Update: Handwriting analysis leads to homicide charge in case of missing Lancaster County woman

A Lancaster County man has been charged with killing his wife, who disappeared nearly 40 years ago. Her body has never been found.

Jere Musser Bagenstose, 67, is charged with a single count of a criminal homicide, according to court documents.

The Lancaster County District Attorney's Office held a news conference at 11 a.m. to discuss the case. Lancaster County D.A. Heather Adams said Jere Bagenstose was arrested Thursday morning at his home without incident, and he is being held in Lancaster County Prison without bail.

A family member of Jere Bagenstose declined comment when reached by phone Thursday.

Adams credited the arrest to decades of police work.

Maryann Bagenstose, 25, the mother of a 2-year-old son, was last seen June 5, 1984.

Three months ago, Pennsylvania State Police and other investigators searched the Pequea Township home at 167 West Willow Road where Maryann had been living — and where Jere Bagenstose has been living since shortly after she disappeared.

On the day Maryann disappeared, Jere — from whom she was estranged — stopped by the house to take Maryann and their son, Jeremy, to look at a new car, according to a Sunday News story published two years after her disappearance.

Jere Bagenstose told police Maryann wasn’t ready to leave when he arrived, so he took their son to feed ducks at Long’s Park. When he returned, he told police, he found a note from Maryann stating her car wouldn’t start so she decided to walk to a Turkey Hill about a mile away in Willow Street.

He told police he threw the note away. He also missed work that day.

A police officer spoke with Bagenstose two days after Maryann's disappearance, but could not find the note in trash bags where Bagenstose said he disposed of it.

On June 13, 1984, police executed a search warrant on the Bagenstose property. In a wooden nail keg next to a couch in the living room, police found a note that said, “Had to run a quick errand, be right back.”

It is this note, Adams said, that a Pennsylvania State Police documents examiner recently determined was actually written by Jere Bagenstose after comparing it to his handwriting on samples collected during the search of his house three months ago.

During investigators search of Bagenstose's house in September, investigators took several items that contained his handwriting, Adams said. After analysis, they were able to determine that Jere Bagenstose actually wrote the note that he said Maryann wrote, she said.

Much of the police activity the day of the Sept. 20 search appeared to focus inside a garage with an attached shed behind the two-and-a-half story home.

A small blue sign with white lettering affixed in the ground in front of the house read, “Keep our Pequea Township police service 24/7.”

The month Maryann disappeared, investigators dug up the dirt floor of the garage on the property, according to contemporary news coverage.

Adams acknowledged that there's little new evidence in the case. 

But "because of the advancements in open-source databases and internet searches, (investigators) were able to do the initial retrieval of signatures and perhaps other words that (Jere Bagenstose) would have wrote on legal documents and such," Adams said.

And, Adams said, no-body homicide cases are rare and challenging. 

"... It would not be unreasonable to conclude in the mid-eighties that if the body was missing, and there was some hope that something was going to break and the body was going to be recovered ... to wait and see whether you would recover a body because obviously, the recovery of the body would give more evidence to any prosecution," Adams said. 

Adams said there've been advances in training and the law regarding no-body homicide investigations since the 1980s. 

The Sept. 20 search was authorized under a search warrant sealed by Lancaster County Judge Merrill Spahn the previous day.

Geraldine Engongoro reported her daughter missing two days after her daughter was last seen. Engongoro died in February 2016. 

Newspaper coverage from the time, and law enforcement, spelled the woman's name as Mary Ann and Maryann. A copy of the couple's deed filed when they bought the home in January 1984 that bears her signature spells her name Maryann.

This is a breaking news post and will be updated.

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