Richard Hyde, the principal of Fern Hollow Elementary School in Moon Township, was talking with a friend on the phone in the bedroom of his home he shared with his wife, Donna and two daughters.
That was about 1 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 3, 1977.
During the conversation, he heard glass break in a window on the other end of his ranch home. After hanging up, he walked past a nightstand that contained a loaded gun and proceeded to the hallway, according to a story in the Beaver County Times.
A 12-gauge shotgun blast ripped through his chest/abdomen area. He staggered to the kitchen, past his wife who was in a bathroom off the hallway, and died in a pool of blood on the linoleum floor of the kitchen.
Donna, a beautician who had a shop in her home, immediately tried to escape and run for help. The Beaver County Times story reports that she ran from the house, over a hill into thick woods on property owned by her father-in-law. As she neared his house, the wooded hill was too muddy and the two sets of footprints in the snow show how she didn't get enough traction to make it up the slope.
Instead, she headed toward another set of nearby homes, losing her shoes in the cold snow and mud. But she never made it.
Moon Township and Allegheny County police responded to a call at the Hyde home on Shafer Road on Saturday morning. There they found the couple's daughters—Kelli, 9, and Kari, 4—and Hyde's body. Donna, 34, was missing and presumed abducted.
Media reports vary on whether the girls hid in a closet all night or whether they slept through the disturbance and found the body of their 34-year-old father the next morning.
Searchers did not find Donna's body until Sunday. Her body was found in a wooded area about two miles from her home, face-up under a pine tree, clothed only in a sweater and a sock. Her pants and panties were balled up under the tree.
She had been bludgeoned to death by an instrument like a blackjack, the blows to her head so severe that, according to a coroner's office employee, she would have suffered severe long-term brain damage had she survived exposure to the bitter cold.
An initial investigation did not show any signs of sexual assault, the Pittsburgh Press reported. She had not been raped.
On Dec. 7, 1977, Moon Township canceled all classes and activities in memory of the Hyde family on the day of the funeral for Richard and Donna. The school where he served as principal changed names to honor him and is now the Richard J. Hyde Elementary School.
Their slayings were the 26th and 27th in southwestern Pennsylvania since March 1976. The deaths left an already uneasy area more uneasy, to the point that animal shelters reported that even dogs with questionable temperaments were adopted and people wouldn't open doors to police unless they called ahead.
Just a little more than a month before the Hydes were killed, John Feeny, a 17-year-old from Coraopolis, was found slumped over the armrest of the rear seat of his blood-splattered van, shot once in the neck at close range with a shotgun, on a secluded dirt road off Crescent Drive near the airport in Findlay Township. The engine was still running.
In trying to find a link to the other area slayings, investigators discovered that the shell casing found in the Hyde home matched one found in the home of Nancy and William Adams Jr. of Fallston, Beaver County. William had been killed by a 12-gauge shotgun blast to the chest on Nov. 20, 1977. Like Donna Hyde, his wife Nancy was missing—and her remains weren't found until eight years later in nearby Bradys Run Park, according to the Beaver County Times.
Serial killer Edward Surratt had long been the prime suspect in the death of the Hydes and many others in this area during that period.
Surratt was never charged in any of the southwestern Pennsylvania deaths he is suspected of committing, only in homicides that occurred out of state. In 2007, he finally confessed to killing John Feeny and Ranee McGregor but not the Hydes.
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