A young man was charged Thursday with bludgeoning or strangling six relatives whose bodies were found wrapped in sheets and blankets in the basement of his grandmother’s home.
Authorities said Jesse Dee Wise, 21, confessed, but they would not comment on a motive. Three of the victims were hit in the head with a blunt metal object, and three others were strangled, police said in an affidavit.
Wise was arraigned on six counts of criminal homicide. As a judge recited the charges, he seemed to read along with a listing of the victims.
“When will I get a lawyer?” he asked.
Wise, shackled around his wrists and ankles, was arraigned Thursday afternoon and ordered held without bail. The judge set a preliminary hearing for April 20.
Investigators discovered bone fragments, hair and a hammer in two upstairs bedrooms. There also appeared to be blood on the walls and ceilings, authorities said.
The youngest of the victims, spanning three generations of the same family, was just 5 years old.
In a guitar case at the home, police found two 17-inch pieces of metal that appeared to have blood on them. The objects were wrapped at one end with cloth and “had the appearance of a homemade weapon/club, capable of causing death if used as a weapon,” according to the affidavit.
The victims apparently died of multiple traumatic injuries sometime last weekend, Lancaster County District Attorney Don Totaro said.
The dead were identified as Wise’s 64-year-old grandmother, Emily Wise; two relatives believed to be his aunts; two of Emily Wise’s grandchildren, ages 5 and 19; and a 17-year-old relative, said East Lampeter Township police Chief John Bowman.
The bodies were found after Emily Wise’s husband called from New York on Wednesday asking a friend to check on his family in the three-story house in Leola, a small village in Lancaster County’s rural Amish country.
Jessie L. Wise, 60, was worried because he had not heard from his wife since Friday, authorities said. The friend, John Sean Adams, 24, met the first officer at the house.
Bodies wrapped in sheets, blankets
When they went inside, Adams stopped halfway down the basement steps and yelled, “They’re all dead! All six of them are dead!” the affidavit stated.
Police found several bodies wrapped in sheets and blankets and piled on the basement floor, one of them with obvious head wounds, according to a search warrant affidavit. One body was at the bottom of the steps wrapped in a comforter secured with a phone cord. The affidavit also described blood in the rooms and bone fragments.
According to the search warrant, police searched the property for fingerprints, weapons, a hammer and phone cord, as well as anything wrapped around the victims’ necks. They also were seeking personal effects and financial information related to the victims.
In addition to Emily Wise, the victims were Wanda Wise, 45; Arlene Wise, who is in her 30s; Skyler Wise, 19; Chance Wise, 5; and Jesse James Wise, 17.
Chance was “a typically energetic kindergartner,” said Gerald G. Huesken, superintendent of Conestoga Valley School District. Schools were closed Thursday, the first day of spring break, but counselors would be at the elementary school when classes resume Tuesday to talk with students, he said.