Barbara Miller

Page one, two women; please, never again

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Despair.


That’s the only emotion a person could feel after seeing the Observer-Reporter front page Friday when, not one, but two defendants appeared in Washington County Court on charges related to the murders of two elderly women.


Both victims lived alone, albeit at opposite ends of the county. They probably never met each other, but they met chillingly similar fates, both described on Page One.


Opal Bedillion was 80. She lived in East Finley Township until Jan. 8, 2012, the day that she, according to court testimony, came to the front door of her home. She was greeted not by someone there to pay a social call, but by a man who wanted to obtain Mrs. Bedillion’s prescription drugs, and for them, she was murdered.


I didn’t cover that case of Opal Bedillion at the Washington County Courthouse, because, at the same time, the case of another elderly victim was in trial in a different courtroom.


Evelyn Stepko was 92. She also was stabbed to death. Here, the facts diverge. Inside her home were not drugs, but money. She and her late husband, Mike, had amassed a small fortune. They were children of the Great Depression, a time when banks were failing like second-graders in trigonometry class.


The Stepkos preferred to keep their cash on hand, but that proved to be as dicey as a Depression-era bank. A neighbor pleaded guilty to killing Stepko, perhaps when she caught him in the act of stealing money from her home in July 2011. Her killer had two co-conspirators, not with him in the Stepko home, but sharing in ill-gotten gains, the prosecution alleges.


Just as family members of the late Opal Bedillion came to the courthouse for her killer’s court proceeding Thursday, family members of Evelyn Stepko listened to testimony Friday.


“Aunt Evelyn,” Dolores Sprowls of Charleroi called the late Stepko, as she waited for a jury to return a verdict in the conspiracy and receiving stolen property charges.


Evelyn Stepko never had a driver’s license, but she did take public transportation to shop and enjoy an occasional meal in California’s business district. She would walk, and the exercise kept her fit. Sprowls is convinced Stepko was so healthy that she would have lived to be 94 and beyond.


Dolores Sprowls was related to Mike Stepko through her father, and her Aunt Evelyn had attended a graduation party at the home of her great-niece, Mary Zbyl, just two weeks before she died.


“They used her like an ATM,” Zbyl opined.


“She was born in that house, and she died in that house,” Sprowls said.


Although the commonwealth presented evidence of a pattern of break-ins at Evelyn Stepko’s home, she never told family members about them. They knew she had a locksmith change the locks once during the period that came under scrutiny, but they didn’t know why.


Stepko did tell California police, but the burglaries went unsolved until threads began to emerge and state police obtained search warrants after her death. Stepko fought her killer. First Assistant District Attorney Michael Lucas showed slides of bite marks on the man’s arms weeks after Stepko’s death. The crime scene had DNA evidence of the intruder.


We hope neighbors will check on elderly widows or widowers who live alone, but Opal Bedillion and Evelyn Stepko knew their killers, who lived nearby. The man who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder was the same person who did Stepko’s yard work.


Man’s inhumanity to man, or, in this case, inhumanity to woman, doesn’t begin to describe the magnitude of the crimes.


So just one word comes to mind.


Despair.


That Opal Bedillion and Evelyn Stepko speak words no more.


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