A Tale of Two Bodies: How One Backyard Discovery Led Police on a Years-Long Hunt

A man charged with killing a pharmacist and the pharmacist's girlfriend looked sweaty and had a pick and shovel nearby on the day that authorities say he buried the victims' bodies, a witness testified Friday.

Robert Steiner testified in the trial of Hugo Selenski, who's charged with strangling Michael Kerkowski and Tammy Fassett and burying their bodies in his yard in May 2002.

Steiner, 78, had just sold the 7-acre property north of Wilkes-Barre to Selenski's girlfriend and was still living there when Selenski told him he "had something to do at the house."

The following day, Steiner came home from work and saw Selenski and another man, Paul Weakley.

"They looked sweaty, like they were doing something hard," Steiner told a jury. "Their feet were muddy."

Prosecutors alleged Selenski and Weakley strangled Kerkowski and Fassett as part of a robbery plot. Weakley has already pleaded guilty to federal charges in the case and plans to testify against the 41-year-old Selenski, who has pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

The trial opened nearly a dozen years after investigators found at least five sets of human remains - including those of Kerkowski and Fassett - buried in Selenski's yard. In 2006, a jury acquitted Selenski of killing one of the other victims and deadlocked on another but convicted him of abusing their corpses. The fifth body has never been identified.

Kerkowski had pleaded guilty to selling hundreds of thousands of doses of painkillers to drug addicts out of his pharmacy in northeastern Pennsylvania, and he was awaiting sentencing when he and Fassett were reported missing by his parents.

Before the discovery of the bodies a year later, authorities considered Kerkowski a fugitive, even arranging for his case to be shown on TV's "America's Most Wanted."

Retired State Police Cpl. Thomas Appleman, who investigated the disappearance, told the jury Friday that he initially suspected that Kerkowski's parents had helped him and Fassett vanish.

"I was suspicious," he said.

Appleman also interviewed Selenski, who appeared calm and denied any knowledge of Kerkowski's whereabouts, the retired trooper said.

A day after his police interview, Selenski approached Kerkowski's parents and claimed that Appleman had told him he intended to "nail their asses to a cross.'' That prompted an indignant letter to Appleman from Michael and Geraldine Kerkowski's attorney, who demanded he "immediately cease and desist slandering and defaming the Kerkowskis to other persons.''

On Friday, Appleman denied saying anything of the sort.

Prosecutors say Selenski manipulated Kerkowski's parents throughout the summer and fall of 2002, leading them to believe their son was alive and needed money to fund a new defense team. Michael and Geraldine Kerkowski gave Selenski tens of thousands of dollars their son had given to them for safekeeping.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
Contact Us