Murderer’s Former Home Focus of Search for Father, Missing Since ’93

Whether the remains of Edward Fonder III will ever be found is unknown, but Bucks County authorities say the search for them will go on, in spite of his daughter’s death.

Fonder’s daughter Mary Jane Fonder has long been suspected in her father’s 1993 disappearance from their home in the 3100 block of Winding Lane in Springfield Township.

Credit: Office of the Bucks County District Attorney

Convicted Bucks County murderer Mary Jane Fonder, in an undated prison photo. Fonder died at age 75 on June 4, 2018, while serving a life sentence for the first degree murder of Rhonda Smith at SCI-Muncy.

Convicted in 2008 of the murder of Hellertown resident Rhonda Smith in Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Pleasant Valley, Mary Jane Fonder died Monday at age 75 of natural causes in State Correctional Institute-Muncy, where she was serving a life sentence for first degree murder.

Fonder had been incarcerated at Muncy since December 2008, when Bucks County Common Pleas Court Judge Rea B. Boylan sentenced her for the murder of Smith, 42, who was working as a receptionist in the office of the Springfield Township church when she was killed on Jan. 23, 2008.

Fonder had become infatuated with their pastor at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, and when he showed no interest in her, authorities said she wrongly perceived Smith as a rival for his affections and shot her as she worked alone at a desk one morning.

Fonder then drove to a hair appointment, and later tossed the murder weapon–a .38 caliber revolver–off an overpass into Lake Nockamixon.

The murder–which went unsolved for more than two months–caused widespread community concern, riveted the media’s attention and was the subject of at least two true crime documentaries and one book.

In recent weeks, Fonder’s name reappeared in the headlines as detectives renewed their search for her long-missing father. That search will continue despite her death, District Attorney Matthew D. Weintraub said Tuesday.

Edward Fonder III was 80 and taking heart medication when he vanished in August 1993 from the Kintnersville home he shared with his daughter.

He has never been found, and at the time of her death Mary Jane Fonder remained the only suspect in “his presumed demise,” Weintraub said.

Over the years, Fonder’s refusal to allow police to search the family’s property complicated the investigation into the elder Fonder’s disappearance. After her murder conviction, a surviving brother took the same stance, the district attorney said.

The Fonder property recently was sold, however, to a neighbor who has given investigators full access to the now-demolished house and surrounding land, the DA’s office said.

Detectives have since combed the 12-acre grounds with metal detectors and ground-penetrating radar.

“The search will continue because the District Attorney’s Office is still concerned about returning the remains to the family for closure and a proper burial,” Weintraub said.

Fonder was the oldest woman ever convicted of murder in Bucks County.

A chatty, eccentric woman given to outlandish wigs and petty jealousies, she was once described in court by her own attorney as “the aunt you don’t want to sit next to at Thanksgiving,” a news release from the DA’s office said.

“I’m sorry, so very sorry this poor woman was murdered,” she said at her 2008 sentencing. “But in the name of God…I did not kill Rhonda Smith.”

Within a year, however, Fonder had accepted responsibility for Smith’s murder. In prison interviews, she told reporters she didn’t remember shooting Smith, but acknowledged that she had to have been the killer.

Note: This story includes information from a news release from the Office of the Bucks County District Attorney.

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