Virginia Hayden talked to her grandson about feeding a body to pigs
Part 1: A bloody scalp, a missing person, a body never found
Part 3: Virginia Hayden talks to the police – and talks, and talks ...
About five or six years ago, Carolyn Cooksey called Kim Via out of the blue. “I’m hoping you’re the person I’m looking for,” was how she introduced herself.
They were sort of related. Carolyn's mother, Virginia Hayden, was married to Kim's father, Thomas Hayden Sr. Carolyn's father was Virginia's first husband, who died when Carolyn was three years old, and Thomas was Virginia's third husband. Despite them being stepsisters, they had never met or even spoken to each other before, and to Kim it seemed strange that Virginia's daughter would be calling. She was apprehensive, suspecting that Carolyn was calling on Virginia's behalf to back up the stories she told about her husband's disappearance.
Carolyn put that to rest quickly.
Carolyn asked Kim whether she had heard from her father saying she hadn’t seen him since the fall of 2011. She had hosted a family Christmas party at her Maryland home that year, and while Virginia attended, Thomas had not. Virginia had told her that Thomas had gone to Mexico.
She also told Kim that when her uncle passed away, it appeared that Thomas had posted a lot of “ugly things” about him online. Carolyn was convinced that her mother was behind the “vulgar, horrible” things being posted on Facebook.
About two weeks after Virginia told Carolyn that Thomas was going to Mexico, she received a letter purportedly from him, asking her to take care of Virginia if anything happened to him.
Carolyn thought the letter was weird. It wasn’t in Thomas’ handwriting; the handwriting appeared to be from a feminine hand. The salutation was “Dearest Carolyn,” words Carolyn could not imagine coming from Thomas. The text of the letter informed her that he was “very sick” and “I don’t think I will make it back.” It refers to Virginia as “my true love,” again something she couldn’t fathom Thomas writing. The letter concluded, “I will be watching I am counting on you.” The closing was “Love you and the kids.” Below that was Thomas’ full signature. It had been crossed out and beside it was written “Pop,” his children's nickname for him.
Carolyn shared the letter with Kim, and Kim agreed that it was weird and didn’t sound like her father.
They spoke for a while and finally, Kim told Carolyn, “I can’t take this anymore. I have to move on. He’ll call me when he’s ready.”
But she couldn’t let go. She called Virginia and asked again whether she would send a photo of her father to her. Virginia declined. Kim asked her, “Do I have to come there?”
Virginia became “indignant,” she said.
She told Kim, “You need to stay away from us.”
‘Your father has ceased to exist’
In late 2016, Kim hired a private investigator to find out what happened to her father.
The investigator found that Virginia had sold the condo in York County and moved into an apartment near Carlisle with one of her daughters and her granddaughter. The investigator, set up in a neighbor’s apartment, watched the apartment for several days and saw no sign of Thomas. He talked to neighbors. None of them had seen Thomas and said that Virginia had told some of them that her husband had died or that he was in Mexico seeking treatment for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The detective scoured public records, the paper trail coming to a dead end.
He told Kim, “It’s like your father has ceased to exist.”
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‘Something was terribly, terribly wrong’
At that point, Kim said, “I knew in my heart that something was terribly, terribly wrong.”
On Jan. 21, 2017, Kim called the Pennsylvania State Police to ask them to check on her father, what police call a “welfare check.” Trooper Krystal Rehn went to the apartment and spoke with Virginia’s granddaughter, who told her that her grandfather never lived there and that she hadn’t seen him in seven years. She told Rehn that Virginia no longer lived there and was residing in another apartment in the complex.
The next day, at Rehn’s invitation, Virginia went to the state police barracks to speak to the trooper. She told the trooper that her husband “had left Pennsylvania one night in 2011 to seek medical treatment” for an unspecified medical condition, Rehn testified later. She told the trooper that Thomas’ brother Spencer picked him up. Spencer told police he had done no such thing.
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Virginia gave several different explanations for her husband’s absence. Rehn became suspicious and began to record what turned into a three-and-a-half-hour interview. Virginia told the trooper that Thomas had sold their condo to her for $1 while he was out of the country, saying the doctors assisted him during the transaction. Later in the interview, she said the transaction occurred in the presence of her daughter, Connie Pender, who was a notary.
During that interview, Rehn took breaks to call Kim to ask about some of the things Virginia was telling her. Kim told the trooper that much of what Virginia was telling her wasn’t true or did not add up.
Rehn concluded that something just didn’t seem right. She shared what she knew with Northern York County Regional Police.
