Saturday, October 1, 2011

Sunday's Obituary - Remembering Nancy

A electronic scrapbook page Nancy created and linked to me.  This is her as a little girl.

It's been a year since something horrible happened.  I previously wrote about how my cousin, Nancy O'Donoghue nee Brown, still didn't have a tombstone at her grave.  Well, today marks the anniversary of her death.  I'll never forget how I found out about it either.

My Uncle Ed reads the hometown news online even though he now lives on Oahu.  He saw an obituary for Nancy and emailed my mother asking if this was one of the cousins I'd found doing my genealogy research.  My mom forwarded the link to me telling me how sorry she was.  I had just talked to Nancy by email less than a month earlier and seeing a news article about her murder was surreal.  I starred at the page on my computer and although I read it, I didn't really take it in.  It wasn't her.  Why were they sending this to me?  Then it finally sank in.  It was her.  My sweet, sweet cousin was gone.  Murdered by her husband.  That's not a shock you get over and I cried sporadically for several days whenever I thought about it.

I'm not saying that I was close with my cousin.  I'd met her once and communicated with her sporadically.  We both enjoyed genealogy research and we'd found each other researching the same line through an message board.  Then Nancy suggested that we meet up the next time I came back to Pennsylvania.  I took her up on it.  We met at the Knotty Pines restaurant (a local, Hazleton, PA landmark that is now a parking lot).  My mom came with me, as did my husband and oldest son.  We talked about our families, genealogy, and exchanged information.  She even went with us to Saint Gabriel's cemetery to visit family plots.  Sounds boring to non-genealogists, but it was a special memory for me.  And Nancy was one of the sweetest, kindest people I had ever met.  I felt like I had known her for years!  If it hadn't been for Nancy, I would still have a fairly large chunk of my Brown family missing from my tree.

I had felt like I had finally contributed something significant to our tree when I located the grave of our common Brown ancestor.  The grave of Neil and Nancy Brown (nee McCoy) was something we had both been looking for.  I excitedly took pictures and sent an email to her complete with directions on how she could find it.  She was excited and said that she looked forward to being able to visit it the next time she got up to Hazleton from Newark, DE.

She also talked about how she was hurting and had stopped going up and down stairs as much as possible.  I asked how bad she was feeling (my memory is always horrible and I couldn't remember what it was that caused her pain).  Nancy brushed off the question cheerfully.  She was just fine.  She changed the subject to digital scrapbooking and her grandkids.  It was the last I communicated with her.

I don't know why her husband did what he did. She never, ever spoke ill of her husband.  She always spoke fondly of him, her children and grandchildren.  It was clear that he was the love of her life, so hearing the news of her murder was particularly shocking.  I immediately began rationalizing what had happened.

"Hazleton native accuse of killing sleeping wife

Lucille Sukel of Hazleton couldn't understand why her high school classmates weren't returning her e-mails, as they talked every day.

She hadn't heard from Hazleton natives Michael J O'Donoghue and his wife, the former Nancy Brown, in three days, she said.  On Tuesday morning, Sukel found out why.

Michael O'Donoghue, 68, was charged with first-degree murder of his 67-year-old wife, Nancy, in their Newark, Del., home.

O'Donoghue called police early Monday morning - two days after shooting his wife in the back of the head as she was lying in bed, Delaware Online reported.

Police found Nancy O'Donoghue in a second-floor bedroom with bullet wounds and severe blunt force trauma to her head.

Michael O'Donoghue told police that he shot his sleeping wife twice with a small-caliber handgun from his night stand, court papers said.  He also took a hatchet from the garage into the bedroom, in case the gun did not kill his wife, court papers said.

O'Donoghue told police he may have struck his wife in the head with the hatchet after he shot her, investigators said.  He then got into bed and held her, court papers said.  Police recovered a gun and a hatchet in the home.

He is also charged with possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony and possession of a deadly weapon during the commission of a felony.

Nancy (center) at the Knotty Pines
The news shocked friends who graduated in 1960 from St. Gabriel's High School with the couple, leaving them with more questions than answers, Sukel said.

"I have been on the phone with classmates all morning," she said.  "They loved each other very much.  This is the most unexpected thing.  We're in shock."

Sukel remained very close to the couple, despite the miles between them, she said.

"If she was going out shopping, I knew it," Sukel said.

She became concerned when neither answered the e-mails - the last sent Monday night.  Then, Tuesday morning, another classmate learned about the murder and word reached Sukel.

"We're all just astounded," she said.  "None of us could make any sense out of [sic]

Sukel worked with the couple to plan their 50th high school reunion, which was held in June.  The O'Donoghues were on the reunion committee, and Nancy had received a special award for all her hard work on the event, Sukel said.

Michael, who was known to friends as "Jay," had worked as an accountant, and Nancy as a nurse, she said.

Another of Nancy's scrapbook pages (her father)
"Both were retired.  They were happy and contented," Sukel said.

