Possible new evidence leads to more searches in woman’s disappearance nearly 30 years ago
LOCK HAVEN — June 18, 2018, seemed like the beginning of the end to a more than 27-year-old cold case.
It was a hot summer day on July 15, 1991, when Katherine Dolan Heckel, then 40 years old, left for lunch from the former International Paper Co. plant in Castanea Township, where she worked as a secretary.
She was never seen again.
Her car, a 1990-model Ford Festiva, was found two days later in the parking lot of the Lock Haven Hospital, with the keys missing, in third gear with the emergency brake applied.
Loyd Groves, a chemical hygienist at the plant with whom Kathy began a brief extramarital affair that summer, was questioned as a suspect in the case immediately after Kathy’s disappearance, but police could not find enough evidence to hold him.
No one was charged in the case … until two-and-a-half years ago when Groves, 68, was arrested and accused of killing Kathy, whose remains have never been found.
He is charged with criminal homicide and murder of the third degree.
A trial was set for Nov. 13, 2017.
But justice was once again delayed when Lycoming County Senior Judge Kenneth Brown granted a continuance after Groves suffered a heart attack and underwent quadruple bypass surgery in October.
They moved the trial to June 18, 2018.
So, that day, prospective jurors arrived at the courthouse ready to be questioned.
Both the prosecution and defense teams had made it known they were ready to proceed.
Court officials were poised for a three-week trial.
Even the local media made special preparations so reporters would be in the courtroom from gavel to gavel to give readers coverage of the long-awaited trial.
But that all suddenly changed.
Jury selection was quickly halted.
The trial was delayed.
An ailing prosecution witness was scheduled to testify.
And it was revealed that Groves’ ex-wife, Katherine Groves, had come forward June 15 and spoke to police.
That was just two days before jury selection was to begin on June 18.
As attorneys for both sides and Judge Brown arrived at the courthouse for jury selection, they learned of the “bomb shell.”
After all, it had been more than 27 years and Katherine Groves had spoken very little to police. But she did testify in front of a grand jury in Pittsburgh in 2004. According to the February 2014 grand jury that indicted Groves, Mrs. Groves “recalled that, on July 15, 1991, Groves went to work in the morning as usual and returned home about 5:30 in the afternoon. It was their wedding anniversary, and they went out to dinner at a seafood restaurant in Williamsport.”
Later, she told PSP Trooper Richard Davey, the principal investigator on the case at the time, that she and Groves had only “two or three conversations about Heckel’s disappearance during the whole course of their marriage,” the grand jury report said. She said that “there are a few topics they don’t discuss” in their marriage and July 15, 1991, was one of those topics.”
Mrs. Groves divorced Loyd in March 2016, according to Beaver County court records.
So on June 15, 2018, what did she have to say?
Why did she come forward now?
Only the prosecution knew the answers to those questions and they certainly aren’t talking.
Judge Brown said Mrs. Groves’ interview with police provided “important information,” important enough to delay the trial and give the defense team time to do their own investigation into this latest turn of events.
And obviously important enough to take the prosecution team back to the Woodward Township property where Loyd Groves and his family lived when Kathy Heckel disappeared on July 15, 1991.
Immediately after this past Tuesday’s court session where prosecution witness Jean Carter testified, retired state police Trooper Mike Hutson, one of the arresting officers in the case, said that his team was taking a trip to the former Groves’ property to look around.
The trip was made with permission from Wayne and Cindy Love, who bought the house and land from Groves about six to eight weeks after Heckel disappeared and before Groves took his wife and children and moved to an area near Pittsburgh in Beaver County.
As the team — which included prosecutor and Senior Deputy Attorney General Daniel J. Dye, FBI Special Agent Kyle Moore, State Police Cpl. Curtis Confer, state police Trooper Christopher Soo, FBI Task Force Officer Matt LaForme and Hutson– arrived at the 15-acre property along German Road, it was apparent they were looking for something specific.
Dye addressed reporters immediately and told them the only thing he would say was, “We continue to follow up on each and every lead and will leave no stone unturned.”
Asked if it was a “recent lead” they were following up on, Dye said, “no comment.”
Prodded further and asked if it was a lead given to police by Katherine Grove when she talked with police recently, he again replied, “no comment.”
After talking among themselves for 15 or 20 minutes, Dye and Moore began walking up a hill and through the field behind the family home.
As they reached the top of the field, the area became wooded, but a make-shift road provided a pathway. The two continued to walk, eventually turning off the road and walking down over a slight embankment, kneeling down at times and looking on the ground among the trees and shrubs in one specific area.
It appeared Moore was sifting through a dark-colored piece of material on the ground in the area which was darkened by foliage. He took many photographs of the area.
Several minutes later, they emerged from woods, stopped to talk briefly in the field and then proceeded back down over the hill to the area where the house and other out buildings stood.
There, they briefed the others on what they had seen and decided to drive up and retrieve what they found.
Declining to allow media to tag along, Dye said he “might show some things” to the reporters when they returned.
That didn’t happen, however.
Also while at the property, the prosecution team used yellow tape to cordon off the area where a barn stood when the Groves family lived there. They also crossed German Road and looked briefly at a forested area formerly owned by Katherine Groves and the Love family. It was noted that Katherine Groves was the sole owner of the property and Loyd Groves’ name was not on the deed to the property where the family lived.
According to Love, the portion of the property where the house and outbuildings sit is about 15 acres. The 65-acre property on the other side of the road has since been sold by the Loves.
The 2014 grand jury report indicates that, in 1991, officers “searched the property, including a barn and some out buildings, (while) other officers searched the residence.”
Dye said the entire property, including the 65 acres on the other side of the German Road, was searched in 1991. Since then, he said, he could not say the property “has not been searched” again, but he posited that over the years smaller searches have been done to gather possible evidence.
The barn officers searched in 1991 has since been torn down by the Love family and the property has been altered, but the house blueprint remains the same, according to Cindy.