Twenty-five years ago, a young mother and her daughter were beaten and stabbed to death in the bedroom of their Williamsport home. Their killer never was brought to justice.
Now, the Lycoming County District Attorney's office is reviewing suspects and sending decades-old evidence back to the lab for DNA testing, District Attorney Ryan C. Gardner said.
The case of 23-year-old Gail Matthews and her five-year-old daughter Tamara Berkheiser is burned into the memory of Lycoming County.
They were a mother and daughter in the prime of life, found slain together in bed at their Center Street home on September 2, 1994.
"It's by far the most heinous murder ever committed in Lycoming County," Gardner said. "The images formed in your mind when you read the documents are gut-wrenching."
Evidence was tested for DNA in years past but was not a match to any suspect, Gardner said. DNA evidence previously swabbed from the corner of a bloody sheet was inconclusive.
In one instance, glitter in Kramer's car was linked to the murder scene but later found on a common porch, Gardner said.
"If someone’s arrested for murder, there's a good reason for it. If someone is not prosecuted for it, there’s a good reason for it," First Assistant District Attorney Martin L. Wade said in reference to Kramer. "Feel-good, knee-jerk charging decisions aren’t good for criminal justice."
Is Kramer still the man for this crime?
"We think it's a man," Wade replied.
Gardner cited the fact that Matthews was sexually assaulted.
No one is excluded at the moment and they're reviewing suspects, according to Gardner.
The prosecutors said they have dozens of pieces of physical evidence that may or may not yield DNA.
That evidence includes bloodstained sheets and pillows and the clothing of the decedents, according to Gardner.
"I guarantee there's evidence that we can resubmit to see if there's other areas that can be swabbed or cut," Wade said.
Labs test stained areas of evidence first but invisible DNA, such as skin cells deposited on abrasive areas of clothing, are more likely to have been overlooked, according to Wade.
"If you get a swab of skin cells and crack them open, you will get human DNA every time," Wade said.
Over time, DNA can scatter, deposit in the environment or degrade, Wade explained.
How will prosecutors ensure that DNA evidence from 25 years ago hasn't been degraded or contaminated?
"If it's degraded, that's evident from a forensic standpoint when you go to test it," Wade said.
Contamination occurs when DNA is added to a sample, such as when a lab technician fails to wear gloves, Wade explained.
"Contaminating a DNA sample adds to it, it doesn't subtract from it," Wade said.
The above example of a gloveless lab tech would simply add a known DNA sample to the mix, Wade said. A known sample could then be eliminated as a suspect.
What makes the district attorney's office think they might be able to solve a crime that so many others have failed to crack?
"A fresh set of eyes with a tremendous amount of experience," Gardner said, referring to a newly-formed team of retired city police officers assigned to the cold case.
Williamsport City PD Agent Justin Snyder and Lycoming County Detectives Trent Peacock, Leonard Dincher, and Steven Sorage will investigate and offer a strong knowledge base, Gardner said.
"For the first time in a long time there's finally a team. Before, it was only one person on this case, [Former Detective Kenneth] Mains, doing very good work but with limited manpower," Wade said.
Prosecutors are hopeful that advancements in DNA technology also might help to solve the Matthews and Berkheiser homicides.
"DNA today is tested differently even than it was five years ago," Gardner said.
Regardless of the outcome, Wade said there's a moral imperative to keep working to bring the family justice.
"There’s an obligation we have to the family to not stop till we reach a dead end, which we haven't," Wade said. "This case isn’t an accident. Someone brutally murdered these people."