In a case that is continuing to develop, Pennsylvania State Police are charging 25-year-old Cody J. Potthoff with the murders of two men — Ian Michael Welden, 41, of Corry, and John Charles Burick, 66, of Harborcreek Township — in connection to a nearly 24-hour manhunt.
Potthoff, whose address is listed in Corry and North East in separate court documents, was taken into custody at a Warren County homeless shelter after state police at Warren received information at about 8:40 a.m. Thursday that he was currently sleeping there.
At 10:40 a.m. Wednesday, state police at Girard were notified by the Edinboro Borough Police Department that one of its officers was in pursuit of a silver Nissan Sentra. The Edinboro officer had attempted to execute a traffic stop on the vehicle on Route 6N for a traffic violation.
The vehicle came to a stop and a front seat passenger exited the vehicle.
The officer instructed the occupant to get back inside the vehicle. The passenger took a step back, at which time the operator of the vehicle, later identified as Potthoff, fled the scene at a high rate of speed. The passenger fled on foot as the officer pursued the fleeing vehicle.
PSP units from Erie, Girard, Corry and Meadville were dispatched to the Edinboro area to assist.
It was originally reported that gunshots were fired at police, however, trooper Cindy Schick, public information officer for PSP Troop E, clarified that was not the case. She said that's how police were dispatched from the county's 911 center, but the reported shots were mistakenly attributed to the situation since they were in the same vicinity.
The fleeing vehicle traveled through Edinboro while approaching speeds over 70 mph. The vehicle then crashed through a metal gate before the operator lost control on a gravel road, rendering the vehicle inoperable.
The officer approached the crash scene and observed a white male wearing a white shirtflee from the vehicle on foot, heading east through a field toward Hamilton Road.
The officer then traveled east on Route 6N and observed a white male walking along a fence line near a residence at the intersection with Hamilton Road. As the officer pulled into the driveway of the Washington Township residence, he was flagged down by the homeowner and informed that someone had just stolen his ATV.
The officer attempted to pursue the individual in a side-by-side but was unsuccessful in locating him. The individual was described as a white male wearing a white shirt.
Shortly after, it was reported that a white male wearing a white shirt robbed a vehicle owner at gunpoint at a residence on Crane Road. The male stole a white 2013 Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck and fled west.
The Nissan Sentra was towed to PSP Girard and the body of a deceased male was found in the trunk of the vehicle. The victim was identified as Welden, whose autopsy was scheduled at the Erie County Coroner's Office today at noon. The autopsy results were not available as of press time.
Information obtained during Wednesday's manhunt revealed Potthoff was later seen near Mindi Court Trailer Park in Harborcreek Township. An extensive search was conducted, but yielded negative results.
Information was reported to PSP Corry that Potthoff arrived at a Columbus Township residence on Route 6 in a red pickup truck. The truck was registered to Burick, who lived on Dynes Avenue in Harborcreek Township, a short distance from the last reported sighting of Potthoff in Mindi Court.
Troopers said information was developed, which resulted in the activation of Special Emergency Response Team (SERT) to search the Columbus residence on Route 6. The search yielded negative results.
State police later learned the suspect had entered another Columbus Township residence on Center Road sometime between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday. The individual removed keys from a table, entered a garage and fled the area in a blue 2012 Jeep Liberty.
At about 6:06 p.m. Wednesday, PSP Erie responded to Burick's residence for a welfare check after he was reported missing and likely the victim of foul play in reference to this incident.
On Thursday, information was received from news and social media posts resulting in a witness providing video evidence of Burick operating his truck in the Harborcreek area with a young white male passenger, suspected to be Potthoff. Area canvassing for more video surveillance is continuing.
A possible site for Burick’s body was developed and troopers began searching for him at 11 p.m. on Thursday.
Troopers discovered Burick's body while checking a state game land on Calkins Road in Greenfield Township after they found tire tracks leading from the parking lot into nearby woods.
In concurrence with the Erie County District Attorney's Office, Potthoff will be charged today with criminal homicide for both victims as well as numerous related charges including aggravated assault, kidnapping, abuse of corpse, firearm not to be carried without license, fleeing and eluding, multiple burglaries, thefts and possession of a weapon.
Police believe a black Plinkerton .22 caliber revolver was the weapon Potthoff used to murder Welden, and that gun was found on the front passenger side floor of the Nissan, according to an affidavit of probable cause.
The affidavit states Potthoff moved Welden's body into the trunk of the Nissan and drove the vehicle with the victim in the trunk numerous times in a 24-hour period.
Erie County Deputy Coroner John Maloney made an initial examination of Welden, who appeared to have trauma to his body and was folded to fit within the trunk, and a shovel was found beside the victim, according to the affidavit.
Potthoff was arraigned before District Judge Scott Hammer on Thursday evening. He was committed to Erie County Prison and denied bail since he was charged with homicide.
A preliminary hearing for Potthoff has tentatively been scheduled for 10 a.m. July 2 before Hammer.
Through PSP's investigation, Cameron James Zimmerman, 24, of Union City, was identified as an accomplice to Potthoff.
The affidavit states Zimmerman was in the passenger seat of the Nissan at the time of the attempted traffic stop in Edinboro and he was aware of a dead body in the trunk because Potthoff said he had shot Welden.
Zimmerman told police Welden's murder occurred at Potthoff's parents house in the 8600 block of Route 89 in North East and added Potthoff showed him the body in the trunk on Wednesday.
Police charged Zimmerman with abuse of corpse, a second-degree misdemeanor, and he was committed to Erie County Prison in lieu of $20,000 bail set by District Judge Chris MacKendrick.
Zimmerman's preliminary hearing has been scheduled for 10 a.m. July 2 before MacKendrick.
The PSP Troop E Major Case Team investigation continues today with numerous interviews to complete the timeline of events and locate the Chevrolet Silverado, which is still missing.
Prior to Wednesday's incidents, the city of Erie Police Department charged Potthoff on Saturday, June 13, with attempted criminal homicide, a first-degree felony; firearms not to be carried without a license, a third-degree felony; and possessing instruments of a crime, a first-degree misdemeanor, and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
The charges are from an incident that occurred in 900 block of Chestnut Street in the city of Erie where police were dispatched for a report of shots fired at about 11:18 p.m. on June 11, according to a different affidavit of probable cause.
Moments later, Erie County Dispatch advised police that a male on scene had been shot and officers found the victim on the ground at the intersection of 10th and Chestnut streets with one gunshot wound to the abdomen, the affidavit states.
The victim told police he had been shot by Potthoff after an argument over keys to a vehicle, and officers located one 9mm shell casing in front of 923 Chestnut St., according to the affidavit.
Police spoke to multiple witnesses at the scene who corroborated the victim's statement of being shot by Potthoff, the affidavit states.