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Pennsylvania Man Charged in 38-Year-Old Cold Case Murder of His Estranged Wife Based on Note Found Days After She Went Missing

Jere Bagenstose (Lancaster DA's Office)

Jere Bagenstose (Lancaster DA’s Office)

Authorities in Pennsylvania say that they’ve found the culprit in a decades-old cold case — all thanks to a note allegedly left by the victim that, according to investigators, was actually forged by the victim’s former husband.

Jere Bagenstose, 67, was taken into custody on Thursday and charged with one count of criminal homicide in connection with the 1984 cold case murder of his estranged wife, 25-year-old Maryann Bagenstose, whose body has still never been found, authorities announced.

While cold case murders are typically solved using DNA technology that did not exist at the time of the crime, this case was solved based on a note purportedly written by Maryann herself that had been in evidence since the month she went missing, according to a press release from the Lancaster County District Attorney’s Office.

“This is not a case solved with DNA. Rather, the arrest of Jere Bagenstose is the result of decades of hard work and dedication by law enforcement personnel, beginning in 1984 with members of the Pequea Township Police Department and continuing with numerous criminal investigators in the Pennsylvania State Police leading up to the present day,” Lancaster County District Attorney Heather Adams said in a statement. “It was their dedication to the pursuit of justice in this case and their willingness to devote resources to this investigation, combined with the review and analysis of the decades-long investigation and evidence compiled in this investigation by attorneys in my office that culminated in and led to this arrest today.”

Maryann was separated from Jere and living with her new boyfriend in a residence on West Willow Road when she disappeared on June 5, 1984, prosecutors say. Her mother contacted police two days later and reported her missing.

Jere and Maryann shared a then-2-year-old son and had been in a contentious battle over custody of the boy. Maryann in April 1984 won custody of the child, but a formal hearing to finalize the details had been scheduled for June 15.

According to the release, Jere in 1984 told investigators that he last saw his estranged wife on the morning of June 5 when he went to her house to pick her up and take her to trade in her old car for a new one.

“Jere relayed that he took his son to Long’s Park because Maryann was not ready to go. He claimed that when he returned home, Maryann was not there and had left a note that she had walked to the Turkey Hill in Willow Street and that he had not heard from her since,” the release states.

However, when an officer spoke with Jere at the West Willow Road address a few days later, an officer noticed “a piece of cardboard covering freshly dug dirt during a check of the garage.” Underneath, he allegedly found “a digging area” showing a hole that approximately six feet by three feet. Based on the hole in the garage, a search warrant was executed on June 13, 1984 and the area was excavated and found to be approximately five feet deep, but Maryanne’s body was not located.

Jere allegedly provided “inconsistent statements” as to why he dug the hole in the garage “mere days after the victim’s disappearance.”

Police also found a note “crumbled in a wooden nail keg in the living room beside the couch” which read: “Had to run a quick errand, be right back.”

Investigators also noted that Jere had an unexcused absence from work on June 5 and an unexplained injury to his left arm that was covered with a bandage. He also provided inconsistent claims as to what Maryann wrote in the note he found on June 5, why he was at the home that day, and what she was doing when he arrived, police said

Approximately a year after Maryanne had been missing, Jere allegedly told investigators that people had told him they’d seen Maryann recently and claimed she’d sent him postcards and notes, none of which he reported to police. None of Maryann’s family, friends, or associates have heard from Maryann since she went missing and there was no indication she packed a bag or touched her bank accounts.

Investigators began reworking the Maryann’s case in 2018 and started searching online databases for handwriting samples from Jere. Additional samples were taken based on a search warrant of Jere’s home in September 2022.

“The handwriting samples collected by investigators were submitted to the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Forensic Services – Harrisburg Regional Laboratory for forensic analysis,” the release states. “The analysis compared handwriting contained on a note recovered by police on June 13, 1984, purportedly explaining her whereabouts, to the items seized on September 20, 2022. The findings in the report stated the note recovered by police in 1984 was written by Jere Bagenstose.”

Jere appeared for his arraignment on Thursday and was remanded to Lancaster County Jail without bond.

[image via Lancaster District Attorney’s Office]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.