Hunt for clues continues in slaying of teacher from Aliquippa
Authorities aren’t publicly saying where their investigation into the Mother’s Day slaying of a former elementary school teacher from Aliquippa stands, but court records show investigators have cast a wide net to try to solve the case.
Investigators have obtained at least seven search warrants since the May 13 murder of Rachael DelTondo, including four this week, and interviewed at least three men who were romantically involved with her.
Aliquippa police Chief Don Couch and Beaver County District Attorney David Lozier declined to comment Wednesday. Couch said investigating agencies agreed hours after DelTondo’s shooting that they wouldn’t talk publicly about their investigation, but court records related to the warrants contain many details.
Here’s where the case stood as of Wednesday:
DelTondo went out for ice cream on Mother’s Day with friends Lauren Watkins, 17, and Tyrie Jeter, 25.
Watkins dropped off DelTondo at her mother’s Buchanan Street home at 10:44 p.m. Four minutes later, authorities received an emergency call about shots being fired in the area. Responding officers found DelTondo in the driveway. She had been shot at least 10 times at close range.
A suspect has not been identified.
Watkins picked up DelTondo from her home just after 8 p.m. Warrants say they drove to the Circle K convenience store on Sheffield Avenue and then to the Hopewell home of a man identified as Chris Jones before returning to DelTondo’s home, where she changed clothes.
Watkins and DelTondo picked up Tyrie Jeter on Aliquippa’s Main Street around 9:30 p.m. and went to Hank’s Frozen Custard in New Brighton, about 10 miles away.
A search of Tyrie Jeter’s phone revealed a series of text messages he exchanged with younger brother Sheldon Jeter Jr.
When Sheldon Jeter Jr., 20, asked his brother just after 10 p.m. if he already was at Hank’s, Tyrie Jeter said yes. The younger Jeter texted back, “I got left huh,” followed by six smiley face emojis.
After Watkins dropped off DelTondo at her Buchanan Street home at 10:44 p.m., warrants say Watkins drove Tyrie Jeter back to Main Street.
Text messages show Watkins messaged DelTondo one minute before dropping her off: “Go for a walk I’ll come pick you up after.” DelTondo responded, “U serious?” and “Haha.”
Watkins messaged DelTondo again at 11:03 p.m. to say she was on her way back to DelTondo’s home. Minutes later, she tried to call.
By that time, DelTondo was dead, according to police.
Detectives questioned Sheldon Jeter Jr. the next morning. When they told him DelTondo had been murdered in front of her home, warrants say, “(He) showed no emotion when he heard this.”
He voluntarily turned over clothing that he told police he had been wearing the night of the killing. Police said those clothes didn’t match ones he was seen wearing in surveillance footage from that day at a local Wendy’s restaurant and Walmart store.
Warrants say Sheldon Jeter Jr. told police he’d been with friends when he saw DelTondo at the Circle K the day of the shooting, and she told him she was going to get ice cream later. Police said they did not see evidence that Sheldon Jeter Jr. was there when they reviewed the store’s surveillance footage.
Sheldon Jeter Jr. told police he returned home after going to the store and was picked up by a woman he refused to identify, and she took him to his mother’s home at an address he refused to disclose, warrants say. He said his mother’s boyfriend, whom he would not identify, drove him back to his home at 10 p.m.
A search warrant for Sheldon Jeter Jr.’s cellphone revealed an exchange between him and a person who detectives believe was DelTondo. “I won’t go ok,” he wrote in a text sent about 9:30 p.m.
Michael F. Santicola, attorney for Sheldon Jeter Jr., said his client has been nothing but cooperative with investigators.
“We’ve given over everything we have,” he said.
He said that investigators didn’t ask for Sheldon Jeter Jr.’s sweatshirt, just the clothing he was wearing that night. He said had investigators been more specific, his client would have turned over the sweatshirt as well.
He said investigators are trying to paint Sheldon Jeter Jr. as a jealous lover enraged by DelTondo’s other relationships.
“That’s a big leap to make,” he said.
In addition to obtaining warrants seeking information or potential evidence from Sheldon Jeter Jr.’s home, car, cellphone and Facebook account, investigators also filed warrants to access information from Tyrie Jeter’s cellphone and the Facebook accounts of DelTondo, Lauren Watkins and Stephanie Watkins, who is Lauren Watkins’ mother and the wife of Aliquippa police Sgt. Kenneth Watkins.
DelTondo was suspended from her job as a teacher at the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School in November after someone leaked a police report about an alleged 2016 incident in which she was found alone in a parked car with Sheldon Jeter Jr., then 17, according to Tribune-Review news partner WPXI-TV.
DelTondo told police she and Sheldon Jeter Jr. had just been talking and charges were never filed, WPXI reported.
Sgt. Kenneth Watkins was one of the Aliquippa police officers who responded to that incident. He has been placed on administrative leave because his daughter was with DelTondo before she was shot.
Police interviewed at least two other men who were romantically involved with DelTondo: former fiancé Frank Catroppa, 36, and recent boyfriend Rashawn Bolton, 32.
A half-brother of Tyrie Jeter and Sheldon Jeter Jr., Bolton told police he’d been in a relationship with DelTondo since December.
Months before they began dating, Bolton told police he called Sheldon Jeter Jr. to ask if he was sexually involved with DelTondo. Bolton said his brother hung up on him.
Three months ago, warrants say, Sheldon Jeter Jr. pulled up while Bolton was in a car with DelTondo in front of his home. Warrants say Sheldon Jeter Jr. told DelTondo that if Bolton hadn’t been there, “I’d (expletive) you up.”
Bolton also told police that DelTondo had recently been scared and feared someone was following her.
Bolton made news last year after he admitted in court testimony that he knocked two men unconscious during a scuffle on Pittsburgh’s South Side. He said he had been defending his childhood friend, Aliquippa native and NFL star Darrelle Revis. Bolton was never charged, and charges brought against Revis were dropped.
This story was updated to provide more details about the nature of the search warrants obtained by investigators.
Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer.