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The Pagan Motorcycle Club and the Mennonite Funeral on Good Friday


    LeRoy Stoltzfus grew up as a farm boy in a Mennonite home in Leola. His dad was a bishop in the church. But by the time he was in his early 20s, Stoltzfus had left his Plain Sect upbringing far behind him. After a stint in the U.S. Air Force, Stoltzfus joined the Pagans motorcycle gang. He quickly got caught up in the gang's lifestyle — fights, threats, brawls. He was shot at. He briefly landed in jail.

    Then, in 1969, in the dark woods surrounding a shuttered Berks County amusement park, his life changed forever. State police say Stoltzfus, then 24, and another gang member murdered a young man and woman, after participating in the gang rape of the young woman. For decades, Stoltzfus steadily maintained his innocence in the high-profile murder case, saying two other Pagans were the killers.

    Stoltzfus died Sunday in the hospital of a state prison at the age of 61 while serving a life sentence for the murders."Free At Last!!" read the headline of his obiturary on Tuesday. Stoltzfus is in a better place now, one of his brothers and the local author of a book about the murders said. "He was a poor soul. He had many, many health problems and he didn't deserve to be where he was at, and now he's not. He's free," said Doris Dorwart, of Lancaster, the co-author of "The Dreamland Park Murders."

    Said Stoltzfus' brother, Ronald, of Fogelsville, "He's not in prison anymore for a murder he didn't commit. He didn't kill anyone." Later this week, Stoltzfus will be laid to rest in a Mennonite church cemetery in Gap. "It's been a long journey," Ronald Stoltzfus said of his younger brother's life. Ronald Stoltzfus knew his brother was involved in a dangerous lifestyle when he joined the Pagans. His parents, the late LeRoy and Alta Mae Stoltzfus, "were heartbroken about it, of course. We tried to keep him away from it." But Stoltzfus liked riding motorcycles and liked the camaraderie of the gang, his brother said. On the weekend of Aug. 13, 1969, some Pagans from New York and Florida had come to Berks County to hang out with area club members. Four of them went to the Kutztown Fair, looking for women. They returned to the grounds of Dreamland Park, a closed amusement park that was owned by the father of James Eways, one of the men in the foursome. The Pagans had gathered in a building there for a weekend of partying. This is where the stories about what happened next diverge, Dorwart said. Eways and another gang member from Florida, Harlan Bailey, whose nickname was "Wolfman," said the four encountered a young couple parked on a lover's lane, Dorwart said.

    They said the group abducted the couple, Marilyn Sheckler, 18, of Westmoreland County, and her boyfriend, Glenn Eckert, 20, of Robesonia. The men then took turns raping Sheckler in the back of the van as they drove back to Dreamland, according to the two men's stories, Dorwart said. But when they arrived at the closed park, the state police were there to investigate a fight that had happened earlier.

    Eways and Bailey said they left the park, leaving the couple with Stoltzfus and another man, Robert Martinolich, of New York. But Stoltzfus said the four returned to Dreamland and, spotting the police, ran into the woods. At that time, they had not encountered the couple, he said. Eways and Bailey went off to find an escape vehicle.

    Stoltzfus waited and Martinolich went to watch what the police were doing. Stoltzfus said Eways and Bailey then returned and were holding the young couple at gunpoint, Dorwart said.

    Ronald Stoltzfus said that his brother told him Eckert struggled to grab the gun from his captors. Eways held it as Bailey struggled with him and the gun went off, killing Eckert.

    LeRoy Stoltzfus said Bailey then killed Sheckler by hitting her on the head with a rock, Dorwart said. Stoltzfus said Bailey and Eways held a gun on him and made him help bury the couple in the woods, according to Dorwart.

    Ronald Stoltzfus said there was prosecutorial misconduct before and at his brother's trial. Eways and Bailey were not charged for the alleged rapes because they testified against Stoltzfus and Martinolich.

    Dorwart was a young woman living in Berks County at the time of the trials. She followed the case but did not dream of writing a book about it until years later, when Eways was charged with another crime.

    In 1995, Eways was charged with shooting and killing a 17-year-old Ephrata boy, Michael Abate, who was joyriding past his home. He was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and served five years in prison.

    Dorwart, 82, said she became interested in the 1969 case that Eways was involved in, and decided to look into it. The book was the result.

    She and her co-author, Robert Snyder, a former Washington, D.C., detective, interviewed Stoltzfus and Martinolich numerous times and got to know them well.

    They looked at the evidence in the case and the trial testimony.

    Several things impressed Dorwart, she said.

    When Sheckler was abducted that night, she was wearing a minidress and a girdle. When her body was found, she was still wearing both garments. Dorwart thinks it's unlikely Sheckler would have put her girdle back on after being raped.

    The stories just didn't add up, Ronald Stoltzfus added. Eways and Bailey were not sequestered from each other, and had time to compare their versions of what happened.

    "It's very sad," Dorwart said. "I often think, 'What a waste of human life.' "

    Martinolich has told her he deserved to go to jail for other things, but not for murder, Dorwart said.

    "I don't believe LeRoy ever murdered anyone," she said.

    It was Martinolich who called Dorwart to tell her of Stoltzfus' death. The two were serving time in the same state prison.

    "He was very sad," she said.

    Ronald Stoltzfus said his younger brother was not perfect. But he wasn't a murderer, he believes.

    "That never happened," he said.

    This is story of my cousin Leroy Stoltzfus' life and death.  Yesterday a group of Pagan motorcycle club members attended his funeral at the Millwood Mennonite Church in Lancaster County to pay their respects and heard about the death of an innocent man on Good Friday who died over 2000 years ago on a cross.  We all need to hear that one.  Thank you to those who knew and told the truth. Thank you to the Pagan Motorcycle Club for bringing honor to Leroy and his family by their presence at his funeral.  We are all deserving of love, especially at the time of our death.  AMEN.
  • Rev. Bill Hudson
    Rev. Bill Hudson do you know what happened to the pagans that turned on their brothers? it says one was later convicted of another murder? How did they escape the MC for testifying against other club members? how did the one that later went to prison fair among the AB beh...  more
    November 18, 2010
  • <i>Deleted Member</i>
    Deleted Member Make no mistake, GOD is still in charge. What was meant for harm has turned out for GOOD and that is our understanding of our calling. As for Leroy, RIP, he understood that in the end. When his Dad, a bishop, preached a very short sermon, it was simple...  more
    November 18, 2010 - delete