The unsolved murder of my Grandmother, Helen Popa.
I was a freshman at Tenton State College, home on Christmas break and literally, our family and some friends were just sitting down to the dinner table. It was a holiday, New Year’s Day, so we were eating i the dining room, using the good dishes and good silverware. The telephone rang, I answered it; the voice on the other end I did not recognize but I could tell by the timber and the urgency and the haste in the request to speak to Mr. Popa that something was wrong.
The lady who called was a neighbor of my Grandmother, Helen Popa and she called to tell my Father that someone had beat up my Grandmother and that she was at the hospital and to come quickly. Quickly was a five hour drive. My Mother packed something, left us four kids in charge with our oldest brother, also on break from Juniata College, and off they went. This is 1979, pre-cell phones, innocence is still a part of life, at least it was part of my life until about 11:30 that night when we learned that our Grandmother had been murdered.
We were told nothing else, just to lock the doors and not let anyone into the house unless we knew them. I remember going to bed that night crying, but very naîve about all the number of lives this act of violence to a 72-year-old woman was going to impact.
I can’t remember exactly when we, the four grandchildren drove to Wood, Pennsylvania to my Grandmothers Spencer’s house, but I remember it was the longest, angst-filled ride of my life. I packed clothes for my parents for the funeral service and made sure my two younger brothers had their good clothes, all carefully instructed over the telephone by my Mother. Earlier in October our Grandfather Spencer had died from a tumor in his kidney and I was to bring all of those clothes worn at my Grandfather’s service.
Wen we arrived at my Grandmother Spencer’s house, we were not to watch the TV or read the newspapers. I do remember vividly my Father putting extra locks on my Grandmother’s doors, especially to the basement. I remember the somber, quiet, unspoken anger and sadness that permeated every meal and conversation. I was going to school to be a new anchor at the time. I wanted to be the next Barbara Walters. That idealist ambition changed when I watched the forbidden new and saw the pitcures on the front page of the newspaper. I remember the newsperson so nonchalantly hype the murder of my Grandmother not out of concern for her, or our family or for the frightened neighbors, but for pure sensationalism. I played that clip over and over in my mind, the picture of my Grandmother’s house, the taped off alleyway, a few police in the background. The microphone at ready to stick infront of someone’s face as 8 or 10 people trample the area where my poor Grandmother bled and froze to death, alone. There was no compassion, no facts, just fear and hype.
My Grandmother, Elena Helen Cucu Popa was 72 years old, soon to be 73 and needed a leg brace to support a broken leg. She broke her leg trying to get a cast iron radiator out of a house, down a flight of stairs. She had a beautiful house and yard, which she was fighting tooth and nail to keep as she was loosing her home through the act of eminent domain and the so-called Bonanza Project. She had lost that battle in early December o 1979 and my Father was going to build her a house onour property down in South Jersey. She had an apple, pear, and plum tree; grapes and English walnut trees, plus a bountiful garden concealed behind a brick wall that as kids we always sat on and watched the trains go over the train trestle down the end of Division Street. She cooked and canned every edible fruit and vegetable she grew and she made the best donuts and bread. She was a very happy lady who sang or whistled when she forgot people were around her.
(more to be added here….)