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Police Announce Name Of Suspect In Elderly Albany Woman's 1994 Cold Case Murder

East Greenbush police now say that Jeremiah Guyette, then 17, is the person who bludgeoned 81-year-old Wilomeana "Violet" Filkins to death nearly 30 years ago.

By Megan Carpentier
A police handout of Wilomeana "Violet" Filkins

Police say they have finally identified the person who bludgeoned an elderly woman to death in her apartment in upstate New York in 1994.

East Greenbush Police Chief Elaine Rudzunski said at a press conference on Thursday that Jeremiah James Guyette, who was 17 at the time, murdered his East Greenbush neighbor Wilomeana "Violet" Filkins, 81, on Aug. 17, 1994 during an attempted robbery.

Filkins' brother, Sterling Filkins, and her niece, Carol Filkins, found her body in the living room of her apartment on Aug. 19, 1994 after no one was able to reach her for two days.

Violet had lived in East Greenbush — an eastern suburb of Albany — for 60 years after growing up in the neighboring town of Rensselaer with her seven sisters and brother. Four of her siblings were still living at the time or her murder, but have since passed away.

Though her car — a 1989 Plymouth Reliant — was parked in her normal spot at the multi-building complex when her family members discovered her body, police at the time believed the killer or killers had taken it, but then returned it and re-parked it incorrectly, the Albany Times Union reported.

Three years later, several of Violet's belongings were found abandoned 10 miles southeast of her apartment complex along a road bordering the Nassau-Schodack Cemetery in the village of Nassau, Albany NBC affiliate WNYT reported.

Police never publicly revealed which items were recovered, but believed the location of the items — on a road bordering the rural cemetery — indicated the killer lived in the area.

The case, however, went cold, even as subsequent detectives submitted and re-submitted fingerprints and DNA evidence for analysis.

The first real break in the case came on April 25, 2019, East Greenbush Police Detective Sergeant Michael Guadagnino said at Thursday's press conference, when a "close acquaintance" of Guyette — whom he later identified as an ex-girlfriend — came forward with a tip. 

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“An interview was conducted with this acquaintance and they were able to share information to the investigation that had not been released publicly and only someone who had been involved in the murder would have knowledge of," Guadagnino said.

“The acquaintance shared that, in approximately 2009 — August of 2009 — Jeremiah had started crying at their home and had made statements such as 'That poor old woman, I robbed her, I hit her and I just left her there, this can’t be true, I’m sure she’s fine.’” 

Police began investigating Guyette and discovered that he'd moved from Minnesota to East Greenbush in 1994 to live with his father and complete his senior year in high school. His father lived in another building in Filkins' apartment complex, in sight of the elderly woman's apartment.

Guyette's name was listed in police department records as having been canvassed after the murder and dismissed as a potential suspect.

After finishing high school, Guyette first moved 45 miles south to Red Hook, New York and subsequently enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. He was stationed at the then-Patrick Air Force Base south of Cape Canaveral. After his discharge, he moved back to Red Hook and then to nearby Rosendale — where police interviewed him on Oct. 1, 2019.

He was 43 at the time, and had been driving a school bus and a bus for elderly seniors for a living.

“Guyette became defensive, visibly upset and stated that he would not speak to us without an attorney” when told they wanted to talk about an incident in 1994, Guadagnino stated. Police, however, were simultaneously interviewing Guyette's family, friends and coworkers.

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At 7:30 a.m. the following morning, the New York State Police responded to a report of gunshots at Guyette's residence. He was found in his garage with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

They took his DNA and fingerprints during the autopsy for comparison to evidence found at the scene and continued interviewing potential witnesses. Due to delays at the state police lab because of the subsequent pandemic, it wasn't until January 2021 that a once-unknown fingerprint found on the end of Filkins' coffee table was matched to Guyette's left thumb.

On Oct. 22, 2022, a female relative of Guyette's was interviewed as part of the investigation and told police that she spoke to him shortly before his suicide.

"The family member lived out of state and was planning a trip to New York and, when speaking with her, Jeremiah said he might not be around when she arrived here on the trip," Guadagnino said. "He further stated that [when] he was younger, and a long time ago, he had planned to steal a car and rob a bank to get money for college. He then stated that someone had died but that he didn’t want to talk any more over the phone."

"He further stated to the family member that he did not want to go to prison and was in a panic," the detective added. "At this time, the family member helped him make arrangements to meet with an attorney on Oct. 2, 2019; that was corroborated with the attorney. And then on Oct. 2, 2019, Jeremiah took his own life.”

Carol Filkins, who was there when her father discovered her aunt's body, expressed her extended family's appreciation to law enforcement for continuing to work the case for 28 years after Violet's death.