What began as a film of testimonials about a murdered Blairsville dentist turned into a book about the dentist, his estranged wife, the police officer convicted of his death and the DNA methods used at the trial.
Andrea Niapas, of Ligonier, is the author of “Death Needs Answers: The Cold-Blooded Murder of Dr. John Yelenic,” self-published this month through Grelin Press in New Kensington.
A book-launch party and discussion is planned for 5 p.m. Wednesday at the Christine Fr￩chard Gallery in Pittsburgh.
“We never let victims be forgotten,” Niapas said. “Even the Marines say we leave no man behind. This is a lesson, this is a life lesson.”
Niapas primarily works in documentary-style films and specializes in early women aviators. But as part of her concern with victim advocacy, she films family and friends of homicide victims as they remember their loved one.
That’s how the book began.
Niapas said she read a newspaper article about the death of Dr. John Yelenic, a Blairsville dentist who was left to bleed to death from slash wounds in his home on April 13, 2006.
She reached out to his family, and started filming in early 2007. At the time no one had been charged.
“The family was so frustrated and disgusted, the case was turning cold,” she said.
But the investigation did move forward, and in September of that year state Trooper Kevin Foley was charged with the murder.
He was convicted in 2009.
“I was pretty much in the thick of things,” she said.
The first six chapters of her book focus on lives of each of the main people involved: Yelenic; his estranged wife, Michele Yelenic; and Foley, who was dating Michele Yelenic at the time.
“I look at what are they about, what makes them tick, how were they brought up? I always go back to where these people come from,” she said.
Niapas writes about how all three met, then about the murder and subsequent trial.
The book includes a chapter from Dennis Vaughn, a college friend of Yelenic. It also includes a chapter by Dr. Mark Perlin, chief executive and chief scientific officer of Cybergenentics out of Pittsburgh, who analyzed the DNA found under Yelenic’s fingernails and testified at the trial. Perlin’s chapter discusses the more scientific elements of the analysis.
Niapas said she hopes readers take away a warning from the book.
“If you’re in a situation and if you can get out of it early on, get yourself out of it, walk away, cut your losses if you can,” she said.
The book is available on Amazon.com.