Man accused of murdering 82-year-old held for court

The man accused of murdering 82-year-old Donald Kleese Jr. with a shovel in his home started casing houses to break into outside of Harrisburg during his trip from Virginia to Canada by bicycle, according to testimony during the 23-year-old’s preliminary hearing.

“He told me he was an hour and 20 minutes outside of Harrisburg and started getting hungry and tired of riding his bike,” Trooper Daniel Switzer, state police criminal investigator, said. “It was then that he started looking for houses to break into.”

Police allege it was Kleese’s home on Quaker Hill Road in Eldred Township that Graham N. Norby-Vardac ultimately burglarized on April 5. But it was a robbery gone wrong.

Kleese was found by relatives on the floor of his bedroom a day later covered in blood from wounds to his face, neck and hands, Switzer said.

When asked how long he thought Kleese had been dead, Switzer said he couldn’t know for sure, but that it had to have been at least a few hours.

Police saw a “large amount of blood” on the bed, on the pillow near the bed and at the foot of the bed, Switzer said. There was also hair and blood found on a shovel. DNA evidence was collected, but results are still on their way, Switzer said.

When Switzer was called to the scene at 7 a.m., there were no suspects or persons of interest for hours after the scene was taped off.

But just before noon of the same day, Canadian Border Agents approached Norby-Vardac, who was doing push-ups in a lobby near the border in Buffalo, New York. The 2005 Subaru Outback he was driving had been reported stolen and Norby-Vardac was transferred to the custody of the Buffalo Police homicide unit, Switzer said.

The state police agents made the trip up to interview him.

Norby-Vardac wasn’t acting strange when Switzer interviewed him, the investigator said. But he did admit to breaking into Kleese’s house through a kitchen window.

“He then said he walked into the bedroom and heard a man snoring,” Switzer said. “He went back out, grabbed a shovel and hit him.”

When Kleese was on the floor, Norby-Vardac began strangling him, he allegedly told police.

“He put the shovel down where we found it … laying partially on the victim’s body in between him and the bed … he then walked around the house looking for food and money,” Switzer said.

Found in Kleese’s car were Norby-Vardac’s bicycle, his wallet and his cellphone. Switzer said there was also blood found on Norby-Vardac’s jacket.

After the brief hearing held in the Lycoming County Courthouse, District Judge Gary A. Whiteman held all of the charges against Norby-Vardac for the higher courts.

The hearing previously had been rescheduled twice at the request of a filed motion to see if Norby-Vardac was mentally competent to commit the crime and to proceed in the court process.

Despite a history of mental illness, he was deemed fit to proceed to trial in July.

Norby-Vardac faces charges of criminal homicide, aggravated assault, burglary, robbery and theft among other lesser charges, according to court records.