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Former boyfriend of victim takes stand in Donachy murder trial

October 13, 2011

RIDGWAY - Inside the Elk County Courthouse on day three of the homicide trial of a man accused of the April 6, 1999 rape and murder of St. Marys beautician Irene Challingsworth, jurors listened to testimony from Pennsylvania State Police scientists and Challingsworth's former boyfriend. Lawrence Earl Donachy, 36, of St. Marys, is charged with one count each of homicide, rape, burglary, aggravated assault, criminal attempt at arson and unlawful restraint.
The first witness to take the stand Wednesday morning was Tom Feldbauer of St. Marys, Challingsworth's former boyfriend of over 16 years.
In 1999, Feldbauer said he was employed at Keystone Carbon Company as a diesetter in the hot forming department, working the midnight to 8 a.m. shift.
According to Feldbauer, each evening he departed his Wehler Road home around 11:30 p.m. His commute to work took him down S. Michael Street onto Mill Street, where he frequently drove past Challingsworth's Walnut Street home, then onto the Boulevard and SR120 to Keystone. Feldbauer said he often stopped by her home on his way to work to say a quick hello and goodnight.
He stated that he was always early to work to check in with the previous shift regarding any special work orders. He typically punched in at the time clock between 11:35-11:40 p.m.
On the evening of Sunday, April 5, 1999, Feldbauer testified that as he drove by Challingsworth's home he observed the shop lights were on; however, this was not unusual, as Mondays were her days off and that was when she did her own hair to look good for her customers the next day.
Feldbauer said he did not stop at her home that night. He ventured off his usual route slightly to mail letters at the St. Marys Post Office.
On April 5, Feldbauer said he worked a full shift, returned home, cleaned up, then went to bed.
The morning of April 6, Feldbauer said he was awoken by his father, who said the St. Marys City Police (SMPD) were at his door and needed to question him about an incident. SMPD Officers Steve Skryzpek and Phil Hoh questioned him about his whereabouts the evening of April 5.
Feldbauer's brother informed him of Challingsworth's death while the police officers were present at his home.
He recalled going to Challingsworth's home shortly after her homicide to help clean the house. Challingsworth's daughter Kelly Bauer initially joined him, but Feldbauer said she left because she could not handle being there. He visited the house 2-3 times in order to clean the bathroom and bedroom walls of blood splatter, adding that everything needed to be disinfected.
Feldbauer testified that he initially did not take any items from the home, but after reading his statement to police furnished by defense attorney Shawn McMahon, he said he took Challingsworth's two shotguns home. He eventually returned them to her house, as they were of no use to him and they were eventually given to her brothers. He added that it struck him as odd when he initially saw the shotguns in her bedroom, thinking that if it were a burglary, the criminals would have taken the guns.
He noted that police were aware he was cleaning the home.
According to Feldbauer, he had a key to Challingsworth's home for several years. He kept her key on his regular keyring, which he took to work with him. Shortly after Challingsworth's murder, Feldbauer returned the key to Bauer.
When questioned as to when he last spoke with her, Feldbauer said he stayed at her home that Saturday evening, April 4. He did not spend Easter at her home; Feldbauer said they each made plans on their own, as he wanted to spend Easter with his father and his brother's family, since it was his father's first Easter without his mother, who had recently passed away.
Elk County District Attorney Bradley Kraus asked Feldbauer directly if he had anything to do with Challingsworth's death, to which he replied no.
McMahon stated that Feldbauer participated in two interviews with the SMPD on April 6, one in the morning and one in the evening at the police station.
During a July 2001 interview with St. Marys City Police Sergeant John Lovett, Feldbauer said throughout their relationship, he became familiar with Challingsworth's habits. He stated she typically went to bed around 11:30 p.m., although Monday evenings were different, with it being her day off.
Feldbauer stated the last time he physically saw Challingsworth was Sunday.
McMahon pointed out to Feldbauer the police report stated that he entered her home on April 7 to check the water heater and furnace. Feldbauer said he did not think they were allowed back in the house that early.
The couple last spoke on Sunday between 3-4 p.m., when Challingsworth contacted Feldbauer notifying him of a television program which was on that he may be interested in watching, according to Feldbauer.
He added that when passing by Challingsworth's home, the windows to her shop are placed high, so only those standing up inside can be seen, while a partition is located inside the shop door to prevent people from having a direct view to the inside of the shop.
Elk County Court of Common Pleas President Judge Richard Masson, who is presiding over the trial, informed the court that one of the jury members has been excused due to the birth of her grandchildren. One of the three alternate jurors will take her place.
Prior to the lunch recess Masson, informed the jury that courthouse staff will provide them lunch to prevent them from being "contaminated" when venturing outside the courthouse to local establishments. He said they are permitted to move about outside the courthouse after lunch for a brief period.
"We want to limit the potential contact with other parties interested in the proceedings," Masson said.
The trial resumes Thursday morning at 9 a.m.

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