By Keith Gushard
An autopsy revealed a hunting arrow to the chest is what killed a man whose remains were found Friday night inside a barrel in a rural section of northern Crawford County by Pennsylvania State Police.
The man’s identity has yet to be confirmed, but authorities believe the remains are those Erie County resident Gerald Vandyke, 55, who has been missing since Sept. 14.
“I’m confident the remains are the victim, but we still have an ongoing investigation,” Francis Schultz, Crawford County’s district attorney, said Monday afternoon following the autopsy.
Additional testing of DNA from tissue samples must be completed for confirmation of the man’s identity as the man’s head and hands had been removed, Schultz said.
“State police will put a rush on it, but I don’t know how long it will take,” Schultz said of the DNA testing. “It will be several weeks.”
State police have charged Richard A. Houy, 68, of 21300 Teepleville Flats Road, Cambridge Springs, with criminal homicide and other charges in connection with Vandyke’s death.
Dr. Eric Vey, a forensic pathologist who conducted Monday’s autopsy on the remains, determined the cause of death was a ruptured aorta, the main artery from the heart, Schultz said. The rupture was due to a sharp force injury caused by a hunting arrow, according to the autopsy.
The remains were found Friday inside a sealed steel drum in a wooded area off Brown Hill Road in Rockdale Township, Schultz said. The area where the remains were found was within two miles of Houy’s home, Schultz said.
Schultz declined any comment on the exact type of arrow that had caused the death and whether it had been recovered. Schultz also declined comment on how many other wounds, if any, were on the body as well as what type of clothing, if any, was on the body when it was discovered.
Schultz wouldn’t comment Monday on whether the pickup truck Vandyke allegedly was driving at the time of his disappearance, a 2003 silver Dodge Dakota with Pennsylvania license plate YKW-4528, was recovered.
Houy is being held in the Crawford County jail without bond on charges of criminal homicide, criminal use of a communication facility, tampering with or fabricating evidence, and false reports to law enforcement. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Oct. 10 before Magisterial District Judge Lincoln Zilhaver.
Houy was jailed after he confessed to the crime in an interview with state police on Wednesday, according to a search warrant affidavit filed last week by state police.
On Sept. 15, Vandyke was reported missing to state police by Tina Skelton, his long-time live-in girlfriend; and Skelton’s parents, Richard A. Houy and Sandra Houy, the affidavit said.
In his interview with state police on Wednesday, Houy said he killed Vandyke on Sept. 14 in an argument at Houy’s Rockdale Township home, according to the affidavit. Houy admitted that he had disposed of Vandyke’s body in French Creek after the killing, the affidavit said.
However, the affidavit also contains a different version of events from Skelton.
The affidavit said Tina Skelton had told Vandyke approximately three weeks before his disappearance that she wanted 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.
The affidavit said Skelton told police that Vandyke had not been seen since 9 a.m. Sept. 14 when Vandyke drove away from the LeBoeuf Township home the two shared at 15251 Smith Road.
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 Vandyke earlier that day at Houy’s home. Skelton told police her father may have used a chain saw to dismember Vandyke’s body before placing the remains in either a wooden box or barrels inside Houy’s barn, according to the affidavit.
Schultz has said it is possible additional people may be charged in connection with Vandyke’s death.