Wellsville murder victim's sister struggles with anguish and anger
If bad memories can haunt a home, Karen Kuykendall Nordsick is grappling with ghosts.
Since Laurie Kuykendall Kepner was murdered by her estranged husband in the driveway of their Wellsville-area home on May 29, Nordsick — who lives a few blocks away and is Laurie's sister — has been preparing the home at 1615 Lisburn Road, Warrington Township, for public auction.
Stermer's Auction Service will auction the contents on Saturday, Oct. 17, and the property itself on Saturday, Nov. 7.
Nordsick said her dead brother-in-law collected countless tools and heavy equipment, all of which must be sold.
"My head is so full of stuff that needs to be done," she said. "It's going to be easier for me to grieve (after the auction). I think it'll be a big weight off my shoulders."
Last week, the 42-year-old Nordsick donned a purple shirt in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, put on her treasured silver and mother-of-pearl necklace that contains a bit of Laurie's ashes and met a reporter at the now-vacant property.
The heart-shaped pendant holding the ashes is bordered by silver wings, which Nordsick said reminds her that Laurie, who was 11 years Nord-sick's senior, was just starting to spread her own wings after fleeing an abusive marriage.
"We had so many plans, so many things we were going to do together," she said. "She wasn't just a sister to me — she was like a mom, too. She took care of me."
'No one would help': Nordsick said she and her family are angry and frustrated that Laurie tried to get a law-enforcement officer to go with her when she went to her former home to pick up belongings but was told that state police, sheriff's deputies and constables won't do escorts, called "standbys," unless there is a protection-from-abuse order in place.
The disillusioned Nordsick called that policy "b.s."
"She reached out, and no one would help — that's the problem. We're so angry and disappointed in our system," said Nordsick, who believes a PFA would not have helped her sister because it would have enraged estranged husband Martin Kepner.
"He would have killed her right away," she predicted.
Laurie's friends and family feared helping her move her belongings, according to Nordsick.
Begged: "I begged her over and over again, 'Never go back.' I told her, 'It's not worth it. He's dangerous. Go through the lawyers,'" Nordsick said. "I was scared to death. ... We all saw it coming."
But Laurie, a talented seamstress, needed her sewing equipment and supplies as part of her livelihood — she also worked as a receptionist for a Dover-area garage — and wanted items of sentimental value, her sister said.
Laurie was walking away from the marital assets after agreeing to a $10,000 payout as reimbursement for inheritance money she used as a down payment on their home, according to her sister.
"He was telling everyone he was being raked over the coals," Nordsick said of Kepner. "It was total crap. He was getting everything."
Nordsick said she believes Kepner schemed to keep Laurie from returning to the home by manipulating her with guilt and by preventing her from getting inside when he wasn't there.
He boarded up windows, affixed metal grating over glass on the back door and added a security barricade to the back door. He also locked up Laurie's Social Security card, birth certificate and boat and vehicle titles so she couldn't get them, her sister said.
The murders: Laurie's friend Barb Schrum, who owned and ran Shoppe American Made in Dover, agreed to help Laurie retrieve belongings, and they made several trips, according to Nordsick.
On their final trip, Kepner stabbed Schrum and fatally shot both women, then shot himself in the head.
Nordsick said Kepner lay down next to Laurie's body in their driveway to commit suicide; in Laurie's hands was her cellphone, which Nordsick bought for her sister in December so Kepner could no longer monitor Laurie's calls and whereabouts.
Shortly before he murdered the women, Kepner drew up a new will and power-of-attorney document to ensure nothing went to his estranged wife's family, according to Nordsick.
But he apparently didn't know about Pennsylvania's slayer's act. It states, in part, "No slayer shall in any way acquire any property or receive any benefit as the result of the death of the decedent." The law is why Nordsick, rather than one of Kepner's relatives, is in charge of settling her dead sister's and Kepner's estate.
A sister's love: Nord-sick said she visited Laurie's apartment every morning so they could spend the time together that Kepner begrudged them for three decades.
"Every single morning she would hug me before I left for work and say, 'Love you, sister.' I think that's what I miss the most," Nordsick said. "I miss her hugs."
Laurie arranged her apartment to accommodate Nordsick, who could shower or sleep there if she wanted.
"She had it set up as our little hideaway. ... She was just so happy to be able to talk to me and see me," Nordsick said. "I miss her taking care of me. I miss her slurping her coffee in the morning."
Laurie was a free spirit before Kepner crushed that elan with jealousy, isolation and violence, according to Nordsick. But in the last five months of her life, Laurie had delighted her loved ones by re-embracing the world around her with the excitement and enthusiasm of a child, her sister said.
"I cried every single day (after the murders)," Nordsick said. "I still do, a lot of times. It drains me."
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at email@example.com.