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Unsolved Cases: William Sockel

Was the death of this Churchill man in 1975 a case of mistaken identity or just a burglary gone bad?

In his split-level home on a quiet street in residential Churchill Borough, William Sockel was following his usual routine the night of Feb. 5, 1975.

Methodically, Sockel would drive into his garage using an electronic opener, walk to the gameroom level of the home, place his heart medications and a cane used to help with a bout of arthritis on the stairs in the foyer area, and get water from the gameroom so he could take the pills.

It appears that was what he'd done the night of his death.

He had left a men's clothing store in Monroeville Mall about 7:45 p.m.—the last place he was reportedly seen alive—as snow started falling outside.

Former Allegheny County homicide detective Capt. Robert Meinert told the Pittsburgh Press in a story dated April 27, 1975 that Sockel's water glass was on a bar in the gameroom and Sockel's coat was on a chair, as expected. But the newspaper that he normally would sit and read was unopened.

Detectives found a piece of chandelier in the foyer and believe that is where the attack started. There was some evidence that Sockel might have fought back using the cane, especially given that he was about 6-feet tall and 240 pounds, police said at the time.

Sockel, 59, was found in a sewing room by his wife, Frieda, about 9:40 p.m. as she returned home from her job as a store manager in East Hills Shopping Center. A stocking was tied around his eyes and his nose held by a rubber band.

Police said he died from a blow to the head from a blunt instrument, possibly the handle of a handgun.

The master bedroom had been ransacked and $8,000 in jewelry, assorted clothing and a portable television were stolen. Sockel's gold 1974 Cadillac was driven to the Cherry City section of Shaler Township, where it was found abandoned.

Police found tracks in the snow from Graham Boulevard, which runs behind Harmain Drive, where he lived. The somewhat-isolated neighborhood sits in a valley of sorts below the Parkway East, Graham Boulevard and William Penn Highway.

Police couldn't determine whether intruders were in the house when Sockel arrived home or if he had let them in as there appeared to be no sign of fored entry.

Until two weeks before his death, Sockel had been a building materials salesman for Universal Builders and Acceptance Corp. in Wilkinsburg. He had just ventured into business for himself.

Former Churchill police Chief Charles "Ray" Stahl had said at the time that Sockel's death might have been a case of mistaken identity, according to another former Churchill chief, Richard James, who was on the force at the time of the incident.

In a Pittsburgh Press article dated Feb. 6, 1975, Stahl theorized that the intended victim might have been Pat Tiani, Sockel's next door neighbor.

Tiani's Motor Sales, a used car lot on Frankstown Road in Penn Hills, was damaged by a bomb about eight hours after Sockel's body was found. The blast blew out a large picture window and four other windows were shattered by rifle shots.

However, Allegheny County homicide detectives at the time thought it was only coincidental that the two incidents had occurred within hours of each other.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Allegheny County Police Homicide Division at 412-473-1300.

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