SHENANGO TWP., Pa. (WKBN) – Investigators said evidence of illegal activity was discovered during an investigation of human remains on a property on Mercer West Middlesex Road in Mercer County.
“We are still conducting the execution of search warrants, interviews, we’ve seized multiple vehicles,” said Lt. Eric Hermick, crime section commander with Pennsylvania State Police.
Hermick reported discovering convicted felons with guns and items reported stolen from burglaries across Mercer and Lawrence counties at the scene.
During a press conference Thursday morning, Hermick asked for information from the community. He said there are many unanswered questions, as the remains were missing some body parts.
“We have a body that is missing certain parts,” Hermick said. “So at that point, we need to let the medical examiner tell us what we need to do to identify this person.”
The remains were taken to Erie for an autopsy conducted Thursday morning. Forensic Pathologist Dr. Eric Vey determined that the body found was a Caucasian man of an unknown age. The identity has not yet been determined, but DNA testing is underway.
The cause of death has also not yet been determined. The body was buried on the property near a rental home.
At this point, no charges have been filed, but police confirmed that they have someone in mind and that neighbors shouldn’t feel concerned.
“We have a person of interest and that person is not in the position right now to harm anyone,” Hermick said.
Police would not comment further on the man.
The investigation began Tuesday after a call from the probation department. Police were then informed that a body may have been buried on the property.
Police said bones from one body were found in a shallow grave, buried a couple hundred yards from the road. They said it appears to have been buried there for some time.
“I can tell you that the body has been buried for several months,” Hermick said.
Because there is no known manner or cause of death yet, police are not calling it a homicide, but they are investigating it as such.
State troopers with the Pennsylvania State Police Major Crimes Unit, as well as officers from Shenango Township and Sharon, have been searching the 35 acre parcel off of Route 318 east of West Middlesex since 12:30 p.m. Tuesday.
“The investigation is intense, the investigation is ongoing and we are not anywhere near completing the investigation,” Sharon Police Chief Gerald Smith said during a press conference Wednesday night.
Smith said his department is involved because of a missing persons case in Sharon. Officers are not saying whether the body found belongs to the missing man, 58-year-old Joseph Difrischia.
In June, WKBN 27 First News reported that Difrischia, of Sharon, was missing after he failed to report to his parole officer. According to police, the Air Force veteran was last seen April 28 on his way to a friend’s house on the south side of the city.
Difrischia was on probation at the time of his disappearance. He had been convicted for possession of illegal painkillers, and was sentenced to two years in jail.
Sharon’s missing persons case is the closest to the area the body was found, which is why Smith’s department was contacted.
“Any time there are remains discovered, we check the missing persons’ database, and he’s the closest area to have a missing person,” Hermick said.
In addition, Difrischia’s disappearance was suspicious because his car, a silver Trailblazer, was found on Millet Avenue in Youngstown in May with the keys in the ignition. It was impounded until July 13. Earlier in August, it was seized by state police.
Sharon Police has a very specific role in the investigation.
“To ascertain whether or not the remains we found are, in fact, our missing person. We don’t know the answer to that right now. We hope to know something soon,” Smith said.
Police said they don’t have enough information to say for sure that the body found in the woods is Difrischia’s.
“Yes, we do think foul play is suspected in that case, but we are not saying the remains we located belong to him,” Hermick said.
Officially, they are still looking for Difrischia’s body and as of Thursday morning, they haven’t talked to his family about the discovery.
The scene remains active. Neighbors said they saw helicopters and police dogs Tuesday night. Several emergency vehicles were on the scene Wednesday afternoon.
“Surprising….It’s scary. You don’t want to think that something like that is happening right beside you. This is generally a safe area,” said neighbor Ryan Siege.
The site of the investigation has several buildings on it, a few with broken windows. Neighbors said the owner of the land has had squatters living there for the past few weeks.
Those who live next door say the man who owns the property is kind.
“He’d give you the shirt off his back. He’s done so much for us in the year and a half that we’ve lived here, and I can never thank him for all he’s done,” Siege said.
Police said the property owner has been cooperative during their investigation.
Investigators are asking anyone with information to come forward to help them close the case. They can contact Pennsylvania State Police in Mercer at 724-662-6162.