For Alburtis Police Chief Robert Palmer, the killing of borough residents Althea and Jeannette Walbert is personal.
"I'm pretty sure I know why you're here," he told more than 60 people who packed the meeting room at Borough Hall Monday for the regularly scheduled Town Watch meeting. The topic for the March meeting--home security and home safety--was coincidental, but the community wanted information about the homicides that occurred March 11 at 122 Cobblestone Court.
Althea Walbert, 82, and her 59-year-old disabled daughter, Jeannette, were found dead in their home shortly after 9am that day. Althea was a character beloved by all. Seemingly, she and the daughter on whom she endlessly doted belonged to the town. And the town wanted to know who could have committed such an act.
"If you're looking for new revelations, well, that's not going to happen," said the lanky, seasoned chief whose fair complexion turns crimson at times of emotion.
He ran through the course of events after stating he was the first officer on the scene that morning, calling District Attorney Jim Martin, and then getting "a tremendous amount of help" from the Lehigh County Homicide Task Force as well as from the Pennsylvania State Police at Fogelsville, who are leading the investigation.
"It was tough," Palmer said.
He assured meeting attendees that the investigation is progressing even though there is little information being released.
"There are a tremendous number of rumors out there. I've heard everything," he said. "And it's not right. And it's not fair. This is not a town in which this stuff is supposed to happen, but it has. People say it's the big city now, but it's not."
Because there are details only the killer or killers would know, investigators will not release information on how the women died, when exactly they met their fate or any other specifics.
"Everybody has to be patient and understand. And when it comes right down to it, does it really matter? They're dead. Let us find who did this," he said.
"Everybody's alright. Trust me," he said, his face getting redder. "We'll get through this, folks, we'll get through this."
And the room itself seemed to let out a sigh of relief.
He continued by saying that he is optimistic the killer or killers will be found. "It might not be tomorrow or next week or even five years from now," he said, by this time wiping tears away.
"I can tell you it was a crime of opportunity," he said, explaining that there was--still undisclosed--evidence that indicated the women were targeted.
"There's not somebody running around Alburtis. Your neighbor's not going to climb in your window and kill you. Well, except maybe you, Janet," he said with a grin and a nod toward a resident who has a history of nuisance trouble with a neighbor.
Poof: In an instant, he broke the tension.
Palmer turned the meeting over to Senior Patrolman Chris Lubenetski, who gave residents a laundry list of ways to protect themselves. The Home Security Checklist Lubenetski created can be found on the Alburtis Police Department website.
Lubenetski first introduced Tara Skudera and Kimberly Mitchell-Silvestri of the Lehigh County Crime Victims Council. The two told the community that help is available to anyone--free of charge--who needs assistance because they're upset about the killings.
"If you are sad or scared we can come and help you process what happened," said Mitchell, supervisor of the Victim's Witness Unit.
Skudera explained that every time there's a homicide the agency gets involved.
"We're there for families to help them know how to respond. We can meet in a church or other building and there's no cost," she said. The council's assistant director mentioned the group's 24-hour hotline in case somebody wakes up scared in the middle of the night.
"That's what we're here for."
Lubenetski included many suggestions residents can implement to stay safe and protect their homes:
* Locking doors and windows
* Reporting something odd that they see or hear
* Using outdoor lights
* Having a dog
* Using deadbolt locks at least 1 1/2 inches long
* Having mail and newspapers picked up and garbage taken out when on vacation
* Putting television and radio on timers in addition to varying the timing of lights when on vacation
* Keeping landscaping trimmed around doors and windows
"If you have to plant something near your windows, plant thorny stuff," he said. "Use stones instead of mulch because it makes noise when somebody walks on it."
One member of the audience offered this: Don't advertise your upcoming vacation weeks in advance on Facebook.
Sue Buss of Upper Milford Township brought her mother, Alice Birch, to the meeting.
The women were concerned coming in, but felt relief as the meeting went on.
"I felt better right away when [Palmer] said not to worry. He takes this personally," Buss said.
After the meeting, Palmer said that going in the mood of the town was "Nervous. Everybody's a little nervous." The public discussion about the homicides came about as a combination of residents' requests and the police wanting to quell unnecessary fears.
"I feel better," said Palmer, who was emotional after the meeting as well as during.
Palmer said he thought the session helped residents as well, when asked to gauge their reaction following the meeting.
Noting the mood seemed lighter at the end of the evening, Palmer said, "Just from talking to people, I'm hoping it put them somewhat at ease."
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