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A portion of the lawn was
ablaze but damage to the residence was light, the front page
story in the Gettysburg Times
described the scene as emergency responders began arriving. Neighbor Danny Bledsoe
said the children claimed their
kitchen was on fire and their
dad was hurt laying out in the
backyard. He also said he understood Keith had been kicked
out of the house because he
refused to pay rent. Another
neighbor, David W. Shorb, said
he was awakened by screams,
apparently after the shooting
took place.
One of the storys contributing writers, R. Mark Purdy, recalled the case instantly.
Everyone was talking about
it, Purdy, now of ACNB Bank,
said. I had just started working
at the Times maybe a week before the murders happened. I
was actually hired as a sports
writer but this was one of those
major stories where everyone
pitched in.
According to then Adams
County Coroner Dr. Robert S.
Lefever, Nancy was shot once
from long range with an entry
wound in her back and exit
point through her neck.
Deborah was shot once at
point blank range. The bullet
entered her face, tracked along
her spinal column and dissipated into the anterior of her body.
Further examination of both
women showed the weapon was
the same 16-gauge shotgun. Six
shotgun shells were found in
and around the residence.
Pennsylvania State Trooper
Donald Simpson, one of the
first on the scene, found the
rear door of the one level residence forced open. Inside were
two bottles of gasoline which
had been ignited and thrown
into the residence. Multiple ski
masks and gloves were also
found near the house. A gas
can and quart-sized Miller beer
bottles were found 300 feet east
of the Patterson property line.
Keith Patterson subsequently

spent 10 months in 1980-81 sitting in Adams County Prison

awaiting his fate after being
charged with murdering his
mother and sister.
For the 21-year-old man
from Cumberland Township, it
felt like decades.
I couldnt eat, I had lost my
appetite completely, said Patterson, now 52 and living in
Waynesboro, as he sat last week
in a Times conference room reflecting on what was easily the
most trying year of his life. I
hadnt been in trouble before
outside of a few traffic tickets.
It was hard. I didnt even know
how the court system worked.
Day in and day out I just prayed
to God that this could be made
Nancys boyfriend Paul Sell
and two of Keiths siblings,
16-year-old Judy Lynn and her
9-year-old brother, escaped
with their lives.
Sell instantly pointed the finger at Patterson, claiming he
heard Nancy yell, Keith why
are you doing this, before the
I never did anything to Paul
and I wondered why he would
blame something like this on
me, Patterson says now. Paul
went to his grave thinking I
did this. I dont hold anything
against him and maybe one day
when we are both in heaven
there will be a time when he
Police also charged McCabe
in the murders, but dropped the
charges due to a lack of evidence.
Patterson was denied bail
and went to trial in June 1981,
when he was represented by
Chief Public Defender John
Kuhn, who is now Adams
County Common Pleas President Judge.
The one thing that still
sticks out to me 30 years later is
that Keith was adamant that he
never did what he was accused
of doing, Kuhn said. He was
convinced he was going to walk
out without a conviction.
On the other side of the aisle

cooled down yet. That wasnt

the only thing though. There
was a ski mask found at the
scene and I never understood
why the police didnt test it to
see if there was hair or anything
else that may have helped identify the shooter. I think there
was some doubt created there.
He also suggested at the time,
that Deborahs ex-boyfriend
may have been responsible for
the murders.

As a defense attorney you hear about

that gun and think
oh my God, if they
pull that up from the
well this thing is all

Then Public
Defender John Kuhn

was District Attorney Gary

Hartman, now a private attorney in Gettysburg.
Before trial, Judy testified
against her brother, but Common Pleas Judge Oscar Spicer
threw out her statements because they were made under
When police asked Judy,
she said I think I saw who did
it, Hartman recalls. When
they said who, she said I
dont know. The police asked
me if they could use hypnosis
and I said yes but we had to
be very careful. We complied
with the rules and regulations
allowed in New Jersey but in
the end, Judge Spicer ruled
those regulations would not be
applied in Pennsylvania.
Despite the suppressed testimony, Patterson said he holds
no ill will toward his sister.
At first I was very, very
hurt, he said. But the more I
learned about it, I know the state
put her up to saying the things
she said about me. I dont hold
anything against her.
With Judys testimony out,
Hartman built his case around
three main pieces of evidence.
The 9-year-old boy ran to
a neighboring house after the
shootings and said he was certain his brother Keith was the

There was a lot of credibility in a 9-year-old boy, Hartman said. Why would he lie?
Before the trial, however, he
was not so sure anymore that it
was Keith and at trial his testimony was not strong.
Sell also changed his tune.
I remember at trial when I
asked him who did it, he said I
cant say it wasnt Keith Patterson, Hartman said. The fact
that he didnt say it was Keith
Patterson I think really affected
the jury.
A final thing going against
Keith were the Molotov cocktails used to firebomb the house.
They were made using
quart-sized Miller beer bottles, Hartman said. That was
Keiths drink of choice. Miller
was a fairly popular drink and
quart bottles were popular at
the time but given the testimony of his family, this was strong
evidence for us.
Kuhn made several defense
arguments including that the
only vehicle at Keiths residence that could have been
driven from the crime scene,
had an engine block that was
not warm.
The police felt that engine
maybe an hour or so after the
murders and it wasnt warm,
Kuhn said. If that vehicle had
been driven, it would not have

I have no lingering agenda

against Keith. Despite the testimony of the family and other
evidence we had, there was no
weapon and there was nothing scientific to help prove it
was Keith. DNA testing wasnt
around yet.
It took a moment before the
words not guilty sunk in at
the defense table.
I remember that moment,
Kuhn says. Keith turned to me
and said, Does this mean I can
go home now. He was worried
On one of the trials fi- about his pet boa constrictor.
nal days, Hartman acquired a
search warrant for Keiths resi- INDESCRIBABLE
Patterson called the feeling
dence claiming a prison inmate
heard Patterson say the shotgun of relief upon hearing the jurys
verdict indescribable.
was in a well on the property.
You dont know fear until
As a defense attorney you
hear about that gun and think you have your fate, your life,
oh my God, if they pull that in the hands of 12 other peoup from the well this thing is all ple, he said recently. I could
have gotten the death penalty if
over, Kuhn said.
things turned out different. The
The gun was never found.
On June 28, 1981, after four whole time I didnt know what
hours of deliberation in a rare that jury was thinking. They
Sunday court session, and a just sat and watched like everyseven-day trial, a jury of seven one else.
Nearly 31 years after Pattermen and five women acquitted Patterson of all 12 charges son was freed, another man has
become the focus of a continuagainst him.
I thought we put forth the ing police investigation into
best case we had at the time, Nancy and Deborahs murders.
said Hartman. I wouldnt have
prosecuted at that time if I
didnt think it was a good case.

I thought we put
forth the best case
we had at the time. I
wouldnt have prosecuted at that time if
I didnt think it was a
good case.
Then District
Attorney Gary Hartman