'There's a murderer out there'
While Alburtis residents fret, police chief tries for reassurance.
Coroner Scott Grim peers out from the rear of the house as State police and Alburtis officers investigate two deaths in this home at 122 Cobblestone Court. (DONNA FISHER, THE MORNING CALL / March 11, 2011)
"Based on all of the evidence that has been gathered so far, it appears to be an isolated occurrence," said Chief Robert Palmer. "We are asking the public to be patient and to try to understand that we cannot reveal any details that would compromise the integrity of the investigation or hinder it in any way."
But while the slayings of Althea Walbert, 82, and her 59-year-old mentally disabled daughter Jeannette appear to be a lone crime — and may, in fact, have been the first homicides in the borough's history — Palmer also encouraged the public to take any steps they normally would to protect themselves and their families, like locking their doors and cars and remaining vigilant.
Residents remained fearful on Monday, and seeing the state police pull out of the neighborhood, taking down crime scene tape and pulling roadblocks, didn't help.
"Well, that's not a good sign. I felt comfortable knowing police were right there," said Kim Pavelko, who lives in the same Beri Acres development where the women were found in their white paneled Cobblestone Court home Friday morning.
Since the bodies were discovered, police have released little information. Lehigh County Coroner Scott Grim ruled that the women's deaths were homicides, but is keeping the cause of their death confidential because of the investigation.
A swarm of investigators worked the crime scene over the weekend, focusing their efforts on a room at the side of the home that is now shut with a plywood door. Investigators also searched wooded areas and a drainage ditch near the home and interviewed dozens of people.
The lack of information hasn't set residents' minds at ease.
"By not knowing anything, it lets your imagination run rampant," said Harold Frey, owner of a country store about a block from the home. "And that makes people scared."
"There's a murderer out there," he said, "and we don't know anything."
Palmer wouldn't comment on the investigation and said he understands that people are concerned about the lack of information being released. But, he said, information is being withheld because authorities are hoping it helps in the investigation.
"We're all devastated by the crime," said Palmer, who became chief more than six years ago after more than two decades with Allentown police. "I know I am."
Thinking back to the homicides, Pavelko, 43, was still visibly shaken on Monday.
She said she learned about the killings from her daughter, who noticed dozens of police, media vans and crime scene tape in their community on Friday morning.
Frightened, Pavelko and her daughters slept elsewhere that night. They returned on Saturday, and were comforted by knowing police were just down the block.
Another neighbor, Sal Alagna, said it was eerily quiet for being such a nice weekend since no children were playing on the basketball and tennis courts next to the Walberts' home.
But with state police leaving, Pavelko said "it's a little concerning."
The Walberts owned large amounts of land in the area, which was sold to developers and later turned into town homes, some that became the Beri Acres development. Residents have said they believe money was the motive for the killings because, they say, Althea Walbert was known to carry wads of cash that sometimes spilled from her purse.
At Frey's Country Store, locals come and go and the only thing people are talking about is the killing of Althea Walbert, the spunky former pig farmer and town icon some knew by her Pennsylvania Dutch nickname "Chuttie."
Frey said he can't believe a local "Alburtian" committed the crime because, he said, locals have always known about Althea and her money and would never take from her, or hurt her.
Palmer said he realized people will be talking about the crime and the Walberts, but stressed that not every story told is factual. He said someone did attempt to pry open Althea Walbert's car, but it happened in October 2008, not two months ago, as many residents recalled over the weekend.
Like many on Cobblestone Court, 29-year-old Nick Boehmer has been getting updates from local news Web sites. To him, the most shocking part is the callousness of the killings.
"If this was a robbery," he said. "Why didn't they just tie them up? Why kill them?"