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"To Love and to Perish," Season 2 of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette True Crime podcast, examines the stranger-than-fiction tale of how a love triangle and its infidelity, greed and hatred led to a gruesome murder. Why was a beloved small-town dentist brutally killed in his home? And who wanted him dead? Podcast host/writer Michael A. Fuoco and producer Ashley Murray are the same team behind the national award-winning Season 1: "Three Rivers, Two Mysteries". To take a listener's survey, go to post-gazette.com/podcastsurvey.

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CHAPTER

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CHAPTER X DETAILS

Blairsville dentist John Yelenic smiles his trademark smile in this undated photo. (Courtesy Mary Ann Clark)

From the south, visitors to Blairsville, Pa., are welcomed by a large boulder on Walnut Street, State Route 217. (Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette)

A view of East Market Street in downtown Blairsville, looking west. (Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette)

A man walks past the Professional Building on East Market Street in Blairsville. (Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette)

On the western edge of town is the Blairsville Area Veterans Memorial where the names of 89 residents who lost their lives in America's wars are etched into black granite slabs. (Michael A. Fuoco/Post-Gazette)

A large framed portrait of John Yelenic, taken when he was in his late 20s, hangs in the Virginia home of his close friend Dennis Vaughn. (Courtesy Dennis Vaughn)

Best friends John Yelenic (left) and Dennis Vaughn pose with Terrible Towels at the Sheraton Station Square on Pittsburgh's South Side on Feb. 5, 2006, shortly before the start of Super Bowl XL. They wanted to be together in the city to watch the televised matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks. Their favorite team won by a score of 21-10. A little more than two months later, John would be murdered. The framed photo hangs in Vaughn's home. (Courtesy Dennis Vaughn)

Dr. Cyril Wecht, the internationally known forensic pathologist, at his Downtown Pittsburgh office last year. (Rebecca Droke/Post-Gazette)

The South Spring Street, Blairsville, home where John Yelenic lived and died. (Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette)

The foyer in which John Yelenic fought for his life and the living room in which his body was found. (Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette)

The ornamental window, now replaced, through which John Yelenic's head was pushed. (Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette)

Tom Jennings can't forget the day he found the slashed body of John Yelenic in the victim's Blairsville home. "Blood everywhere, and at first I thought maybe he had fallen down the steps, then obviously the more you looked around that wasn't the case," he recalled. (Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette)

Chapter 1 Transcript


TO LOVE AND TO PERISH
A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette True Crime Podcast
Copyright 2018, PG Publishing Co.


Chapter 1 -- "The Good Dentist"

Before we begin, listeners are cautioned. This podcast includes depictions of violence not suitable for everyone.

MICHAEL FUOCO: The blood began on the porch. To the left of the front door, blood streaked a white panel beneath a shattered ornamental window and formed a pool. Triangular glass shards were colored crimson.

Inside, the scene resembled the set of a Hollywood slasher movie. Everywhere, there was blood. In the foyer. To the left, in the living room. All over the hardwood floor. On an Oriental rug. On a pulled-down rod and curtains. High up on the walls. By the fireplace. On a light switch.

And blood was on unsigned divorce papers near the body.

The victim was face-up in the living room, nearly decapitated and slashed all over. Furniture was overturned and papers and photographs were scattered about. The only sounds came from the large-screen TV, where the animated children’s show, “Jimmy Neutron,” was playing. Bloody sneaker prints led to the kitchen and a back door.

It was 3:25 p.m. on Holy Thursday, April 13, 2006. Neighbors discovered the grisly scene. They called police. News of the gruesome murder at 233 S. Spring St. spread throughout Blairsville, a usually sleepy rural community 42 miles east of Pittsburgh.

The slaying shook the borough's 3,600 residents to their core. It had been more than two decades since the last murder in this Indiana County town. Tim Evans, who had become borough manager just one week earlier, was stunned.

