“‘Till Death Do Us Part,” the Case of Carl and Debra Jane Rodgers

Marriage is one of the most important decisions in any adult’s life. Will you be able to stay with one person for the rest of your life, or will you crack under the pressure?

Till+Death+Do+Us+Part%2C+the+Case+of+Carl+and+Debra+Jane+Rodgers

Austyn Mizgorski, Author & Historian

I: Introduction

Hey hey, Hampton! Welcome back to Tea Time with a Side of Crime, Season Two! That’s right! We’re doing a series relaunch! With this new school year is gonna come some new crime cases, new art, and just a fresh coat of paint for my internet darling! I’m so excited to be back writing for Tea Time, I missed this. Just to be able to share my stories with you all, to ramble on about what I’m passionate about, and this series serves as the picture perfect outlet. Now, buckle in my dear reader, we’re diving on in to this 39-year-old case!

 

Before I start with this case, allow me to offer up a new term to my readers. Not only do I like to teach people about true crime, but I have a fascination with cool words. A term to keep in mind for this case is “uxoricide,” which means “the killing of one’s wife.” Now, you may be thinking to yourself: “Hey Austyn! Why the heck should I care about some weird -cide word?” Well, my darling reader, we’re actually covering an uxoricide in this episode. This case is covering a man who killed his own wife back in 1983. So, done your dresses and tuxedos my little meeples, because we’re covering the case of Carl and Debra Jane Rodgers.

 

II: The ‘Deets

Let’s start of simple and establish the basics. Carl Rodgers was, at the time of the murder, a 23-year-old man living with his wife Debra Jane and their 5-year-old daughter, Christine. The happy family lived together on a small farm in Loysville, located in Perry County. According to Mr. Rodgers, the missus was unhappy and depressed in regards to her job. Around that time, Debra Jane had just been hired by Pennsylvania’s Liquor Control board, which gave her a decent pay increase to support her trailer-inhabiting family. Carl had expressed how upset Debra Jane was with her performance at the job, and said so to police back in 1983 as he lead the search party to hunt down his “missing” wife.

 

Pictured here is Debra Jane Rodgers, the wife of Carl Rodgers and the victim of the case. Image taken from People’s news site.

 

It’s rather common for murderers to fake concern or outrage in response to their crimes becoming public, which could possibly explain why Mr. Rodgers chose to lead the search party. And plus, who would suspect a man of killing his own wife?

 

On April 23rd of ’83, Debra Jane’s family received a frantic phone call from her husband, Carl. He shared the news of how the 23-year-old had gone missing, and how he hadn’t seen her since the 22nd. He expressed his concerns, and thus, the search party consisting of Debra Jane’s family and Carl was formed. They spent the 23rd beginning to look for where Debra Jane could’ve possibly run off to. Their search lead them to a state forest around eight miles or so from the trailer where the Rodgers lived, where a trip down a narrow road lead them to discovering Debra Jane’s abandoned car. However, one question lingered; where was Debra Jane?

 

The end of the night brought the end of the search, where Mr. Rodgers was oddly insistent on taking the car with him back to the family farm. However, Debra Jane’s family told him otherwise, but Mr. Rodgers took the car anyways. It wasn’t until the 24th, the very next day, that Debra Jane’s mother found her daughter’s corpse.

 

III: Mister & Missus

The body of Mrs. Rodgers was found a couple hundred yards where the search party had previously discovered her discarded car, shirt yanked upwards as if she’d been dragged across the forest floor. The knife they discovered nearby just so happened to be sheathed away in a bag with the name “Carl” conveniently sewn into it. Her slashed wrists initially lead detectives to believe that, perhaps, it was a suicide. Taking Mr. Rodgers earlier account about her depression into consideration, that was the theory for a while until the coroner’s report returned with the true cause of death; blunt force trauma. This wasn’t suicide, no, it was homicide.

 

For 34 years, 34 years, the case of Debra Jane Rodgers went cold. While they did rule her death as a homicide, their investigation yielded no suspects and no conviction. Brewing in silence until in 2017, when senior deputy attorneys general Kelly Sekula and Heather Castellino had a conference with state police to view the case over. They had noted some inconsistencies with the facts and Mr. Rodgers’ testimony, as well as the realization that Carl knew things about his wife’s death that only her killer would be able to know. Put two and two together, and what do you get? That’s right, my dear viewer, an arrest.

 

Since the death of his wife, Carl Rodgers had hence moved on with his life. He moved to Shermans Dale, got married two other times, and was at his job at a feed mill when he was arrested by authorities. Before he was tried, Rodgers was held without bail. If they managed to successfully hit the nail on the head, the following first degree murder carried a maximum sentence of life. It was prosecutors Sekula and Castellino vs Defense attorney Geoffrey McInroy: Was it uxoricide or suicide?

 

The defendant, currently 65-year-old Carl Rodgers. Image taken from Pennlive.com. (Pennlive.com)

 

The Perry County jury stewed on the matter for more than four-and-a-half hours before eventually deciding to acquit Carl Rodgers.

 

IV: Conclusion

Court verdicts may be considered “final,” however, that can’t stop the thought process of the people. People are still convinced that, even after all these years, he’s guilty despite the verdict given by Perry County. Put it up, down, or sideways, Debra Jane Rodgers still ended up dead at the end of the day. If there had to be a moral of the story, as cheesy as it is, it’s to cherish the little things. Tell someone you love today how much you appreciate their company, and how grateful you are to have them in your life. Tell someone that you love them today, whether it be a friend, your significant other, your parents, whoever. This case just shows how easily that bond can be broken, as sad as it is.

 

As we wrap up this episode, I’d like to open up the floor for possible new cases you wanna see covered for Episode 2 of Season 2! You can contact me at my personal email, [email protected], or leave a comment down below! I’d love to see what little crime cases you’ve got in mind for the series moving forward. I care so, so much about my audience, so to be able to cover things you all like would be amazing!

 

This has been Tea Time with a Side of Crime, where Pennsylvania’s most gruesome tales are served with a complementary cup of tea. Thanks for reading.