SUNBURY — Sunbury Administrative Police Chief Tim Miller is resurrecting a nearly three-decade-old cold case and recruiting an old friend to join a team of Northumberland County officials in an attempt to find out what happened to Barbara Miller.
Barbara Miller was 30-years old when she vanished July 1, 1989. When Tim Miller arrived in Sunbury in July as the new chief, he said he would be reviewing several unresolved cases, including that of Barbara Miller. The police chief and the victim are not related.
Tim Miller's involvement comes about a year after a team of Northumberland County officials resolved to form an investigative alliance into Barbara Miller's disappearance and death. She was declared dead by a Northumberland County judge in 2002.
District Attorney Tony Matulewicz, Coroner Jim Kelley and Detective Degg Stark said they would begin reviewing the case back in February. Matulewicz, who won the district attorney seat last year, promised during his campaign to renew efforts in one of the county’s oldest cold cases.
The process stalled because of manpower and resources, Matulewicz said.
All that is known to date is that Barbara Miller last seen by former Sunbury police Detective Joseph Walter "Mike" Egan. Egan reported her missing three days later.
Now Tim Miller, who also serves as a lieutenant in the Williamsport Police Department, said he wants the case to return to the Sunbury Police Department and has been in contact with an old colleague: Detective Kenneth Mains, of Williamsport.
Mains was a former officer in the Williamsport Police Department and has since left the position to focus on working with other departments across the country on cold cases.
Mains, founder of the American Investigative Society of Cold Cases, said he is interested in reviewing the Barbara Miller case. The American Investigative Society of Cold Cases is a nonprofit, volunteer-based organization whose sole mission is to assist in solving cold cases.
"Upon coming to Sunbury in July I have had the opportunity to speak to numerous people regarding issues facing our department," Tim Miller said. "One of those is the disappearance of Barbara Miller. As law enforcement officers we are truth-seekers. None of us are satisfied when a case goes cold and we still haven't discovered the truth. With the holidays upon us and the new year right around the corner it is important that we remember those who are no longer with us. One of my goals for the new year is to take a hard look at this case to ensure every resource at this departments disposal has been exhausted in out search for the truth."
Tim Miller said this is where his old friend will be an asset to the investigation.
"Every year there are new advances in science and I believe that any case is solvable as long as someone is willing to put forth the effort necessary and keeps the search for the truth alive," Tim Miller said. "With a few breaks and some diligent efforts, anything is possible. I will be reaching out to some of my law enforcement contacts, including Ken, to begin the process of reviewing the case to see if there is anything we can do that hasn't been done to get us closer to a resolution."
Miller met with Matulewicz and the two discussed Barbara Miller's case, the district attorney said.
"I want everyone to know we are in the early stages of this and I want people to understand we will do the best we have with the time and resources we have," Matulewicz said. "We discussed what we could do. I agreed with the chief that we will begin the process of reviewing the files. We also discussed the use of Ken Mains. This case is something I did not forget about and we will begin to move the process forward."
Mains, crew are ready
Mains looks forward to reviewing the case, he said.
"Is my belief that all cases can be solved no matter how difficult or how long they have been cold," Mains said. "Sometimes all it takes is the right push and a fresh set of eyes."
Mains said he was interested in helping the family and friends of Barbara Miller get answers.
"I would certainly be interested in helping in anyway that I can," Mains said. "Although most times the majority of the problem is getting access to the entire case file. Police officers are very territorial about their cases. However, once that hurdle is taken care of it makes things a lot easier because then you're not just going on assumption or conjecture, you're actually going on facts."
Matulewicz said he has also spoken with Stark, the lead investigator in the Barbara Miller case for several years. Kelley said he contacted the district attorney’s office and Stark after reading The Daily Item story published in February regarding the re-opening of the Barbara Miller case.
Kelley said his office never ordered or signed a death certificate for Barbara Miller even though she was pronounced dead Oct. 10, 2002, by Northumberland County Judge Charles Saylor after years of investigations came up empty.
