2nd man arrested in Newberry homicide case

The case concerning the murder of Sonja Heck in Newberry last month took a bizarre turn this week when city police charged a second man who they allege was hired by Sonja Heck’s husband to kill the 49-year-old woman.

Police returned here from Michigan late Tuesday night with Kenneth W. Smith, 33, who had been taken into custody earlier in “his childhood home in Muskegon County” in that state.

Heck’s husband, Edward Heck, also 49, “has confessed to hiring Smith to kill Sonya,” Agent Trent Peacock said in an affidavit.

Faced with charges of criminal homicide, aggravated assault, conspiracy and cruelty to animals, Smith is alleged to have struck Sonya Heck in the head with a hammer and then cut her throat, Peacock said.

In addition to killing the woman, Smith is alleged to have killed two dogs in the basement “by blunt force trauma to their heads,” Peacock said.

Edward Heck was arrested and taken into custody at a motel in Lebanon, Indiana, hours after Sonya Heck’s daughter and his stepdaughter, Emily Rowe, discovered her mother’s body in the couple’s home at 2501 Linn St. on Aug. 17.

Checking on her mother’s welfare after learning she had failed to show up for work that day, Rowe, a city resident, entered the house about 4:10 p.m. “and found her mother motionless with apparent trauma to her neck. She immediately left the house and called 911,” Peacock said.

The victim was “in the west bedroom lying on her back and partially covered with a blanket/towel. Her neck had been cut severely, leaving a large amount of blood underneath her and on adjacent pillows and blankets,” Peacock said.

In the house, “there appeared to be a suicide-type note. It appeared to be signed by the descendent’s husband, Edward Heck. The note consisted of an apology for his past discretions. (It read in part,) ‘Forgive me for what I have done. This is goodbye to everyone,’ “ Peacock said.

Investigators said after Sonya Heck was murdered, her husband and Smith drove to Lebanon. A warrant for Heck’s arrest was quickly prepared by police and approved by District Attorney Kenneth Osokow. By 8 p.m. that night, police had tracked Edward Heck’s whereabouts to a motel in Lebanon.

Edward Heck was arrested and Smith, who was with him in the room, was taken into custody for questioning, but later released. At the time, there was no evidence to hold him.

“Smith indicated that he had been at the Linn Street scene with Edward Heck before the two of them drove together to Indiana together,” Peacock said.

If they know, police are not saying why the two men drove to Indiana.

Smith was not implicated in the murder until Aug. 29 after city police Agent Ed Lucas and Lycoming County Detective Steve Sorage traveled to Lebanon to pick up Edward Heck.

“After waiving his rights, Edward Heck confessed to hiring Smith” to kill his wife, Peacock said.

No details were provided about how, when and where the two men first met.

Relations between Edward and Sonja Heck recently had become strained after Rowe “caught her stepfather cheating on her mother,” Lucas said in an affidavit.

Investigators believe Sonja Heck was killed sometime on Thursday, Aug. 16. On that day, Rowe received a text from her stepfather that read “I’m sorry. I didn’t do it,” or words to that effect, Lucas said. Rowe dismissed the text, believing Edward Heck had sent the message to her by mistake and that it was really meant for someone else, Lucas said.

After Rowe discovered her mother’s body and while she was being questioned at city police headquarters, she started receiving text messages from her stepfather telling her “not to go into the house,” Lucas said.

Smith was arraigned before District Judge Jerry C. Lepley and jailed in the Lycoming County Prison. On the criminal complaint, police listed Smith’s Pennsylvania address as Nanty Glo, a borough of 2,700, in Cambria County. Edward Heck is also incarcerated there. Both men were jailed without bail.