Midstate Mystery: Christmas ’82 murder ‘true definition of a cold case’

MARYSVILLE, Pa. (WHTM) – It was a cold morning in December of 1982. Christmas was less than a week away. A Perry County man woke up and went to investigate a running car near his property on Heisley Road in remote Rye Township.

What he found was unlike anything he ever expected to encounter in his quiet community.

“The engine running, the lights on, the window down and a man slumped over in the seat,” he told ABC 27 the next day.

That man was 35-year-old Harold Dennis Matatall of West Fairview, Cumberland County.  He was a debt collector and avid racing fan who went by “Denny.”

At the time, no motive was established and no suspects were named. That was 33 years ago and the same can still be said today.

“This is the true definition of a cold case,” said Trooper Donald Chewning, who is now leading the investigation for Pennsylvania State Police. “That’s why we’d like the public to help.”

Denny was shot in the head, executed in his own car.

“Mr. Matatall was found in the driver’s seat,” Chewning said. “There was a CB mic cord wrapped around his right leg.”

Back in 1982, the area was so remote the road wasn’t even paved yet. As hard as they tried, investigators were never able to figure out why, of all places, he ended up there.

“There were several theories,” Chewning said. “He worked as a debt collector. He may have been collecting debts. There were some other theories he was meeting someone in the area.”

Or did the CB radio have something to do with it? Denny’s brother, Robert Matatall, said he talked on it a lot.

“He clowned around on the CB a lot,” Robert Matatall said. “He’d make people mad once in a while … but I didn’t think to the extent somebody would do something like this.”

Robert said his big brother was laid back and non-confrontational. His family could never understand why someone wanted him dead.

“I watched it slowly destroy my mom and dad,” he said, “watched them more or less die over this, wanting answers, and they couldn’t get answers.”

What’s more, Robert said his brother’s death forever ruined Christmas.

“Time does not heal everything like they claim,” he said. “It just makes it bearable at times. Christmas was never the same after that, for any of us. Happiness just wasn’t there.”

“Denny didn’t deserve to die like that,” Chewning said. “I would like to bring some closure to his family.”

Thirty-three years later, Chewning still has more questions than answers. He said no crime is ever too old to solve, but time is certainly not on his side.

“I’m confident somebody knows something about Denny and they’ll come forward with some type of information,” he said.

If you think you can help solve the murder of Denny Matatall, call Trooper Chewning at 717-567-3110.

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