"I think it's great," Kelley said of the investigation being restarted. "This is something that is always on my mind and I want to be part of anything these guys can do to start this process and get this case reopened."
Kelley spoke out publicly last year when he said he would be willing to order a Coroner's Inquest, an inquiry into the manner and cause of an individual's death, conducted by the coroner or deputy coroner with a court reporter and six jurors present.
Also interested in the reopening of the case is Selinsgrove Police Chief Tom Garlock, who said the Barbara Miller case has haunted him for decades. Garlock was an officer in Sunbury at the time of Barbara Miller's disappearance.
"I'm glad they are continuing the investigation," Garlock said this week. "It is good news."
Garlock and Kelley said they would help the team of investigators in any way possible.
“This is a case that is lingering, and we all want to find answers,” Kelley said.
Friends and family
Barbara Miller’s son, Eddie Miller Jr., 40, of Milton, spoke with The Daily Item last December and said he lives through each holiday wishing he could find out what happened to his mother. Eddie Miller also enlisted the help of friends and relatives, including Northumberland resident and Barbara Miller family friend, Scott Schaeffer.
Schaeffer, 50, of Northumberland, was convicted of first-degree murder in August 1990 for his alleged role in the drug-related murder of Ricky Wolfe, of Mifflinburg. Wolfe was found beaten to death at a boat launch near Montandon in December 1986.
Prosecutors accused Schaeffer during his trial of being a member of a thug drug gang, and the state said it had evidence proving he was there the night Wolfe was killed.
Schaeffer, who faced the death penalty, was sentenced to life in prison but after 17 years evidence emerged that led a judge to believe Schaeffer deserved a new trial. Schaeffer won a new trial in 2006. After meeting with attorneys and prosecutors, a plea agreement was offered and Schaeffer was set free.
Schaeffer claims there are links between the Wolfe murder and the disappearance of Barbara Miller.
Schaeffer told authorities at the time an anonymous message was left on his answering machine at his home in Sunbury in 1989 and the caller made references to the link between Wolfe and Barbara Miller, Schaeffer said.
The late state police Cpl. Richard Bramhill Jr. agreed with Schaeffer's sentiments about those links in an interview with The Daily Item in 2004.
"I know a lot of people are thinking that everyone has forgotten or given up on ever finding out the truth of what happened to Barbara," Schaeffer said Tuesday. "It's been way too long and I am thrilled to learn the new Sunbury police chief is speaking with a cold case detective about actually looking at another investigation. I hope to see those responsible for her disappearance brought to justice."
Detective wants results
Tim Miller and Mains will be meeting soon and Mains said he looks forward to working with the group.
"Solving cold cases is really just the art of deduction. You deduce probabilities until you're suspect shows himself," Mains said. "That, along with dedication and perseverance, is how you solve cases regardless of time or obstacles."
Mains is currently working on a few investigations including the unsolved Williamsport double homicide of Gail Matthews and her daughter, Tamara, from 1994.
The bodies of Matthews and her daughter were discovered inside their Williamsport home and although an arrest was made, charges were dropped and no one else was ever charged with the crime.
Mains is also working on the cold case of Theresa Corley, of Mass. Corley was found naked and strangled along side of a highway in 1978. Mains investigated the 1973 Williamsport homicide of Jennifer Hill. Kim Hubbard, of Lycoming County, claimed he was innocent of the crime and Mains reinvestigated the case in 2014. Through DNA evidence and other factors, Mains determined Hubbard committed the murder for which he was sentenced. After a deal was struck, Hubbard did 10 years in prison before being paroled.
"I've investigated numerous equivocal deaths that people thought could've been homicides or vice versa," Mains said. "As for results I can only offer my opinions and it is up to the law enforcement agency to make an arrest. People ask me all the time how many cases have I solved and the answer is always the same. Every one of them. That's because after I am done I know who committed the crime. It may or may not lead to an arrest or prosecution but that is not up to me. My job is to solve the case. Sometimes families just want to know what happened and a lot of times I can help with that."
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