Searching for solace

Residents can be relieved there is no killer on the loose, but sadness remains days after Christopher Murray allegedly confessed to killing his wife.

  • Police guard the crime scene in Pennypack Park during an intensive five-day investigation. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

  • A killer’s confession: Lt. Philip Riehl of the Homicide Division said during a Sunday afternoon news conference that Christopher Murray confessed to strangling his wife, Connie Murray. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

  • Christopher Murray allegedly confessed to killing his wife, Connie.

  • Scene of the crime: Children gather near two park benches next to the Holme-Crispin Cemetery, where Connie Murray, 46, was found dead on Aug. 5.

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. ••

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