A murder victim identified
Northern York County Regional Police Lt. John Migatulski and Detective Mike Hine knew about the FoodSaver bag that had been residing in the department’s evidence locker for five years. They pulled up Thomas’ driver’s license photo and noticed that he had long, gray hair, like the hair that had been found attached to a piece of scalp in the bag.
They asked Thomas’ brothers, Owens and Spencer, to provide DNA samples for testing. The tests indicated that the hair, skin and blood found in the bag belonged to one of their siblings by a factor of 403 billion times.
They had a murder victim.
But they had no body.
‘An unbelievable true story’
Lt. Migatulski has been with the Northern York County Regional Police Department for 28 years and has been involved in every homicide investigation the department has handled since around 2000.
As the investigation proceeded, he said, it became more and more complex. His partner, Detective Hine, said, “Every turn, there was something. Every time we got something, there was something better around the next turn.”
It was, Hine said, like “a jigsaw puzzle.” A prosecutor likened the investigation to an onion, peeling back one layer just revealed another layer, and then another, and yet another. Each layer added to what Hine called “an unbelievable true story.”
‘Everybody’s story was different’
The detectives checked the property records for the Haydens’ Barley Circle condo and found that Virginia had sold it on Nov. 14, 2014, to a man named Robert Denoncourt for $135,000. Denoncourt told them that Virginia had told him that her husband was dead. Denoncourt also told them that several household items were included in the sale, including a queen-sized bedroom suite and a large rubber mat that was on the garage floor. Those items were missing when he moved in, he told the detectives.
The detectives also spoke with the Hayden’s former next-door neighbor, Carol Bobb, whose husband knew Thomas well, spending hours sitting on the front porch talking. One day, she said, Thomas simply vanished. Virginia told her that Thomas had moved to Mexico to be treated for ALS and had died there.
Bobb also told detectives that shortly after Thomas disappeared Virginia had a new concrete slab poured behind the house, doubling the size of the back patio. She said she and her son-in-law joked that Thomas was buried under the new patio. Police didn’t think it was a joke and checked the patio with a dog trained to detect corpses and with a device that could provide imaging under the ground. They found nothing.
As the detectives spoke to witnesses, Migatulski said, “Everybody’s story was different. Everybody’s rendition of what Virginia told them was off.” She told the apartment manager at the Carlisle complex that her husband was dead. She told the Realtor who handled the sale of the condo that he left her and went to Mexico. She told someone else that Thomas had gone to Texas and Arizona to seek treatment for ALS. She told family members that he left her, and she was embarrassed that he had, and she’d made up stories to cover it up.
The detective reviewed Thomas’ medical records and found that, although he had been treated for diabetes, hypertension and coronary artery disease, he did not have ALS. They also learned that he had a brother who had died from ALS, but there was nothing in his medical records about ALS, detectives learned.
The medical records also showed that Thomas had last been seen by his doctor on Sept. 27, 2011. Dating back to 2006, they found, he had never missed a doctor’s appointment. He had an appointment scheduled for Oct. 25, but Virginia had canceled it, saying her husband had left town.
She talked about feeding a body to pigs
The detectives checked his Social Security and bank records and learned that his Social Security payments – totaling $116,765 – had continued to be deposited into the couple’s joint account.
They also checked records on file with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and learned that Virginia had purchased a Ruger .357 magnum at a Gander Mountain sporting goods store in West Manchester Township on Oct. 2, 2011. Virginia later told police she sold the pistol at a yard sale. The detectives couldn’t find any AFT record that such a sale took place.
They checked U.S. Department of Homeland Security records and found that Thomas had never traveled to Mexico.
They learned from Carolyn and Connie Pender that Virginia had a lockbox that contained Thomas’ driver’s license, his Social Security and Medicare cards, his passport and jewelry, along with a day planner.
They also learned that Virginia had discussed how to dispose of bodies, once telling Carolyn that you could feed the body to pigs and the animals would eat everything but the skull. Virginia’s grandson, Michael Harris, Connie Pender’s son, told detectives he “had conversations with his grandmother about getting rid of bodies,” usually while they were watching TV, according to the criminal complaint. She told Harris about feeding a body to pigs, which would eat everything but the hair. She mentioned other methods of disposing of a body, including that you need to stab the corpse before you put it in water or else it would float.
Harris told police he didn’t think the conversations were strange, rather that his grandmother “was cool to talk to.” He also told them that after his grandfather disappeared, Virginia gave him a credit card bearing Thomas’ name. Harris, who was in high school at the time, simply thought it was “free money.”
The detectives decided it was time to talk to Virginia.
Columnist/reporter Mike Argento has been a York Daily Record staffer since 1982. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: True crime, part 2: York County cops ID victim, but have no body