Forty years after Denise Pierson was found beaten to death along an isolated railroad track in Marcus Hook, investigators announced Friday that they arrested one of the men they believe was responsible.
Wayne Anthony Walker, 58, of Linwood, was charged late Thursday with murder, kidnapping, conspiracy, and related offenses. He remained in custody, denied bail.
Pierson, 18, was reported missing from her home in Marcus Hook in April 1981. Her body was found three years later on the tracks at Seventh and Market Streets, and an autopsy determined she died from blunt-force injuries to her head, according to court documents.
Walker was long considered a suspect in Pierson’s death, and over the years he gave interviews to state police detectives probing the case. But it wasn’t until the state police reopened the investigation into Pierson’s death in 2018, with assistance from the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office, that authorities said they were able to connect him to the crime.
“Finally we are able to let her family have some relief,” Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer said. ”This was a heinous murder, but at least one individual will be held responsible, and we hope this is the beginning of holding everyone else responsible.”
In a 1994 interview with detectives, Walker said he and Pierson attended a party at his friend Peter Horne’s house on the night of the slaying, according to the affidavit of probable cause for his arrest. Horne had met Pierson through her mother, who often brought her car into the auto shop where he worked, police said.
During the party, Pierson became upset and tried to leave, and Horne hit her in the head with a billy club, the affidavit said. Walker, Horne, and other unidentified men bound Pierson and took her to the railroad tracks, where investigators say the group covered her body with bushes in an attempt to hide it.
An examination of Pierson’s body conducted in October by a forensic anthropologist found that it bore slash marks that matched a 6-inch folding knife that had been recovered at the scene and held in storage for four decades, the affidavit said. Pierson had been stabbed before the fatal blow to the head, investigators determined.
Those knife wounds helped prove that Walker was part of the plot to attack Pierson and hide her body, investigators said Friday.
Horne, meanwhile, died in 2013 while serving a sentence in state prison for stalking and harassing a woman in the Pocono Mountains. Shortly before Pierson’s body was found in 1984, a call was made from Horne’s residence to a mental health crisis center by a caller who claimed to have killed her, the affidavit said. When police investigated, Horne denied making the call, but officers recovered billy clubs from his home that matched the description of the murder weapon, according to the affidavit.
Detectives noted at the time that the site where Pierson’s body was abandoned was 300 yards from Horne’s home.
After state police reopened the case, Horne’s widow told detectives he had threatened her and warned her not to tell police about the billy clubs and that she believed he was responsible for Pierson’s death, the affidavit said.
Pierson’s brother, John, 57, said the news of Walker’s arrest was bittersweet . It came at a fitting time: Friday would have been Denise Pierson‘s 59th birthday.
“It’s been bad; someone was taken out of my life, and I know my life would’ve been so much different if she had been in it,“ John Pierson said. “And I’ll never get that back.”
His sister, though a year older, learned a lot from him, and he still has fond memories of her teaching him to dance and pulling her around their backyard in his wagon. She had plans to study nursing after high school, he said.
For John Pierson, those fond memories, and the hope justice will now be served, helped ease the pain of decades of uncertainty, he said.
”You’re always hearing this story and that and you don’t know what to believe,” he said. ”And it eats you up inside, because you just can’t chase down every little thing.”
Investigators are still searching for two additional suspects and are offering a $5,000 reward for information that leads to their arrests. Anyone with information about the case is asked to call State Police Troop K barracks at 215-452-5216.