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Student’s video could help investigators solve 2005 murder

Ann Rocknick

On Christmas Eve 2005, Anna Rocknick met the devil.

“It was like something out of a novel,” said Beaver County District Attorney Anthony Berosh ’70 Lib.

That night the 94-year-old widow was violently ripped from her sleep by a strange, dark figure. The intruder rifled through her belongings before approaching her bed. He demanded money. She refused.

What happened next was perhaps the most abhorrent crime in the history of Harmony Township.

“I’m bleeding. Somebody came in the house, and they clobbered me. They split my head, and I’m all bloody. I was in the bed sleeping, and they were beating me up,” Rocknick sobbed to a 911 operator.

Do you know who attacked you? she was asked. Yes, she did.

“The devil did this to me.”

“The devil” was what Rocknick often called people she deemed unsavory.

“Is her description more about an evaluation of the person, or is it a description of the person?” Berosh wondered aloud.

Rocknick went on to describe her attacker as a tall, white male wearing a hooded sweatshirt.

Anna Rocknick died shortly after arriving at Allegheny General Hospital.

More than seven years have passed since that cold December night, and while the case remains unsolved, it hasn’t been forgotten.

“We don’t refer to our cases as cold cases because we never stop investigating,” said Sergeant Jim Essek of the Harmony Township Police Department.

Hundreds of people have been interviewed, Essek said, and new suspects have been added to the list.

“All these binders here, they all belong to that one case,” he said, waving his hand over dozens of binders crammed with evidence from the unsolved case.

Essek, like many of the policemen who responded to the 911 call, has a particularly strong tie to the case.

“I grew up two houses away from Mrs. Rocknick. My mother still lives there.”

But with many of those same officers closing in on retirement, a new plan to keep the case alive was put into motion. The case would be immortalized as a video so that future detectives would not only have access to the written files, but could also watch first-hand accounts of what happened on the night of the crime.

"When the District Attorney’s Office and the Beaver County Detective Bureau approached him and he mentioned it to the class, I was, like, ‘I want that. It’s mine, please. Gimme,’ ” Paoletti said. “And I’m glad he did because it has opened doors for me.”

The video was created for Chapin’s television field production class as part of a service learning project.

Paoletti spent countless hours interviewing police, combing through evidence, and editing the audio and video.

“It’s 45 minutes. I don’t know if you’ve ever done any video production, but that’s just massive,” said Chapin.

Usually Paoletti was able to keep her composure, although she admits the case did eventually tear at her emotions.

“It’s heartbreaking that a woman of her age was attacked that way. It was just vicious, and knowing her age, it is really hard and emotional. But as a journalist, even though you feel it on the inside, you can’t let it get to you too much,” she said.

Gall was very pleased with Paoletti’s work. “The finished product was better than I envisioned,” he said.

It was so good that he’s asked Paoletti to create another video for a different case. “She promised that the one she’s making now is going to be better. Some people would just say that, but when she tells me, I believe it.”