Monday marks 25 years since Stephanie Coyle was found brutally stabbed to death in her Arnold home.
The investigation into her murder remains open, but cold, and as far or further from closure as it has been since the night of July 16, 1993.
Coyle, 74 at the time, a mother of four and grandmother, was living alone in a one-bedroom garage apartment in the rear of 1613 Fourth Ave.
She hadn’t reported to the New Kensington Senior Center for her volunteer shift that Friday morning. A supervisor was worried. Her 81-year-old landlord went to check on her.
What he saw would shock the community and start a now-21/2-decade search for answers.
Coyle was found stripped nude, stabbed a dozen times in the neck, her throat had been slashed and her body mutilated after her demise.
Her unsolved homicide remains one of the Alle-Kiski Valley’s most infamous and unsettling police cases. After 25 years without an arrest or credible lead, the victim’s family and police continue to seek justice for Coyle.
The last moments
Dredging up memories of their mother’s death is hard for the Coyle family. Two of Stephanie Coyle’s three sons, both in their 70s now, grew emotional recalling their last moments with their mom.
The last time Dan Coyle saw his mother alive was two nights before her death. She had stopped over for dinner. Everything was normal. She left early, before the sun set. She called to say she made it home safe.
“That was the last time I actually spoke to her,” Dan Coyle said.
He learned of his mother’s death while golfing. He remembers that day as if it was yesterday. He was 2-under-par and onto the green of the par-5 third hole in two shots.
“So, I’m riding high. All of the sudden here comes a golf cart,” he said. “He says there is an emergency call for you.”
It was Coyle’s brother-in-law.
“He says, ‘Your mother died,’ ” Coyle said. “I’m thinking a heart attack. He said, ‘She was murdered.’ Next thing you know, I’m sitting on the floor, holding the phone. That’s all I remember.”
Dick Coyle last saw his mother at the end of March 1993, when he was in town for a family funeral.
“I stayed with my mother, at her place. That’s the last time that I saw her and everything was normal. What a gentle, sweet soul,” he said. “What’s so tough about it now, is that it seems like there were clues, cues and evidence, a few leads, lots of stuff … but all dead ends … our hope level is down in the dumps, especially at this point.”
A gentle, sweet soul
For retired Arnold police Chief Willie Weber, Coyle’s death stands as the sole unsolved murder case in his more than three decades as a law enforcement officer. Even now, three years into his retirement, Weber continues to pursue justice for Coyle.
“I always said, if I had to bring my work into my home, it was time to get out,” Weber said. “Well, Stephanie Coyle has been in this house for 25 years. She is still here.”
According to Weber, while the unsolved nature of the case itself is unusual, Stephanie Coyle as well turned out to be a singularly unusual person.
“Here’s the thing about this case,” Weber said while sitting at the dining room table of his Arnold home. “In every other murder case, you can find someone who says something negative about the person that gives you a direction to go in. Some argument they had, some bad interaction.
“With Stephanie Coyle, there was nothing. No one — not one person — could say a negative thing about her life. Not one person remembers her having an argument or problem with anyone.”
“She was so nice to people, almost to a fault,” Dick Coyle said. “She was so outgoing, friendly and kind.”
A different town
Weber says Arnold was going through change in the early 1990s. The so-called American crack epidemic had finally made its way into the Alle-Kiski Valley. Older residents of the city were dying or moving. Jobs were scarce and drugs easy to find.
Coyle, he said, chose to stay in her neighborhood, even as crime started to tick up. Her sons asked her to move, they say, but she refused, saying that all of her friends were in Arnold.
“She wasn’t afraid of anything,” Dick Coyle said. “We started hearing rumors about how rough things were getting, drugs coming into the neighborhood. We tried to convince her to move.”
“We were just getting into ‘crack’ mode,” Weber said. “Coyle, she lived on Fourth Avenue, walked to the New Kensington Senior Center everyday. Walked right through the projects, but we couldn’t find anyone who she ever had an issue with on her way in.”
The morning of July 16, Weber already was working another homicide case, just a few streets over. Then-police Chief Ron Hopkins said he wondered if all of it was the beginning of something more serious.
“The circumstances were so unique, there was a strong indication this would be repeated, something serial in nature. Fortunately or unfortunately, it never did recur,” Hopkins said.
Hopkins said his small department pursued the case vigorously for years but found nothing that led to a killer or even a motive.
“Time works against you in this matter,” Hopkins said. “I was confident at the time, considering the personnel involved, I was feeling optimistic that we could resolve it. I think there still could be a resolution, but the odds, I don’t know, they are really stacked against us anymore.”
Weber said officers pursued every lead they found, chasing some, he said, for years. Still, nothing ever panned out.
“We canvassed a four-block area, brought bloodhounds in,” he said. “Every address that the dogs sat with, we knocked on the door to see who lives there — nothing.”
Over the following years, Weber said the case was twice brought before the FBI in Quantico, Va., for a profile. It was presented in Fayetteville, N.C., to the American Investigative Society of Cold Cases. A group of law enforcement and legal students at the University of Pittsburgh looked at the case. Weber and other investigators followed leads to Philadelphia, Hollidaysburg and White Plains, N.Y. DNA experts from California were consulted. A DNA sample has been in a national registry for decades.
“Every three to six months, the computer regurgitates the report to see if there are any hits on new entries coming in,” Weber said. “We haven’t had any luck. I think, in 25 years, we’ve had four hits that were close.”
Weber retired in 2015 but took a part-time job with another department to keep his status as a law enforcement officer active.
“With the hope and aspiration that we can come to closure for the family of (Coyle),” he said. “At this point, for me, solving this case has become something personal.”
25 years later
Despite the fact a resolution has eluded law enforcement for decades, the Coyle family members say they still want answers.
For years after his mother’s death, Dan Coyle stopped by the Arnold Police Department weekly looking for those answers.
“I would set up meetings with the police, make phone calls, meet with the district attorney,” he said. “At the beginning, it looked great. It felt like they were really jumping on the case. But, after five, 10, 15 years, it just got cold. It slowly went downhill.”
Dan Coyle says every year around July he revisits the area where his mom lived. He hangs reward posters, offering $10,000 for information leading to a conviction. No one has ever stepped forward to claim that reward.
“I read it to people, say, ‘Here is a phone number, if you know anything.’ I’ve had people come up to me and say they thought it was solved,” he said.
It’s been a hard 25 years.
“This is something that nobody will understand unless you were in the situation,” Dan Coyle said. “People say they know how I feel, but they don’t. You don’t know how I feel.”
“We’re between a rock and a hard place,” said Dan’s wife, Barbara. “How much longer can we wait?”
“What do we do now?” Dick Coyle asked.
If the case did come to a closure, Dan Coyle said he can’t put into words what it would mean to his family.
A message for the killer
The Coyle family holds onto the hope that their mother’s killer is out there somewhere and will eventually be caught. In the meantime, they hope that person will see this article and respond to a family carrying a quarter century’s worth of pain.
“Put yourself in our position: You have a mother and father. You had to have had a mother and father,” Dan Coyle said. “If someone did this to your mother, what would your feelings be?”
“If you have any human qualities left, and you have conscience, really consider letting this family know what you have done and accept the consequences in this life,” Dick Coyle said. “Maybe you will alleviate, or mollify, or lessen the consequences in the afterlife by doing this. So please, please: If you have a heart, give this some thought and turn yourself in.”
Matthew Medsger is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Matthew at 724-226-4675, [email protected] or via Twitter @matthew_medsger.