Thomas Kimbell, Jr.

Lawrence County, Pennsylvania
Date of Crime:  June 15, 1994

Thomas “Hank” Hughes Kimbell, Jr. was sentenced to death for the 1994 murders of his neighbor, Bonnie Lou Dryfuse, 34, her daughters, Jacqueline Mae Dryfuse, 7, and Heather Sue Dryfuse, 4, and their cousin, Stephanie Herko, 5. The murders occurred at the Dryfuses' mobile home at 100 Ambrosia Road in Pulaski Township. Bonnie was stabbed 28 times, Jacqueline, 14 times, Heather, 16 times, and Stephanie, 6 times. Bonnie's husband, Thomas “Jake” Dryfuse discovered the bodies shortly after 3 p.m. Mary Herko, who was Stephanie's mother and Jake's sister, had been talking on the telephone with Bonnie at 2:20 p.m. and testified at trial that Bonnie said she had to go because “someone is pulling up the driveway” (possibly the murderer). Previously, Herko had told the police that Bonnie had said, “Jake is pulling up the driveway.” The defense was not allowed to impeach Herko's testimony to bring out the fact that Bonnie had indicated her husband rather than just “someone.” The husband, Jake, claimed to be elsewhere at the time the phone call ended.

Jake was initially regarded as a suspect. However, the police could not figure out how he could have washed up after the murders and gotten rid of his bloody clothes. When police arrived at the murder scene, Jake had a little blood on his hands. Jake said he got it from touching Heather's arm, thinking she was alive. However, DNA tests showed that the blood was from Jacqueline, not Heather. Kimbell's defense unwisely brought up this discrepancy at trial. In rebuttal, the prosecution secured the judge's permission to introduce crime scene photos. While the prosecution had a point in that blood flew everywhere and blood from one victim could have gotten on Jake's hands from another victim's body, the prejudicial effect of the photos far outweighed any probative value. The jury was made to feel that somebody had to pay for this terrible crime.

Kimbell's conviction was overturned in 2000 because of the limitation placed on his defense in questioning Herko's testimony. For retrial, the defense hired Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist. Omalu told the defense lawyers, “Show me the hands of the suspects and I'll show you the hands of the killer.” Crime scene photographs that included Jake's hands were then examined and showed fingernail abrasions on the back of his hands as well as abrasions and bruises on his palms. Kimbell was small, 5'4" tall and weighed 120 lbs. He was also a moderate hemophiliac who bled profusely when cut. It is difficult to understand how he could have tangled with 250 lb. Bonnie Dryfuse and not sustained detectable injuries. Kimbell was acquitted at his 2002 retrial. Kimbell's case is profiled in the second half of the book The Death Penalty on Trial by Bill Kurtis.


References:  The Death Penalty on Trial, Commonwealth v. Kimbell

Posted in:  Victims of the State, Western Pennsylvania Cases, Quadruple Homicide Cases