Please note: This article is published as an archive copy from Philadelphia City Paper. My City Paper is not affiliated with Philadelphia City Paper. Philadelphia City Paper was an alternative weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The last edition was published on October 8, 2015.

March 11-17, 2004

pretzel logic

New Age Mystery

The New Age Apartment buildings in West Philadelphia are not palaces by any means. But in a desolate neighborhood four blocks north of Market Street, they are a hell of a lot better than most of the surrounding structures.

It is not architecture, however, that is most notable about the building at 420 N. 41st St.

Jena Tadrzynski, a 24-year-old woman police say had just begun to dabble in prostitution, may have spent the last hours of her life in an apartment on the third floor there, and now a resident of that building has been arrested on charges of dumping of her lifeless, naked body in a pile of refuse at a Bridesburg trash-transfer station.

The man was turned in by his roommate -- a guy he met playing Frisbee golf.

Ralph Pitt and Charles Suarez-Penn became such good friends at Sedgley Woods -- nestled in Fairmount Park near the Smith Playground, it is one of the nation’s first and certainly most revered Frisbee golf courses -- that Pitt recently agreed to share Suarez-Penn’s apartment.

That friendship probably ended Feb. 27, when Suarez-Penn told investigators that he saw Pitt kill Tadrzynski almost three weeks earlier. Acting on Suarez-Penn’s statement, police arrested Pitt that night and charged him with abuse of corpse and drug possession. Pitt, according to homicide investigators, denied killing Tadrzynski but admitted that he "panicked" and dumped her body.

Investigators say Pitt had picked up Tadrzynski outside her Frankford apartment on Feb. 7 and went back with her to West Philly. There, they used the drug Ativan -- which Pitt told police he stole from his employer, the Excellerx Pharmacy in Center City -- and had sex.

Pitt told investigators that when he left for work two days later, Tadrzynski was still alive, but when he returned that evening, she was dead.

She was found naked and strangled the next day.

Suarez-Penn told investigators that Pitt chose to dump Tadrzynski in Bridesburg because he was familiar with the area. Suarez-Penn added that he had no information about Pitt’s involvement in any other deaths. Tadrzynski was one of three women whose bodies were found dumped in the area. While there has been rampant speculation about a serial killer on the loose, police say they have their doubts about whether the deaths of Tadrzynski, Charisse Eschert, 28, and Karen Lynn DeWitt, 31, are related.

People who know Pitt and Suarez-Penn are shocked.

"Ralphie and Chuck are both nice, friendly guys," says one fellow Frisbee golfer, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Neither has ever done anything that would lead me to think they are violent."

Pitt "is a big dude, maybe 6-foot-2, 280 pounds, but polite, shy and has a stutter.

Suarez-Penn is "about 6 feet tall, weighs about 175 pounds and kind of a wiseass with a young daughter from a former girlfriend," says the friend.

Pitt is black. Suarez-Penn is white. Both like good dark beers, says the friend. And video games. "Ralph is sort of a neo-Deadhead, traveling to see the newer jam bands like Phish and RatDog," says the friend. "Chuck is supposedly a pretty good chess player."

News of Pitt’s arrest severely upset Philadelphia’s small, close-knit Frisbee golf community.

"Please tell me you’re kidding," one member of the Yahoo newsgroup for Friends of Sedgley Woods posted on March 3.

"Note to RP -- our thoughts & prayers are with you," posted another.

"I have been in contact with Ralph and his Mom for about a week now," a third member posted. "Ralph is in remarkably good spirits and is very optomistic [sic] about prevailing on the charges brought against him." The same individual later cautioned others from mentioning the incident because "those who post on the topic are likely to receive a subpoena by the D.A."

By March 5, tensions began to flare on the newsgroup.

"RESPECT?" one member wrote. "While I sincerely hope RP gets out of this with as little incarceration & financial damage as possible -- what about the RESPECT for the lifeless, decaying body that was presumably tossed over his shoulder … and discarded on a trash heap in a sleazy part of town? You want RESPECT? Keep your name out of the newspaper for nefarious deeds and you’ll get the respect due."

That post was met with anger.

"God forbid someone in your family gets arrested for a crime … and it gets printed in the newspaper," one Frisbee golfer responded. "Then people can post all about it all over the internet and we’ll see how YOU feel."

How do Pitt and Suarez-Penn feel?

Wish I could tell you.

The public defender’s office, which represents Pitt, is refusing comment. Efforts to reach Suarez-Penn, through a visit to his apartment, a telephone call and an e-mail, were unsuccessful.

This much I can say:

Jena Tadrzynski doesn’t get to say how she feels. Her death is a tremendous loss for her family.

No matter what happens, Pitt’s life will never be the same. He is being held at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility on $200,000 bond and has a preliminary hearing at the Criminal Justice Center on March 24.

As for Suarez-Penn, three days after Pitt allegedly dumped the body, he withdrew from Drexel, where he was learning to be a teacher.

Last week, a pile of boxes, trash bags and a baby stroller were heaped outside apartment No. 3. Like Pitt and Suarez-Penn, it was awaiting an uncertain future.



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