WILKES-BARRE, Pa. — A microfilm machine at the Osterhout Free Library in Wilkes-Barre is one of the only ways you can read about the story of Juanita Todd.
On September 28, 1972, the 22-year-old mother of two was murdered in her own home. Her babies were with her but survived.
The house on Academy Street in the city is gone now, but many still remember what happened there.
That includes David DeCosmo, a young reporter at the time covering stories for a radio station and part-time for WNEP.
“This murder and it was atrocious, and it captured tremendous headlines at the time it happened, but there were two things working against the police,” DeCosmo recalled.
“Number one, almost no one cooperated with them. They said even people who were not suspects, nonetheless, were not cooperating with them. Number two, so many people were engaged in recovery from the Agnes flood.”
DeCosmo said Wilkes-Barre was still in survival mode a few months after Agnes destroyed parts of the city. But the details of Juanita Todd’s murder still rattled residents.
The young woman was stabbed 22 times. A sheet around her neck suggested she was strangled. Investigators believed she was killed at least 15 hours before police found her body. But the worst detail was that her two daughters witnessed it all.
“The fact that her two little kids, one 18 months old, one 5 months old, as I recall, were in the room. There was even some speculation on the part of police at one time that whoever was involved may have even stayed there for a while or come back in and made sure the kids were OK,” DeCosmo added.
When those kids grew up to be young women, they asked the Luzerne County district attorney to take another look at their mother’s case in 1994.
The DA at the time, Peter Paul Olszewski, obliged.
But when we asked him about it in 2023, he said the effort didn’t bring them any closer to finding Juanita’s killer.
“My recollection is that about 50 people were interviewed back in 1972. And all of those people were either interviewed, or it was determined that they had passed,” Olszewski said.
Olszewski added that the task of finding Todd’s killer only gets harder as the years go on.
“Even if investigators were to find a person they thought was a suspect, assuming they thought they had enough evidence to convict him and arrested him, the defendant will certainly argue that his due process has been violated by waiting so long and delaying an arrest for 50 years,” he said.
Juanita Todd’s two daughters still live in Wilkes-Barre.
One of them, Odetta Todd, told Action 16 Investigates that her mother’s death has defined her life. She’s spent most of it looking for her mother’s killer.
“He hasn’t been brought to justice yet. So, we’re still, I’m still, defining my life,” she said.
She is defining her life while defending her mothers.
“As my mom was a young mother, unwedded, with two children, it was already being looked down upon. So, you know, in our family’s eyes, she wasn’t going to get a fair investigation,” Odetta said.
Part two of this edition of The Unsolved airs Thursday on Newswatch 16 at 11.