The story of the oldest case to be solved in the Virginia Beach Area
Janice Pietropola and Lynn Seethaler were beautiful young women from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. They were kind, intelligent girls who were excited to experience adulthood. They had a lot of plans for their future.
Janice and Lynn had just graduated from high school with flying colors. To save money for college, the two girls started working full-time jobs. Janice worked for a finance magazine, and Lynn worked for the Urban Redevelopment Authority. The two girls loved their jobs and were having a great time.
Yet, things didn’t go well for the 19-year-olds.
In the summer of 1973, Janice, Lynn, and their friends decided to go to Virginia Beach for a beach holiday. However, most of them backed out. In the end, it was only Janice and Lynn, and they happily went.
The girls booked rooms in a cozy cottage by the beach. The two girls spent five wonderful days playing on the beach, visiting local places, enjoying the sun, and having loads of fun.
On June 30, 1973, the two girls were to go back to their homes. However, they never did. So, the hotel employee went to check on them, and he saw a horrifying scene.
Janice and Lynn had been brutally murdered.
Police arrived at the hotel shortly, and they saw a disturbing crime scene. The two women had suffered one of the most brutal deaths ever recorded.
Janice was sexually assaulted, strangled, and shot three times in her face. Lynn was also choked and shot twice in her face. Additionally, Lynn’s neck was slashed with a broken wine glass.
The murder scene portrayed an act of intensified violence. There was so much blood and horror that the police couldn’t distinguish if the girls were victims of a random attack or a carefully planned one.
On examining the room, the police ascertained the murderer had entered the room through the window. However, they didn’t know if he had broken into the room before the girls came.
The police found the room scattered with Janice and Lynn’s belongings. Even though the intruders randomly threw things on the floor, nothing seemed to be missing. So, the police ruled out robbery as a motive. They believed the murderer did it to divert the investigation.
The forensic team analyzed the bullets to find information on the gun. But they couldn’t get conclusive answers about the technology they had at that time. The team also collected DNA samples from the victim’s bodies but couldn’t do much with them.
The murder case baffled the police. They had more questions than answers. Yet, they were super determined to bring justice to the girls.
Mr. William Hayden, a police captain in Virginia, led the case. He took an unusual interest in the murder and did everything in his power to solve it. The police searched the rooftops, manholes, local bars, seaside hangouts, etc., for suspicious people. They followed numerous dead-end leads and interviewed hundreds of people.
Upon investigation, the police found that the two girls had gone out on several casual dates and even brought some back to their room for drinks. So, the list of people who knew the ladies and their whereabouts was long. But the police questioned and cleared every single one of them.
The investigation went on for several years. The police tried to find new pieces of information from various sources. But, even with the most advanced technology available at that time, they couldn’t find anything reliable.
The search came to a standstill, as the police did not know what to do next. They had exhausted all the options, and the case turned cold until 2018.
The Crack In The Case
In 2018, the police received a tip that reopened the case again.
Since the case was over 40 years old, the Virginia police requested help from several bureaus. They collected information from the FBI, Naval Crime Investigation Service, New York Police department, and other law enforcement agencies.
Officers who weren’t even born when Janice and Lynn met their terrible end knew so much about the case. The team used superior forensic technology and national databases to test the DNA samples they got 46 years ago. The evidence led them to 81-year-old Ernest Broadnax.
“It was an albatross around my neck all of those years, and that albatross has now been removed.” — William Hayden, the captain involved in the 1970 investigation.
Ernest Broadnax was a military veteran who lived in the affordable housing colony of Queens, New York. Even though he had a lengthy criminal record for murder, rape, burglary, drug abuse, and alcoholism, those who knew him had a different story to say.
Ernest’s neighbors and well-wishers identified him as a friendly and kind guy. Even at his age, he tried to help others in any way possible. Many also said that he was a shy man who liked to spend time in solitude. Apparently, he once confessed to his neighbor that he hurt someone in the past but didn’t elaborate it.
When the police arrived at Ernest’s doorstep, he didn’t protest at all. He nodded and calmly got into the police car. It was as though he was waiting for the police to come to pick him up.
After the arrest of Ernest Broadnax, the police found more incriminating evidence at his apartment.
Since the case is still ongoing, a lot of new information isn’t released yet. However, anonymous sources revealed the police suspect Ernest is responsible for ten other deaths in the same Virginia Beach area.
In August 2019, when Ernest was waiting for the trial date, he underwent a health evaluation. At 81 years, Ernest showed signs of dementia. They claim him to be unfit to take the stands since his memory, thinking, and social abilities can severely interfere with his story.
Owing to the recent developments, a judge sent the older man to a psychiatric hospital for treatment. In 2020, a psychiatrist deemed Ernest fit to stand trial, but the pandemic delayed the trial.
The prosecution remains optimistic and maintains that they are looking into options to seek justice for the departed souls. However, few are confident about it.
“There is no justice in this for Janice. And that just kills us. It absolutely kills us.” — Judy Poklemba, Janice Pietropola’s sister.
What these young girls went through is utterly horrible. It’s so painful to note that their lives were taken away even before they started. And the man who took them away got to live his whole life.
Yet, we must acknowledge and commend the dedication of the police force who spent decades trying to get justice for the young women. Even when everyone had lost hope, they trusted in the process and technology to solve cold cases.
Such stories give the victims’ families hope that someday, justice will be served. It may get delayed but not destroyed.