Just last year, Valerie Waller said, she had asked Harrisburg's mayor for help in capturing the person who killed her 34-year-old brother, Thomas Waller. On Monday, she was in line to buy groceries when her nephew called to tell her that police had contacted him about the capture of the suspect, Joseph Lewis Miller, who was living more than 1,000 miles away in rural East Texas.
"I just broke down crying," Valerie Waller, 65, said. And when the register clerk looked concerned, "I told the young lady, 'These are happy tears; this is good news.'"
Authorities say Miller, who already had served time in prison for murder, fled Pennsylvania after shooting Thomas Waller in a parking lot outside the Times Hotel and Bar in 1981. He was charged with murder and three other felonies, but eluded authorities for three decades.
In recent weeks, a U.S. Marshals Service-led fugitive task force reviewed the case and quickly found Miller, now a 78-year-old church deacon receiving Social Security disability benefits and living quietly with a wife in tiny Mineola, Texas.
Miller surrendered and acknowledged his real identity, authorities said. It remains unclear how Miller eluded capture for so long.
Valerie Waller said Miller shot her brother to death after an argument inside the bar. Thomas Waller left with a friend and was sitting in the friend's car when Miller approached and tapped on Waller's window, she said. An arrest warrant was issued for Miller after he had fled.
Monday's arrest brought happiness, but it also hit hard, bringing back some difficult memories of the sadness and anguish of her brother's slaying, Waller said. After his death, every Christmas was a sad one.
"It wasn't a happy time for our family because all we could think of was our brother who was born on Christmas and was murdered," Waller said.