August 2, 2014

Elyria
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Suspect’s silence kept case open for 3 decades

CAMDEN TWP. – When Lorain County sheriff’s deputies first arrived at Dorothy Spencer’s trailer on March 14, 1976, they suspected that the gunshot wound to her head may have been self-inflicted, according to the initial report of the incident.

It was only after further investigation that they determined the 45-year-old Spencer, who died from the injury three days after she was found, had been shot by someone else. The report noted there were fresh bruises on her shoulder and abrasions on her neck.

The chief suspect at the time was then 34-year-old Bobbie New, who had lived with Spencer for two years, but New’s lawyer told him not to talk to investigators and the case remained unsolved for 35 years.

New, now 69, was arrested Thursday on a murder charge after deputies reopened the investigation last August when they received new information in the case.

The arrest brought a sense of closure to Spencer’s family.

“I just wish my parents were still alive to see this,” Spencer’s sister, Pam Pennington, wrote Friday in an email to The Chronicle-Telegram. “I hope he is put away for a long time so he will have to think of what he has done for the rest of his life.”

A retired Ford worker, New bought a house in Amherst Township in 1985 and lived quietly for years.

Becky New, Bobbie New’s wife, said Friday when reached by phone that she and her husband have been separated for years and never talked about Spencer.

“I didn’t know anything then and I don’t know anything now,” Becky New said before hanging up.

In a news release Friday, county Sheriff Phil Stammitti said his office won’t be offering an explanation of what evidence led to renewed interest in New as a suspect because the case remains under investigation.

But newspaper accounts from 1976 and the initial report shed some light on what happened.

The report said that a woman called what was then Allen Memorial Hospital in Oberlin at 2:11 a.m. on March 14 and reported that she had been injured.

Deputies were dispatched to help the ambulance locate where the injured woman was. When deputies arrived at Spencer’s rented trailer on Gifford Road at 2:33 a.m., the ambulance crew was already working on Spencer, who was found in a pool of blood on a couch.

Spencer was taken to what was then known as Elyria Memorial Hospital and deputies began searching the trailer, which has since been torn down. They didn’t find a gun, although a box of .38-caliber ammunition was found in a bedroom.

The report, written by then-Deputy William McArthur, said that deputies quickly concluded that Spencer couldn’t have called for help because no phone was found in the trailer.

“Also, due to the severity of the injury, it was doubtful that the victim could have called the ambulance, had there been a telephone present,” McArthur wrote.

Then-sheriff’s Capt. Henry Zieba told The Chronicle-Telegram at the time that Spencer appeared to have been “manhandled” and had been shot once in the back of the head. There was no sign of a struggle in the trailer, McArthur wrote.

New was the only suspect at the time, but lack of evidence prevented charges from being filed. According to what Zieba told The Chronicle-Telegram in 1976, New had previously threatened Spencer and her two married daughters. A former neighbor of Spencer’s said Thursday that she believed Spencer also had a son.

New was being held on a $1 million bond in the Lorain County Jail on Friday. He is due to be arraigned next week.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.