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Walter J. OGROD





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Rape
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: July 12. 1988
Date of arrest: 1992
Date of birth: February 3, 1965
Victim profile: Barbara Jean Horn (female, 4)
Method of murder: Blows to the head consistent with a metal rod
Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on November 8, 1996

John Hall and a fellow inmate led Walter Ogrod to death row.
Should the DA reopen the case?

(Part two of two.)

By Tom Lowenstein

In 1993, Walter Ogrod had come within one vote one second of being acquitted of the 1988 murder of 4-year-old Barbara Jean Horn, a crime for which he had signed a written confession a year earlier. Horn's murder had stunned the city. So did Ogrod's now-disputed confession and his near-acquittal.

By the time he went to trial again in 1996, the case against him would be bolstered by a story fabricated by a career jailhouse informant and Ogrod would be sent to death row.

It's hard to imagine what the near-defeat at the first Ogrod trial must've been like for Joseph Casey, the assistant district attorney who'd prosecuted the case, and his fellow ADAs. A crowd of people from the District Attorney's Office had been in the courthouse in 1993, expecting to see a hard-fought victory when the mistrial was declared, after which the little girl's stepfather jumped the railing and tried to get at Ogrod.

Sure, there had been problems with the case. The witness descriptions of the man carrying the box in which the little girl's body had been found didn't match Ogrod. There was no physical evidence tying him to the crime. But, Ogrod had signed a 16-page confession. The two detectives, who had cracked the case by getting Ogrod's confession nearly four years after the murder, had even won an award from the prestigious Vidocq Society for their work.

How could a jury have rejected a signed confession in the murder of a little girl?

After the mistrial, Ogrod's lawyer filed an appeal based on a claim of double jeopardy, arguing that because the verdict had come in a juror announced as the verdict was about to be read that he didn't agree with the decision Ogrod had been acquitted and therefore couldn't be tried again. The appeal would wind its way through the court system during the next couple of years.

In December 1994, in the city Detention Center, Ogrod was approached by an intelligent-looking inmate who carried a legal folder and had a little portable TV he claimed his lawyer had gotten for him. His name was John Hall, known as the "The Monsignor," a jailhouse informant who was in the middle of a yearlong run during which he'd snitch out five murders. Hall's lawyer, Marc Frumer, who had recently left the District Attorney's Office and gone into private practice, was also an attorney for Ogrod's brother.

"He approached me," Ogrod said in a recent interview, "and said Marc [Frumer] asked him to check up on me, and so on."

As Ogrod recalls, right around the time he met Hall, his appeal was denied. He said he talked to Hall about his case, insisting on his innocence. They also hung out sometimes with Jay Wolchansky, a 33-year-old former drug addict and alcoholic with a criminal record that included about 15 convictions for burglary, theft, forgery and escape.

Wolchansky had been released from prison in early 1994 after serving close to five years for burglary and parole violations and, within a few months, had been arrested on a variety of charges.

"I played cards and checkers with them. They seemed all right at the time. They'd tell me stuff Marc Frumer told them about my brother," Ogrod says. He adds that he didn't talk to Wolchansky about his case too much. "I told him I'm innocent and all. I just said I'm innocent and all."

According to letters that Hall wrote from prison, Wolchansky insulted Ogrod, and Ogrod "didn't really like him." He also wrote that Ogrod "never talked to" Wolchansky about his case.

By the end of December, Hall was putting his snitching machinery into action against Ogrod.

In a 1996 talk with a private investigator, Hall said he was prompted to do so by a conversation he'd had with Casey, the assistant DA. From there, he combined details learned from Ogrod with newspaper articles to create a bizarre version of the Horn murder. He wrote up two drafts and sent them to Frumer, his "sales manager" who would present the story to the authorities to get Hall out from under the 25 to 50 years he was looking at for assaulting a police officer.

Frumer referred questions for comment to the District Attorney's Office. Casey declined to comment.

According Hall's story, Ogrod had planned Horn's murder for months even failing in two earlier attempts to abduct the little girl because he was in love with Sharon Fahy and needed to get her husband, John, out of the way. Hall's version of the murder maintained that Ogrod thought John Fahy had a brother on death row for murdering a young girl with an extension cord, so his plan was to strangle Horn with an extension cord, which would naturally lead the police to arrest John. (There is a Henry Fahy on death row for such a crime; John Fahy says he is not related.)

In Hall's story, on the day of the murder, Ogrod stashed an extension cord, garbage bag and gloves in his basement, lured Horn inside and raped her. But when he reached for the extension cord it was gone, so he beat her to death and put her in a trash bag. When Ogrod got to where he'd intended to leave her body, there were people around so he hid the bag behind some bushes and went back to the alley behind his house.

