Franklin County DA Charges Suspect in 1972 Murder of Morgan Peters Along PA Turnpike

Wire Service
By Wire Service
September 7, 2019USshare
Franklin County DA Charges Suspect in 1972 Murder of Morgan Peters Along PA Turnpike
Stock photo of a judge's gavel. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

FRANKLIN COUNTY, PA (WPMT)—Franklin County District Attorney Matthew Fogel announced Friday that a grand jury has authorized his office to charge a suspect in the 1972 murder of Morgan Peters, a nearly 47-year-old cold case.

Larry Via, a Ohio man already serving a life sentence for another murder that occurred just days after Peters’ body was found along the Pennsylvania Turnpike on Sept. 18, 1972, has been charged with first-degree murder and robbery in the death of Morgan Peters of New York, Fogel’s office said Friday.

Via, of Cleveland, is accused of shooting and killing Peters along the Pennsylvania Turnpike, Fogel said.

He was first identified as a person of interest during a case review by State Police in 2009, Fogel’s office said.

During the case review, it was discovered that Via and a traveling companion, Charmaine Phillips, had been involved in the commission of multiple crimes while traveling together through multiple states between the months of May 1972 and September 1972.

Via was convicted of the rape and murder of Jane Mcguire in Ohio on Sept. 22, 1972, and is serving a life sentence.

He and Phillips were also convicted of other crimes, including the robbery and attempted murder of Harvey Hoffman in Geauga County, Ohio, on Sept. 4, 1972. Hoffman was shot in the head, but survived his injuries, according to investigators.

Phillips later told investigators she and Via would often try to lure passing motorists into stopping—either to offer assistance in fixing a vehicle that appeared to be broken down, or to give them a ride. They would also sometimes hitchhike to bait a victim into making contact with one or both of them, investigators say.

Peters’ body was found two days after he was murdered by passing motorists who had pulled off of the turnpike, and his red Ford truck was located several miles west of where his body was located, according to the DA’s office.

According to family members who were interviewed at the time, several items belonging to Peters were missing, including his wallet and a black AM/FM portable Panasonic radio. Peters had last been seen in Carlisle before entering the Turnpike and traveling west towards Latrobe, investigators say.

A passing motorist at the time told law enforcement officers that he observed both vehicles off to the side of the Turnpike, near the location where Peters was later discovered, and at that time he saw two women with long blonde hair outside of the vehicles (both Via and Phillips had long blonde hair at the time), according to investigators.

Investigators say Phillips later gave multiple statements to law enforcement, confirming that she and Via had committed one of their ruses on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, but that she didn’t see or hear anything after a truck stopped behind them and Via exited her vehicle. Phillips has indicated that she subsequently traveled back towards Cleveland, after this incident, and that she had separated from Via prior to arriving back in Cleveland.

On September 20, 1972, Maguire drove from her home in Washington, PA, to visit her sister in Wheeling, WV. Her body was found two days later in Summit Cty., Ohio, in a wooded area behind a rest stop where her vehicle had been discovered.

Upon examination of her body, investigators learned that she had been raped prior to being shot and murdered. The FBI became involved in both the Hoffman case and the Maguire murder as a joint investigation, and performed ballistics tests on recovered shell casings from each respective scene.

police line
Police tape from a file photo (Mark Makela/Getty Images)

Ballistics testing showed that the shell casings from each scene were fired from the same handgun, and that the handgun was a .25 caliber.

In November of 1972, Phillips was charged for her part in the attempted murder and robbery of Hoffman, and cooperated with the prosecution of Via after he was also charged for his involvement. Both were convicted.

Via was also charged with the murder of Jane Maguire, and is currently serving a life sentence in Ohio.

When Via was taken into custody for the Hoffman and Maguire incidents, he possessed a wallet. However, he also possessed another wallet, located in his suitcase. The black wallet contained a business card for Hieshman’s Texaco Service in New Kingstown, PA (located near the Pennsylvania Turnpike Carlisle Interchange) and a black AM/FM portable Panasonic radio.

Recently, Trooper Jeffrey Baney of the Pennsylvania State Police discovered that in the 1980s, both Easy Rider magazine and Outlaw Biker magazine published nine separate writings submitted to them by Larry Via, using the pseudonym “Jody Via.”

In the writings, Via described scenarios and locations similar to both the Hoffman robbery and the rape and murder of Maguire. In a writing published in Outlaw Biker magazine and titled “Dangerous Dave,” Via wrote about a hitchhiker who was a “cutie,” and who was able to bait a passing motorist into stopping and approaching her on foot. As the motorist draws closer to the woman, a man exits from behind a tree with a gun and “ready to shoot.”

Peters’ surviving family members were contacted about the charging of Via for Peters’ murder, according to Fogel.

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