TIM EVANS: I think the biggest thing was the shock of that night because I can almost remember when I got the phone call. "You must be kidding me, right? What do you need?" I went to block roads and I could see the shock on people's faces. "Oh, my goodness, what happened?"

That has never happened here before. What do people always say? You didn't think it would happen here, you didn't think it would happen to me. I think it was that attitude. What in the world is going on? I hope this isn't something more than this.


MICHAEL FUOCO: Nearly three years would pass before that question would be largely answered. But for many people touched by the crime, there was a nagging feeling that justice had not been completely served. Disturbing questions remained then as they do now, 12 years since something horrible happened in a tiny town where horrible things just don't happen.

Until they do.

* * *

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, this is "To Love and to Perish," Season 2 of our True Crime Podcast. I'm host Michael A. Fuoco alongside producer Ashley Murray. We're the team that brought you the award-winning Season 1: "Three Rivers, Two Mysteries." That podcast examines the strange disappearances and drownings of two young men in Pittsburgh's rivers. This season, we're bringing you a true tale of how love, infidelity, greed and hatred in a small town ultimately resulted in a gruesome murder.

This is the story of how the fates of three people became tragically intertwined. And it is a recounting of choices made and those not made...and the trauma that lingers because of them.

Chapter 1--"The Good Dentist"

Blairsville is from a bygone era. Settled in 1818, it was incorporated in 1825. The town nestled at the foothills of Chestnut Ridge is the kind of place where church bells peal at noon, breaking a stillness otherwise filled with the sound of breezes and chirping birds. Near the Conemaugh River, a gazebo graces the center of a traffic circle. Every now and then, a car or two slowly rolls by.

There's a small park. A marker notes the town was a highly traveled route of the Underground Railroad during the Civil War. There's a Blairsville Area Veterans Memorial. The names of 89 residents who lost their lives in America's wars are etched into black granite slabs.

Drive onto Market Street, the three-block-long commercial district. There you'll find clothing, furniture, resale shops, a bakery, convenience store, restaurants, a bank and an insurance agency. A few blocks away, a train rumbles by, laden with coal.

Elsewhere, the 1.4-square-mile town is populated with 1,700 homes, a few industries and hundreds of acres of farmland, mostly filled with corn and hay.

TIM EVANS: I think it's just quiet. It's a nice, quiet community. Everybody kind of knows everybody and they look out for each other. I think that's the best part of small-town living.

And that's why residents were rocked by the murder. And it just wasn't the gruesome act itself but the victim's identity--John J. Yelenic, Extremely well-liked and a pillar of the community. John had a thriving dental practice in his hometown.

In fact, he was so successful with his practice and investments that he became a millionaire. But he cared little for money. John lived such a simple, unpretentious life. He didn't own a cellphone or computer. He drove an old car with rust spots and lived in a house that was comfortable, but far below his means.

He was flush with close friends, laughter and happiness for most of his life. He enjoyed helping others financially, always picking up the tab and even giving loans to friends and neighbors.

You'd be hard pressed to find anyone who didn't like Dr. John Yelenic, said neighbor Tom Jennings. His daughter, son-in-law and grandsons were John's next-door neighbors.

TOM JENNINGS: Do anything for you Well-liked. I guess everybody was in shock in little Blairsville. If you're a good guy, it's more meaningful- the talk in town- than if you were a bad hombre, "So what, he's gone?" But in John's case, he was excellent. Excellent."

MICHAEL FUOCO: The fact that something was terribly wrong inside the Yelenic home was first discovered by Tom Jennings' 9-year-old grandson, Zachary. He was returning a video game John had lent him when he saw the broken window and the blood. Peering inside, he saw bare feet peeking out of the living room. Terrified, he ran to get his 17-year-old brother, Craig. And then they ran to get their grandfather and uncle, Kevin. The two adults tentatively entered the home and discovered the horror within. There they found John. He was wearing a blood-soaked, gray T-shirt with large slashing tears and gray sweatpants.

