Wednesday, December 20, 2000

Report sheds light on 1963 slaying

'Other self' could have killed Patty Rebholz, suspect said then

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Michael Wehrung told police more than one story in 1963 when they asked what he did the night his girlfriend was beaten to death with a fence post in Greenhills.

        But his last story is the one that got their attention.

        According to a 35-year-old coroner's report, Mr. Weh rung admitted to police that he hit Patricia Ann Rebholz, knocked her to the ground and knelt beside her body on the night of Aug. 8, 1963.

        “He feels certain in his mind there is a possibility he did kill Patricia Rebholz,” states the report, which was filed in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court late Tuesday. “He said he still can't help but feel his "other self' undoubtedly did it.”

        The coroner's report, drafted in 1965, summarizes a police investigation that repeatedly turned up tantalizing evidence about the 15-year-old girl's death but was never able to close the case.

        Although the report links Mr. Wehrung to the crime, a juvenile court judge called off the investigation in 1963.

        Judge Benjamin Schwartz said Mr. Wehrung, who was then 15, had been questioned so often by police that any statement he gave would not be admissible in a trial. The judge then declared Mr. Wehrung a ward of the court, effectively taking custody of the teen.

        Thirty-seven years later, Hamilton County prosecutors reopened the investigation. They brought murder charges against Mr. Wehrung earlier this year.

Wehrung (center), watches investigators at the murder scene.
(1963 photo)
| ZOOM |
        Mr. Wehrung's lawyers declined comment Tuesday when asked about the old coroner's report.

        The report echoes the statement last month of former television reporter Tom Schell, who claimed Mr. Wehrung confided to him in 1963 that “another self” might have killed Patricia.

        And while the report does not explain why the investigation was halted in 1963, it does provide a glimpse inside one of the county's most controversial homicide cases.

        The information was compiled in 1965 by Wilbert Stagenhorst, a now-deceased coroner's investigator. He drafted the report for Greenhills police officials.

        In the report, Mr. Stagenhorst states that Mr. Wehrung initially denied meeting Patricia on the night she died.

        But later, Mr. Stagenhorst said, Mr. Wehrung told police he waited for Patricia in a vacant lot shortly after she called his house to say she was coming over.

        “When he saw her, he softly whistled to her and she came walking towards him,” the report states. “He thought it was very possible that she may have made some remark to him, and that he had hit her and knocked her down.”

        According to the report, Mr. Wehrung said he then spotted another teen, Craig Smith, walking by. “(Mr. Wehrung) was kneeling alongside the body, and the one thing that he remembers and that worries him more than anything else is that he could "feel' Smitty's eyes "burning' into his eyes,” Mr. Stagenhorst wrote.

        Mr. Smith later told police he saw a teen-ager kneeling in the lot but could not identify that person.

        Another man, who drove past the lot that night, reported seeing a boy “on his knees, with his arms outstretched, as if he was conquering someone.” But that witness also could not identify a suspect.

        At the time of her death, Patricia was on her way to Mr. Wehrung's house after a teen dance. Although they were dating, Mr. Wehrung did not go to the dance with his girlfriend.

        “Michael Wehrung stated he had not wanted Patricia Rebholz to go to this dance,” Mr. Stagenhorst wrote in the report. “He didn't like to dance, he didn't know how to dance, and he wasn't fond of her going to the dance alone.”

        The morning after Patricia's death, Mr. Stagenhorst wrote, Mr. Wehrung did not immediately go to the vacant lot because he already knew what had happened there.

        “He thought he was possibly mentally sick,” the report states. “He said that in his mind he didn't have to go over to the lot. He knew whose body was on the stretcher, that he was positive, in his mind, that this was Pat on the stretcher.”

        Mr. Stagenhorst, along with the officers who spoke with Mr. Wehrung, are now dead. And Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen declined comment.

        The coroner's report was attached to a motion filed Tuesday by prosecutors in Common Pleas Court. The motion is part of a dispute between prosecutors and defense attorneys about old investigative materials in the Rebholz case.

        Mr. Wehrung's attorneys would not discuss the coroner's report or whether it would be admissible at Mr. Wehrung's trial.

        At least some of the statements in the report could be ruled out of the trial because Mr. Stagenhorst did not get the information first-hand. Instead, he spoke to detectives who had interviewed Mr. Wehrung.

        Although never charged with a crime, Mr. Wehrung left Greenhills in 1963 and spent two years at a North Carolina military school.

        Mr. Wehrung's attorneys contend his case belongs in juvenile court because their client was 15 in 1963. They are appealing a ruling that keeps the case in adult court.

        The difference is important because Mr. Wehrung faces a life sentence if convicted in adult court, but little or no prison time in juvenile court.


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