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Unsolved Cases: Catherine Corkery

The 22-year-old Dormont woman was killed in 1989 on her way home from a party in Mt. Lebanon—her mutilated body was found in the backyard of a house on Voelkel Avenue near the light rail transit tracks.

Today, 23 years after her death, people in Dormont are still talking about what happened to Catherine Corkery. 

The 22-year-old left a party in Mt. Lebanon at the Academy Avenue home of Sam Amado on July 22, 1989 and headed home to the apartment she shared with a boyfriend, Tim Rooney, on Ordinance Avenue. But she never made it.

Somewhere along the light-rail transit tracks where the "T" runs, Corkery met her attacker. She was just 5 feet 1 inch tall and weighed just 100 pounds.

That person twisted a rope-like restraint around her throat and pulled her to the tracks, splitting her head open when it struck a rail, the Tribune-Review reported. In a 1997 story, the newspaper quoted Allegheny County Homicide Sgt. Nicholas Bruich, the lead case detective, as saying the man pulled her along with the restraint, using it as a human leash.

After he choked, beat, stabbed and sexually assaulted Catherine, her attacker set her on fire. The only accessory she was still wearing were clip-on earrings.

Police speculated the attacker opened the unlocked wooden gate to the rear of 2933 Voelkel Ave. and dropped her under a fruit tree at the end of a concrete walkway, about 40 feet from the red-brick house. She couldn't be seen from the tracks because of a hedge, according to a report in the Tribune-Review.

Bruich told the newspaper Corkery was dead by the time her attacker started a gasoline fire, placed her in the flames and fled. He took her blue jeans, pink top, sneakers and other evidence. The flames that consumed her naked upper body were so intense, they scorched the tree's limbs.

A man taking out his trash about 7 a.m. July 22 found her body under the tree in his yard—in sight of the "T's" Potomac Station. The coroner ruled Corkery died of strangulation and head injuries, with slashes to her abdomen a contributing factor. Police believed some of the slashes near her breasts and groin were of a sexual nature.

Investigators said her blood alcohol level was 0.22.

The 22-year-old bookkeeper, a graduate of Mt. Lebanon High School, had just moved out of her mother's home and in with her boyfriend in the Dormont apartment they shared. She was planning to take community college night classes and become a social worker, like her mother.

Corkery had worked the day shift at Penn Parking Systems in downtown Pittsburgh that Friday. She had met two friends at a Mt. Lebanon bar after work. According to police reports, she and the friends walked a few blocks from the bar to the party, where about 40 people had gathered.

Corkery's boyfriend, Tim Rooney, had also attended the party with her but left early because he had a painting job early the next morning. He had hoped to someday ask Corkery to marry him.

She had told several people she was planning to walk home, but at one point relented and said she would get a ride. But police found no one who knew for sure whether or not she started to walk home alone.

When Rooney didn't find her at home when he awakened about 4 a.m., he assumed she had stayed with friends. When he came home at noon, she wasn't there and he began calling people that afternoon in an attempt to locate her.

His stomach dropped when he saw the story about the murder near his apartment on the evening news, and he called police to say it might be her.

Detectives cleared Rooney and everyone they could find from the party as suspects, Bruich told reporters at the time.

Intially, police thought there might be a connection between Corkery's death and that of Christine Marie Weber, 25, of Beaver County, whose body had been found in the state gamelands in Washington County. She had been stabbed 11 times and sexually assaulted.

Detectives searched under porches in Dormont and in the trash for clues. They interviewed some 200 people. Yet the case remains unsolved to this day.

It is a case that still bothers police. In fact, when the former Dormont police chief, Russ McKibben, retired in 2009, he told the Post-Gazette that his biggest regret was the department's inability to make an arrest in the homicide case.

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