GREENSBURG, Pa. – A mentally disabled woman was forced to eat detergent and urine — and to write her own suicide note — before she was stabbed to death and dumped in a school parking lot, police said Friday. Six suspects are in custody, including some people she had apparently called her friends.
The head of 30-year-old Jennifer Daugherty had been shaved, and she had been bound with Christmas decorations and clothing; she also was hit with a towel rack, vacuum cleaner hose and a crutch, according to an affidavit. Her face was painted with nail polish, and she was fed vegetable oil, spices and medications in addition to soap and urine, police said.
"She was exploited, and her kindness and her handicap made her very vulnerable," Daugherty's sister, Joy Burkholder, said. "She trusted everybody; she believed everyone was good, and no one would hurt her."
Six people were charged with criminal homicide, kidnapping and related charges in the death of Daugherty, who was missing since Monday and whose body was found Thursday at Greensburg Salem Middle School, about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh.
Charged were Robert Loren Masters Jr., 36, Ricky Smyrnes, 23, Melvin Knight, 20, Amber Meidinger, 20, all of Greensburg; a 17-year-old girl from Greensburg; and Peggy Darlene Miller, 27, of Mount Pleasant Township. All were being held without bond in the Westmoreland County prison. It was not clear whether they had attorneys.
Authorities said Daugherty willingly went to the apartment where she was killed, but they wouldn't discuss a motive or details on how the visit turned deadly. Authorities said they found the victim's belongings in the building's attic, as well as items that had been used to clean up blood.
"She was at the wrong place, at the wrong time, stumbled in a bad situation," said Greensburg Police Chief Walter Lyons.
The Westmoreland County coroner's office said Daugherty had been stabbed multiple times in the neck, chest and head. Coroner Kenneth Bacha said he didn't know what weapon was used.
Stepfather Bobby Murphy, 62, of Mount Pleasant, told The Associated Press that the victim had the mental abilities of a 12- to 14-year-old.
Murphy said he was the last family member to see Daugherty alive, on Monday, when he took her to get on a bus to Greensburg. She had a dentist there, as well as a counselor there who helped her with a mental disability, he said.
Murphy said that he's not sure which one Daugherty had an appointment with, but that later that day, she called home and asked permission to spend the night at "Peggy's" house. Murphy said his stepdaughter planned to return home Tuesday.
Daugherty had become involved in a community center in Greensburg where she met several people whose names she mentioned as friends, Murphy said — including several whose first names share those of some of the suspects.
"I don't know them personally, but Jennifer mentioned some of their names as being her friends — but evidently not," he said.
According to an affidavit of probable cause, Knight admitted stabbing Daugherty in the chest, side and neck, and he and Smyrnes carried her body to the parking lot. All six defendants admitted their involvement and implicated others, according to police.
A neighbor in a first-floor apartment reported hearing a "tussle upstairs and a 'heavy bam"' as though a body fell, causing the ceiling to shake before it went quiet on Wednesday night, the affidavit said.
Another resident of that apartment said Smyrnes and two women came to their apartment afterward, and the man asked them to turn their television down, saying his girlfriend was lying down with a headache, the affidavit said.
A man found Daugherty's body Thursday morning when he saw the plastic garbage can partially beneath his truck.
Police said they had responded to disturbances at the apartment before, but mostly for reports of loud music or other minor incidents.
The victim's family moved to Mount Pleasant from Mesquite, Texas, about two years ago to be closer to Murphy's mother-in-law, who is ill, Murphy said.
Burkholder described her sister as kind and said she liked scary movies, wrestling and college football.
"One thing I can tell you is there is no reason for them to do what they did to Jennifer," Murphy said. "Jennifer was just a gentle, laid-back person.
"There wasn't a mean bone in her body."