In the hours after Pittsburgh police released a man following a lengthy interview about the slayings of his next-door neighbors in East Liberty, they termed him a “person of interest” in the case and collected information about his past encounters with two suburban police departments.
The man, whose name police did not publicly release, agreed to speak to homicide detectives Wednesday afternoon, as did his girlfriend.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is not naming the man because he has not been charged.
Police released no other information about their progress in the investigation into the shooting deaths of sisters Sarah and Susan Wolfe, whose bodies were found Feb. 7 in the basement of their home on Chislett Street.
But police sources said investigators have several pieces of evidence they hope could yield DNA crucial to solving the case.
Among the items that could be tested for genetic material are a hat left behind in the sisters’ house after someone broke in Dec. 30 and stole two televisions; a pen retrieved from garbage at a Sunoco gas station in East Liberty less than a mile from the Wolfes’ home; a cigarette pack; and clothing removed from the next-door neighbor’s home during a search that lasted from Wednesday night into early Thursday morning.
During the latest search police removed three bags of items, including what sources said was an article of clothing. Inside the house they also found toy guns.
After a night of collecting evidence from the couple’s apartment and the building’s communal basement, Pittsburgh police contacted the Whitaker and Wilkinsburg police departments seeking information about their previous encounters with the “person of interest.”
Whitaker police Chief John Vargo said one of his sergeants compiled paperwork involving the man and faxed it Thursday to Pittsburgh police.
Wilkinsburg police Chief Ophelia Coleman said her department did the same.
“We were able to provide them with 37 pages, from my understanding,” Chief Coleman said.
The man declined to comment when he left police headquarters about 3 a.m. Thursday and could not be reached later in the day at his house or his mother’s home.
He is “just disgusted and sick,” said the girlfriend’s mother, who asked that her name not be used.
The mother said while she was at police headquarters early Thursday detectives showed her photos taken from surveillance video of a man buying cigarettes at the Sunoco station in the 500 block of North Highland Avenue.
Police suspect the customer is the man they interviewed extensively. But the mother said she did not believe it was him.
“They showed me a picture. I said, ‘He doesn’t wear baseball caps.’… I said ‘That ain’t his hands.’ I said, ‘Look at that jacket that person has on. There’s no way that’s his jacket, and I never saw [him] dress like that before in my life.”
The mother also said the man had been sick recently.
“He’s been very weak and damn near in a coma and he’s on a cane, and two women could have overpowered him, I believe,” she said.
Susan Wolfe, 44, a teacher’s aide, was found naked and face down in the basement. A chemical had been poured on her. The body of her sister, Sarah Wolfe, 38, a psychiatrist, was clothed and found nearby. Both had been shot once in the head.
The Wolfe family Thursday issued a statement through the Allegheny County district attorney’s office thanking various agencies for their efforts “to determine the person or persons responsible for these senseless acts of violence.
“We are confident that their careful and exhaustive investigation will enable them to make a solid arrest and conviction in this case that will bring the East Liberty community a greater sense of peace.”
Mayor Bill Peduto said he had been in contact throughout the investigation with public safety director Michael Huss.
“Our detectives have been working not only overtime but have been very, very thorough in tracking down clues and in following every single lead possible to be able to get where we are now,” Mr. Peduto said. “Nothing is being left uncovered.”
Liz Navratil: firstname.lastname@example.org. Jonathan D. Silver: email@example.com. Paula Reed Ward, Moriah Balingit and Lexi Belculfine contributed. First Published February 20, 2014 4:00 PM