CLINTON, Iowa —
This typical Midwest river city shed a collective, heartfelt tear Friday for two close-knit sisters murdered 650 miles away in a big city tragedy that’s baffled family, friends and police investigators.
Dr. Sarah Wolfe, 38, a pediatrician and psychiatrist, and Susan Wolfe, 44, a teacher’s aide, were found dead, a single gunshot to each of their heads, a week ago in the unfinished basement of the home they shared in the east end of Pittsburgh, Pa.
Pittsburgh investigators said they are trying to piece together the motive for the double-murder in an effort to identify the killer or killers.
They said one theory is that Dr. Wolfe surprised whoever committed the double murders when she arrived home the afternoon of Feb. 6 from the psychiatric clinic where she worked as her older sister was being assaulted.
Susan’s body was unclothed at the bottom of the basement staircase. Sarah’s body, fully clothed, was lying lifeless next to her sister. Police were beckoned to the murder scene when co-workers reported Susan failed to show up for work the morning of Feb. 7.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that police traced a public bus fare card of one of the sisters to a specific time she was with a man inside and outside a Port Authority bus. The older sister typically took a bus to and from her work at Hillel Academy in Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh Police Commander Tim O’Connor told a meeting of frightened neighbors in the vicinity of the murder scene to be vigilant and to report any unusual activity.
More than 200 friends, colleagues and other mourners filled Prince of Peace Roman Catholic Church in Clinton, Iowa, as the remaining eight members of the Wolfe family – two brothers, four sisters and the parents – bid an emotional goodbye to the slain sisters at a Requiem Mass.
Brother John Wolfe, 49, spoke for the family, recalling the fun time they had together at one of Susan’s birthday parties that no one could remember.
“That’s just it,” he said. “As time goes on, memories will fade. But we’ll remember our sisters by the work they did in how much they helped anyone who needed it.”
Sister Mary, the oldest of the siblings at 50 and a state legislator, spoke later at a reception for the family. “Both of my little sisters were incredible,” she said. “Make sure you know how fabulous your family is and tell them that everyday.”
Residents of this eastern Iowa community, hard by the Mississippi River, embraced the family and poured out their sympathies over the shocking double-murder throughout the week.
“The support around town has been marvelous,” said Polly Bukta, a friend of the family and state legislator. “It’s just been overwhelming. They’re (the family) very grateful for it.”
The Wolfes settled in Iowa in 1966. The father, an attorney, met his wife, Pierette, a New York City native, when both were students at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and working on John F. Kennedy’s successful 1960 presidential campaign. They moved to Clinton from Des Moines in 1975.
The Wolfe family expanded fast, with the eight children born within 12 years – between 1964 and 1976. Susan and Sarah were the youngest. Both were known as outgoing and always ready to help a friend or person in need.
Dr. Claudia M. Roth, the head of Western Psychiatric Institute & Clinic in Pittsburgh, said Sarah was known as a “warm, caring and bright physician who was praised by patients, families, staff and colleagues” at the clinic.
Both sisters graduated from the University of Iowa, with Sarah going on to obtain her medical degree there. She did her residency at the Pittsburgh clinic and later joined the staff.
Real estate records show that Sarah purchased the home where she and her sister were murdered in December for $210,000. The home is in the East Liberty neighborhood on Pittsburgh’s east side, near the upscale Highland Park area.
Susan moved from Clinton to Pittsburgh three months ago to live with her sister. She taught in a behavior disorder classroom, a skill she had mastered during three years of similar teaching in Chicago schools.
(Scott Levine is the associate editor of the Clinton, Iowa, Herald. Contact him at email@example.com.)