Murder suspect Virginia Hayden talks to police – and talks, and talks ...

On July 11, 2017, Northern York County Regional Police Lt. John Migatulski asked Virginia Hayden to come to the police station and talk to the detectives, purely voluntarily.

She agreed.

After Virginia left her apartment, police executed a search warrant, finding a lockbox containing Thomas Hayden’s driver’s license and passport, and some of his jewelry. They also seized a FoodSaver device. Her daughter had told police that her mother always had a FoodSaver. When police examined a day planner found in the box, they found that the Nov. 1, 2011, entry read, “Tom left for Mexico.” The detectives knew that wasn’t true and planned to ask Virginia about it.

When Virginia arrived at the police station, Northern Regional Detective Mike Hine said, “I didn’t have much of an impression of her. But she was talkative.”

As the detectives asked her about what she had told witnesses, and the entry in the day planner about Thomas leaving for Mexico, Migatulski said, “She explained her stories with another story. Any time we pointed out that we found her not to be truthful, she came up with another explanation.” She told them she was embarrassed that Thomas had left her, taking $40,000 from their accounts when he took off, and she made up the stories as a result of her shame.


She told the detectives that Thomas’s daughter from a previous marriage, Kim Via, and her daughter, Carolyn Cooksey, were out to get her, for reasons she could not specify. She told the detectives, “Give them what they want. Say I did this.”

Migatulski said, “She deflected a lot.”

Hine said, “She was a storyteller.”

She told the detectives to check for her husband’s body in her second husband’s grave in Maryland. (Later, they did and found nothing.)

Then she told the detectives a new story, that she had seen Thomas in Puerto Rico in 2014 or 2015. Her grandson was working in Puerto Rico, and she would visit and live there on and off, staying for a month or two. She told police she once saw Thomas walking down the street and became so frightened that she didn’t leave her grandson’s house for a week. Later, when police checked out the story, her grandson told them he hadn’t heard that story and that he hadn’t seen Thomas in Puerto Rico.

She told the detectives that Thomas was abusive and had terrorized her during their marriage. She had told family members the same thing, but none had believed her. She told the detectives she was terrified that he would come back.

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Migatulski reached into a file and pulled out a photo. He told her, “He’s not going to come back. Here he is.”

And he placed a photo of Thomas’ scalp which had been found on a rural roadside in Dover Township on the table in front of her.

Hine said, “She had no reaction. She was very cold, very flat.”

She just wouldn’t stop talking

The interview went on for hours. Virginia kept talking. As it continued, the detectives allowed her to go outside to make phone calls. Several times, they reminded her that the interview was voluntary, and she was free to go at any time.

She kept talking.

Hours into the interview, Migatulski told her that if she had nothing else to say, she could leave. She said, “I’m not leaving. I have no place to go.”

And she kept talking.


Hours later, Migatulski told her she could leave. She didn’t. He told her to leave. She refused to.

And she kept talking, telling the detectives her life story. Hine had seen this kind of thing before while interviewing suspects. “They think they can talk themselves out of it,” he said.

York County Prosecutor Kara Bowser said, “I think she liked the attention.”


Finally, she said she wanted to see her dog, a mutt named Johnnie Double-D. An officer retrieved Johnnie and brought him to the station. Virginia greeted her dog outside the station, took him to her car and drove away.

The entire interview lasted eight hours.

The detectives still had more work to do.

Virginia’s daughter charged with record tampering

In December 2017, police charged Virginia’s daughter, Connie Pender, with two counts of tampering with public records and two counts of conspiracy, accusing her of notarizing forged signatures of her stepfather on the deed to the Haydens’ condo and on the title to a motorcycle trailer Thomas had owned. (Pender, who lives near Austin, Texas, would eventually plead guilty and be sentenced to two years of probation.)

A state police handwriting expert determined that Thomas’ signatures on the documents had been written by Virginia, according to the criminal complaint. The handwriting expert would also conclude that Virginia wrote the letter to Carolyn that was purportedly from Thomas.

Thomas Hayden Sr. disappeared in the fall of 2011 and his body hasn't been found.
Thomas Hayden Sr. disappeared in the fall of 2011 and his body hasn't been found.


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For her part, Virginia told a reporter at the time that she had been signing her husband’s signature since soon after they were married. “Going back to 2000, I signed everything for Tom,” she said. Asked why, she said she did everything for him, that he was lazy. “Tom was lucky he wiped his own ass,” Virginia said then. “Tom wouldn’t lift a foot to get a drink.”

Virginia theorized that the police had charged her daughter to get to her, that they were trying to pin his murder on her.

How did Thomas die?

The detectives had built what they believed was a strong case against Virginia. But one aspect of the case remained a mystery: How was Thomas killed?

The chief York County prosecutor, Tim Barker, knew answering that question was key to the case and turned to forensic science to answer it. One of the challenges of prosecuting a murder in which the body is not found is determining the cause of death, Barker said. In this case, he said, they had just a small part of the victim’s body, and that could be enough. “Even small amounts of physical evidence can lead to really significant conclusions,” he said.


He sent the contents of the FoodSaver bag to Dr. Wayne Ross, a forensic pathologist in Lancaster who specializes in analyzing tissue samples at a microscopic level. He examined the blood on the pillowcase, looking at its spatter patterns. There were tiny spatters, indicating that the blood had been atomized, like a spray, a pattern that suggests a high-velocity wound from a firearm. He checked for gunshot residue and found evidence of that. A microscopic examination of the pillowcase revealed “a high quantity of bone fragments,” Barker said, such as those that would result from a bullet wound vaporizing bone.