Ogrod found an empty TV box and carried it to where it was eventually found, retrieved the bag with Horn's body in it, waited for the street around the box to be clear of people and cars, dumped her in the box and walked away, according to Hall's story. Ogrod even stopped on his way home to ditch the gloves and garbage bag in a Dumpster.

As for the guy seen carrying the TV box, Ogrod according to Hall didn't know who that was because he'd only carried the empty box in one hand and hadn't gone by where those witnesses had been anyway.

Hall's Jan. 6, 1995, interview with detectives included a final version of the alleged sexual assault. Hall had originally written that Ogrod "raped" the little girl that Ogrod forced oral sex and "tried to enter" Barbara Jean, but she was "too small." But according to medical testimony at both trials, there was no evidence of attempted penetration, and Ogrod would be acquitted of rape by the second jury.

Hall told the detectives that he could not "in good conscience remain silent" and "see the murderer of an innocent girl go free."

Meanwhile, Hall developed a friendship with Wolchansky who, he thought, was a nice kid who needed help to get out. So, as he explained in a letter years later, he "gave" Wolchansky the Ogrod story and introduced him to Frumer, the attorney.

On Jan. 23, Wolchansky wrote a letter to Casey saying that Ogrod was talking all the time about how he murdered Horn and that, as the father of a daughter who was roughly Horn's age had she lived, he could not sit by and allow Ogrod to go free. He followed this with a five-page letter to District Attorney Lynne Abraham, using strikingly similar language to that which Hall had used in his letters about the Ogrod case to his attorney. Wolchansky's second letter included Hall's details about the case that did not match either the eyewitness accounts of the man carrying the box or Ogrod's alleged statement the motive for the killing, the disappearing extension cord, the attempted rape, the route Ogrod took with the body.

On March 20, a detective interviewed Wolchansky about Ogrod. He denied that anyone had helped him or advised him to write the letters, and Hall came up only in passing. The interview lasted 25 minutes.

Two days later, Wolchansky signed a Frumer-negotiated plea agreement on his three open cases. He'd been facing up to 30 years in jail and fines of up to $75,000. He got 11 to 23 months for each count, to run concurrently.

For his parole violation, Wolchansky received what Hall called the "minimum possible sentence," obtained for him when some of the detectives who had worked the Ogrod case showed up to testify for Wolchansky at his sentencing hearing.

But, Hall wrote, "I didn't just give" the Ogrod case to Wolchansky, "I used it first."

Hall was facing a 25- to 50-year mandatory minimum sentence for charges related to a high-speed car chase and assaulting an officer. He got 9 to 18 months after a hearing in which several detectives who'd worked with him on the Horn case and other cases showed up to testify for him. As Hall put it, "Everyone made out."

Frumer, who represented both Hall and Wolchansky, acknowledges that both men benefited from the information they gave in the Ogrod case, but he referred all other questions about the case to the District Attorney's Office.

Hall also worked with Wolchansky on snitching out another inmate, David Dickson, who'd been accused of the 1984 murder of Drexel University student Deborah Wilson. Wolchansky testified against Dickson in 1995 but, according to Hall, "screwed it up." The case ended in a mistrial.

"When I learned [Wolchansky] blew the case with Dickson," Hall wrote, "I wrote a letter to [the prosecutor] and they picked me up the day after they received it. They interviewed me and used me at trial. The result was a conviction."

Dickson was sentenced to life in prison.

"Wolchansky never talked to Dickson," Ogrod insists. "Neither did Hall."

Dickson, too, says that he never spoke to Hall or Wolchansky.

Even before the second Ogrod trial got under way, Hall plunged himself into another high-profile case. In November 1995, a young woman named Kimberly Ernest, out for her early morning jog, was killed in Center City. Shortly after her slaying, Hall contacted police with information that his own stepson, Herbert Haak, who had been brought to the same jail as Hall, had admitted that he and a friend had killed Ernest.

But Hall had a long-standing grudge against Haak, who Hall felt had stolen from him and betrayed him over the years.

"I had extremely strong motivations to cause [Haak] injury," Hall wrote later. "It isn't in my nature to kill. But I was not adverse to letting the state do it."

However, in his eagerness to use the Ernest case for revenge against his stepson, Hall slipped. He eventually admitted to a homicide detective that he lied and fabricated evidence against Haak a necklace inscribed "to Kim" that he planned to plant in Haak's cell because he knew the prosecution's case was weak.

The prosecutor for both the Ernest murder trial and the second Ogrod trial was Judy Rubino, one of the city's best and toughest assistant DAs who, at the time of the Ogrod and Haak cases, was in the midst of a 33-year career during which she sent more than 20 people to death row. Rubino knew that Hall had contacted the authorities with a story about Ogrod, but she says she thought Hall had too much baggage to use him in the Ogrod case.

