On August 8, 2007, a 911 call went out regarding residents of Laceyville, Pennsylvania.
Troopers responded to the Colegrove home, where Joseph, 60; his wife, Marlene, 56; and their eldest son, Michael, 36, lived. All three had been wounded twice with a shotgun.
“The second shot was a direct shot to the head on all three victims,” Pennsylvania State Police Investigator David Pelachick told Fatal Family Feuds, airing Saturday at 9/8c on Oxygen.
Detectives searched the blood-spattered residence. They recovered six three-and-a half-inch 12-gauge shotgun casings.
They also found that the telephone line had been cut. A window, broken from the inside, appeared to be an effort to stage a theft.
“It was more of an assassination than a robbery,” said George Confer, lead investigator with Pennsylvania State Police.
Joe, Marlene, and Michael Colegrove are killed by shotgun blasts
The close-knit community reeled from the brutal triple homicide. Joe, as he was known, had a barber shop, and Marlene drove a school bus. They had three adult sons: Michael, who had heart disease; Robert, who was married with two kids; and Steven, the couple’s youngest.
“A lot of folks in town knew him as a decorated Air Force veteran,” said former WNEP reporter Jim Hamill of Steven.
Autopsies confirmed the cause of the death was gunshot wounds. The murders happened between midnight and 5 a.m.
A waitress at a nearby diner arrived for work at 4:30 a.m., a time when traffic is very light. She reported seeing a light-colored pickup truck in the area then.
“We had a hunch that it may be the vehicle used in the commission of the crime,” said Pelachick.
Troopers searched for a killer with a motive for the violent triple murder.
Robert Colegrove Emerges As an Initial Suspect
Investigators learned that Joe and Marlene were in a heated dispute with their middle son, Robert, 34, and his wife.
Robert worked at a meatpacking plant, but he was having trouble making ends meet. To ease his financial burden, his parents let his family live in a mobile home on their property.
Over time, Marlene grew increasingly frustrated with the situation. It came to a head in 2005 when Robert and Heather decided to adopt another child, according to Fatal Family Feuds.
,though Robert and Heather eventually chose to move about seven miles away, according to former Bradford County District Attorney Daniel Barrett.
The animosity persisted in the two years leading up to the murders. Tensions escalated to the point where Heather didn’t want her mother-in-law seeing her grandkids.
At a Little League ballgame, Marlene and Heather got into an argument that nearly came to blows, investigators said.
The family feud prompted investigators to consider Robert and Heather. “We were considering that they could have been the people responsible for this homicide,” said Brad Shatinsky, former major case team supervisor for the Pennsylvania State Police.
A day after the crime, investigators focused on Robert, who seemed unfazed about the gruesome slayings. He asked no questions about the murders. He was also seen washing his light-colored pickup truck.
Steven Colegrove Disposes Blood-Soaked Clothing
Asked to account for his whereabouts at the time of the murders, Robert said that he and Heather were home together. Robert acknowledged that he owned a number of firearms, including shotguns.
Robert allowed police to take the guns in for analysis — and to take a polygraph test. During the exam he denied any involvement with the murders. He was found to be truthful.
“My instincts were saying Robert did it and the [polygraph] charts were saying he didn't do it,” said Pelachick.
Firing a shotgun six times would likely leave a bruise from the kickback. Investigators found no marks near Robert’s shoulders.
Heather was questioned and downplayed the rift between her and Marlene. Heather passed her polygraph and provided no incriminating evidence against her husband.
Steven Colegrove becomes a suspect in the murders
While detectives awaited results of the analysis of Robert’s guns, they made contact with Steven Colegrove.
He was living in Deposit, New York, a town tucked into the Catskills Mountains. He arrived in Laceyville a few hours later to speak with police. He became distraught upon hearing of the murders, according to investigators.
He told troopers he’d been away from the area for some time and that he was working undercover for the military. He added that he was being treated for colon cancer.
He described his relationship with his family as very good. “Everything was good, except for Robert. He said that Robert was a problem in the family,” said Confer.
Steven asked investigators if they’d found “the note that wrote Robert out of the will,” said Pelachick. He told police to look for it in a lockbox in the Colegrove home.
Marlene had written a letter to Robert expressing anger and heartbreak and her plans to disinherit him. She signed it “your ex mother,” said Confer.
Life Insurance Policy Points to Murder Motive
Investigators learned that a few months prior to the murders, Marlene had taken out a $100,000 life insurance policy. That pointed to a financial motive for murder — but who pulled the trigger?
When crime lab results showed that none of Robert’s guns were a match for shell casings at the scene, police eliminated the middle brother as a suspect and turned the focus to Steven.
They began by speaking with the acquaintances he was living with in Deposit. The couple informed investigators that Steven was broke and estranged from his family. According to Confer, they said that Steven drove a light-colored truck he couldn’t afford.
Steven told the couple that “he was going to be falling into some money very shortly,” said Pelachick.
Investigators learned from the Air Force that Steven was discharged for lying. Medical records showed that Steven wasn’t being treated for cancer.
Three days after the bodies had been found, “Steven was totally in focus as the suspect at that point,” said Barrett.
Investigators reinterviewed Steven, who had no alibi for his whereabouts at the time of the murders. Troopers confronted him about inconsistencies about his health and military status. He brushed them off.
Steven agreed to take a polygraph. It showed that he was being deceptive when asked about the murders. Detectives saw that Steven had a bruise near his right shoulder, a possible sign of kickback from a shotgun.
“The shoulder talked awfully loud,” said Barrett. But it wasn’t hard proof. Investigators searched the suspect’s residence in Deposit.
They learned that the couple he was staying with had a three-and-a-half-inch 12-gauge shotgun they kept locked in a truck. Steven had access to the firearm.
Investigators eyeballed the gun and saw what looked like blood inside the barrel, said Pelachick. “He’d wiped down the entire gun, but he forgot to wipe down the inside of the barrel.”
The blood was analyzed and found to be a DNA match for Michael Colegrove, indicating that the last gunshot went into his face, according to investigators. The firearm was established as the gun that murdered the Colegrove family.
Steven Colegrove arrested and tried for family murders
Steven was charged with three counts of first-degree murder. He pleaded not guilty.
“We believe Steven had been planning this since he had learned that Marlene took out the $100,000 life insurance policy for the family,” said Confer. With Robert disinherited, the payout would go to him.
To learn more about the case, watch Fatal Family Feuds, airing Saturday at 9/8c on Oxygen.