DA: Woman confesses to beating death of mother

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An incarcerated Westmoreland County woman told police she beat her mother to death with a hammer on New Year's Eve because she wasn't allowed to use the Salem woman's car, the district attorney said.

Sarah D. Vercauteren, 25, is charged with one count of homicide. Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck said she killed her mother, Dawn M. Wagner, 51, of Salem on the evening of Dec. 31.

After being interviewed by police Thursday night and again Friday afternoon, Ms. Vercauteren admitted to killing her mother, Mr. Peck said. She was already being held in the Allegheny County Jail in connection with a bank robbery Tuesday in Versailles.

On New Year's Eve, an argument about Ms. Vercauteren using Ms. Wagner's car escalated, Mr. Peck said.

"She struck her mother with a hammer multiple times and killed her," he said, adding he was unaware of any previous conflict between the two women.

Ms. Wagner's body was not found until nine days later, when her estranged husband was contacted by her employer, who was concerned after she had not shown up for work. The husband, identified by police as Larry Wagner, and a caretaker at the Forbes Trail Mobile Home Park entered Ms. Wagner's trailer and found her body around 4:45 p.m. Thursday.

There were no signs of forced entry at the residence in the 200 block of Hawk Drive, Trooper Stephen Limani said. Ms. Vercauteren had lived with Ms. Wagner, Mr. Peck said.

Although Mr. Wagner told police he spoke with Ms. Wagner via text messaging as recently as about 5 p.m. Monday, Mr. Peck said police believe Ms. Vercauteren used her mother's phone to respond.

In the Versailles incident, police charged Ms. Vercauteren with robbery, recklessly endangering another person and endangering the welfare of children. Police said she had her 2-year-old son with her when she robbed a PNC Bank on Walnut Street. Officers said Ms. Vercauteren left the child in her car in sub-zero temperatures while she committed the robbery.

She also tried to rob a Subway sandwich shop, but the clerk could not open the cash register, police said.

Online court documents also show Ms. Vercauteren was charged by state police in a Dec. 8 theft.

Lexi Belculfine: lbelculfine@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1878 or on Twitter @LexiBelc. Jonathan D. Silver contributed. First Published January 10, 2014 7:32 PM


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