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Pennsylvania Handyman Pleads Guilty To Killing Missing Woman Found In Garbage Bag
Douglas Berry, who had once worked as a handyman for Elizabeth Wiesenfeld, pleaded guilty to her 2019 murder and associated crimes this week. He will serve 17-40 years in prison as a result of his plea deal.
A Pennsylvania man pleaded guilty to murdering a former employer and hiding her body for more than a year.
Douglas Berry, 50, will serve 17 to 40 years in prison as part of a plea agreement he made with the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. On Monday, Berry pleaded guilty to charges of third-degree murder, burglary, theft, and receiving stolen property in connection with the murder of Elizabeth “Betsy” Wiesenfeld, 67, of Whitehall, Pennsylvania — a southern suburb of Pittsburgh.
Wiesenfeld, was reported missing by her daughter, Kathleen Graham, on April 30, 2019, according to a criminal complaint emailed to Oxygen.com from the District Attorney’s Office. As previously reported, police found Wiesenfeld’s body nearly a year later in a garbage bag on April 19, 2020, in an area of Plum — a suburb of Pittsburgh 25 miles from Wiesenfeld's home — known for littering and off-road driving.
The medical examiner could not determine how the victim died but ruled Wiesenfeld's death a homicide four months after her body was found, CBS Local Pittsburgh reported.
Berry, who was Wiesenfeld’s former handyman, addressed the court at Monday’s hearing, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
“I want everyone to know how sorry I am for the mistakes I’ve made,” said Berry. “I’ve learned to pray for forgiveness. I apologize to the family for not doing more, and I apologize to Betsy. I can’t move mountains.”
According to the 19-page criminal complaint, Kathleen Graham sensed something was wrong when she received a suspicious text from her mother’s phone on the morning of April 30, 2019.
“I met someone were leaving now for about a week look after everything at the house please,” the text stated. “I’m going to have a good time for once.”
Kathleen told authorities she'd spoken with her mother the evening before, according to the complaint, and Wiesenfeld had made zero mention of meeting another person or plans to leave her home.
Concerns grew when Wiesenfeld didn't show up at her place of employment at SarahCare Adult Day Services in Forest Hills, Pennsylvania.
Whitehall Police met Graham at Wiesenfeld’s home, where authorities entered the unlocked residence — which showed no signs of forced entry. In Wiesenfeld’s bedroom, the area rug “was askew,” and the bed had been moved, according to the criminal complaint. Red stains appearing to be blood were found on the comforter and bedpost.
Cigarette ashes were found near the bed, although Wiesenfeld wasn’t a smoker.
Missing from the home were Wiesenfeld’s phone, purse and wallet.
Witnesses were quick to point authorities to Douglas Berry a former handyman, felon, and suspected drug addict from nearby McKeesport who had done some work for Wiesenfeld at her home and other rental properties she owned. Wiesenfeld’s acquaintances described him as someone who’d been “in and out of prison.”
The victim had told those closest to her that she'd stopped hiring Berry because she feared him. Berry reportedly went back to Wiesenfeld’s home after she stopped using his services, but she continued to ignore him, according to the complaint.
Prosecutors built a case against Berry, noting the victim’s stolen bank card was found melted in a beer can at Berry’s residence with his fingerprints on it. A man matching Berry’s description had used the card at an ATM to withdraw $500 from Wiesenfeld’s account.
Neighbors’ surveillance cameras also showed a Ford F-150 — the same kind of pickup truck Berry owned — pulling up to Wiesenfeld’s home at 8:39 a.m. on the day of her disappearance. According to ADT Security records, the garage opened at 8:55 a.m. and closed at 8:58 a.m., matching what was recovered from two security cameras.
The Ford F-150 exited the driveway one minute later.
Berry was arrested on firearm charges on May 2, 2019, and was denied bail on account of his possible involvement in Wiesenfeld’s disappearance, according to the Gazette.
A jailhouse informant told authorities that, while in jail, Berry allegedly stated it was imperative he get out so that he could “get rid of [a body],” which would only take Berry an hour.
Berry allegedly told the inmate that the “b***h had it coming,” according to the complaint.
Another jailhouse witness went into detail about several conversations with Berry, claiming that Berry said he didn’t think he’d ever be charged with murder because Wiesenfeld’s body hadn’t been recovered.
Berry was formally charged with Wiesenfeld’s murder in September 2019. Seven months later, a patrol officer in Plum found Wiesenfeld’s body after seeing a shoe inside a torn garbage bag, as previously reported.
Wiesenfeld’s brother, Christopher Lagi, addressed the court at Berry's sentencing on Monday, according to the Review.
“I feel that my sister was just beginning a new chapter in her life, one that would be full of joy and satisfaction, as she was a person with a great reservoir of love in her heart, and the role of grandmother would have been that outlet,” Lagi said in a victim impact statement. “She died on the verge of a great outpouring of love.”
In a brief statement to Oxygen.com, Allegheny County District Attorney said, “This case involved outstanding work by both the Allegheny County Police Department and our prosecution team.”