In the most tangible sign so far that prosecutors are now focusing on the July 1969 homicide of York City Patrolman Henry C. Schaad, his grave was recently reopened and his body exhumed, apparently so a new autopsy can be conducted.

The Prospect Hill Cemetery plot where Schaad was buried 32 years ago was dug up in the past few days, although cemetery officials would not say when, or who authorized it.

Schaad's widow, Sonja Schaad Gilmore, said she learned from a relative Friday evening that the District Attorney's Office was going to exhume him. The family was not asked for permission, nor was it told the reason why such a measure was needed, she said.

Yesterday the grave was completely open, revealing an empty burial vault. By 9 a.m. today it had been recovered and the sod replaced.

Gilmore and other family members held a private ceremony with an Episcopal priest at the site yesterday afternoon.

"I didn't like the idea of them having to do that, but I think it will be a good thing if it helps them indict (the killers)," said Gilmore, 57, who was married to Schaad for six years when he was struck by a high-powered bullet while on patrol during race riots in York City.

Schaad, 22, was shot in the chest on July 18, 1969, as he rode in the back seat of an armored vehicle crossing the West College Avenue bridge that spans the Codorus Creek. He spent two weeks in York Hospital before he died of an infection that set in as a result of his wounds.

Why exhume: An autopsy was conducted at the time of death, and it's unclear what, if anything, investigators can learn from Schaad's remains.

It might be that detectives hope they can recover a fragment of the fatal bullet from Schaad's body -- all the more important if 32-year-old evidence has been lost. Court records indicate evidence was in the hands of state police soon after his death.

"Most likely that's it -- most likely the prosecutor feels he just doesn't have enough evidence, for whatever reason," said Dr. James E. Starrs, a nationally known professor of forensic science and law at George Washington University who has overseen the exhumation of about 20 individuals.

Lost evidence, Starrs said, "happens all the time. In fact, defense attorneys chortle over it." It's a particular problem with older cases, and more than three decades have passed since Schaad's death.

Many factors can affect how fruitful an exhumation will be, the manner of the 1969 autopsy foremost among them, Starrs said. Although coroner's records indicate an autopsy was performed on Schaad, sometimes simple external examinations are called autopsies but lack a thorough internal probing that could generate more specific information.

Whether there are sufficient remains for scientific tests depends upon the condition of the body. Starrs said bullets or bullet fragments could still be there. Schaad was struck several times, and a standard autopsy might have left some of the fragments behind.

Also, Starrs said, there could be another reason prosecutors would seek an exhumation. The unearthing of slain civil-rights leader Medgar Evers' remains didn't produce evidence, but the prosecution was able to influence public opinion -- including potential jurors -- by demonstrating through their action that the case was not old. Prosecutors eventually won a conviction in the 1963 murder. "It makes it sound as if you're talking about something that is today's news, and not 30-year-old news," Starrs said.

Deputy District Attorney Tom Kelley declined comment yesterday, citing a standing gag order on court personnel about any business before the grand jury investigating the deaths of Schaad and Lillie Belle Allen during the riots.

York County Coroner Barry Bloss also cited the gag order and would not confirm or deny that he participated in the exhumation.

Other York cases: Exhumations require a court order or permission of the dead person's next-of-kin, said Kathy Ryan, staff attorney for the Pennsylvania Funeral Directors Association. "I would say it's more on the rare side, for sure. But it does happen, especially in this day and age," she said.

 

Starrs, who has argued for and against disinterment in high-profile cases involving historical figures and others, said digging up a grave is a measure that should be taken only in extreme cases, usually when investigators have compelling reasons to believe they will find new evidence.

It has occurred at least twice in the past decade in connection with York County murder cases.

Jean Avondale Hambrick's body was exhumed in her West Virginia hometown in 1992, leading to evidence she had been murdered by her niece, Judith Ann Pomory of Loganville. Pomory received a life sentence after her trial in York County.

Homicide victim Joseph Podlucky was exhumed and reautopsied in November 1995, eight months after his gunshot death. The coroner suspected suicide, but with new evidence prosecutors convicted Ricky Lee Legares of the crime.

If there is a court order permitting the Schaad exhumation, it would almost certainly be sealed along with other legal documents related to the grand jury probe.

The investigative grand jury recently released its findings on the other unsolved race-riots murder, that of Allen, a black woman from South Carolina who was killed three days after Schaad was shot. Nine men, including York City Mayor Charles Robertson, have been charged for the Allen homicide, and the grand jury recommended that two others be arrested as well.

District Attorney Stan Rebert said recently the grand jury will begin to focus on the Schaad murder when it reconvenes in June.

Details of the case: Schaad, a native of York City whose father, Russell C. Schaad, was a supervisor of detectives in the city police force at the time, was responding with two others to the scene of a shooting when he was himself shot. The bullet went through the quarter-inch rolled steel plating of "Big Al," one of three city-police armored cars that were reconditioned bank trucks.

Witnesses have said the bullet came from where four young black men were standing with weapons on the west bank of the Codorus Creek, about 300 feet away.

The slug apparently fractured upon hitting the steel plating, part of it hitting the left side of Schaad's chest and ripping through both lungs. Other fragments hit his legs.

The seriousness of his wounds was immediately evident. Doctors told the family the first night at York Hospital that his injuries were life-threatening. Twelve days after the attack, he managed after four or five tries to communicate with his wife.

"He said that he was dying. I remember the tears coming down the sides of his face. He knew he couldn't stay here for us," said Gilmore.

Two days later, he was dead, leaving a wife and 5-year-old daughter, Sharon. Hundreds attended the viewing at Small's Funeral Home; the funeral at St. John's Episcopal Church on North Beaver Street, where fellow police officers served as pallbearers; and the interment at Prospect Hill, complete with an honor guard and 21-gun salute.

Among those who showed up uninvited to pay their respects were members of the Girarders, a gang of white youths from the east side of York City, who wore their gang-insignia jackets to the funeral. Two former Girarders have been charged in the Allen murder.

No arrests: In the Allen murder case, prosecutors are alleging Robertson, himself a city patrolman at the time, handed out ammunition to a member of the Girarders and another man along North Newberry Street and encouraged them to shoot blacks in the days immediately after Schaad was shot.

And at a white-gang rally held in Farquhar Park two days after Schaad was shot, there was reportedly talk of avenging the shooting of Schaad, who grew up a few blocks away. Robertson has admitted he shouted "white power" at that rally but denies he gave out ammunition or participated in any way in the Allen murder the following day.

Despite reports that several eyewitnesses saw the Schaad shooting, no one has ever been arrested. Russell Schaad told family members he knew the identities of his son's assailants, but could never prove the case. The founder of Schaad Detective Agency, Russell Schaad died in 1977.

A portrait of Henry Schaad, the only city police officer to die in the line of duty, hangs by the front desk in the headquarters of the York City Police Department.

Gilmore said it has been difficult to ignore the painful memories of her late husband's death while the news has been dominated by the Allen murder arrests. But she had a message for those who argue that too much time has gone by.

"Some people say, 'I don't know why they're doing this.' They don't understand, but if it was their own relative they would," she said.

She thinks about the men who killed her husband.

"I hate them for doing it. That person was my life, and I feel we would be together now if they hadn't killed him," she said.