Rehmayer in an attempt to break a spell.
Spotz of Clearfield County was sentenced to die for killing Penny Gunnet, a York New Salem resident. Spotz also killed two other women. His crime spree started in Clearfield County where he shot his brother in an argument over a gerbil.
– Paul Gamboa-Taylor pleaded guilty to killing five people with a ball-peen hammer and knife in his West Princess Street, York, home.
– James Garrett was convicted for the pick ax-slaying of his 79-year-old mother in her home in an attempt to get the remainder of her $822,000 estate.
– Robert G. Lehr received a life sentence for the 1986 stabbing of a Spring Grove pastor.
– Cornell Mitchell received the death penalty for the butcher knife-slaying of a youth counselor as he slept inside a children’s home in North York.
– Daniel Jacobs was convicted of killing his 18-year-old girlfriend and infant daughter. The victims were found in a bathtub filled with water and chlorinated bleach in a case the coroner called ‘the most brutal I’ve seen.”
– William Babner raped a woman, then shot her and her boyfriend in September 2000. He then dumped them into the Susquehanna River, but they survived. Babner is sentenced to 117 to 235 years in prison.
Harve Johnson, slayer of young Darisabel Baez with a computer game controller cord, became the ninth York countian on death row in 2009. Eleven York countians now sit on death row.  Twenty-five years before, young Aleta Bailey was the victim in a similar high profile slaying.
– Steven Valinski served the maximum of a 10- to 20-year state prison sentence for the Aug. 31, 1988, bondage-suffocation murder of 39-year-old Ellen L. Swift. The 21-year-old Valinski had cut off body parts and had sliced open her abdomen. He was released from prison on Sept. 3, 2008. Former York County District Attorney Stan Rebert had sought the death penalty for the Red Lion man. “Step aside Jack the Ripper and Freddie Krueger, there’s a new kid on the block,” Rebert said in his closing statement of the 1989 trial. Valinski was convicted of third degree murder.
Joseph Podlucky was found dead in his car March 27, 1995, in the parking lot near Foundry Park and what was then the Gingerbread Man. He had been shot in the head and robbed of $2.50. Ricky Lee “Rico” Lagares was eventually convicted of third-degree murder and sentenced to 10 to 20 years.
- In addition to the Witman case and a current case involving charges of fratricide in Fawn Township (In that case, Justin Carbaugh was convicted of voluntary manslaughter in 2011 and was sentenced to 6 to 12 years in state prison), here is another case of brother vs. brother violence in 2002: Michael J. Callahan III, 26, was killed days before his planned wedding, when his brother shot him in the chest with an arrow from a compound bow in Manheim Township. James Callahan eluded police for several hours and then two officers shot and wounded him when he aimed an arrow at them. Callahan was found not guilty by reason of insanity in 2003 and was sent to a secure facility specializing in intensive treatment.

- Hubert Michael killed 16-year-old Trista Eng after kidnapping her in 1993. Michael bound Eng with electrical cord stolen from her home, raped her and killed her in state game lands in northwestern York County.

- In the worst school violence case in York County history, Red Lion middle schooler Jimmy Sheets shot and killed his principal in 2003 before taking his own life.

Zachary Witman is led into the York County Courthouse for sentencing. In 2003, he was convicted of first degree murder in the 1998 slaying of his brother. He was granted a new trial this week. For a listing of other major court cases involving York County, click here.
Also of interest:
- Check out York Town Square’s archives, with all posts from the start.
- Check out all posts relating to the notorious Hex Murder trial of 1929 from the start.

- Check out all posts relating to cops and courts, fires and floods.
- York County, Pa., educator recounts school machete attack on ‘I Survived…’

Updated, 8/6/10.

Updated, 11/8/12

About Jim McClure

Editor of the York Daily Record/Sunday News, ydr.com and its many digital products. East Region Editor, Digital First Media. Journalism/history blogger: yorktownsquare.com. Author or co-author of seven York County, Pa., history books.
This entry was posted in Archives, all posts, Books & reading, Cops & courts, Events, Explanations/controversy, For photo fans, Hex murder, Local journalism & Web, Pain & trauma, People. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Check out this list of York County’s most notorious criminal cases in past 50 years

  1. charlotte trageser says:

    Zachary is guilty as charged.
    Never understood why Gregory’s
    friend who walked home from school with him that day was never brought in court. He said (according to newspaper a/c) that Gregory said he was afraid of his brother and asked him to telephone him when he got home.

  2. Steven Valinski served the maximum of a 10- to 20-year state prison sentence for the Aug. 31, 1988, bondage-suffocation murder of 39-year-old Ellen L. Swift. The 21-year-old Valinski had cut off body parts and had sliced open her abdomen. He was released from prison on Sept. 3, 2008.

    HE IS FREE ON THE STREETS?!

  3. Ted says:

    Jim,

    With the well deserved Darisabel, I was surprised that Aleta Bailey was not mention then or here in the most notorious list.

    She was killed in 1982.

  4. Betty says:

    I saw a posting online about a brutal murder back in the late 1800′s I believe, if my memory serves me correctly, that I had was very surprised never to have seen any information on before, because of the deaths being those of children, and how many died in the mass murder. It was said to have happened back in Strinestown. A man and a woman who owned and ran a mill there lost their four children in a tragic accident at their mill. To try to get over their grief, the man and woman were said to have adopted, or taken in foster children. The man also is said to have dressed up as a clown to entertain children in the area at parties and such. They had thirteen children in their home eventually. It said they began to have problems providing for all of the children. Neighbors started reporting the children were neglected and being abused. When investigators went to check on their welfare, nothing amiss was said to have been found. Then one night neighbors heard a lot of screaming coming from the area of the mill. They later discovered the man, his wife, and all thirteen children had been brutally murdered. After this, supposedly nobody wanted to live near the area. They reported hearing screams in the night and were frightened, so they moved. That sounds like a lot of hoopla to me, but the rest of it?
    Did it happen? If so, what became of these poor children after they were murdered? Where did they bury them? I wonder this because of another situation in that same area that just astounded me. A new school was constructed some time ago at the end of town, not far from where the mill is located. There was a cemetery on this property directly where the school was to be built. Nobody bothered to move the graves that were there. The school was buried right over them. Who has so little regard for those now buried? It just bothered me when I read about it. What a double blow if the children who were supposed to have been murdered would also now have their graves so callously desecrated? Does anyone have any information of this story I saw posted on line by the people who now run the haunted mill attraction in Strinestown? Yeah. That’s another reason I question did this horrific mass murder really happen, or was it a publicity stunt to build up the attraction to go to the mill for it’s haunted mill activity at Halloween?

  5. Heather Davis says:

    The brutal murder of Annie L. Fetrow in 1980 which happened during a Robbery in Strinestown, Pa. is still unsolved and has left her family devestated to this day. Thought that my grandmother deserves a mention since has been forgotten by law enforcement.

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