Convenient Suspect: A Wrongful Conviction In The Murder In Lehigh Valley?
It was love at first sight when Joann O’Connor met Andy Katrinak in the spring of 1992. She was a 23-year-old beauty just coming out of a bad marriage, and he a handsome and successful business owner 14 years her senior.
A copy of an undated handout photo of Joann Marie Katrinak and 15-week-old Alex Martin Katrinak, both of Catasauqua, Pa. who were found dead in Dec. of 1994.
Within two years, the couple had moved in together, married, and become the proud parents of a new baby boy they named Alex. People envied the Katrinak’s rock-solid marriage and picture-perfect life; with the house, the kid, and the two cars in the drive, they seemed to be living the American dream.
But when Joann and Alex suddenly vanished from their Catasauqua, Pennsylvania, home on December 15, 1994, suspicion immediately turned towards Andy. As the husband and father, he seemed the logical suspect, and the police worked hard to build a case against him.
Four months later, however, when the brutally murdered bodies of Joann and Alex were discovered lying in a lonely patch of woods, the police would focus their suspicion on an entirely different suspect; 31-year-old Patricia Rorrer (top, main photo) — Andy Katrinak’s ex-girlfriend.
Although Rorrer would deny any involvement in the crime, the evidence against her seemed almost overwhelming. She had no alibi for the time of the murders, had argued with Joann only days before she disappeared, and allegedly owned the same make and model of gun as that used in the crime. But it wasn’t until the police linked Rorrer to the crime through a DNA match between her and a hair recovered from Joann’s car that they finally had enough to arrest her.
Harry Fisher/Allentown Morning Call/TNS via Getty Images
Lehigh County Deputies escort accused murderer Patricia Rorrer, as she arrives for the beginning of her trial at the Lehigh County Courthouse in Allentown, on Friday, Feb. 6, 1998.
Charged with two counts of capital murder and two counts of kidnapping, Patricia Rorrer was quickly tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison without parole. But did the police arrest the right person?
A five-year investigation of the case has uncovered compelling new evidence that they did not. Everything from compromised crime scenes and contaminated evidence, to suspects who were never cleared, witness statements that were withheld from the defense, and crucial evidence that was simply dismissed and ignored has cast doubt on Rorrer’s guilt and led to a number of unanswered questions.
- Why did the police focus on a young mother from another state, who had never met either victim and had not had a romantic relationship with Andy Katrinak in more than five years?
- Why was the jury never told that Patricia Rorrer was under surveillance in North Carolina at the time of the crime?
- Why did the police center all their attention on a hair found 15 miles from the crime scene, but ignore physical evidence left directly on the bodies?
- Why did they refuse to investigate a hair found in the victim’s right hand? A hair that does not belong to Patricia Rorrer.
- Why did they fail to test a piece of flesh adhering to a torn fingernail fragment recovered from Joann's chest? A nail that does not belong to Patricia Rorrer.
- Why did they refuse to conduct DNA testing on a cigarette butt found with the bodies?
- Why was no root noted on the hairs found in Joann’s car until after the police received samples of Patricia Rorrer’s hair?
- Why does the FBI’s own report state that the hairs found in Joann’s car "have no roots attached"?
- How could Patricia Rorrer have been convicted using DNA from a hair root that doesn’t exist?
After more than 20 years, questions are finally being raised about the many problems that plague this case, and the compelling evidence that points to the wrongful conviction of Patricia Rorrer.
Tammy Mal is a true-crime writer who’s written for True Detective Magazine and Absolute Crime Publishing. She’s the author of four books: Little Girl Lost, Disposable Income, Tortured Minds, and Murder in Susquehanna County. Her newest book, Convenient Suspect, is scheduled for release in the fall of 2017 and recounts the murders of Joann and Alex Katrinak and the potential wrongful conviction of Patricia Rorrer.