DOVER, Pa. — On Jan. 18, 2012, a man walking along Conewago Road in Dover Township made a grisly discovery.
It was a sealed, plastic Foodsaver bag “containing blood-stained items, skin and hair,” according to a criminal complaint filed by the Northern York County Regional Police. One of the bloody items was a piece of a queen-sized sheet, the manufacturer’s tag still affixed.
The items were sent to the state police crime lab for testing. DNA extracted from the hair and blood staining the sheet was entered in the national DNA database.
There were no matches.
For five years, the discovery remained a mystery.
Call to police
On Jan. 21, 2017, Kim Via, who lives in Louisiana, called the state police in Carlisle to ask them to check on her father, Thomas Hayden Sr.
When police went to the address in Carlisle, it touched off a byzantine investigation that either may solve, or deepen, the mystery about what may have happened to Hayden, who apparently has been missing since 2011.
The investigation resulted in Hayden’s stepdaughter, 43-year-old Connie Lynn Pender, being charged earlier this month with theft and tampering with public records. A warrant for her arrest has been issued.
Pender, who now lives in Austin, Texas, is accused of notarizing forged signatures of her stepfather on the deed to his house and the title to his trailer, police said.
Pender’s mother, Virginia Hayden, 66, of Dover Township, used the deed with the allegedly forged signature to buy her husband’s share of the house for $1, Northern York County Regional Police Sgt. John Migatulski wrote in the charging documents. Virginia Hayden later sold the house for $135,000. Virginia Hayden also allegedly sold the trailer using the forged title, telling the buyer that her husband had been in a motorcycle accident and no longer needed the trailer.
And while the lengthy criminal complaint deals mostly with Thomas Hayden Sr.’s disappearance, and the extensive police investigation into it, no charges have been filed against Virginia Hayden. Nor have police concluded just what happened to Thomas Hayden, having received what they say are conflicting explanations for his disappearance from his wife.
First efforts to find him
Via thought her father was living with Virginia Hayden in the Carlisle area, but she was unsure. She had been estranged from her father since October 2005. She said she had tried calling him, but her stepmother always told her he didn’t want to speak to her. Via went so far as to hire a private investigator to locate her father. The investigator came up empty.
A trooper who went to check on him at the address Via gave was greeted by Virginia Cooksey, Virginia Hayden’s granddaughter. She told the trooper that her grandmother had lived at an apartment at the address, but her grandfather had never lived there. She told the trooper that she hadn’t seen her grandfather in seven years, police said.
The next day, Jan. 22, 2017, a state police trooper spoke with Virginia Hayden, who told him that her husband “had left Pennsylvania one night in 2011 to seek medical treatment for ALS,” according to the criminal complaint filed against her daughter.
Police said Virginia Hayden gave two different accounts of her husband’s departure, that he left with an overnight bag and that he was picked up by his brother, Spencer Hayden, one night. Spencer Hayden told police later that he didn’t do any such thing.
When investigators pointed out that she had given two different accounts, police said she had no explanation for it.
Virginia Hayden shares her story
On a recent Friday, during a nearly two-hour conversation in an apartment outside Carlisle where Virginia Hayden is living with a friend, she said her daughter, Pender, didn’t do anything wrong. Virginia Hayden said she doesn’t know what happened to her husband or where he is.
As she sat on the chaise end of sectional sofa in the living room of the second-floor apartment in South Middleton Township, Cumberland County, she spoke slowly, her crystal blue eyes shining in the dim sunlight when she looked toward the outside patio.
She said she could not recall the date or time she last saw her husband, whom she met and married in 1998. But she remembered that Thomas Hayden left on his own, and she remembered who he went with, though she declined to name that person. She said that person now denies it, adding “It’s my word against his.”
Police reported that Virginia Hayden had told her daughter, Carolyn Cooksey, that Thomas had gone to Mexico to get treatment for ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
During the conversation on Friday, Virginia Hayden repeated that she believed her husband had gone for treatment of some disease, but she couldn’t remember the name of the disease.
He’s dead to her
Carolyn Cooksey told police when they interviewed her that she had received phone calls from her mother in 2011 that made it sound as though the couple was on their way to Mexico. She said the last time she saw her stepfather was in the fall of 2011. She said she had a Christmas party at her home in Maryland in 2011 and Thomas Hayden didn’t attend.
The police checked Thomas and Virginia Hayden’s passport records and found that neither had ever traveled to Mexico. They also checked Thomas Hayden’s medical records, which gave no indication that he had ever been diagnosed with ALS.