TOM JENNINGS: It was a mess. Blood everywhere, and at first I thought maybe he had fallen down the steps, then obviously the more you looked around, that wasn't the case.

We didn't look for any obvious wounds or anything like that. We were just concerned if he was still breathing.

I'll never forget that day. You know, I guess, in a way, I felt bad, because Kevin or I couldn't do anything to help him. It was just too late.

Nobody deserves that.


MICHAEL FUOCO: The borough manager recalled that initially, residents were panicking.

TIM EVANS: I think when the news first spread, there was concern this was not an isolated incident, that someone was on the loose who would be randomly doing something to commit harm to this community. I guess [in a] small town there are rumors, so people were very concerned for a short while, but then it did come out that it was, I guess, targeted or directed at an individual because of a domestic situation. That calmed people's fears but it didn't help because it was pretty brutal, the murder.

MICHAEL FUOCO: Indeed, the murder was beyond brutal. Cyril Wecht conducted the autopsy. The renowned forensic pathologist has been involved in some of America's most prominent and perplexing murder cases. A Pittsburgh resident, he had a contract with Indiana County to perform its autopsies. It took five hours to complete the procedure--twice as long as normal, because there were so many severe wounds that needed to be examined.

CYRIL WECHT: From the standpoint of sheer brutality, of one-on-one--one murderer, one victim--it certainly ranks in the top 5-10 percent of all of the cases in which I have done autopsies on people who have been murdered.

MICHAEL FUOCO: After the autopsy, Wecht visited the murder scene. Based on his observations and autopsy findings, he came up with a scenario of how the barbaric attack played out. This was not a home invasion gone wrong. No, this was a murder committed with deep, uncontrollable malice. A frenzied killing.

The killer likely entered through an unlocked kitchen door. This, after all, was Blairsville, where residents often left their doors unlocked. John likely had fallen asleep, as he often did, on his black leather couch while watching classic sitcoms on Nickelodeon's "Nick at Nite." The attack likely began there because the room was in total disarray.

The fatal assault occurred in the early morning hours of April 13, 2006. Five neighbors later reported hearing unusual noises from the vicinity of John's house between 1 and 2 a.m. They variously described them as men arguing, blood-curdling screams and sounds like the squealing of a pig. Dogs barked. Yet no one called police. Neighbors thought it was just kids acting up on a warm night during spring break.

More than 12 hours would pass before John's body was discovered.

While under attack, John apparently tried to escape through the front door, which was locked. That's when his assailant, with great force, pushed his head through the ornamental window beside the door, nearly decapitating him. As John continued to struggle, the attacker apparently pushed his head back and forth, repeatedly slicing his neck on the jagged glass.

CYRIL WECHT: The injuries that he had sustained earlier obviously could not have been fatal, otherwise he would not have been able to run through the house and attempt to escape. The injuries that were inflicted when he his head was pushed through that window/that pane area, those injuries would definitely been fatal. He would have bled out very quickly because you have the carotid artery and the jugular vein, major blood vessels with significant pressure and it would not take much then to lead to unconsciousness in a matter of maybe 15, 20, 30 seconds at the most and then death would ensue. Theoretically, you're dead, you're just not brain dead for maybe another four minutes or so.

MICHAEL FUOCO: Wecht theorized that John staggered or was thrown into the living room, where he fell face-up on the floor. There, the murderer delivered what Wecht called the coup de grace--slicing John's throat from ear to ear while staring into the eyes of his helpless victim.

CYRIL WECHT: The assailant had such a deep feeling of personal animosity toward Dr.Yelenic that just having inflicted the injuries in the manner I have described that was not adequate, that was not cerebrally sufficient for him. He had to make sure that he inflicted that additional wound, not only to assure Dr. Yelenic's death, but also to play out in venomous fashion, the depth of his hatred for Dr. Yelenic.

