GETTYSBURG, Pa. (AP) — A man has been charged in a 35-year-old murder case in southern Pennsylvania, accused of killing a mother and her teenage daughter during an early morning burglary at their home, authorities said Tuesday.
Abraham Cruz Jr., 54, was charged with two counts of criminal homicide, conspiracy, arson and burglary in the 1980 slayings of 17-year-old Deborah Patterson and her mother Nancy Patterson, Adams County prosecutors and state police said.
Prosecutors said the arrest of two others in the case in recent years helped lead them to Cruz, who also was sentenced Tuesday in a separate federal case of threatening employees at a Social Security Office in 2011 and a federal Homeland Security agent.
Cruz has a lengthy arrest record and was described as a violent man by witnesses interviewed by police. Court officials said they did not know of a lawyer representing Cruz.
Authorities say two men broke into the Pattersons’ home outside Gettysburg at around 3 a.m. Aug. 30, 1980, and set fire to the kitchen. They say that as the two women tried to flee, they were shot and killed by the masked men. Nancy Patterson’s husband was also shot, but survived. Two other children escaped to a neighbor’s house, according to police.
A son of Nancy Patterson was charged in the case and acquitted in 1981.
The case was essentially dormant until the Pennsylvania State Police picked it up as a cold case in 2008, said Adams County District Attorney Shawn Wagner. One lead they followed was information from Deborah Patterson’s siblings that, just before the murders, she had recently broken up with a boyfriend, Erasmo Cruz, who they said had beaten her and had been watching the house.
Erasmo Cruz, Cruz’s uncle, pleaded guilty last year to two counts of third-degree homicide in the case. He allegedly told police in an interview earlier this month that he saw Abraham Cruz shoot the women.
A third man, Ruperto Garcia Jr., pleaded guilty last year to a burglary conspiracy charge in the case. Garcia told investigators that he did not witness the shootings or plan the burglary, but said Erasmo and Abraham Cruz had warned him afterward not to talk about the incident or they would kill his mother.
“Erasmo said he had just killed the woman that was carrying his child so don’t think I won’t kill your mother,” Erasmo Cruz warned Garcia, according to court papers.
However, Wagner said investigators have developed independent evidence that points to Abraham Cruz as the killer. He declined to reveal the nature of the evidence.