At the time of Thomas Hayden’s disappearance, the couple lived in a condo in the Ashley Farms development in Dover Township. The address, 3060 Barley Circle, was also listed as the address for Pender’s notary business. She had become a certified notary on June 12, 2012.
When police checked the Barley Circle address, they found that Virginia Hayden no longer lived there, that she had sold the condo to a man named Robert Denoncourt on Nov. 14, 2014.
Denoncourt told police that Virginia Hayden had said her husband was dead.
On Friday, Virginia Hayden said she’s told many people that her husband is dead. “Because,” she said, “to me, he is.”
She described her husband as being abusive, but she didn’t want to give details.
“You’ve never been married to a man that scares you so bad that the day he decides to leave, you pray to God he doesn’t come back,” she said. “You pray to God he forgets about you.”
‘Tom was lucky ...’
Denoncourt told police several household items were included in the sale of the house, including a queen-size bedroom suite, and that several items were to be removed from the house before the sale, including a large rubber mat that covered the garage floor.
When police reviewed the deed for the house, they found that on Nov. 3, 2014, about a year before Virginia Hayden sold the house to Denoncourt, she bought her husband’s share of the property for $1. The deed transfer showed that Pender served as the notary for the transaction.
Police hired a handwriting expert to review Thomas Hayden’s signature on the deed transfer and compare it to Thomas and Virginia Hayden’s signatures. The expert determined Thomas Hayden’s signature had been written by his wife, according to court documents.
On Dec. 22, Virginia Hayden didn’t discuss her husband’s signature on the deed. But she said she has been signing her husband’s signature since soon after they married. “Going back to 2000, I signed everything for Tom,” she said. Asked why that was, Virginia Hayden said she did everything for him. “Tom was lucky he wiped his own ass,” she said. “Tom wouldn’t lift a foot to get a drink.”
Blood in the bag and Hayden DNA
Less than a week after police spoke with Denoncourt, they interviewed Spencer and Owen Hayden, Thomas Hayden’s brothers. Both said they had neither seen nor spoken to Thomas Hayden since October 2010. They denied ever picking their brother up to take him for medical treatment.
DNA samples acquired from Spencer and Owen Hayden were compared to the DNA that had been found on the items found in the Foodsaver bag about five years earlier. The test results indicated that it was likely that the hair, skin and blood found in the bag belonged to a sibling of Spencer and Owen Hayden by a factor of 403 billion times.
The police investigation also revealed that Virginia Hayden apparently had given some thought about disposing bodies.
Carolyn Cooksey told police that her mother once “spoke of feeding a body to pigs,” and how the pigs would eat everything but the skull. Virginia Hayden’s grandson, Michael Harris, Pender’s son, said he “had conversations with his grandmother about getting rid of bodies,” which usually happened when they were watching TV, according to the criminal complaint. Harris said his grandmother told him that if you feed a body to pigs, the pigs will eat everything but the hair. She also discussed other ways to get rid of a body, including that you need to stab a body before you put it in water or else it will float.
She also told him if someone is on nitro spray for a heart condition, you can overdose that person with it and it would appear to be a heart attack.
Harris told police he didn’t think the conversations were odd, rather that “she was cool to talk to.”
Asked about these conversations, Virginia Hayden smiled. “If those people remember, Tom said it,” she said. “It’s funny they’re gonna put it on me.”
She said she and her husband would talk about things like that often. Asked why they talked about getting rid of bodies, Virginia Hayden said of her husband, “You don’t know his background.”
She wouldn’t elaborate.
Harris told police that he was close to his grandparents, but that he hadn’t seen his grandfather in several years. He said after his grandfather disappeared, his grandmother gave him a credit card bearing Thomas Hayden’s name. Harris, who was in high school at the time, simply thought it was “free money.”
‘I will be watching ...’
Carolyn Cooksey gave police a letter she got from her mother, purported to be from Thomas Hayden. In the letter, Thomas Hayden was purported to have written that he was sick and asked Carolyn Cooksey to “be there for her mother.” He also purportedly wrote that his family didn’t care about him. The letter concluded, “I will be watching I am counting on you.”
The police handwriting expert concluded that Virginia Hayden wrote the letter, not Thomas Hayden.
A dark joke, a grim search
In February, police interviewed the Haydens’ former next-door neighbor from Barley Circle, Carol Bobb, who said her husband knew Thomas Hayden well, that they would sit on the front porch and talk for hours. When police asked her if she’d seen Thomas Hayden recently, she said she’d heard from his wife that he had moved to Mexico for ALS treatment and had died there.
