Man suspected of killing 2 women in Virginia Beach 46 years ago jailed in New York

Janice Frances Pietropola (left) and Lynn Marie Seethaler (right) were both murdered at an Oceanfront motel cottage in 1973. (Southside daily/Courtesy of the Virginia Beach Police Department via 13NewsNow)
Janice Frances Pietropola (left) and Lynn Marie Seethaler (right) were both murdered at an Oceanfront motel cottage in 1973. (Southside daily/Courtesy of the Virginia Beach Police Department via 13NewsNow)

VIRGINIA BEACH — The man police here said was responsible for killing two women at the Oceanfront in 1973 is now in jail.

The Virginia Beach Police Department’s Cold Case Unit made the announcement Tuesday.

Ernest Broadnax, 80, of St. Albans, New York, was arrested by the New York Police Department’s Cold Case Apprehension Squad on Monday.

Broadnax is charged with two counts of second-degree murder and one count of rape in connection with the 1973 killings of Janice Pietropola and Lynn Seethaler, both 19, at the Oceanfront.

He is currently awaiting extradition, police said.

Pietropola and Seethaler came to Virginia Beach from the Pittsburgh area for summer vacation. They were staying at a cottage at 10th St and Atlantic Avenue.

Friends  Pietropola and  Seethaler were from the Pittsburgh area and had rented a cottage about a block from the Atlantic Ocean.

Concerned when the two 19-year-olds missed their checkout time, an employee opened the door of their rented cottage, peered inside and discovered their bodies on June 30, 1973.

Pietropola was shot three times in the right side of the head with a .22-caliber gun. She also was raped and strangled.

Seethaler was shot twice in the right side of the head and face. Her neck was slashed with a wine bottle, and she also was strangled.

The case turned cold after exhaustive measures failed to positively identify a suspect.

Every available detective was put on the case. There were hundreds of interviews and thousands of communiques with police elsewhere.

“We did everything we could,” then-police Capt. William Haden told The Associated Press in 1998. “We flew in the helicopter, we searched rooftops, we climbed into manholes.”

For Haden, the case became personal. The crime happened on his 31st birthday, and he said he felt as if the young women’s parents had entrusted their daughters to his care.

“I have always referred to them as ‘my girls,'” he said in 1998. “I still don’t know why this case was so personal. There is no way I can describe that to you.”

During their week in Virginia, Seethaler and Pietropola met several men on the beach and had gone on dates. On two occasions, they invited some of their new acquaintances back to the cottage for beers.

The contents of the women’s purses had been dumped on the cottage floor, but robbery never was considered a motive.

Police didn’t know if the killer knew the women, or if the victims were picked at random.

Detectives assigned to the Virginia Beach Police Cold Case Unit followed up on leads that came in and sought out advanced forensic technology, “determined to bring justice for the victims and their families,” police said.

In the fall of 2018, VBPD Cold Case detectives, with the support of the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney, began aggressively researching a strong lead they had received in the case, which led to the arrest Monday.

Virginia Beach Police did not say how they linked Broadnax to the killings.

Virginia Beach Police enlisted help from various law enforcement agencies, ranging from the FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service to units within the New York Police Department.

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John Mangalonzo (john@localvoicemedia.com) is the managing editor of Local Voice Media’s Virginia papers – WYDaily (Williamsburg), Southside Daily (Virginia Beach) and HNNDaily (Hampton-Newport News). Before coming to Local Voice, John was the senior content editor of The Bellingham Herald, a McClatchy newspaper in Washington state. Previously, he served as city editor/content strategist for USA Today Network newsrooms in St. George and Cedar City, Utah. John started his professional journalism career shortly after graduating from Lyceum of The Philippines University in 1990. As a rookie reporter for a national newspaper in Manila that year, John was assigned to cover four of the most dangerous cities in Metro Manila. Later that year, John was transferred to cover the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. He spent the latter part of 1990 to early 1992 embedded with troopers in the southern Philippines as they fought with communist rebels and Muslim extremists. His U.S. journalism career includes reporting and editing stints for newspapers and other media outlets in New York City, California, Texas, Iowa, Utah, Colorado and Washington state.