MICHAEL FUOCO: Wecht's autopsy found multiple, extensive lacerations to the scalp, face, neck, trunk, right arm and through the right wrist bone. One wound measured more than six inches on his right arm. John's chest had a large gaping wound of more than 5 inches. Across the neck, there were gaping lacerations--one more than 7 inches, the other more than 11 inches. His right jugular vein had been severed. He had been slashed on the face. His left ear had been completely severed.

Most of the lacerations were consistent with slashing knife wounds. The attack and the wounds he suffered would have brought John much pain and suffering before he died, Wecht said. He ruled the cause of death as exsanguination, or severe blood loss. John had bled out. He had lost so much blood that some of it seeped through the hardwood floors, forming a large pool in the basement. Obviously, the manner of death was homicide.

CYRIL WECHT: I came to learn early on that this was a highly respected individual in the community. I remember everybody speaking so well of him, professionally as a dentist, personally as a human being in every way and the fact that somebody like that should be murdered in such an incredibly egregious fashion ... that indeed was very disturbing.

MICHAEL FUOCO: Who could have committed such a monstrous act? And why John? His life was free of conflict. Or was it?

Despite outward appearances, all was not perfect in John's world. For years, he had been suffering through an ugly estrangement and custody battle with his wife, Michele. Those divorce papers splattered with blood near his body? John was scheduled to sign them that very day, finally ending a nearly three-years-long, volatile divorce process. He had been happy in his final hours, happier than he had been in some time. That's because had he lived but one more day, there would have been an end to the bitter battle over John's large estate, including a $1 million life insurance policy.

This was no ordinary contested divorce. It included false accusations by Michele that John had physically and sexually abused their 6-year-old son. Named for his father and nicknamed Jay Jay, he had been adopted by the couple in Russia when he was nearly 2. The investigations, criminal hearings and tensions had taken a toll on John and Jay Jay. But with the divorce behind him, John hoped to resurrect a relationship with the son he so loved.

It was not to be.

* * *

John Yelenic Jr.'s too-short-life was bookended by violent tragedy. He was born Feb. 20, 1967, in Latrobe. An only child, he was just 3 months old when his 37-year-old father John Sr., a teacher in the local school district, died in a car crash. Like his father, John died an early, unnatural death. A fortune teller had predicted he would die before 40, John had told friends. He was 39 when he was murdered.

With his father gone, John and his mother, Mary Lois, a middle school teacher, became devoted to each other. She lovingly called him "John John". Friends said they were remarkably similar to each other, both in appearance and in personality. Both were warm, giving and funny. Mary Lois doted on her extremely intelligent son and provided him with piano, singing and dancing lessons. In high school, he acted in plays and musicals.

Even at a young age, John had an abiding curiosity and fascination with dentistry. During his regular visits to his dentist, Thomas Reilly, he peppered him with thoughtful questions about his profession, equipment and procedures.

John attended Juniata College, a small liberal arts school in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, about 80 miles east of Blairsville. He majored in biology, preparing for a career as a dentist. There he met lifelong friend Dennis Vaughn. Among many things they shared were an offbeat sense of humor and a love for classic TV and movies.

DENNIS VAUGHN: John and I came from very similar backgrounds. We both grew up in Western Pennsylvania, we're both only children, we had the same interests, so it was a natural thing for us to become friends.

John had an amazing personality. You hear the phrase, "Larger than life" being used a lot and I think sometimes it's overused, but with John it was very appropriate. You always knew where John was at any gathering because people were drawn to him. That was just his personality. He was funny, he was outgoing, he was approachable, he always made you feel welcome, made you feel important.


MICHAEL FUOCO: John graduated in 1989 and attended the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine, graduating in 1993. There was no question where he wanted to practice. A big city like Pittsburgh wasn't for him -- except for attending Steelers and Penguins games. No, for John there was no place like home, and that meant moving back to Blairsville.

There he approached the dentist that inspired him, Dr. Reilly. The two dentists became partners. Their practice thrived. John had a special touch with children, but all of his patients loved him. He generously served as a campus dentist for the local school district, earning $2 per patient. And he provided dental services to a mental hospital in the county.

