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Wholaver murder case subject of TV true crime network episode

By Dan Miller

Posted 12/26/18

By Dan Miller, danmiller@pressandjournal.comSixteen years ago perhaps the most notorious crime in Middletown history took place, when Ernest R. Wholaver Jr. killed his wife Jean and the …

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Wholaver murder case subject of TV true crime network episode


On Christmas Eve 2002, the most notorious crime in recent Middletown history took place when Ernest R. Wholaver Jr. killed his wife, Jean, and the couple’s two daughters, Victoria and Elizabeth, inside their borough home.

Now, the slaying is the subject of a recent episode aired by the true crime television network Oxygen.

The episode titled “Silent Night, Lethal Night” aired Dec. 16 as part of the Oxygen series “Homicide for the Holidays.” The episode still can be viewed by going to the Oxygen website at

The episode includes excerpts of an interview with Dauphin County District Attorney Fran Chardo, who prosecuted the case against Wholaver in 2004. Also appearing in the piece is former Middletown police Detective David Sweitzer, who received awards recognizing his work investigating the Wholaver case. Jean’s sister, Michelle Bittman Lilley, is interviewed, as well as Robert Givler, now of the Royalton Police Department, who was first on the scene as a Middletown officer in 2002.

Wholaver, now 58, in 2004 was sentenced to death three times after being convicted of all three slayings by a Dauphin County jury.

Wholaver in July 2002 had been charged with several sexual offenses for alleged conduct involving his two daughters. After those charges were filed, Jean Wholaver obtained a protection from abuse order. Wholaver left the house and moved into the residence of his mother, father and brother Scott in Cambria County.

Wholaver was to go on trial for the sexual offenses involving his daughters in January 2003. Shortly after midnight on Dec. 24, 2002, Wholaver broke into his former residence in Middletown and shot and killed Jean, Victoria and Elizabeth.

Besides the three death penalty murder convictions, Wholaver was also found guilty in 2004 of plotting to hire a hitman to kill Victoria’s ex-boyfriend. He was found not guilty of the charges that he molested Victoria and Elizabeth.

In January 2018, Wholaver exhausted his appeals at the state level when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court handed down a decision affirming the death penalty convictions.

Wholaver is on death row. He is continuing to pursue his appeals through the federal courts. In addition, the moratorium against all executions in Pennsylvania that Gov. Tom Wolf declared in 2015 remains in effect.

In May 2013, the Wholaver case was featured in an episode of “Nightmare Next Door” on the Investigation Discovery Channel.