COAL TOWNSHIP — On the morning of Saturday, May 7, 1994, as firefighters extinguished the last of a fire from the remnants of a 1985 Mercury Capri on Bunker Hill, they realized they had battled a far worse situation when they discovered the charred remains of a male in the passenger side of the vehicle.
The death of Matthew Hoy, 20, of 1 E. Sunbury St., was ruled suspicious and believed to be a possible homicide, and 25 years later the family is still searching for answers.
Hoy had reportedly died from conflagration, which means he died as a result of the fire, according to then-Northumberland County coroner Richard Ulrich. Ulrich stated the results of an autopsy didn’t indicate any gunshot wounds to the body, but the severity of the burns made it difficult to determine if he suffered any other wounds.
The family waited months for confirmation of the horrific news of their loved one as a dental examination proved inconclusive due to the severe damage caused to the victim’s dentures as a result of the blaze.
In the days following the death, Ulrich ordered DNA testing of blood samples to confirm the identity of Hoy based off of DNA sampling from his parents, William Hoy and Margaret Hoy.
They had their suspicions as the vehicle was identified to belong to Hoy’s mother. In the days following the incident, William and Judy Hoy told The News-Item they believed Matthew to be the victim of a murder rather than an accidental death or suicide.
William told the reporter his son was with friends during the evening hours of May 6 and apparently left them late in the evening, but he didn’t know who the last person to see Matthew was.
Rumors were rampant following the death and while many got back to the family, they chose to trust in the police to conduct an investigation. An investigation into whether the death was related to the murder of Conrad Dumbchock, of Kulpmont, was conducted due to one of the perpetrators involvement in a separate car fire prior to his arrest, but then District Attorney Robert Sacavage found no hard evidence to link the two and ruled them unrelated.
In January 1997, a major break in the case developed when a four-door, greenish metallic 1982 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight was located. Authorities at the time were certain the vehicle was near the scene of the fatal car fire, although they never revealed how or where the vehicle was located or the exact date it was found.
Investigators in 1997 said an adult male, who was previously interviewed several times by police in connection with Hoy’s death, was a “one-time” owner of the car.
The unsolved case was initially investigated by then-Coal Township Detective David Sage before being turned over to then-detective Charles Pensyl before being placed in the hands of then-detective and current chief, William Carpenter.
Carpenter said the cold case will continue to be treated as a homicide until information comes forward indicating differently. The case will remain open as long as it takes to solve, he said, though no new leads have come about to follow up on.
District Attorney Tony Matulewicz said the older cases are they become increasingly harder to solve. Older cases are less likely to bring about new physical evidence and are more likely to be solved by a person or persons coming forward with new information.
In his time as district attorney, Matulewicz said no new evidence has come forward in the case. The difficulty with arson cases is the evidence is destroyed by fire, and the car had burned so badly only the frame remained.
The FBI came in to assist with the investigation and Matulewicz said there was nothing left of the vehicle to allow them to conclusively say the fire had been set, though evidence suggests it had been arson.
Anyone with information is encouraged to come forward and help solve the cold case. Matulewicz and Carpenter said all evidence will be looked over.
Matulewicz said, “If any evidence comes forward, it will be thoroughly investigated, and I have great faith and confidence in the Coal Township Police Department.”
A brother remembers
Matthew Hoy was a graduate of Shamokin Area High School and Northumberland County Area Vocational-Technical School, Class of 1992. Hoy, who studied carpentry at the vo-tech school, was employed by Wetzel Contracting, Shamokin.
At the time of his death, he was survived by a sister, Laurie, 35, and three brothers — Billy, 33, Timmy, 31, and Brian, 29.
Twenty-five years later, Hoy’s memory stays alive thanks to his family, including Brian “Bud” Hoy and his son, Riley, who maintain a cross dedicated to Matthew Hoy at the site where the burning vehicle had been found.
Brian Hoy was the second youngest of five siblings, with Matt born 10 years after him. He remembers the siblings taking care of Matt growing up and carrying him around on their shoulders.
Matt is remembered as being a mellow, laid-back guy whose favorite band was The Doors.
Brian moved to south Florida around 1985, and kept in contact with his large circle of friends from the coal region, who always told him when they spoke that Matt had filled his footsteps back home.
On May 7, 1994, Brian Hoy was still living in Florida and had been attending the funeral of a friend when his pager went off with a Pennsylvania number. He found a pay phone and called the number and learned from one of his brothers a vehicle had been found burnt beyond recognition and they believed Matt had been inside.
A DNA test had to be conducted to conclusively determine the identity of the victim, and the family couldn’t lay Matt to rest for sometime between six to eight months while awaiting the results.
“It was tough at the time, but we had a lot of time to speak to friends and people that knew him and hoping something would break through and we’d figure it out. We would have never thought 25 years later it would be unsolved,” said Brian Hoy.
His parent’s took Matt’s loss extremely hard, as anyone would losing a child, Brian said. His parents wanted closure before each of their passings, but Brian said they now have knowledge of what happened from the other side.
In addition to his parents, Brian’s sister Laurie also passed away without answers in the years since Matt’s death, but he believes they each found some consolation while she was still alive.
Brian said he, Laurie and one of their brothers went to see a psychic medium in Florida years ago who told them things about Matt that they would have had no way of knowing.
“My brother had come through and said ‘Leave it go. Leave it to the universe. Let the universe take care of it,’” Brian recalled. “Some of the things that were said there in that psychic medium meeting were just incredible, so me and my brother and sister were all at this reading and we all came out with the same feeling of just a kind of closure, like we actually did speak to him and he wanted us to let it be.”
Even though he feels as if his brother wants them to leave his death to the universe, Brian said he feels as if somebody has information on what happened that fateful night, and he encourages them to come forward with any tidbit of information or something they may have witnessed.
“I definitely feel somebody has information and, who knows, it may bring something up and somebody could be charged and we’d maybe have some type of closure.”
He said he’d like to know what happened that night and wants the opportunity to speak with the person who may have murdered his brother. He wouldn’t pass judgment on the person, saying he would leave that for a higher power to take care of.
Brian and his siblings discuss their brother and enjoy when other people bring up Matt because they want his memory to be kept alive.
In the spirit of keeping his memory alive, he and his son, Riley, recently refurbished the cross that has stood in memorial to Matt since the 10th anniversary of his death.
The family is inviting all of Matt’s friends to come out to the cross at 1 p.m. Saturday for a 25th anniversary memorial service.
“Come join us in remembrance of Matt. We want to have a little celebration of his life and if you have time on Saturday, come on up,” he said.