BATH, Pa. — “Chatty Kathy,” they called her.
In Hickory Hills, a tidy mobile home community popular with retirees, 70-year-old Kathy MacClellan was known as a friendly woman who baked cookies for the neighbors and talked too much.
Nothing about the white-haired MacClellan suggested a capacity for violence. Which is why the accusation she now faces — that she bludgeoned her 84-year-old neighbor to death with a hammer — has come as such a shock to residents here.
Prosecutors are considering whether to make MacClellan one of the oldest U.S. defendants in modern times to stand trial on a capital murder charge.
MacClellan allegedly attacked Marguerite “Tuddy” Eyer with the claw end of a hammer Feb. 7. The victim, who was found in the kitchen of her home a few blocks away from the MacClellan house, told police that “Kathy Mc ... did it with a hammer,” according to court documents. She died 13 minutes after being rushed to the emergency room; the coroner said she had been struck in the head 37 times.
Prosecutors cite brutality
Police said they found Eyer’s wallet and checkbook in MacClellan’s house, and MacClellan’s face, hair and orange stirrup pants were covered in Eyer’s blood.
“In the 13 years I’ve been DA, I never saw such brutality,” District Attorney John Morganelli said. “I was shocked when I saw the photos of this woman’s face. It was unrecognizable.”
Prosecutors have told a judge there are two aggravating circumstances that would allow them to seek a death sentence for MacClellan: robbery and torture.
If they go ahead with it, MacClellan would become one of the nation’s oldest defendants, and perhaps the oldest woman, to be tried in a capital murder case since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed capital punishment to resume in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
MacClellan is jailed without bail and pleaded innocent. Her attorney had no comment.
Even if McClellan were convicted and sentenced to lethal injection, her age and Pennsylvania’s long appeals process make it unlikely that she would be executed. University of Pennsylvania law professor David Rudovsky, a defense attorney, suggested prosecutors might be using the prospect of a death sentence as a bargaining chip in plea negotiations.
Hickory Hills is an unlikely setting for murder. Potential residents must undergo a criminal background check; more than three-quarters of its homeowners are senior citizens; crime is virtually nonexistent.
Eyer was a spirited, opinionated woman who lived alone in the white trailer with red shutters she had called home for much of the last decade. She often drove her best friend of 30 years, Marguerite Braxmeyer, to lunch dates around town.
Braxmeyer, 83, said MacClellan and Eyer did not particularly like each other — their strong personalities clashed.
“If (Tuddy) liked you, she liked you. But she just didn’t take to Kathy,” Braxmeyer said. “I don’t think Kathy was crazy about her, either.”
But Braxmeyer said it was not as if MacClellan and Tuddy had feuded.
“I have no idea what could have gotten into her. It’s so incomprehensible to me,” Braxmeyer said. “She must have snapped and why, we’ll never know.”
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