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Police unearth body in Wilkins

May be woman missing since 2000

Saturday, March 15, 2003

By Cindi Lash, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

For nearly three years, her family and friends haunted the neighborhood where she'd once worked, watched for her when they shopped at a mall and even consulted a psychic on a television talk show.

Psychic Sylvia Browne told Lynda McClelland's daughters last year that McClelland ended up, confused but alive, in a Florida nursing home after disappearing in July 2000 from her Forest Hills home.

But yesterday, McClelland's family learned that a body believed to be hers had been found in a shallow grave a few miles from her home -- and likely had been there all along.

After a day of digging and searching with cadaver-sniffing dogs, Allegheny County and local police found the body just before nightfall on a wooded hillside about 50 feet from Quarry Street in Wilkins. The body had been wrapped in plastic bags and buried about three feet underground, near the border with Chalfant.

County police Superintendent Kenneth Fulton said the body's identity could not be confirmed until an autopsy is performed. But earlier in the day, Fulton said investigators were searching for a body believed to be that of McClelland, who was reported missing July 27, 2000, from her home on Marwood Avenue, Forest Hills.

McClelland, 44, was the mother of two grown daughters and worked as a waitress at the Plaza Restaurant in Forest Hills. Her daughter, Amanda Repasky of North Braddock, told police that her mother disappeared, leaving behind her keys, purse and cigarettes, after arguing with a boyfriend on the night of July 26.

Police converged on sparsely populated Quarry Street yesterday morning to pursue an informant's tip, given during testimony before a statewide grand jury that was investigating a professional burglary and robbery ring in southwestern Pennsylvania.

State Attorney General Mike Fisher on Monday announced that the grand jury probe had led to charges against 10 people in up to 300 crimes at restaurants, clubs and other buildings from mid-2001 to December 2002.

Someone who testified before the grand jury professed to know where to find McClelland's body. Earlier this week, the informant led police to the tree- and brush-covered hillside in Wilkins.

County police said the informant, who they declined to identify, is not believed to have killed McClelland. The informant is believed to be credible, Fulton said, and may know how the body came to be buried on the hillside.

"We believe there was a confrontation between someone and this woman, a violent one that led to her death," Fulton said at the scene. "We believe that a day later, her body was buried here."

From the settled appearance of the hillside and the vegetation growing on it, police believe the body had been there for some time, Fulton said. Police also recovered a gun holster, a gun case and a knapsack from the grave, which was partially filled with water.

The property where the body was buried was owned by the late businessman Eugene Litman, and is next door to the home of Elizabeth Wall, whose grandson, Donald Wall, 26, of Turtle Creek, is among those charged in the burglary ring. Another of the ring suspects, David Repasky, 25, of North Braddock, is married to McClelland's daughter, Amanda.

Also arrested in the burglary ring were Donald J. Fish, 27, of Wilkins, who was identified as its leader, and his wife, Keena, 27, of Wilmerding. Others charged were: Brian Harris, 29, of North Point Breeze; Douglas Hubbard, 26, of Turtle Creek; Aaron L. Swan, 28, of North Point Breeze; Harry Randall III, 28, of Wilkinsburg; Demetrius Waldon, 28, of the North Side; and Anthony M. Salvadore, 27, of North Braddock.

Amanda Repasky couldn't be reached yesterday. But other relatives and friends of McClelland clustered to watch the work of police, technicians from the coroner's office and its forensic laboratory division and two trained German shepherds that leaped, barked and dug to signal they'd detected a body.

Among the onlookers was McClelland's cousin, Sharon Szyboyicz of Level Green, who recalled how Amanda Repasky and her sister, Marci, attended a taping of the "Montel Williams" show and heard the psychic's assertion that their mother was in Florida. The girls were never able to find out anything more definitive, she said.

"As strange as that was, that was some comfort," Szyboyicz said.

Also watching from next door was Heather Nebel, 29, of North Braddock, who is Donald Wall's cousin and a longtime friend and neighbor of Amanda Repasky.

Nebel said the Repaskys had recently moved from her neighborhood, but recalled how she'd sat and listened while Amanda Repasky talked of looking and longing for her missing mother.

"My grandmother lives here by herself. To think that's happened with her here alone ..." Nebel said while her toddler son, Chase, played at her feet. "You watch this and think, 'My God, what is happening here?"'

Staff writer Ervin Dyer contributed to this report.

Cindi Lash can be reached at clash@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1973.

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