The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

December 14, 2013

Lonely companions

By Gary Grossman
The Daily Item

SUNBURY — After his wife was arrested and a few days before his arrest, Elytte Barbour visited us because he wanted you to know that his wife Miranda was not, in his words, a “killer whore.”

We never printed that, actually. But the day after Miranda, 18, was charged with the stabbing death of 42-year-old Troy LaFerrara of Port Trevorton and Sunbury, it was probably fair to say some readers might have wondered about their brief and unfortunate relationship.

Elytte, 22, wanted readers to know that Miranda was a paid conversationalist, a companion, a visitor, a sometimes dinner partner or shopping-mall walker, a possible gift receiver and certainly a money acceptor. But that was it.

We — Elytte, reporter Francis Scarcella and I — struggled a little with the wording. What she did was a little like rent-a-date, which was a little like being a paid escort, which, let’s face it, has some historic affiliation with prostitution.

Elytte insisted that when Miranda advertised her availability online, she made it clear that there would be no physical touching. He said he would get back to us with a link to one of her ads, but he never did before his arrest.

The essence of the story, then, was that Miranda had been charged with homicide, which seemed like the bigger public relations problem. Killer companion, killer conversationalist, killer gift recipient, killer cyber friend or killer dinner partner did not sound significantly better than what Elytte had said Miranda was not.

Yes, that was another thing Elytte said he needed to clarify. Miranda, he said, was defending herself from an assault by the late Troy LaFerrara and she was using a knife they kept in the car and LaFerrara died. It was self defense.

How did he know for sure, we asked. Well, when it came right down to it, Elytte had to admit that he was going on what Miranda said. He loved her, trusted her, believed her.

Elytte Barbour had called earlier that morning. He was upset by the colon in the headline, “COPS: TEEN A KILLER” over a sizable photo of Miranda in handcuffs, escorted by officer Travis Bremigen, and he wanted to discuss that in depth.

“On the phone or in person?” I had asked. (Grammar sticklers reading this should note here that average punctuation discussions are done by phone. Elytte was talking about a main headline in all caps on page 1 over a story about life and death and murder. News judgment alone dictated the invitation.)

In person, of course. But police had taken the car and Elytte was in Selinsgrove and he hadn’t received his first paycheck as a dishwasher at Perkins restaurant and didn’t have taxi money and arranging a ride might take some time.

Even better. If we supplied the ride, we would decide when the interview was over. I asked Francis Scarcella, who had been following the story of Troy LaFerrara’s death, if he would go pick up Elytte. Joanne Arbogast, the managing editor for features who goes on smoke breaks with Francis, rode along, just in case. Just in case what? I had no clue.

The interview and clarification of Miranda’s occupation lasted two hours. The essential points were faithfully reported the next day on page 1, where Elytte explained how his newlywed wife, an 18-year-old high school dropout, earned ready cash ranging from $50 to $850 by advertising on the Internet her availability for delightful conversation with lonely men twice her age.

We report. You decide.

The day after that, Francis Scarcella reported how Miranda was flashing a newly acquired wedding band on her Facebook page after Troy LaFerrara had been found dead with his wallet missing.

The day after that, Francis Scarcella reported that Elytte had been arrested for allegedly hiding under a blanket behind the front seats of the car and looping a cable around LaFerrara’s neck when Miranda gave the signal that she was ready with the knife.

At his arraignment, Elytte made eye contact briefly with Francis, appeared to smile slightly and give a shrug.

The next morning, headline writers hauled out the colon again. It said, “COPS: THRILL KILLERS”.