The most important bit of evidence he found, according to Barker, was a tiny piece of bone, about the size of the tip of a pen, embedded in the pillowcase. Ross tested the piece of bone and found traces of lead on it, evidence of a bullet wound. DNA testing revealed the bone was Thomas’.

The pattern of blood on the pillowcase, and the evidence of a gunshot wound, led Ross to conclude that Thomas had been shot in the head while lying in bed.

A Perry Mason moment ends the trial before it begins

On April 28, 2019, the detectives charged Virginia with Thomas’ murder. They went to her apartment and told her they had a warrant for her arrest. Virginia’s response was “OK.”

After years of investigation and months of litigation over the admissibility of evidence and Virginia’s statements to police, the case was scheduled to go to trial on Sept. 6, 2022, in Courtroom 7004 in the York County Judicial Center.

Virginia Hayden's booking photo, April 29, 2019.
Virginia Hayden's booking photo, April 29, 2019.


A pool of 80 prospective jurors was assembled. Prosecutors had a list of 43 witnesses they could call. The trial was expected to last two weeks.

Prosecutors were confident they would prevail in obtaining a first-degree-murder conviction against Virginia, a verdict that carries a sentence of life with no chance for parole. “We were calm,” Barker said. “We were all set.”


The defendant was present in the courtroom. She had been incarcerated since her arrest in April 2019, but wore court clothing rather than an orange jail jumpsuit, prepared for a trial rather than a plea. She had all the appearance of what she was, a little old lady, a grandmother, with piercing blue eyes, ruddy cheeks and feathered, shoulder-length gray hair.

By coincidence, the sheriff’s deputy who had transported her to the York County Prison after her arrest was also present in the courtroom. He recognized Virginia and approached prosecutors to let them know he might have some information that could be helpful. He recalled that as Virginia rode in the van from Central Booking at the courthouse to the county jail, one of the other women sharing the ride asked the older woman, “So grandma, what did you do?”

Virginia replied, “I killed my husband.”

The deputy didn’t think it was relevant at the time. He was unfamiliar with the case and had assumed, given Virginia’s matter-of-fact nonchalance, that the case had been resolved.

The prosecutors shared the information with the defense. Previously, Virginia had rejected any offers of a plea bargain. Prosecutors were willing to reduce the murder charge from first-degree murder to third-degree murder if she told them what happened to Thomas’ body. But she steadfastly refused any plea deals.

Until the sheriff’s deputy came forward.

She was done.

‘I wanted the truth to come out’

The deal was struck. Virginia would plead no contest to third-degree murder and be sentenced to six to 20 years in prison. (A no contest plea, which carries the same legal weight as a guilty plea, means that the defendant acknowledges the prosecution has enough evidence to convict, should the jury believe it.)

Thomas Hayden Sr. disappeared in the fall of 2011. His wife, Virginia Hayden, was accused of his murder. His body hasn't been found.
Thomas Hayden Sr. disappeared in the fall of 2011. His wife, Virginia Hayden, was accused of his murder. His body hasn't been found.


The deal did not include the requirement that Virginia disclose the location of Thomas’ body, resulting in her agreeing to a sentence in the standard range for third-degree murder. Virginia’s lawyers declined to comment, saying she still faces federal charges of Social Security fraud, a case scheduled to go to trial in 2023. Her lawyer also declined a request to interview his client.

The prosecutors and detectives met with Thomas’ family. Kim Via wanted the case to go to trial. “I wanted the truth to come out,” she said. But the plea deal would ensure a conviction. As Kim said, “It would only take one juror to hold out and we’d get nothing.”

Thomas’ brother Owens favored accepting the deal. He saw that Kim was a nervous wreck that morning – she was to be among the first witnesses – and Owens was fearful for her. The defense, he said, was “going to come down on her hard,” trying to suggest her testimony was a product of her intense dislike of Virginia. “I just didn’t want to see that,” Owens said. “I didn’t want to see her be put through that.”

During the plea hearing, Barker outlined the prosecution’s case, giving an overview of what evidence they had collected and what it would prove. Virginia remained silent throughout the court proceeding.

Virginia, now 71, is serving her sentence at the State Correctional Institution at Muncy. She received credit for the time she served in county prison and will be eligible for parole in about three years.

‘Her shadow for the rest of her days’

Barker, who has been with the York County District Attorney’s office since 1998 and who has worked on some of the office’s most high-profile prosecutions, was looking forward to trying the case. He wanted to try the case. “This will always be one of the most intense and complex trials we never tried,” he said.

But to not accept the plea, he said, would place his interests above those of justice. The goal is revealing the truth, he said, and the truth “was put forth in that courtroom that day. We did what prosecutors are supposed to do.”


“We started out with Anthony Suglia finding what he thought was trash by the side of a road and concluded with Virginia’s admission that she shot her husband to death in his bed,” he said.

Kara Bowser, who prosecuted the case alongside Barker, said. “We did the right thing.”

One of the reasons Kim and Owens agreed to the plea deal was that they hoped Virginia would tell authorities where to find Thomas’ body, even though it wasn’t part of the plea deal.

She has not.


What happened to Thomas' body remains a mystery. Was he dumped in the creek? Was he fed to pigs? The one person Thomas' family believes has knowledge of that is not talking.

Kim wasn’t crazy about the plea deal. But she accepts it and plans to let the parole board know about Virginia and do everything she can to see that her father’s killer serves as much of the maximum sentence as possible.

“I will be her shadow for the rest of her days,” she said.

Columnist/reporter Mike Argento has been a York Daily Record staffer since 1982. Reach him at

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: True crime: A surprise witness derails Virginia Hayden's trial