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Troopers recount Fayette murder case on TV tonight


By Jim McKinnon, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Two state troopers will revisit one of their more disturbing cases, the murder and incineration of a retarded woman, in an episode tonight of, "Skeleton Stories," a program on the Discovery Health Channel.

The two officers, Trooper Daniel J. Venick and Cpl. John J. Tobin, were the lead investigators in the 1992 murder of Helen Gillin, a 25-year-old mentally retarded woman.

Miss Gillin had been adopted by James and Roberta Gillin of Bear Rocks in Bullskin, Fayette County.

Mr. Gillin eventually became involved in a sexual affair with the young woman. When his wife found out, she tried to poison Helen with a mixture of heart medication and chlorine bleach.

The concoction did not kill Miss Gillin.

The couple's biological daughter, Mary Jo Overly, testified against them at trial, saying that her mother became upset because the poison drink failed her.

Ms. Overly said that her father then beat and stomped the life out of Miss Gillin.

The couple then burned her remains in a pit, having the ashes dumped across the road. Authorities found more than 2,200 bone fragments at the ash dump.

Ms. Overly came forward with her information in 1995.

James Gillin, 53, was convicted in January 2001 of first-degree murder, and he is serving a term of life in prison without possibility of parole.

Roberta Gillin, 52, was acquitted of the same charge in June 2002.

Cpl. Tobin, at the time of the murder, was a trooper with fewer than two years' experience. When the investigation was rekindled, Tpr. Venick, then a seasoned veteran, called him in to join the case.

The two still work together in the regional cold case section, though Tpr. Venick still is stationed at the Uniontown barracks and Cpl. Tobin is based at the Washington, Pa., barracks.

The Discovery Health Channel will air the Skeleton Stories "Body of Evidence" episode at 10 p.m. tonight. It will re-run at 1 a.m.

2006 Apr 7