"He had been using drugs," Rubino said in a recent interview. "He was involved in too much phony [prescriptions] and, I mean, he just had too many credibility problems to suit me."

She didn't want to use Hall in the Ernest trial either, but "probably would have" until she looked into things a little further. That is, until she found out about the necklace.

For his part, Hall wrote that he thought Rubino didn't know he was lying about the Ernest case until she found out about the necklace; he also wrote that he thought Frumer knew the truth all along. In February1997, Hall invoked his Fifth Amendment rights and declined to testify at the Ernest trial. Haak and his co-defendant were acquitted of the murder on March 14, 1997. The case remains unsolved.

Hall told an investigator working for Ogrod's defense lawyer in August 1996 that he was not going to testify at the second Ogrod trial because Rubino wanted him to testify in the Ernest case.

For the Ogrod retrial, Rubino said that Wolchansky was in a totally different situation from Hall. She met with Wolchansky twice, including once with him and his daughter. He reiterated that his desire to testify against Ogrod sprang from his feelings for his daughter, and Rubino apparently believed him, but a more realistic look at his motives comes in a letter he wrote to Hall in August 1996:

"I will not do anything for the Ogrod trial unless I am free first," he wrote. "And then I will only think about doing it, since I don't enjoy the publicity."

Rubino says she believes Ogrod's statement to the detectives didn't contain anything that he hadn't said and that he'd been overmedicated at his first trial, making him seem like an idiot who was incapable of such a fluent statement. She called the prison psychiatric ward and asked them to check his medication level. (His medications were reduced.) She also says she thought that Ogrod had spoken to Wolchansky and Hall at the same time, and that there were good reasons for the discrepancies between their story and Ogrod's statement. Maybe Ogrod, in an attempt to gain some kind of leniency, hadn't told the entire truth in 1992, or had tried to make himself look good when he was bragging to Hall and Wolchansky in jail, or maybe Wolchansky hadn't remembered every detail precisely.

"If I don't believe a witness," Rubino said recently, "I'm not going to put them on the stand. I think that probably [Ogrod's] statement was more accurate, but the substance [of Wolchansky's letter] was, you know, that [Ogrod] had done it."

She says she thought the people who'd seen the man carrying the TV box probably hadn't been paying attention to some guy putting out his trash and therefore weren't reliable. (She was not aware that the witness who saw the man carrying the box for the longest time, David Schectman, had known Ogrod by sight, if not by name.)

She also says she didn't think the argument about whether a sperm head had been found in Horn's saliva was important since the medical examiner didn't find one. In any event, it really didn't mean anything if one sperm head from the box didn't match Ogrod's DNA. She insists that, as far as she knows, Wolchansky got "nothing" for his testimony in the Ogrod case, and that any deal he got on his open cases was just part of "whatever arrangement there was on that case itself."

During the trial, Rubino wove unsubstantiated details taken from the Greens (the family that had been living in Ogrod's house) and from the Hall/Wolchansky story that Ogrod had been inappropriate with the Green's children, that Charles "Sarge" Green had beaten Ogrod up in November 1988 because he knew Ogrod killed Horn, that Ogrod's own mother had been convinced he'd killed the little girl together with Ogrod's statement to create a portrait of a guilty man.

Ogrod's attorney Mark Greenberg says he thought the prosecution's case at the second trial amounted to a re-hash of the first trial, the only new information being Wolchansky's testimony. The problems with the alleged confession, the discrepancies between it and the Hall/Wolchansky statement, and the undeniable differences between the witnesses' descriptions of the man carrying the box and Ogrod any one of these, Greenberg said, might amount to reasonable doubt. Taken together, all three had to cause doubt.

Ogrod didn't testify at the second trial.

Wolchansky claimed he was in danger of being beaten up in jail (a claim that Hall, who was with Wolchansky in the Bucks County prison at the time of Wolchansky's testimony in the Dickson case, laughed off as "bullshit" because "no one beat him up there" ). On the stand, Wolchansky, allowed to testify under the alias Jason Banachowski, denied getting any deal for his testimony against Ogrod and told the story Hall had given him. Hall's name came up twice, in passing; Greenberg was able to establish only that Hall and Wolchansky had the same lawyer.

Ogrod says he remembers vividly the moment Wolchansky took the stand.

"He was lying his ass off," Ogrod says. "His daughter was there, waving to her daddy so he'd look good to the jury. How would you feel?"

On Oct. 8, 1996, after 90 minutes of deliberations, the jury came in with their verdict.

"When they walked in, I kinda knew," John Fahy, Horn's stepfather, said in an interview. "I knew they found him guilty. They walked in, it was just, the way they the way they came in, they looked right at us."

