DNA yields arrest of neighbor in Wolfe sisters double homicide

Over the past several weeks, a high-profile investigation into the whodunit slayings of two sisters in their East Liberty home became a case of hurry-up-and-wait.

By Feb. 19, Pittsburgh homicide detectives had targeted the women's next-door neighbor as their prime suspect. Publicly, he was only a "person of interest" who had been questioned at police headquarters for 12 hours and had his home searched. But privately, investigators believed he was their man. All they needed was a genetic match from evidence that connected him to the Wolfe sisters to shore things up.

On Monday, the police got their Holy Grail: a DNA hit from a pair of bloody sweatpants that they believe links Allen D. Wade, 43, to the deaths last month of Sarah and Susan Wolfe.

But when sheriff's deputies and homicide detectives were ready to arrest Wade, they had no idea where he was -- despite earlier round-the-clock monitoring of his house by officers in marked police cars.

As a result, homicide detectives scrambled to find him. When Wade's picture and description were released to the media, someone even thought they spotted him at a pizzeria in Squirrel Hill.

With a manhunt going on, Wade borrowed a page from the Internet Age playbook and took to Facebook. He posted that he was "100 percent innocent" and that he would never hurt anyone "so brutally."

"It is not in my nature," said Wade, a convicted felon who had been accused of violence in the past by several women who sought protection from abuse orders against him.

His posts triggered more than two dozen comments.

Wade wrote that he would turn himself in. He called a homicide detective to tell him where he would be -- at an intersection in Rankin. Pittsburgh police met Wade at a bus stop outside the Rankin police department and took him into custody about 1 p.m.

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In a brief news conference Wednesday afternoon, police shed little light on the motive for the slayings. But investigators hinted that robbery was a possibility. They also said sexual assault was possible because one of the sisters was found naked but that police found no evidence that a sex assault had occurred.

Four homicide detectives escorted Wade from headquarters to the Allegheny County Jail shortly before 4 p.m. Wearing a Steelers cap, glasses and a tan parka -- and using a cane that investigators believe is more a prop than anything else -- Wade said he felt he was being framed, possibly because he had a criminal background.

"I'm 100 percent innocent," he said. "I didn't do anything wrong."

Last evening, the investigation continued as detectives questioned Wade's daughter and a man who was later charged with failing to register as a sex offender, but not in connection with the Wolfe case.

Detectives used an extensive network of video surveillance cameras in East Liberty to track a hooded man with distinctive white shoes from the area where Sarah Wolfe's stolen lime-green car was found, to an ATM where one of the sisters' bank cards was used, to a Sunoco station. There, police wrote in an affidavit, is where a man believed to be Wade was caught on a video "close-up" buying Newport cigarettes.

On video, the man is seen taking off his gray sweatpants and discarding them at the rear of a muffler shop near South Whitfield Street, close to Sarah Wolfe's car. When police retrieved the sweatpants, they found a business card linked to Susan Wolfe in the pocket and a blood stain that provided a match to Wade when it was run through a state DNA database, according to an affidavit.

Police wrote that they also found a mixture of male and female DNA under Susan Wolfe's fingernails and "Allen Wade cannot be excluded as [a] contributor to this mixture."

Wade's arrest on homicide, robbery, burglary and other charges brought relief to some in the city's East End who had been on edge not knowing whether they needed to guard against a killer in their midst.

Sherelle Kacprzyk and her husband have lived on Chislett Street just a few doors from the Wolfe sisters' home for six years. She said the idea that her three children might have played near Wade's home scares her.

"We like this neighborhood a lot, so it's shocking to hear of something like that happening in the first place," Ms. Kacprzyk said.

What was more shocking to some was that the man police arrested had eluded their gaze in the early stages of the investigation despite living next door to the victims.

Detectives canvassing the neighborhood the same day that the sisters' bodies were found spoke to Wade and took a report about their interaction with him, police Lt. Kevin Kraus said. He was not considered a suspect at the time.

And later on, after seeing the image from the Sunoco surveillance camera, detectives did not immediately make the connection to Wade.

"He had a different physical appearance," Lt. Kraus said. "We think that was intentional. He looked different during the canvass than at the Sunoco."

Roughly 10 days after the killings, police showed photographs of the man in the picture from the Sunoco to people in East Liberty.

On Feb. 19, a police lieutenant and an officer monitoring the neighborhood separately encountered Wade and recognized him from the surveillance picture. That led to homicide detectives executing a search warrant of Wade's house that night and his questioning.

Anita Wilcox, mother of Wade's live-in girlfriend, scoffed Wednesday at the notion that police had arrested the right person. Detectives had searched for Wade two nights earlier in her Penn Hills house -- the same place they had dropped him off after his lengthy questioning. She said he stayed for several days.

"Well, I just don't believe it," Ms. Wilcox said after she was informed of the arrest warrant. "I think they were looking for a scapegoat since he was a prior felon. I don't believe he has anything to do with that at all. But you know what goes on in the dark will come out in the light."

It is not clear why police were not more diligent in keeping an eye on Wade.

Lt. Kraus said officers from the city's Zone 5 station monitored the Wolfes' and Wade's homes in the 700-block of Chislett Street in intervals in the days after the bodies were discovered "to protect the crime scene."

He said police do not think that Wade returned to his home after being dropped off in Penn Hills.

The lieutenant said that when police learned Monday they had a DNA match with Wade they sent plainclothes detectives to monitor the area near his home in hopes that, if Wade returned, they could arrest him without spooking him.

Lt. Kraus said police do not monitor all homicide suspects around the clock before they have been charged, in part because they must walk the fine line of not harassing them.

David Harris, a University of Pittsburgh law professor, said police have broad leeway in keeping someone under surveillance -- such as by an officer parked a car in front of the suspect's house -- as long as they do not interfere with the person's movements or intrude upon his privacy.

"In public place, public areas, the only limitations are that you cannot eavesdrop on what are obviously private conversations," he said. "As long as they were just sitting there and not interfering with people going in and out I cannot see that as harassment."

Mr. Harris cautioned, however, that "You're going to reach a point at some point where the surveillance is obviously so constant that legitimate questions could be raised that you're interfering with the person's life."

From the get-go the nature of the slayings proved baffling.

Sarah Wolfe, 38, a child psychiatrist, and Susan Wolfe, 44, a teacher's aide, had come to Pittsburgh from the heartland of Clinton, Iowa. They were born into a big, successful family, eight brothers and sisters in all, including a police officer, teacher and an Iowa state representative. The Wolfe sisters were educated, generous and friendly.

So it was a shock to friends, family and co-workers Feb. 7 when the women were found dead, gunshots to their heads, in the basement of their recently purchased home at 701 Chislett St.

There were odd aspects to the case: liquid laundry detergent poured on the bodies; one of the women naked; no forced entry. Investigators said that one of the women had been savagely beaten.

Efforts to contact members of the Wolfe family were unsuccessful.

But a few hours before Wade's arrest, a person who identified himself as one of the Wolfes' brothers posted a question to Wade's Facebook page: "Are you the POI [person of interest]? The next-door neighbor?"

He did not get a reply.

Jonathan D. Silver: jsilver@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1962 or on Twitter @jsilverpg. Liz Navratil: lnavratil@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1438 or on Twitter @LizNavratil. Paula Reed Ward, Molly Born and Clarece Polke contributed.


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