By Keith Gushard
Editor’s note: Descriptions in this story may be too graphic for some readers.
It was a gruesome discovery Friday evening in a rural area of northern Crawford County as authorities found human remains inside a barrel.
Crawford County District Attorney Francis Schultz has confirmed to The Meadville Tribune that what are believed to be the remains of Gerald Vandyke of Erie County were found inside a barrel located in a wooded area off Brown Hill Road in Rockdale Township.
Vandyke, 55, of 15251 Smith Road, Union City, has been missing since Sept. 14.
However, an autopsy is scheduled for today in an attempt to confirm the body as Vandyke’s.
“The head and the hands had been removed,” Schultz said of the remains that were found.
Schultz declined to comment on any further details about the discovery of the barrel including the time it was found and the exact location. He also wouldn’t comment whether authorities had located Vandyke’s silver Dodge Dakota pickup truck with Pennsylvania license plate YKW-4528.
On Sept. 15, Vandyke was reported missing to Pennsylvania State Police by Tina Skelton, his long-time live-in girlfriend; and Skelton’s parents, Richard A. Houy and Sandra Houy, both of 21300 Teepleville Flats Road, Cambridge Springs.
Skelton told police that Vandyke had not been seen since Vandyke left the Smith Road home the two shared at 9 a.m. Sept. 14, according to a search warrant affidavit filed by state police in connection with the case.
During a state police interview Wednesday night, Richard A. Houy, 68, allegedly confessed to killing Vandyke. Houy has been jailed in the Crawford County Correctional Facility in Saegertown on homicide and other charges since Thursday.
According to the affidavit, Vandyke’s death centers around Skelton wanting to end an approximate 10-year relationship with him. Skelton and Vandyke aren’t married, but jointly own a 26-acre property and home on Smith Road in LeBoeuf Township, Erie County, according to the affidavit.
In the interview with state police Wednesday night, Houy admitted to killing Vandyke during an argument the two men had Sept. 14 at Houy’s Rockdale Township home, the affidavit said.
Houy said he had lured Vandyke to Houy’s home on the pretext of fixing a tractor, the affidavit said. Houy said he punched Vandyke in the face, causing Vandyke to fall, striking his head on a piece of machinery and then bleeding, according to the affidavit.
Houy claimed he drove Vandyke in Vandyke’s pickup truck to the French Creek access area off Miller Station Road, the affidavit said. Houy said he dumped the body in the creek then abandoned the truck on Miller Station Road with the truck’s keys as well as Vandyke’s wallet and cell phone still in the truck, the affidavit said.
Houy also admitted to making anonymous calls to state police twice on Sept. 18 — four days after Vandyke’s death — using different phones at two different locations, claiming Vandyke had indicated to him that Vandyke was leaving the area and didn’t want anyone to know where he going, the affidavit said.
Pressed for his name during the second call, Houy gave police the name of an Albion man that Houy had worked with at the State Correctional Institution in Albion, according to the affidavit.
Police checked out the lead, but the man denied knowing Vandyke or making the call to police, according to the affidavit.
When Vandyke’s son listened to the police recordings of the two calls, he said the voice on both calls resembled Houy’s, according to the affidavit.
Houy was linked to the second call by a shopper and a convenience store surveillance video, the affidavit said.
Caller ID identified the cell phone used to make the second call, according to the affidavit. The man who answered the phone said he was at the Country Fair convenience store in McKean on Sept. 18 when an older man asked to borrow his cell phone to call police, according to the affidavit. The man later identified Houy from a photograph, the affidavit said.
The affidavit stated footage from one of the store’s surveillance cameras shows a man that “appeared to highly resemble” Houy when the call was made.
Skelton, who also was interviewed by police on Wednesday, told police that Houy admitted to her that he killed Vandyke on Sept. 14 at Houy’s home, according to the affidavit.
Skelton told police she went to Houy’s residence around midnight on Sept. 14 and was led by Houy into a barn on the property, where she saw a large circular pattern of reddish brown fluid on the ground along with droplets on the ground that appeared to be blood and a small plastic container filled with fluid which she believed was blood, according to the affidavit.
Skelton said she also saw a chain saw that she believed was used to dismember Vandyke and a wooden box that she believed might have contained his body, police wrote in the affidavit.
Houy told Skelton that he struck Vandyke in the head with a tire iron or metal bar and led her to believe that Vandyke’s body, “in whole or in parts, was placed in barrels or drums within the barn,” according to the affidavit.
Neither Skelton nor Sandra Houy has been charged by state police.
District Attorney Schultz has indicated that there is the possibility of additional persons being charged.
A preliminary hearing for Richard Houy is scheduled Oct. 10 before Magisterial District Judge Lincoln Zilhaver on state police charges of criminal homicide, criminal use of a communication facility, tampering with or fabricating evidence, and false reports to law enforcement.
Houy remains in the county jail without bond since homicide is a non-bondable offense.
Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.