John Fahy isn't sure, but he says he thinks one of the jurors even nodded at him slightly. He recalls squeezing Sharon's hand.

"They got him," he whispered. "I know they got him."

Ogrod was convicted of first-degree murder and attempted involuntary deviate sexual intercourse. He was acquitted of rape.

"It's over," John remembers thinking. "It's finally over. They finally got him." Sharon says that it was "like somebody took bricks right off your back."

The next day, after a mitigation hearing and another 90 minutes of deliberations, the jury sentenced Ogrod to death.

In March 1996, four detectives, who'd worked with Hall on one or more of the Ogrod, Dickson and Ernest cases, showed up at a sentencing hearing for Hall before Judge Kenneth Biehn in Bucks County. At one point in the hearing, Frumer, the attorney, pointed out how often Hall, even under intense cross-examination, had been able to get convictions for prosecutors in difficult retrials.

Biehn responded that that was because "people believe him." The judge continued: "He makes people believe him the first, second, third, fourth time, that's his blessing; that's his curse, because he knows he can get away with a lot of stuff. It seems to me that perhaps the best thing I could do would be to put him in jail for the rest of his life so he wouldn't commit crimes against others and he would be able to ferret out crime within the State Correctional facility. I mean, this is a joke, is what this has become."

In the fall of 2003, in jail again on a variety of charges including car theft, forging prescriptions and parole violations, Hall maintained in letters that he faces "no liability" even if the truth about his fabrications in the Ogrod case come out because the statute of limitations on the only crime he could be charged with unsworn falsifications to law enforcement authorities ran out in 1997.

"If you are going to become involved in this sort of thing," he wrote, "you can't be troubled about it long after you get the desired result. They'll crucify you if you start to recant testimony in cases of that magnitude."

Writing a few months later about his involvement in the high-profile homicide cases including Ogrod's, he added: "All these cases are crap. They are all based on hearsay with no physical evidence of anything in any of the cases. Just words."

To Hall, the "bottom line" was that Ogrod was convicted. "Nothing else matters, especially how the convictions were obtained," he wrote. "The point is they were obtained and will be sustained."

Given the questions surrounding Ogrod's conviction and the disturbing revelations about how Hall and Wolchansky helped send him to death row, might DNA testing offer any answers in this case? The one disputed sperm cell was sent to Cellmark Labs in Maryland for testing after the first trial. When Cellmark got the sample, the slide that held what might have been a sperm had been broken and taped back together. Cellmark was unable to find enough genetic material to perform a DNA test. It is unlikely but possible that new technology exists that could test a single cell, if the single cell exists.

After Raymond Sheehan who had been identified by at least one witness as the man carrying the TV box containing Horn was arrested for the 1987 murder of 10-year-old Heather Coffin, Greenberg urged in a 2003 letter to the District Attorney's Office final testing of the disputed DNA from the Horn case.

Ogrod is now pushing for the test to be done.

Judy Rubino, before retiring from the DA's Office this spring, said, "Well, I mean, whatever the defense wants to do. But we won't do it."

The Fahys say they remain absolutely convinced of Ogrod's guilt, but would support a new round of DNA testing if it's possible. "I mean," Sharon says, "I don't want it to be that, just to make us feel better, that somebody gets killed for this and it not be the person who murdered her."

Her husband John says they want the right guy, "and I believe that Walter is the right guy." The Fahys still live in Philadelphia.

DA spokeswoman Cathie Abookire agreed with John Fahy's stance in a statement issued on Monday.

"We believe the evidence proved that the defendant is guilty. A jury believed that too, after seeing the witnesses and hearing the defense arguments, and convicted him in the sexual assault and brutal murder of 4-year-old Barbara Jean Horn. On appeal the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania rejected his claims and upheld his conviction [last December]. If there are further claims, we will respond to them, and they will be resolved in a court of law. The tragedy here is that 16 years after the horrendous murder of 4-year-old Barbara Jean Horn, her family is still subjected to the pain of reliving this nightmare, rather than allowing the legal process to take its course."

Joseph Casey left the DA's office in fall 2003. Through a spokesperson, he declined to be interviewed for this article. Jay Wolchansky's whereabouts are unknown.

Hall remains in jail, pending the disposition of his current charges.

As Ogrod's first round of appeals were rejected, he's left to wonder whether he'll ultimately be executed for the Horn murder. Ogrod remains on death row at the State Correctional Institution in Greene County in Waynesburg, where he maintains his innocence.

"I'm hoping. I'm doing whatever I can," he said in a recent telephone interview. "Yeah, I feel a little scared. [Execution is] something you got to realize and all, but you try not to think about it or you'll go crazy."

Philadelphia City Paper -




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