Last updated: February 19. 2013 5:57PM - 1477 Views

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Daniel Polerecki Sr. vividly remembers Aug. 14, 1996, when his worst fear was realized: His son

was dead.

He was inside his family-owned business, Cyclone Cleaners, in Pittston when authorities told him his son, Keith, was found.

They requested his dental records, Daniel Sr. said. That's how we found out. My body just went numb.

It has been more than 16 years since the decomposed body of Keith Polerecki was found near the Coxton Rail Yard in Duryea. It would be more than a year after the discovery and a second autopsy that Keith's death would be ruled a homicide.

He had been beaten, apparently with a metal pipe, and his body placed near the railroad yard.

To this day, we don't know why, Daniel Sr. said. Over the years, we've been hearing this, we've been hearing that. We were told names of the people who may be involved. But we're still waiting for something to happen.

State police at Wyoming are hoping to provide closure to the Polerecki family.

We're working on it, and along with Trooper Stephen Polishan for the last two years, we've gathered a lot of good information, investigating Trooper Christopher King said. We know there are people out there that have information about what happened to Keith even after all this time.

Keith was 31 years old when he was killed. He lived with his father, Daniel Sr., and mother, Tina, on Broad Street in Pittston and helped run the family business while working as a carpenter.

He graduated from Pittston Area High School and attended the Penn State Worthington Scranton campus.

Keith also had a 9-year-old son, Keith Jr.

Reported as missing

The week of Aug. 7, 1996, the family business was closed for vacation. Daniel Sr. believed Keith went to Florida but soon realized his son did not take any clothes or luggage. Keith was reported missing to the state police on Aug. 12.

It wasn't like Keith to go away and not say anything, Daniel Sr. said. He didn't take any of this clothes and it didn't dawn on me right away that he was missing. At the time, I didn't know what my mind was thinking.

Keith and his older brother, Danny Jr., were close.

We were best friends growing up. We were only 14 months apart, said Danny Jr. I was married at 21 and we had our own lives, but we still were close, going hunting together.

The last time Daniel Sr. saw Keith was Aug. 7, 1996 and Danny Jr. saw his brother two days earlier.

Autopsy: ‘Suspicious' death

After Keith's body was found, the late Luzerne County Coroner Dr. George Hudock could not determine the manner of death after an initial autopsy. He listed the death as suspicious, noting Keith had suffered several broken ribs and had been dead between three and six days before his body was found.

The investigation was handled by the three-member Duryea Police Department headed by former Chief Leonard Ash. With no progress on the case, Daniel Sr. said he called then District Attorney Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. in early 1997 after reading about another homicide investigation.

A woman was killed in Lackawanna County and I read in the paper that they have all these investigators on the case, Daniel Sr. said. I called Mr. Olszewski and he assigned the state police and county detectives. By Easter Monday that year, they gathered more information in a few weeks than what was gathered in the seven months after Keith was found.

New information obtained by state police prompted a petition to exhume Keith's body for a second autopsy in July 1997.

After more than a year of waiting and wondering, Daniel Sr. was officially told what he already knew: His son was murdered and the cause of his death was multiple blunt-force trauma.

We knew all along he was killed, Danny Jr. said.

Evidence discovered

About a month after Keith's body was found, Pittston police received a report from Shantae Lea Armitage of Pittston about a stolen 1984 Oldsmobile Cutlass, owned by her brother, John Armitage. State police at Dunmore found the Olds in an isolated area of Springbrook Township in Lackawanna County.

The car was found with broken lights and windows and a torched sock sticking out of the gasoline tank suggesting someone tried to burn it.

State police believe the Oldsmobile was linked to Keith's death. The vehicle was seized and evidence from the car, including a metal pipe, was processed. State police at Dunmore charged Tracy Tonkin and Erin Chapman, both of Pittston, with tampering with the vehicle.

Lackawanna County Court records indicate Tonkin pleaded guilty to criminal mischief and Chapman pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence in November 1999 and February 2000, respectively. They were each sentenced to one year probation.

Tonkin and Chapman could not be reached for comment on Saturday.

Trooper King said the discovery of the car provided valuable information for investigators.

According to The Times Leader archives, arrest affidavits for Tonkin and Chapman indicate state police had questioned the two women in April 1997. Chapman told investigators Tonkin called her about torching the car because it might contain evidence from a homicide.

Chapman admitted to investigators she took a sock and stuck it into the gasoline tank and tried to light it, according to The Times Leader archives.

Family remains hopeful

As the investigation into Keith's death continued without arrests, Danny Sr. and Danny Jr. said they never lost faith and hope. They met once or twice with former District Attorney David W. Lupas in the early 2000s about the ongoing case.

They never had a meeting with former District Attorney Jacqueline Musto Carroll but would often meet with state police investigators.

We met with (state police Cpl. Gerald) Williams and Trooper King a few times over the years, said Keith Jr.

They would give us encouragement, telling us that this case is not being forgotten, Danny Jr. said.

We always have hope that some people will be arrested, Daniel Sr. said.

The Polereckis are hopeful state police can find that missing link leading to the filing of criminal homicide charges against those responsible for Keith's death.

We need people to come forward, Keith Jr. said.

When Keith was killed, it seemed everybody had zippers over their mouths, Danny Jr. said. After all these years, someone must know something.

For Keith Jr., of West Pittston, growing up without a father was difficult. You only have one mom and one dad in your life, and I lost my dad when I was young.

Keith Jr. said he is most saddened his 3½-month-old daughter will never be held by her grandfather.

It's difficult because I have to show my daughter pictures of her grandfather who should be here holding her, bouncing her on his knee, Keith Jr. said. This has been going on for far too long. I had many sleepless nights pondering about my dad.

King said that anyone with information about Keith Polerecki's death is asked to call him at the state police Wyoming barracks, at 697-2000.

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