A Northeast neighborhood can rest easier, but its renewed sense of security is tinged with sadness in the knowledge that the murder of Constance “Connie” Murray was allegedly committed by her own husband.
Philadelphia police arrested Christopher P. Murray, 48, on Sunday morning after he allegedly failed a lie detector test and confessed to attacking and strangling his wife on Aug. 4 at about 9:30 p.m. as she jogged near Holme and Convent avenues on the edge of Pennypack Park. The arrest followed an intensive five-day police investigation during which detectives recovered multiple surveillance videos including one that showed the couple quarreling along Willits Road shortly before the slaying.
“Obviously, there’s no celebration in this case, but perhaps the people who play and exercise in the area of Pennypack Park can have a sigh of relief because there is not a predator lurking in the area,” Lt. Philip Riehl of the Homicide Division said during a Sunday afternoon news conference. “But I also say that with caution because women should never go out jogging or walking alone, especially at night. They should always try to do that with somebody else.”
Riehl declined to disclose the specific cause of the quarrel, stating only that there had been ongoing “domestic discord” between the couple, who lived with their two daughters, ages 12 and 15, about 400 yards from the crime scene through a small patch of woods and across Wooden Bridge Run.
“I don’t know if it was premeditated. I think it was more of a rage incident,” Riehl said. “… The unfortunate part of a case like this is we only have one side of the story.”
A woman who was walking her dog found the victim’s body at about 6 a.m. on Aug. 5. Connie Murray, 46, had been “strangled and posed” near two park benches next to the Holme-Crispin Cemetery, Riehl said. She was pronounced dead at the scene. The killer did not use a weapon in the slaying.
Connie Murray was clothed in runner’s apparel. She had been carrying a cellphone with earphones, but those had been taken from her, Homicide Division Capt. James Clark said. A medical examiner found what Clark described as “minor bruising” on her body, but nothing that would indicate a lengthy violent struggle. There was no evidence of a sexual assault.
Earlier on Aug. 5, at about 2:30 a.m., Christopher Murray had contacted police to report that his wife was missing. Connie had left the couple’s home on the 2800 block of Tolbut St. at about 9 p.m. the previous night to go for a routine jog, the husband had claimed. Later, when she hadn’t arrived home, Christopher Murray began to search for her, police said.
Detectives from the Homicide Division’s 2-squad launched the probe. The Special Investigations Unit later picked up the case, led by Detective Gregory Santamala and his partner, Detective Howard Peterman. Other homicide squads and 8th district officers assisted in canvassing the area for witnesses and potential evidence. Christopher Murray was a suspect from the outset.
“There were certain parts of his story that just didn’t add up,” Riehl said, “the part about how his wife was missing, but he contacted nobody, no family, no friends. Instead, he immediately went to hospitals and to the police. It seemed almost a show, the ‘concerned husband’ show. … And whenever you have a dead woman, you start with the significant other and then you work out from there. We worked different aspects of the investigation, but ultimately returned to him.”
Investigators soon began to doubt speculation that Connie Murray had been jogging inside the park or that a random attacker had ambushed the victim on Holme Avenue and pulled her into a more-secluded area between the cemetery and nearby woods. Police recovered video from a nearby business that showed Connie Murray walking briskly along Willits Road when a passing motorist stopped and engaged her in conversation. At one point, Murray could be seen leaning into the driver’s-side window of the silver Ford Taurus, a car similar to the one driven daily by Christopher Murray. After several moments, Connie Murray resumed her walk and the car pulled away.
“The detectives who processed the crime scene noticed right away that there were some things that didn’t add up with her being grabbed and drug up to that area,” Riehl said. “People were assuming she was running in the park. She was not. She was on the outskirts of the park walking, that’s clear from the video we recovered. She was power-walking. We believe [Christopher Murray] followed her. There’s a berm there, what looks like a five-foot berm. It would be hard to drag somebody up that berm. So we believe she went up there voluntarily to talk to him about whatever was going on, perhaps away from the children, and things went bad once they got up there.”
In time, police found a second surveillance video that showed the same silver Taurus in the area of the Crispin Gardens Athletic Club, a youth sports organization next to the cemetery and park. Detectives questioned Christopher Murray on Saturday night at Police Headquarters, where Pennsylvania State Trooper David Lang administered a polygraph. Murray failed the test. Santamala and Peterman continued questioning the husband until he allegedly admitted to the crime.
“There were no witnesses really,” Riehl said. “This case really came down to good police work. There were a lot of tips that came in, a lot of erroneous information that we had to sort through. But the reality was he became a suspect early on and remained a suspect until he confessed.”
Christopher Murray allegedly told police where to find his wife’s missing cellphone, below a sewer inlet at Solly and Lexington avenues. He also expressed remorse for the slaying.
“Yes, he has, both in his written statement [to police] and on video,” Riehl said.
Christopher Murray’s arrest came hours before his wife’s Sunday evening viewing at John F. Givnish Funeral Home. A second viewing and service were held Monday morning at the funeral home. Burial was at Resurrection Cemetery in Bensalem. The couple’s two daughters are staying with relatives, police said.
Christopher Murray remains in prison and is ineligible for bail because he is charged with a capital offense, the general charge of murder. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Aug. 27. ••