Gerald Wentzel

Montgomery County, Pennsylvania
Date of Crime:  December 6, 1946

Gerald C. Wentzel was convicted in 1947 of the strangulation murder of Mrs. Miriam Green, a 29-year-old divorcee. Green was last seen entering her apartment at 358 Chestnut St. in Pottstown on the early evening of Friday, Dec. 6, 1946. Green's mother said her daughter had planned to visit her that Friday, but she did not visit, nor did she call to say why. Green did not report for work Saturday morning, nor did she call in sick. The thermostat for her apartment building was located in her apartment. She had diligently taken care of resetting the thermostat after the furnace went off, but had not that weekend. Because of the cold, neighbors had knocked on her door several times during the weekend, but had gotten no response. Finally, on Monday afternoon, Dec. 9, neighbors entered her apartment and found her dead.

Wentzel, who was married, had been seeing the victim four or five times a week. He told police he had gone to Green's apartment on Sunday night, found her dead, and left without reporting her death. He had been on a hunting trip 200 miles away and had a solid alibi from Thursday until Sunday night.

After police found Green's body, they asked a medical doctor to determine if she was still alive. At trial, the doctor testified he did not believe the victim had been dead more than 12 hours, and thus could have died Sunday night. On cross-examination he admitted he had never done work on corpses, thus he had no experience in determining time of death.

The coroner's physician then testified. He presented gruesome autopsy photos of the victim to the jury. He felt the victim had died 12 to 24 hours before he examined her at an autopsy Monday night. However, on cross-examination he agreed the victim could have been dead for 48 hours or 72 hours.

The defense presented the victim's undertaker who had 21 years of experience in handling corpses. He felt the victim had been dead for 48 to 72 hours prior to Monday night. When asked if she could have been dead for less than 48 hours, he indicated that in all his experience he had never seen a body as decayed as the victim's who had been dead for less than 48 hours. Wentzel was sentenced to 10 to 20 years of imprisonment.

Wentzel's appeal to the PA Supreme Court was denied, but a three-judge minority issued a vigorous dissent, agreeing with Wentzel's claim that he was convicted on insufficient evidence. In 1950, Clarence Woodley, an American soldier stationed in Germany, confessed to the murder while imprisoned on a robbery charge. After investigating the confession, the local prosecutor rejected it as false. Nevertheless, the publicity surrounding the confession stimulated an investigation by The Court of Last Resort. Based on its conclusion that Wentzel's alibi was solid and that the victim could not have died later than Saturday night, the PA Board of Pardons commuted Wentzel's sentence to time served.  [8/08]


Reference:  Not Guilty

Posted in:  Victims of the State, Eastern Pennsylvania Cases, Failed to Report Body