Cop charged in 1983 murder

JOHN WALKER

BY STACI WILSON

A Montrose police sergeant faces murder charges stemming from a grand jury investigation into the 1983 death of his estranged wife.

John Walker, 52, Montrose, was charged Wednesday, Oct. 24, with one count of murder by Trp. Greg Deck.

Attorney General Linda L. Kelly and State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan announced that charges have been filed in a shooting death of Lynda Jean (Conrad) Walker) on Nov. 13, 1983.

The death had initially been ruled a suicide in 1983 by John Conarton, Susquehanna County Coroner at that time.

Walker was arraigned Wednesday morning by Magisterial District Judge Jodi Cordner in New Milford. Bail was denied. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for Nov. 5.

“The Pennsylvania State Police investigators deserve a lot of credit for their work on this case,” said AG Kelly. “They showed great patience and persistence in their pursuit of justice for Lynda Walker.”

In 1983, Walker was a police officer in Great Bend. In the years since, he has been employed by several other municipalities, including Silver Lake Township and Montrose Borough.

Walker currently holds the rank of sergeant on the Montrose force and formerly served as the borough’s police chief.

Montrose Mayor John Wilson said a notice of suspension from the police force was being drafted Wednesday but had not yet been completed.

The Office of Attorney General initiated its investigation in February of 2010 at the request of Susquehanna County District Attorney Jason Legg, based on a conflict of interest. Evidence in the 27-year-old death investigation was gathered by the Pennsylvania State Police and presented by the Office of Attorney General to the Statewide Investigating Grand Jury.

According to information released by the Attorney General’s office, the grand jury heard evidence that Lynda Walker died from a single close-range gunshot wound to the chest.

Walker claimed at the time that he came home to find her lifeless body in his bed, with his gun lying next to her.

Kelly said, state-of-the-art forensic science is what helped to crack this case.

In June 2011, at the request of the grand jury, Lynda Walker’s body was exhumed from the West Lenox Church Cemetery in Lenox Twp.

Forensic pathologist Dr. Isidore Mihalakis conducted the autopsy; looked at the path the bullet took as it passed through Lynda Walker’s body; and examined other evidence.

Dr. Mihalakis concluded that the death of Lynda Walker was not consistent with a self-inflicted gunshot wound.  Rather, the manner of death was homicide, according to Dr. Mihalakis.

“Our investigators talked to many people and worked on fitting all the pieces together with forensic evidence,” said Noonan. “When that evidence was completed, we were in position to move ahead and make an arrest.”

The investigating grand jury recommended murder charges be filed in a presentment issued Oct. 15.

According to the 15-page grand jury presentment, Lynda Walker’s body was found in her bed and a cocked .45 caliber handgun was partially in her right hand and a bullet wound to her left chest.

In a 1983 interview with police, Walker said the couple had been separated since July of that year but had agreed to meet that day at their home. Walker told police the two argued. He told her he was filing for divorce and she threatened to kill herself.

Grand jury witnesses testified that they did not believe Lynda Walker was suicidal. Testimony also contradicted Walker’s 1983 statement to police about his whereabouts at the time of the death.

Walker’s second wife, April Harvey also testified that she was engaged in a relationship with Walker in the months that followed his separation from his wife.

Walker and Harvey married in 1985, divorcing 19 years later.

Laurence Braungard, who was also served as a police officer in Great Bend in 1983, told the grand jury that Walker had attended classes on suicide investigation at Lackawanna College prior to Lynda Walker’s death.

Noonan extended his sympathy to the family of Lynda Walker. “I’m very hopeful that this arrest will give the family some relief, knowing that a suspect has been charged with this murder,” he said.

The case will be prosecuted by John J. Flannery, Jr., and E. Marc Costanzo of the Attorney General’s Criminal Prosecutions Section.