VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — During their sophomore year at Penn Hills High School in Pennsylvania, Janice Pietropola, 19, and Lynn Seethaler, also 19, met and instantly became inseparable. Both girls were popular and had many friends.
Pietropola worked at the Gold Circle restaurant. She had excellent grades and a strong work ethic during high school. She had saved enough money to purchase a Volkswagen beetle.
Both girls graduated in 1972, and Pietropola became a secretary for the Urban Redevelopment Authority in East Liberty while Seethaler worked as a secretary for Dun & Bradstreet, Inc., Shadyside.
After graduation, the women worked hard for a year. By the summer of 1973, they needed a well-deserved break and decided to get away for a few days. They settled on Virginia Beach as their destination for the last week of June 1973.
Eight people, including Pietropola and Seethaler, were scheduled to go, but six backed out, including Arlene Schuchman, a former classmate, who opted to go to Hawaii with another friend. Pietropola and Seethaler were reluctant to leave without their friends but ultimately decided to go.
The girls checked into Farrar’s Motel at Atlantic Avenue and 10th Street.
Farrar’s opened in the 1940s and had 30 units, including traditional motel rooms and one-bedroom cottages. The girls rented the first cottage closest to the beach for a five-day stay, checking in on Monday, June 25, 1973. Besides the single bedroom, their place also included a living room with a pullout sofa sleeper, a kitchen, and a bathroom.
The girls enjoyed plenty of fun and relaxation during their stay. They hung out with other young people, visited local bars, and went on a few dates. They sent postcards to friends back home, writing “having a great time” on each card.
The girls took numerous pictures of their fun-filled vacation, including the one below.
But the fun soon took a sinister turn that would forever change the lives of many.
Sometime between 11:30 p.m. Friday, June 29, and 1 a.m. on Saturday, June 30, 1973, the motel’s night manager saw the girls walk by the front office alone, heading south.
Shortly after noon on June 30, 1973, John Taylor, then 25 and the motel manager’s grandson, was filling in at the front desk and noticed the girls had yet to depart by the noon checkout time or inform him of their plans to stay longer.
Taylor knocked on their cottage door, but neither girl answered. He opened the door with a master key and peeked inside the room. He saw a foot on the floor and thought one of the girls was sleeping, so he shut the door and walked back toward the office.
But as he walked away, he felt something was wrong and returned. Taylor went inside and found both girls dead. He rushed back to the office and called the police.
Police arrived and found Seethaler’s body on the floor by the door, her hands tied. Pietropola was on the bedroom floor, nude from the waist down.
According to a 1973 piece in the Daily Item, officers found false identification documents in the girls’ room showing they were 21, likely so they could purchase alcohol and get into the local clubs. The documents belonged to a third girl not identified. However, detectives could not say whether the third girl was in the Virginia Beach area.
Outside, police discovered a screen removed from one of the cottage windows, likely how the killer gained access. Police were unsure whether he was lying in wait or had entered after the girls fell asleep.
Autopsy reports revealed the assailant had raped Pietropola but not Seethaler.
Seethaler had been strangled, shot in the cheek and temple, and slashed with a broken wine bottle across the throat. Pietropola was shot three times in the head and strangled. The gun used in the killings was a .22-caliber pistol.
Investigators learned the girls had partied frequently during their stay, and a couple of times, they invited people back to their cottage. Detectives looked at several young men and interviewed two who had dated the women on more than one occasion. Police eliminated them as suspects, and the case eventually went cold.
The double murder occurred over a decade before DNA testing. Virginia Beach police once believed Pietropola and Seethaler were victims of a serial killer who may have murdered up to 11 women. In the fall of 2018, officials tested DNA evidence recovered from Pietropola’s body using advanced forensic technology. DNA testing struck down the serial killer theory in 2019, but the results linked the crime to an 80-year-old man named Ernest Broadnax.
“Genetic profiles created with cheek swabs later obtained from Broadnax and Piertopola’s three siblings further solidified the finding,” the Daily Press reported in 2020.
While it is unknown when officials added Broadnax’s DNA to the national database, New York became the first state in 2012 to require DNA to be collected from people convicted of a felony and all penal law misdemeanors. Broadnax was in a New York prison on a felony assault conviction in 2012.
The New York Times reported Broadnax has an extensive criminal history with 14 prior arrests, including three that got him several years in New York state prison. Most were for assault and burglary, and none were as horrific as the double murder in Virginia Beach.
Investigators arrested Broadnax on Monday, April 8, 2019, at his New York apartment for homeless veterans. He was cooperative but claimed he could not remember killing anyone. At the time of the murders, Broadnax was 34 years old and resided in Norfolk.
According to Broadnax’s defense attorneys, both state-hired and private doctors had diagnosed Broadnax with dementia. Unfortunately, the disease can keep the defendant out of prison in criminal cases. To be competent to stand trial, a defendant must understand the charges against him and aid in his defense.
There is no cure for dementia; all types of the disease are progressive. A psychologist determined Broadnax incompetent after his arrest. A judge agreed to send the older man to a psychiatric hospital for treatment. Several months later, a psychiatrist deemed Broadnax fit to stand trial. However, the Covid-16 pandemic hit, delaying the trial until further notice.
According to KDKA Pittsburgh, “Commonwealth’s Attorney Colin Stolle said in a statement that his office is ‘bound by the options available under the law in terms of restoration, and we continue to examine all options available to us in seeking justice in this case.'”
The victims’ families did not believe he had dementia because he was independent and could care for himself. Furthermore, Broadnax was quickly deemed incompetent and competent, even though dementia worsens over time.
Regardless, the surviving victims’ families would not see justice. Broadnax died at age 84 in October 2022. Both parents of the girls are now deceased.
Per a piece in The Virginian-Pilot on Oct. 14, 2022, “At a court hearing late last year, a Virginia Beach Circuit judge found there was probable cause to hold a trial on whether Broadnax is likely to be sexually violent again — even at his advanced age — and whether he should be committed indefinitely as a result. A motions hearing in the case was held last week prior to Broadnax’s death, and it was scheduled to go to trial in February.”
Farrar’s Motel has since been demolished. New motels and shops now stand in the location. Virginia Beach has more than doubled in size since 1973 and remains a popular tourist destination.
True Crime Diva’s Thoughts
This is a solved case. However, I do not believe Broadnax acted alone. The girls were slashed, shot, and strangled. The crime is complete overkill for one assailant in a random killing.
When asked about the charges against him, Broadnax responded, “If they said I did, I guess I did,” and that “fingerprints and DNA don’t lie.”
No, but fingerprints confirm a person was at the crime scene at some point, but they do not prove murder. DNA testing proved he had sex with Janice but cannot prove consensual vs. forced sex or murder.
I think there is a fine line between guilt and innocence regarding DNA.
As vicious as the crime was, it struck me as a crime of passion more than a random double homicide, and Janice was the intended target. Regardless, I don’t believe Broadnax acted alone.
Obviously, I was not there, so I really don’t know. These are just my thoughts.