John made good money and invested in real estate, earning even more. But he didn't really care for money and he didn't spend it on himself. Friends laugh and recall the clothes he wore. The car he drove. The fact he had no cellphone or computer.

What John liked to do with his money was to help those in his community who were less fortunate. Free dental services. Down payments for home mortgages. Start-up funds for aspiring business owners. Used cars for those without transportation. And he was always treating his friends to nights out, ball games, you name it. He even picked up the tab in restaurants for people he didn't know.

* * *

For most of his life, John had been happy. He enjoyed his profession, his community, his friends, helping others less fortunate. And he dated, but nothing serious. He was popular with everyone and had a magnetic personality, so people, including women, gravitated to him, Vaughn said.

DENNIS VAUGHN: I never knew anybody that did not like John. Even ex-girlfriends liked him. He was just that kind of person.

MICHAEL FUOCO: And then John's mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Still doting on her John John, she told him she wished he would marry and have a family. She didn't want him to be alone after she passed. This created a sea change for John, Vaughn said.

DENNIS VAUGHN: I guess I would say John was not the kind of person that I thought was in any rush to get married. He just seemed to be happy being social, he had his simple life, And I didn't really see him as having a strong desire necessarily to change that. He certainly never talked about any driving desire to get married. But that all seemed to change when his mother got sick, as her cancer progressed.

So I think John felt some pressure, some urgency, to get married for her sake.


MICHAEL FUOCO: During this time, John was dating Michele Magyar Kamler. He was 29; she was 25. John was smitten with the attractive blue-eyed brunette who had two children.

John wondered, "Could she be the one?"

Next time on "To Love and to Perish" --

John seemed to be head over heels in love with her. He was very affectionate, very attentive to her.

All his mom wanted in her dying days was for him to meet a nice girl and be happy so he's not alone. And in comes Michele and I think she took advantage of that whole situation. Played the part to a T.

My father came up to me and just sort of in passing said, "John better watch out for this one."

It's not her looks. She's a pretty girl but it's not like her looks are the be all and end all. That's not what did it.

MICHAEL FUOCO: "To Love and to Perish" was written by me, Michael A. Fuoco. Ashley Murray is the producer. Virginia Linn is our editor.

Steve Mellon is the photographer/videographer. Artist Daniel Marsula designed the logo. Michael Pound gets these podcasts to you. Laura Malt Schneiderman is the web page designer. And artist Alexa Miller designed our social media campaign.

Editorial assistance was provided by Post-Gazette interns Jenna Wise, Adam Duke, Katishi Maake, Marie Fazio, Annie Rosenthal, Trevor Lenzmeier, Caroline Engelmayer, Elena Rose, Emma Honcharski and Marella Gayla.

This podcast was recorded in the studios of the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University in Downtown Pittsburgh.

For photos, videos and more of "To Love and to Perish" visit our website: post-gazette.com/loveperish

Want to support more journalism like this? You can help the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette continue its 232 years of service by becoming a print and/or digital subscriber. It's easy -- just go to post-gazette.com/subscribe.

Thank you for your support. Until next time, I'm Michael A. Fuoco.

END

John may have met Michele Magyar Kamler, a divorced mother of two, while she was promoting Budweiser beer at local bars.

Michele Magyar Kamler worked for Uncle Sudsy's beer distributor when she met John Yelenic.

John and Michele may also have met at this housewarming party for his good friend Dennis Vaughn. At that party, Michele stayed close to John and Dennis's father told Dennis, "John better watch out for this one."

Michele and John Yelenic at their 1997?? wedding. John happily told friends he had gotten the "homecoming queen."

Maggie McCartin, the girlfriend of one of John's friends, remembered Michele rhapsodizing about a new boyfriend in front of her and John's young son while John moved his belongings out of their house.

Chapter 2 Transcript


TO LOVE AND TO PERISH
A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette True Crime Podcast
Copyright 2018, PG Publishing Co.


