MILLERSTOWN, Pa. (WHTM) – Merle Wright will never forget the day in November of 2003 when a deer scouting trip began with a grisly discovery.
“We only went a couple of car lengths until we saw the body up to the right,” Wright said.
Wright and his son were only in the woods just off Mountain Road in Howe Township for a matter of seconds before they spotted a man’s lifeless body.
“If we wouldn’t have seen it going in our gate, it’s hard to tell how long it would have laid there,” Wright said.
All these years later, Wright still has very few answers about the man he found in the woods.
Based on fingerprints, Pennsylvania State Police know he was 57-year-old Elpidio Vargas of New York City. He was described as a Spanish-speaking man who was known to bet on horses and impersonate doctors and lawyers. He was released from jail in Manhattan just prior to his violent death.
“At the time investigators from Newport spent three, four days in New York City talking to family members and friends, associates,” Trooper Donald Chewning said. “They were not able to make a connection to Pennsylvania. Even to this day, there’s no explanation as to why Mr. Vargas came to Perry County.”
Police said Vargas told his family he was on his way to Atlantic City. Investigators searched there for answers.
“They circulated his photograph,” Chewning said. “They checked the racetrack in Grantville and nothing ever came of those inquiries.”
Police said Vargas was beaten severely and likely died from a combination of his injuries and hypothermia. He was not dressed for a night in the woods. He was found wearing suit pants and a dress shirt, no jacket.
Investigators believe Vargas was dragged into the woods from Mountain Road since one of his shoes fell off along the way.
“This case has been unsolved since 2003 and there’s a reason for it,” Chewning said. “We need to find out how Mr. Vargas came from Manhattan to Perry County and who he was with because there was obviously a serious altercation.”
Despite a criminal history, police said Vargas was not a violent person. They’re hoping that someone, somewhere will remember something about him and his strange journey to Perry County.
“That’s why we’re pleading with the public,” Chewning said. “It may be insignificant to you, but it may be the needle in the haystack with this case.”
Wright said he’s stopped wondering how the man in the woods ended up there, of all places.
“We don’t talk about it now,” Wright said.
But he’s glad the police have not stopped trying to solve this Midstate Mystery.
ABC27 was not able to reach Vargas’ family. Old phones numbers for family members appeared to no longer be valid.
State police said they believe that location in Howe Township may have been chosen because it is only a few miles off Route 322.
Anyone with information about the death of Elpidio Vargas is asked to contact Trooper Chewning at 717-567-3110.