Who Killed Juanita Todd? Part Twelve

Where’s the knife?

Where’s the murder weapon?

On September 28, 1972, Wilkes-Barre police found a knife sticking out of Juanita Todd’s corpse. If they lost or threw away that murder weapon, city officials must admit and explain their recklessness.

If police still possess the blood-smeared blade that’s crucial to helping solve the mystery of who killed the 22-year-old Black mother of two babies, at least a sliver of hope remains investigators will reopen the investigation using modern scientific DNA and other forensic testing.

I don’t believe cops have the knife that killed Juanita Todd.

So I asked Wilkes-Barre Police Chief Joe Coffay.

“Is the knife (murder weapon) Wilkes-Barre police officers wrote in the initial crime (report) they found ‘protruding’ from Juanita Todd’s body still secured and in possession of Wilkes-Barre police?” I asked in the August 23rd email I described as “on-the-record.”

“Did Wilkes-Barre police lose or destroy this crucial piece of evidence?” I asked Coffay.

After ignoring my most recent emails, Coffay quickly responded to this one the very next day.

“Mr. Corbett,” Coffay wrote in his August 24th email, “I received and want to thank you for your correspondence on the Juniata Todd case.”

“As you are no doubt aware from your extensive experience with criminal cases, neither our department, nor any other reputable agency would release such information on a criminal investigation.”

A criminal investigation?

Does that mean Coffay is confirming he and city police have reopened the Juanita Todd case without telling the public or talking with members of the Todd family? Or is Coffay’s characterization of “your extensive experience with criminal cases” just an insult to me as a longtime crime journalist who wants answers he prefers to hide?

I sent Luzerne County District Attorney Sam Sanguedolce a copy of the email I sent to Coffay.

Both Coffay and Sanguedolce can easily prove me wrong without jeopardizing their case. Either man or both can just tell the truth. Police have the knife or they don’t. If they don’t, the public deserves to know. If they do, the prosecutor and police chief are morally obligated to launch a 21st Century investigation. If the knife exists, Coffay and Sanguedolce are duty-bound to make sure forensic science experts test that evidence.

No, I don’t believe police have the murder weapon.

And, no, Sanguedolce has yet to offer Juanita Todd’s daughter, Odetta, the simple, decent courtesy and respect of a telephone call despite knowing the 52-year-old grieving woman waits by the phone each day to hear him say he will do whatever he can to help find whoever killed her mother.

If police lost or destroyed the knife, police also likely no longer possess other physical evidence they should have secured for more than 50 years – evidence competent cops need to find the killer.

If Wilkes-Barre Police Chief Joe Coffay and Luzerne County District Attorney Sam Sanguedolce refuse to publicly tell the truth, we should call their deception a cover-up. What else might these two public servants be covering up? Other than themselves, who else might they be trying to protect?

Black people in particular, including Odetta and her sister Tamu, have an indisputable right to know one way or the other if police are doing what police too often do in America – whitewash the truth.

If law enforcement officials continue to disrespect the people they serve, that’s when we organize a protest inside the courthouse by Sanguedolce’s office door and plan an autumn rally on Public Square demanding fairness for Juanita Todd’s family.

That’s when we ask the U.S. Justice Department Civil Rights Division to open a criminal investigation into continuing public corruption in Wilkes-Barre and Luzerne County, political wastelands where dozens of public officials in past years have gone to prison.

That’s when we invite national Black leaders and activists to Wilkes-Barre to see for themselves how the city remains shackled to bigotry and white supremacy – enduring as just another parochial coal cracker town where the mayor and city council members look at life through Caucasian-colored glasses.

This is a homicide.

No excuse justifies dishonoring the memory of Juanita Todd.

“In the front bedroom we found the victim lying on her back on the floor near the south wall,” Wilkes-Barre police officers Jack Morgan and Lawrence Smith wrote in their 1972 “initial crime report.” “A knife was protruding from her right side (abdomen) She had multiple stab wounds of the abdomen and chest.”

Deputy Coroner Walter W. Lisman also mentioned the knife in his coroner’s report.

“Victim was found on the floor alongside the bed with the handle of a kitchen knife protruding from the abdomen,” Lisman wrote. “Victim had received 22 stab wounds made by a knife approximately 4 ¼ inches long (blade) by ½ inch in width.”

Who removed the knife from Juanita Todd’s body? What did that person do with the knife? Did police test the knife for blood, skin, fingerprints or fibers? Where is that knife today?

Where is the knife, Chief Coffay?

Where is the murder weapon, Mr. District Attorney?

Where is the justice?