Bobb said it was odd that one day Thomas Hayden just disappeared. She said she and her son-in-law would joke that Thomas Hayden was buried in the back yard because when he went missing, Virginia Hayden had a new concrete slab, doubling the size of the patio, poured behind her house.
Police later searched the property with dogs trained to detect corpses. They found nothing.
‘Tom left for Mexico’
Thomas Hayden Sr. and his wife, Virginia Hayden were married in 1998. Virginia Hayden has told several people her husband went to Mexico to get treatment for a disease. But she’s told other people other stories about what happened to her husband, according to police. Many of Thomas Hayden’s family members, and others, haven’t seen him or heard from him since the fall of 2011. Earlier this year, his daughter who lives in Louisiana, called police to report her father as a missing person, setting off a nearly yearlong police investigation.
Police reviewed Thomas Hayden’s Medicare and Medicaid records and discovered that the last time he had been seen by a doctor was Sept. 27, 2011. He had another appointment scheduled for Oct. 25, but it was canceled by Virginia Hayden, who said her husband was no longer in the area. It seemed out of character to investigators. Medical records going back to 2006 showed that Thomas Hayden routinely went to medical appointments.
Virginia Hayden said that just as she always signed her husband’s name, she always made and canceled appointments for her husband if he wanted her to.
Police also checked Social Security and bank records and found that the payments continued to be deposited in the couple’s joint account since Thomas Hayden’s disappearance. The payments totaled $116,765. Bank records showed that only one debit card had been issued for the account and most of the deposits and withdrawals from the account occurred in Central Pennsylvania, where Virginia Hayden lived.
Virginia Hayden said Friday that she has closed that account.
Police also obtained records of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and found that Virginia Hayden had bought a .357-caliber handgun from a store in York Oct. 2, 2011. Asked about it later, Virginia Hayden told police that she had sold the gun through a dealer in East York. ATF records, though, indicated that the gun hadn’t been sold.
Police executed a search warrant for Virginia Hayden’s home and found a lock box containing Thomas Hayden’s driver’s license, his Social Security and Medicare cards and his passport. Virginia Hayden’s day planner was also in the box. The Nov. 1, 2011, entry read “Tom left for Mexico.”
The entry for the next day read “lunch with Connie.”
Police also found a Foodsaver system. Her daughter Carolyn Cooksey had previously told police that her mother always had one.
Virginia’s conflicting accounts
When police interviewed Virginia Hayden, they say she gave conflicting accounts of what may have happened to her husband. She told police Thomas Hayden left sometime in 2011 and took $40,000 in cash from her when he did. She said she spoke to him recently, but couldn’t provide a phone number. Nor could she recall the dates or times they spoke.
She told police that when she told her daughter Carolyn Cooksey that her husband had gone to Mexico, it wasn’t the truth.
When police asked Virginia Hayden if she knew her husband’s whereabouts, she said “maybe you ought to check the grave of my second husband for him,” police wrote in court documents.
Her other husbands
Virginia Hayden hasn’t had a lot of luck with husbands. Thomas Hayden was her third husband. Her first two spouses are deceased, she said.
Her first husband, Edward Claybaugh, hanged himself after they had divorced, she said. Her second husband, Floyd Fogle, was a lot older than her, she said. “He had a massive heart attack,” she said.
Police did check Fogle’s grave in Ladiesburg, Maryland, and found nothing untoward.
But Virginia Hayden said police have led her to believe they suspect she had something to do with all three of her husbands’ deaths.
“From what I’m understanding, they think I killed them, too,” she said.
When asked directly if she did kill Thomas Hayden, she said, “No.”
Police also asked her why she tells everyone her husband is dead, but she told police she doesn’t know where he is. She said it’s embarrassing to tell people he left her.
A daughter’s goal
Northern York County Regional Police filed charges against Connie Pender on Dec. 12.
The investigation into Thomas Hayden’s disappearance continues.
Kim Via, his daughter, said she wants to find out what happened to her father. “I have a father I love dearly who I was kept from and now I don’t know where he is,” she said.
She called herself a “daddy’s girl,” and said being cut out of his life and never really knowing why has been difficult. In January of this year, she said, she decided to try to get some answers.
She still hasn’t.
“Right now,” she said, “that’s my goal, to find him or a body.”
Information from: York Daily Record, http://www.ydr.com