Repeat Offender

SHERMAN – Weeks before Mary E. Whitaker was shot and killed inside her Westfield home, one of her alleged assailants reportedly nabbed more than $1,000 from a Sherman restaurant.

According to the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office, 43-year-old Jonathan M. Conklin allegedly stole $1,150 on Aug. 3 from Murdock’s Family Restaurant, where he worked at the time.

“This is just one more thing to add to his list (of crimes),” said Joseph Gerace, Chautauqua County sheriff, indicating that Conklin had six bookings prior to the Aug. 20 homicide.

These included a violation of parole, criminal possession of stolen property, forgery, fugitive from justice and grand larceny charges. His first booking occurred in January 2002.

“We were actively looking for (Conklin) in Chautauqua County,” Gerace said. “We didn’t know at that time that he was out of state. He would have been put in the computer as a ‘wanted person,’ and if another entity were to run into him, they would do a record check and see that he was wanted.”

Gerace indicated that several leads failed to pan out.

On Aug. 22, Conklin and 30-year-old Charles Sanford were apprehended separately in Erie soon after investigators connected them to the alleged robbery and subsequent homicide of the 61-year-old Whitaker at her 8448 Titus Road home.

The two men reportedly stole Whitaker’s 2007 Chevy HHR and used her credit cards at various businesses in Erie. They were arrested after the Sheriff’s Office – with the assistance of the FBI and Erie Police Department – tracked their credit card activity and identified Conklin on a store security camera.

According to William J. Hochul Jr., U.S. attorney for the western district of New York, Conklin and Sanford were charged in a federal criminal complaint with carjacking, use of a firearm and transportation of a stolen vehicle. If convicted on the federal charges, they face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years imprisonment, a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and a fine of $250,000.

They will appear at a hearing today at the U.S. District Court in Buffalo.

Whitaker, a violinist for the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra and also a resident of New York City, was found dead inside her garage on Aug. 20 by friends concerned about her sudden disappearance.

It is alleged that Conklin and Sanford went to her home with the intention of robbing her. Soon after Whitaker answered her door, the defendants shot and killed her, according to police.