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Chester County shooter, ex-wife tangled in bitter, 3-year divorce that ended day before violent encounter

Bruce Rogal and his ex-wife saw their marriage fall apart over his extramarital affair, as well as issues with money, the proceedings show.

State Police investigate the scene of a shooting on Vermont Lane in Chester County.
State Police investigate the scene of a shooting on Vermont Lane in Chester County.Read moreBob Williams/For the Inquirer

After three bitter years of divorce proceedings, Bruce Rogal's marriage of 24 years ended Tuesday with a formal ruling from a Chester County judge.

The next day, for reasons that were still unclear Thursday, he grabbed a gun and stalked his now ex-wife, firing indiscriminately as he chased her away from the Downingtown home they once shared, a $200,000 property that played a key role in the dissolution of their marriage. He then drove for 20 minutes to the retirement community where his parents lived, and gunned them down in a violent outburst that betrayed the love — and financial support — they had provided him for years.

Hours later, he was found dead from a gunshot wound outside his former home. It was not known whether Rogal took his own life or was killed by state troopers whom he had engaged in a car chase.

Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan said the divorce had "set [Rogal] off," particularly a judge's decision to grant his ex-wife sole ownership of their home. As investigators continued to unravel Rogal's chaotic final hours, the filings in the divorce case provided a window into his life.

Rogal and his wife, identified in the paperwork as Catherine Christian, married in 1990. They have one son, Walter, now 27.

Neighbors on Vermont Lane, where the couple lived, said they watched in shock as Rogal confronted Christian around 5:30 p.m. Wednesday as she stood in her driveway changing the oil in her car. He chased her with a gun that witnesses said looked like a rifle with a shortened barrel, firing at her as she ran.

Ultimately, neither Christian or anyone else on the block was injured. Rogal fled after Christian sought refuge in a neighbor's house, driving to Bellingham, the retirement community in East Goshen Township where his parents lived, killing them inside their apartment.

Kay Warner, 81, who said she lives directly across from William and Nancy Rogal's apartment, said she never heard gunshots, even though their units are separated only by a hallway, and didn't know anything had happened until police knocked on her door.

"They just came in and searched around with their guns drawn," she said. They told her there was a suspicious person on the property. "Then they came back and explained it to me, and that people were killed."

Warner said Nancy Rogal ran the retirement community's art department.

A manhunt for Rogal began almost immediately after his parents' slaying, with investigators in several states and counties searching for his silver Honda Odyssey.

Around 1 a.m. Thursday, a Pennsylvania state trooper spotted Rogal's minivan, authorities said, and things quickly escalated into a police chase back to the home the couple had shared on Vermont Lane. Rogal's minivan crashed into the side of the home.

James Oley, who lives a few yards away, said he heard the rapid-fire hail of gunshots from police who had been tailing Rogal. Afterward, Oley said, he received a text advising people to stay inside, and soon another that declared the scene safe.

"Everyone is still in disbelief, just soaking it in," Oley said. "But I think we all feel pretty fortunate nobody on our street was harmed, given those bullets were found from his weapon on both sides of the street and a couple houses were hit."

Rogal worked for years as a radio and television producer, later switching careers to general contracting. He had been out of work since 2013, due to "a back injury and bladder condition," according to the filings in the divorce case. He underwent "major back surgery including a lumbar fusion" in 1992, court records show.

He had applied for Social Security disability benefits, but had been denied because he had not made sufficient contributions into the federal system, the judge said in his final ruling.

Since his separation from Christian in May 2015, Rogal had lived in a variety of apartments, most recently at the James Mobile Home Park in Glenmoore.

For the last two years of their marriage, Christian was the sole breadwinner, working two jobs, as an accountant for Karr Barth Associates and a part-time pharmacy technician at a local CVS.

She filed for divorce in June 2015, a month after the two had gotten into a physical altercation at their home. Court records in Chester County show that each filed criminal complaints against the other, with Rogal accusing Christian of hitting him over the head, and she accusing him of slapping her across the face. Both were later found not guilty by a district judge.

Christian also was granted a protection-from-abuse order against Rogal around the same time the divorce was filed. It expired two years later, in June 2017, records show.

The divorce complaint suggests that an extramarital relationship led to the marriage's dissolution. Rogal, 59, had started seeing another woman in 2011, court filings show, and Christian alleged that her husband had spent $18,000 on the woman since that time, including paying her rent for a year at an apartment in West Chester. Rogal told arbitrators the woman had paid him back for the rent.

He had also taken her on vacations in Key West, Fla., and New Orleans, spending hundreds of dollars on hotels, dinners and motorbike rentals, according to financial statements filed in the divorce papers.

Christian's attorney, Steven H. Rubin, wrote that Rogal "has been in a relationship with his girlfriend for years and has spent considerable money for this relationship, instead of contributing those funds to the expense incurred by the parties during their marriage."

Christian said she had spent $154,000 in inheritance she received from her mother in 2005 on family expenses, including a new roof on their home and student loans for their son. Meanwhile, Rogal told arbitrators he had money from a separate account and was able to support himself.

Throughout the divorce proceedings, the couple disputed the wording in the proposed settlement, with Rogal refusing to sign it. The case was finally resolved this week with a judge's ruling that Christian would retain ownership of the couple's home.

Some of Rogal's money apparently came from his parents.

In the mid-1990s, the family had purchased a four-acre vacation property in upstate New York, and Rogal received $160,156 in "gifts of an interest in the property" over seven years, court records show. When the property was sold by the family for $1.1 million in 2012, Rogal received, $262,572 from the sale.

Nancy Rogal was a painter, and more than 60 of her paintings were featured in a 2008 exhibit at the Chester County Art Association. The exhibit, called For the Love of Lake George, focused on Lake George in upstate New York, where she often spent summers.

Maria Tesone, education program coordinator at the art association, worked with Nancy Rogal to promote the exhibit. Tesone on Thursday remembered her as a sweet woman who seemed to love the outdoors, often showing up in casual wear such as jeans and a Columbia jacket.

"She always looked like she was just about ready for anything," Tesone said. And Nancy Rogal felt passionate about Lake George, she said. "You could tell when she talked about it, she loved going there."

In a post on its website Thursday, the management at Bellingham, where the elder Rogals lived, said it was "deeply saddened by the incident that occurred last evening, and our hearts and most sincere condolences go out to the family."

"The safety and well-being of our residents and staff are our primary concern, and grief counselors are onsite today to support our community," the statement said. "We appreciate everyone's support as we mourn this great loss at our community."

Colleen O'Neill, whose mother lives in an apartment in Bellingham, said that when she pulled into the retirement community on Thursday morning, there were more visitors than usual arriving to check on their loved ones. But aside from that, it was "business as usual," she said. A few hours into her visit, O'Neill said, employees began going around to residents' rooms, telling them counseling was available and there would be a community meeting later in the day.

Frances O'Neill, her mother, said Nancy Rogal had happened to sit at her dinner table a few nights before she was killed. O'Neill had never spent time with Rogal before, but knew she was busy, helping to decorate the building with beautiful art. "I was really impressed with what a nice woman she was," O'Neill said. "I remember thinking, 'Gee, she's a nice lady.'"

Staff writer Patricia Madej contributed to this article.