Continuing today, The Meadville Tribune presents the most important Crawford County-area news stories of 2013 as voted upon by you, the readers. Weeks ago, we asked readers to narrow down about 25 of the year’s stories to a top 15, and the following are the results.
The stories voted Nos. 15 through 4 ran on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Today, we’ll provide Nos. 3 and 2. The top story runs on New Year’s Day, Wednesday.
3. Van Dyke murder, Houy hanging
A Cambridge Springs area man who admitted to killing his daughter’s boyfriend and dismembering the body ended up taking his own life at the Crawford County jail in Saegertown.
Richard Houy, 68, of Cambridge Springs was found dead in his jail cell by corrections officers on Nov. 2. Houy was found dead hanging from an air vent shortly before 7 a.m. after failing to appear for the morning’s head count of prisoners.
Houy apparently went to great lengths to convince authorities at the jail he still was alive though he apparently died hours before on that morning. Houy’s death was ruled a suicide from asphyxiation from ligature hanging, according to Scott Schell, the Crawford County coroner, who placed the time of death at around 2 a.m. Nov. 2.
Houy was charged by Pennsylvania State Police with killing Gerald Van Dyke, 55, of the Union City area in September. Houy admitted to the crime in an interview with state police. Van Dyke’s headless and handless remains were found stuffed inside a barrel in a wooded area near Houy’s Rockdale Township home in late September.
At the time of his death, Houy was housed in a handicapped-accessible cell at the county jail. The handicapped cell is larger than a regular jail cell, has its toilet offset from the door a cell with handrails on two of the walls, Schell said.
A corrections officer may view the cell’s bed directly by looking through the door window of the handicapped-accessible cell, Schell said, but the toilet is not in direct view. The air vent was above the toilet area, he said.
Schell called Houy’s suicide well-planned with Houy making his bed to look as if someone was sleeping in it. Houy used items he had in the room to make it look like a person laying under the blankets including a pillow, trash can and cardboard.
Video surveillance from the jail showed corrections officers made their rounds as required every half hour checking on prisoners.
There are no video cameras in individual cells at the county jail because it would be considered an invasion of privacy under the law, according to Schell, Warden Tim Lewis and Crawford County District Attorney Francis Schultz.
Houy was booked into the jail on Sept. 26 on homicide and other charges filed by state police for Van Dyke’s death. Houy was kept under observation for more than 24 hours before being moved into the general population area, Lewis said.
Houy allegedly admitted to killing Van Dyke during an interview with state police the night of Sept. 25 and was booked into the Crawford County jail in Saegertown on Sept. 26.
Van Dyke’s headless and handless remains were found inside a barrel in a wooded area of Rockdale Township near Houy’s home on Sept. 28. Van Dyke had been missing since Sept. 14.
A Sept. 30 autopsy done on Van Dyke’s remains found Van Dyke died from a ruptured aorta pierced by a hunting arrow. The head and heads still have not been recovered.
On Sept. 15, Van Dyke was reported missing to state police by Tina Skelton, his long-time live-in girlfriend; and Skelton’s parents, Houy and his wife, Sandra Houy, according to a search warrant affidavit filed in the case.
In a police interview Sept. 25, Houy admitted disposing of Van Dyke’s body in French Creek after killing Van Dyke at Houy’s Rockdale Township property, the search warrant affidavit said.
However, Skelton, Houy’s daughter, had a different version of events in her Sept. 25 interview with police, according to the affidavit.
Skelton had told Van Dyke she wanted to end an approximately 10-year relationship with him — approximately three weeks prior to Van Dyke’s disappearance, the affidavit said. Skelton and Van Dyke weren’t married but jointly owned a 26-acre property and home at 15251 Smith Road in LeBoeuf Township, Erie County, according to the affidavit.
Skelton told police Van Dyke had not been seen since 9 a.m. Sept. 14 when Van Dyke drove away from the home the two shared, the affidavit said.
Skelton told police that she went to her father’s home the evening of Sept. 14 and Houy admitted to her to killing Van Dyke earlier that day at Houy’s home, according to the affidavit. Skelton told police her father may have used a chain saw to dismember Van Dyke’s body before placing the remains in either a wooden box or barrels inside Houy’s barn, according to the affidavit.