Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Man, 52, held for trial on murder charge in ex-girlfriend’s death in 1991 cold case

Theodore Dill Donahue, a former Germantown pizza deliveryman charged in the 28-year-old cold case, was long a suspect in the slaying of ex-girlfriend Denise Sharon Kulb, 27, he was arrested last month and charged with murder.

In a file photo from Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019, Pennsylvania state troopers lead Theodore Dill Donahue out of the Pennsylvania State Police Troop K barracks in West Philadelphia after arresting him as a suspect in the 1991 murder of Denise Sharon Kulb.
In a file photo from Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019, Pennsylvania state troopers lead Theodore Dill Donahue out of the Pennsylvania State Police Troop K barracks in West Philadelphia after arresting him as a suspect in the 1991 murder of Denise Sharon Kulb.Read moreTIM TAI / AP

A former Philadelphia pizza deliveryman, arrested in September in the 1991 cold-case murder of his former girlfriend, had to be repeatedly stopped by his lawyer from speaking in his own defense Tuesday during a preliminary hearing at which a parade of witnesses offered circumstantial evidence pointing to his guilt.

Despite Theodore Dill Donahue’s eagerness to defend himself, the evidence offered by the sister of the murder victim, a former roommate, a former coworker, a retired Pennsylvania state trooper, and the city’s chief medical examiner convinced Municipal Judge James DeLeon to hold Donahue for trial on murder and related counts in the death of Denise Sharon Kulb.

» READ MORE: Socks help solve 28-year-old cold case murder

DeLeon also rejected a request by defense lawyer Robert Emmett Madden to release Donahue on bail after Assistant District Attorney Cydney Pope presented evidence that Donahue had over the years adopted the nom de plume of executed serial killer Ted Bundy.

“That could be a danger to the community, and it’s not going to happen on my watch,” DeLeon said of releasing Donahue, 52, who came to court from prison in the same shirt and shorts he wore when arrested Sept. 3.

As the hearing unfolded, Donahue several times sought permission from his lawyer to speak - something that typically does not happen during preliminary hearings. His attorney, Madden, instantly told him to stay silent in his seat.

He is accused of killing Kulb, 27, and dumping her partially nude body facedown in woods in Birmingham Township, Delaware County. She was last seen alive by her family Oct. 19, 1991. A passerby found her decomposed body three weeks later.

» READ MORE: A sock and a snapshot: How a Temple professor helped state police crack a cold-case murder

Because of the decay, the initial autopsy by a Delaware County medical examiner listed the manner of death as “undetermined and unnatural” and the cause of death as “probably asphyxiation,” said Philadelphia Chief Medical Examiner Sam Gulino, who attributed the cause of death to “homicidal violence.”

A muddy, long yellow ribbed sock was found on Kulb’s lower back, and a matching sock was found in a bedroom dresser drawer in Donahue’s apartment on Salaignac Street in the city’s Wissahickon section, in which Kulb also briefly lived, retired State Trooper Edward Chruszcz testified Tuesday.

Because the sock at the crime scene has been lost, an enhanced photograph of it led authorities to arrest Donahue. As part of the reinvestigation, Byron Wolfe, the head of the photography program at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art and Architecture, used special techniques to bring out details in the picture.

Interviewed by State Police shortly after Kulb’s body was found, Donahue asked if Kulb had been strangled, and he called State Police twice more that month in 1991 to inquire about how she died. Chruszcz noted that authorities never told Donahue how she died and no media accounts reported the cause of death during that period.

Kulb’s sister Darleane Murphy testified that Donahue brought two bags of Kulb’s clothing to their mother’s home a day before the family was notified she was dead.

Lisa Campbell, who worked with Donahue at a restaurant in the 1990s, testified that he told her that he once had a roommate who died on the couch and that he was questioned by police about the death. “I found it odd. He acted like he got away with something,” Campbell said, reading from a transcript of her 2015 interview with State Trooper Andrew Martin.

Amber Booth, who had been a roommate of Donahue’s in 2012 when they worked at Golden Crust Pizza in the 7100 block of Germantown Avenue, testified that Donahue told her one day he had just returned from visiting a spot in the woods where a former girlfriend’s body had been found.

He said that the woman’s name was Denise, and that she was found facedown, naked with her legs spread, Booth testified. “I remember thinking even more that he did it, with the details that he told to me,” she said. “He was smiling. I thought it was creepy as hell.”

She said weeks later, he told a similar story, but the dead woman’s name in the second telling was Sharon. Booth later learned that Kulb’s full name was Denise Sharon.

» READ MORE: Unsealed Bucks court records reveal how decades of lies unraveled into cold-case murder arrest

Defense attorney Madden argued that saying “creepy” things is not evidence that someone committed a murder.

Donahue, who is being held at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Holmesburg, has a bail hearing scheduled for Tuesday and a formal arraignment Nov. 5.