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Crime News Cold Cases

Forged Note Leads To Pennsylvania Man’s Arrest In Unsolved 1984 Slaying Of Wife

“This is not a case solved with DNA,”  Lancaster County District Attorney Heather Adams said of the arrest of Jere Bagenstose, whose wife has never been found.

By Dorian Geiger
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A Pennsylvania man was jailed for the 1984 cold case killing of his estranged wife after a forged note led to his arrest, prosecutors said.

Jere Musser Bagenstose, 67, was taken into police custody on the morning of Dec. 22 for the killing of his 25-year-old wife Maryann Bagenstose, the Lancaster District Attorney’s Office announced.

Maryann Bagenstose vanished from her home on West Willow Road in Pequea Township on June 5, 1984. She was reported missing to law enforcement two days later. 

She shared the home with her estranged husband, Jere Bagenstose, and their two-year-old son Jeremy. The couple was separated at the time, prosecutors said. Officials said, however, that a “boarder,” who had a “relationship” with Maryann Bagenstose, was also residing at the property around the time she disappeared.

Authorities didn’t immediately release a motive. Although, months prior to the Pennsylvania woman’s disappearance, she’d won a court custody battle for the couple’s young son, prosecutors said. She vanished just over a week before a formal court hearing was scheduled to resolve the matter. 

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Officials said Maryann Bagenstose’s family haven’t had any contact with her since. Her body was never found. 

“An arrest in this 38-year-old case has certainly been long awaited,” Lancaster County District Attorney Heather Adams said in a statement on Dec. 22. “This is not a case solved with DNA. Rather, the arrest of Jere Bagenstose is the result of decades of hard work and dedication by law enforcement personnel, beginning in 1984 with members of the Pequea Township Police Department and continuing with numerous criminal investigators in the Pennsylvania State Police leading up to the present day.”

Unlike many cold case killings today that are solved with the use of DNA technology, local authorities credited traditional investigative techniques and persistent detective work with solving the decades-old crime. 

Jere Bagenstose Lancaster Da

“It was their dedication to the pursuit of justice in this case and their willingness to devote resources to this investigation, combined with the review and analysis of the decades-long investigation and evidence compiled in this investigation by attorneys in my office that culminated in and led to this arrest today,” Adams said. 

Jere Bagenstose, who spoke with authorities several times following his wife’s disappearance, said he last saw his wife alive on June 5, 1984. 

He claimed he last saw Maryann Bagenstose that morning when he stopped at her house to take her and their son to look at a new car. Upon arrival at the home, however, Maryann Bagenstose wasn’t ready to leave, according to the accused man. Instead, he insisted, he took the couple’s son to a nearby park while he waited for his spouse. Jere Bagenstose told investigators that when he returned home there was no trace of Maryann. He said he found a note from his wife, which he'd thrown away, stating she’d walked to Turkey Hill in Willow Street. Jere Bagenstose said he never saw her again.

Authorities later observed a piece of freshly dug dirt and a piece of cardboard covering a five-foot hole in the home’s garage. A search of the property ultimately didn’t reveal any human remains.

Law enforcement later learned that Jere Bagenstose had abruptly taken off work on the day of his wife’s disappearance and sustained an unexplained injury to his left arm, which required a bandage. Jere Bagenstose was also unable to specifically articulate why he’d dug a hole in his garage that was large enough to conceal human remains.

During the search, investigators also seized a crumpled up note in a wooden nail keg in the house’s living room, which stated, “Had to run a quick errand.” Jere Bagenstose later allegedly provided conflicting statements pertaining to the purported note left by Maryann.

“Jere told officers during the search warrant that the note did not say she was walking to Turkey Hill and that he only assumed that Maryann went to Turkey Hill,” the Lancaster District Attorney’s Office stated.

The note wound up being the key investigators used to implicate Jere Bagenstose in the 1984 slaying. In 2018, the Pennsylvania State Police, who relaunched investigative efforts regarding Maryann Bagenstose’s disappearance — and alleged murder — took a new interest in the handwritten note. Detectives connected Jere Bagenstose to his estranged wife’s killing after scouring online databases to access public records and “other documents containing the writing of the defendant.”

Those investigative findings later led to an execution of a new search warrant of Jere Bagenstose’s home in September 2022. The search proved fruitful; troopers collected numerous items that bore the Pennsylvania man’s handwriting. The writing samples were sent to the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Forensic Services and were compared to the handwritten note found at the couple’s home in 1984. 

Forensic analysts ultimately concluded the note was written by Jere Bagenstose.

“This begins the criminal process in a 38-year-old case, and we hope it brings relief to Maryann’s family and friends,” Adams added. “We will do everything we can to see that justice is done in this case.” 

Jere Bagenstose was arraigned following his arrest. He’s been held at a Lancaster County jail without bail, according to online jail records obtained by Oxygen.com. It’s unclear if he’s retained legal counsel to comment on his behalf. 

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