Possible lead in LI woman's '74 killing

Katherine H. Kolodziej, 17, of Lake Ronkonkoma was

Katherine H. Kolodziej, 17, of Lake Ronkonkoma was found stabbed to death in 1974. (Credit: AP)

She was found stabbed to death 36 years ago, her body carefully arranged atop a stone wall in a field near upstate Cobleskill.

Now, with the recent disclosure that a nearby decades-old killing had been solved, the unsolved murder of Ronkonkoma teenager Katherine Kolodziej is getting fresh attention.

Last week, law enforcement officials said serial killer John William Hopkins was responsible for the 1972 murder of another young woman in East Utica.

While Hopkins had been previously named a suspect in Kolodziej's murder, police are again exploring the possibility that he killed her.

"He was always looked at. We're going to look at him again," said state trooper Tom Cioffi.

Kolodziej's parents died several years ago, but closure on the case would bring relief to her uncle Charles Szydlowski, 80, of West Islip. "If they can be sure, I certainly would like to know," said Szydlowski, whose sister Hedwig Kolodziej spent her life mourning her daughter. "And in my prayers, I will tell my sister what happened."When she disappeared walking home on Nov. 2, 1974, Kolodziej was 17 years old and a freshman at State University of New York in Cobleskill, where she was studying animal husbandry.

Her partially clothed body was found on Thanksgiving Day - she had been stabbed seven times, then laid upon a stone wall and covered with a red coat.

Sixty miles away in East Utica, Joanne Pecheone, 19, was found raped and stabbed to death in 1972. Her case remained open until last week, when the Oneida County district attorney announced that Hopkins was the last remaining suspect, based on DNA and witness evidence.

At the time of his arrest in 1979 for the rape of a 15-year-old girl, Hopkins had confessed to killing three women but named only two: Cecilia Genatiempo, 17, killed in 1976 and Sherrie Lynn Carville, 17, in 1978. Police now believe that Pecheone was the third.

Hopkins killed himself in 2000 while serving a prison sentence in an upstate jail.

 

Suspected link in cases

Schoharie County Sheriff Tony Desmond, who had been a state police trooper when Kolodziej was killed and worked on the case, believes there is a link between Hopkins and Kolodziej as well.

"Three of the victims were the same age as Kathy," he said Friday. "And if you look at the pictures of some of these victims - the hairstyle, parted in the center, long, combed down - it's similar. And they were all college students."

But senior investigator William John of the state troopers said evidence leading to Hopkins was still scant.

"We're not sure it was Hopkins. We're looking at means and opportunities," John said, noting that Hopkins raped his victims and there was no evidence that Kolodziej had been sexually assaulted.

He added that other men who were her college classmates are now being sought for interviews.

John appealed to anyone who had known Kolodziej from Connetquot High School to contact the state police. In particular, he said he wants to hear from "anyone that knew her back in high school or received any correspondence from her that would have a guy's name in it."

On the night she went missing, Kolodziej was dancing with some friends at The Vault, a popular hangout in Cobleskill at the time, Szydlowski said.

Kolodziej's roommate told her that the group they were with was leaving, "but Kathy said to go ahead and that she was going to stay," Szydlowski said Friday.

The morning after Kolodziej went missing, Szydlowski's sister called him on the telephone. "She said, 'Charlie, Kathy is laying on side of the road somewhere dead, I know it.' " He tried to tell his sister that her only child would turn up safe.

"I said, 'Heddy, there are 13 million people in New York State. What are the chances this is going to affect us this way?'

"But she was right. Her first thought was her daughter was dead, and she was right."

With John Valenti and Yamiche Alcindor

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