Took Life Of Teen Michele Wilkinson At Her Wurtsboro Home In 1982
Ronda Klein Wilder, at left, with the late Michele Wilkinson
in the summer of 1981 on Long island. (photo courtesy of Ronda Klein Wilder)
Joel Ferkins, the man convicted in May 1983 by a Sullivan County jury in the brutal murder of teenager Michele Wilkinson inside her Wurtsboro home, has been denied parole following an appearance on December 15 before the New York State Parole Board.
Ferkins was eligible for parole in April 2023 but the decision of the parole board from the hearing one week ago was not known until it was published online late Wednesday. He is incarcerated at the Collins Correctional Facility.
Ferkins - who had previously served part of a sentence for rape and was was released from Auburn Correctional Facility in 1981 - murdered Wilkinson at her Wilsey Valley Road home on April 22, 1982. Following a seven-count indictment, he was convicted on May 3, 1983 and sentenced to a minimum of 41 years in prison.
The case was prosecuted by then-District Attorney Steve Lungen and Judge Louis Scheinman presided over the trial.
Ronda "Ronnie" Klein Wilder, now 56, was Wilkinson's best friend. In fact, on the day of the murder, Wilkinson handed Klein Wilder a letter affirming their friendship and deep affection. (See below).
Klein Wilder was on the telephone with her best friend moments before the violence erupted.
She said that Wilkinson told her to "hold on" because someone was at her door.
"She put the phone down on the table and never came back," Klein Wilder said in a recent interview with The SullivanTimes. "I was screaming into the phone…I did hear muffled man’s voice..and then phone got hung up. I dialed right back and it rang and rang. "
Letter from Michele Wilkinson to Ronda Klein Wilder, written on the day of her murder (letter courtesy of Ronda Klein Wilder).
According to court documents, Ferkins followed Wilkinson - age 15 - off of her school bus from the Monticello Central School District and entered her home through the front door.
Ferkins, then 33, sodomized the teen and stabbed her repeatedly.
Wlkinson's mother arrived home sometime between 5 and 6 pm that day and discovered her daughter deceased in a bathtub.
Soon after the discovery, Klein Wilder was met by State Police. She told them that she was sure that her friend's killer "had to be the man in the red Chevy Nova that was behind the school bus". She spent the next few hours during the evening of April 22 at police barracks interviewing with investigators.
Excerpt from statement by Ronda Klein Wilder to State Police on April 24, 1982
On the day of her best friend's funeral just a few days following the murder, investigators took her to the Raleigh Hotel in a room that faced the parking lot. They told Klein Wilder to tell them if she saw anything familiar out of the hotel window.
It wasn't long before that the red Chevy Nova with Ferkins behind the wheel pulled into the Raleigh parking lot. (Ferkins reportedly was employed by the hotel). "That's him," Klein Wilder said she recalled telling investigators.
Ferkins, who had lived in Rock Hill, was taken into custody for questioning on April 26 and Klein Wilder soon identified him out of a lineup of seven men.
Klein Wilder says that her best friend's murder has "had an impact on everything that I've lived."
The letter that Wilkinson handed her on the day she died said:
"So hold onto me and I'll never let go of you."
Klein Wilder said those words have always stayed with her in preserving her best friend's memory.
"I don’t think think there’s a day that goes by that I don’t think of her and her brother (Brian)," who was killed in a motorcycle accident on the day the jury returned the verdict in the case against Ferkins.
Ronda Klein Wilder today (photo courtesy of Ronda Klein Wilder)
Asked for her reaction upon learning of the parole board decision, Klein Wilder said that she wasn't consumed by news that he was up for the parole and that the parole board "did its job."