Oneida County authorities have closed a 1972 murder case, concluding that Fulton County’s only known serial killer, the late John W. Hopkins of Johnstown, raped and then repeatedly stabbed 19-year-old Joanne Pecheone and left her body tied to a tree along a wooded path in East Utica.
Oneida County District Attorney Scott D. McNamara issued a 13-page news release Friday detailing the evidence tying the case to Hopkins, who committed suicide in March 2000 while serving a sentence of 58 years to life for murdering two Fulton County girls in the late 1970s. He was 46 when he killed himself by cutting himself multiple times with a razor blade.
McNamara, relying heavily on two witnesses who observed a male teenager fleeing the scene, also discussed a recent analysis of DNA evidence including semen taken from the victim’s clothing.
While there was no conclusive link to Hopkins’ family DNA (a sample from a relative was compared), the report said, there was insufficient genetic material available for a finding. And, the report said, Hopkins’ DNA could not be excluded.
But, after nearly 40 years, the two witnesses told investigators that photographs of a then 19-year-old Hopkins depict the person they observed. One of the witnesses, then a 12-year-old boy, was snowmobiling on the trail that Jan. 12 when he saw the suspect run from the location of the body. The second witness saw the suspect speed off in a brownish two-tone sedan.
Also of interest in the case is a composite drawing created from witness descriptions provided to police in 1972. It shows a young man who parts floppy reddish blond hair on the right side — a rarity. Hopkins had reddish hair, and he also drove a two-tone Chevrolet Nova in 1972, matching the general description of the suspect’s vehicle.
The 12-year-old boy, who told investigators the suspect turned to look at him as he approached, described one ear being larger than the other.
Fulton County District Attorney Louise K. Sira, who began working with Oneida County investigators in 2007, said the ear abnormality is clearly visible in Hopkins’ high school graduation photograph.
Sira said the evidence is persuasive that Hopkins committed the Utica murder.
“Our fact patterns are very similar to the Utica case,” Sira said, while also citing the similarity in vehicles and the witnesses picking his photograph out of a photo array.
Sira said the composite drawing created in 1972 closely resembles Hopkins.
Investigators interviewed at least two of Hopkins’ childhood friends who were quoted as saying Hopkins did drive a vehicle matching the descriptions, that he would disappear for days, that he liked to visit college communities, and liked to carry a knife. They agreed he closely resembled the person depicted in the composite drawing.
Hopkins, who stabbed his three Fulton County victims, stood trial three times in 1980 in Fulton County Court. He was arrested the previous year after a 15-year-old female victim abducted near Northville and then taken to a wooded area in the town of Palatine survived wounds inflicted with a kitchen knife.
Oddly, he was acquitted of that attack, despite the eyewitness. He was convicted in Montgomery County Court on related charges in the same case.
In Fulton County, he was found guilty of the 1978 murder of 17-year-old Sherrie Carville, snatched while walking on Route 29 near a popular nightspot in Johnstown, and the 1976 murder of Gloversville teenager Cecelia Genatiempo, who was abducted while walking along South Main Street in that city.
Investigators working those cases at the time said they considered him a suspect in the 1974 murder of 17-year-old SUNY Cobleskill student Katherine Kolodziej, whose body was found that November in a Richmondville field.
Investigators said they had evidence that Hopkins was in Cobleskill during that period of time.
Interestingly, Oneida County authorities began investigating Hopkins as the possible killer of Pecheone at the suggestion of Sherrie Carville’s cousin, Assistant Oneida County District Attorney Todd Carville.
The Oneida County investigation was revived in 2001 when a joint task force of Utica and state police was created to re-examine the case.
In his report, McNamara noted that the assailant in both the Pecheone case and the attempted murder in Fulton County cut garments from the victim’s bodies and secured their heads during the attacks — a rope in one case and a purse strap in the other.
In both those cases, the suspect used the victim’s shoelaces to secure them. Pecheone’s shoelaces were attached to a tree limb and used to tie her hands above her head.
In his confession in the Carville murder, the report found, Hopkins admitted tying her hands behind her back.
The 15-year-old survivor was gagged with a sponge in her mouth and a piece of clothing was stuffed in Pecheone’s mouth.