Chapter 2 -- "Happily Never After"

State Police Trooper Kevin Foley

John began dating Bobbi Mack after Michele left him. Michele sent Mack a sympathy card for the death of her mother -- even though Michele knew Mack's terminally ill mother was still alive. (Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette)

Michaelene Ressler lay roses at a sign remembering John Yelenic before a vigil on the one-year anniversary of his murder. Mrs. Ressler's husband, Dan, was a friend of John's at Juniata College. The Resslers traveled to Blairsville from their home in Manasssas, Va., to keep John as their dentist. (John Beale/Post-Gazette)

Mary Ann Clark, right, embraces Michaelene Resslerat a vigil on the one-year anniversary of John Yelenic's murder. Ms. Clark was Dr. Yelenic's cousin. Mrs. Ressler's husband, Dan, was a college friend of John's. (John Beale/Post-Gazette)

Chapter 3 Transcript


TO LOVE AND TO PERISH
A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette True Crime Podcast
Copyright 2018, PG Publishing Co.


Chapter 3 -- "A Soldier of the Law"

Kevin Foley at his trial for John Yelenic's murder.

Indiana County Sheriff Bob Fyock in 2007 removes a traffic cone so the police car with Kevin Foley can enter the alley by the district court. (VWH Campbell/Post-Gazette)

Sheriff's deputies bring state trooper Kevin Foley to a 2007 preliminary hearing. (VWH Campbell/Post-Gazette)

Mary Ann Clary, left, escorts Ruth Carlson, John Yelenic's aunt, to a 2007 hearing. (VWH Campbell/Post-Gazette)

Effie Alexander, John Yelenic's divorce attorney. (Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette)

Senior Deputy Attorney General Anthony Krastek, a veteran homicide prosecutor, took charge of case against Kevin Foley. (Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette)

Chapter 4 Transcript


TO LOVE AND TO PERISH
A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette True Crime Podcast
Copyright 2018, PG Publishing Co.


Chapter 4 -- "A Case is Made"

Mary Ann Clark stands near the Blairsville grave of her first cousin John Yelenic. (Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette)

Michele's Facebook profile picture, updated shortly before this podcast.

Chapter 5 Transcript


TO LOVE AND TO PERISH
A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette True Crime Podcast
Copyright 2018, PG Publishing Co.


Chapter 5 -- "Two Lives Lost"

Mike and Ashley in the studio at Point Point University. (/Post-Gazette)

Mike and Ashley in the studio at Point Point University. (/Post-Gazette)

Michael A. Fuoco. (/Post-Gazette)

Ashley Murray. (/Post-Gazette)

Chapter 6 Transcript


TO LOVE AND TO PERISH
A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette True Crime Podcast
Copyright 2018, PG Publishing Co.


Chapter 6 -- "Bonus Episode"

Episodes

Schedule
Wednesday, Sept. 12 Chapter 1: "The Good Dentist" John is beloved in his hometown. Why would someone murder him?
Wednesday, Sept. 19 Chapter 2: "Happily Never After" John marries Michele. Wedded bliss is not to be.
Wednesday, Sept. 26 Chapter 3: "A Soldier of the Law" Kevin Foley swears an oath as a Pennsylvania State trooper to uphold the law. He violates it.
Wednesday, Oct. 3 Chapter 4: "A Case is Made" After more than a year and a half, an arrest is finally made in John's murder. Should there have been two?
Wednesday, Oct. 10 Chapter 5: "Two Lives Lost" A jury renders its verdict. John's friends and family react: Was justice served?

Credits

Michael A. Fuoco

Writer and Host
mfuoco@post-gazette.com
@michaelafuoco

Ashley Murray

Producer
amurray@post-gazette.com
@ashley__murray

Virginia Linn

Editor
vlinn@post-gazette.com
@linn_pg
Design: Dan Marsula | Development: Laura Malt Schneiderman

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