She wishes she could drive to Delaware to ask her friend what happened and why, questions to which she may never know the answers.

Delaware Online, an online edition of The News Journal of Wilmington, contributed to this story., 570-455-3636"

Published in the Citizens Voice on October 6, 2010

That was the news article.  Her obituary reads much better:

"Nancy O'Donoghue, 67, of Newark, Del., passed away Saturday at her residence.

Born in Hazleton, she was the daughter of the late James and Martha Brown.

Nancy was a graduate of St. Gabriel's High School in 1960 and worked as a registered nurse prior to her retirement.

Another of Nancy's scrapbook pages (her parent's wedding)
Preceding her in death, in addition to her parents, was her son, Patrick.

Surviving are her husband, Michael J.; sons, Dr. Michael and his wife Merih, Maryland; and James and his wife, Catie, Delaware; brothers, William and his wife, Barbara, North Carolina; and James, Arizona; and eight grandchildren.  Several nieces, nephews and cousins also survive.

Friends are invited to attend a Mass of Christian Burial on Saturday at 11 a.m. at Holy Annunciation Parish at St. Gabriel's Church, Hazleton.

Interment will follow at the parish cemetery.

Friends may call at the church from 10 a.m. until the time of the service.

Fierro Funeral Services Inc. is in charge of the arrangements."

Published in the Hazleton Standard-Speaker, October 7, 2010

Today marks the 1st anniversary of Nancy's loss.  It is still unbelievable.  Unreal.  I don't personally know her children or her husband.  I can only imagine what they've been going through and what they are about to go through.  Her husband's trial is set for the first week of November.  I know that it means more news will be out there.  Maybe something to help piece together as to how and why this could have happened, but my thoughts turn to her children and what they are going through.  To have lost their mother, and to see their father on trial for killing her.  It's got to be tearing them up inside.

I don't hold any animosity toward her husband "Jay" either.  I don't know why he killed her, but to have done it in the manner he did and then hold her for so long before calling the police?  My mind wanders to her telling me that she was hurting.  Was it bad enough that he thought he was helping her?  I can't believe that either.  They were both Catholic.  To take a life or to ask that your life be taken is damnable and they would know that.  Would believe that.  I cannot conceive of Nancy asking her husband to do something that would damn him, or her.  So even when I try to make sense of it all, it makes less sense.

I hope that her family is granted the strength they need to make it through all this and to make sure that fond memories are preserved like the beautiful pages in Nancy's scrapbooks.  A beautiful woman.  Never to be forgotten.

[Photos and scrapbook pages used in this blog were either taken by me or shared with me by Nancy.  Most pictures have been cropped to focus solely on Nancy.]


Is it odd to update a post before it's published?  I had this post written and scheduled to go out and something unbelievable happened.  Nancy's husband just died.  Just a few days before the anniversary of her death.  I don't know why I'm angry.  As I stated before, I'm not angry at him necessarily.  I'm angry at what he was so senseless.  Maybe I'm angry because now we'll never know why.  The trial would have been in a month and I wanted to know why.  Ah well.  Here's his obituary:

"Michael "Jay" O'Donoghue of Newark, Del., and formerly of Hazleton, passes away on Wednesday at Heartland House Hospice, Wilmington, Del.

Forn in Hazleton, he was the son of the late Michael E. and Lucille (Sargent) O'Donoghue.

Jay was a graduate of St. Gabriel's High School.

Preceding him in death, in addition to his parents, were his wife, the former Nancy Brown, and their son, Patrick.

Surviving are his sons, Michael and wife, Merih, Maryland; and James and wife, Catie, Delaware.  Eight grandchildren and several nieces and nephews also survive.

Friends are invited to attend a Mass of Christian Burial on Saturday at 11 a.m. in Holy Annunciation Parish at St. Gabriel's Church, Hazleton.  Interment will follow in the parish cemetery.  The family will receive guests in the church from 10 a.m. until the time of Mass.

Fierro Funeral Service Inc., Hazleton, is handling the arrangements.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the Heartland House Hospice in Wilmington, Del."

Published in the Hazleton Standard Speaker 30SEP2011


  1. I'm at a loss for words. Tragic, from beginning to end. Sorry for your loss.

  2. My heart goes out to you and your family.

  3. Wow, this is so terrible. I was depressed for awhile when a fellow researcher and cousin (whom I hadn't even met in person) died of cancer. I can't imagine...

  4. I was a family friend of the O'Donoghues and loved them very dearly,

    It is hard to comprehend how or why someone could do this to someone that they loved. I have theorized why he murdered her, and what I want to believe is the reason that he murdered her. As you said, she was in a lot of pain. Her prior profession, being a house hospice, lead her to help many families deal with dying and dead loved ones. Maybe with that being in mind she asked him to help her (that being the nicest way to put it).

    Jay was diagnosed with cancer as well and had to have known his days were limited. Could he have murdered his wife to "help her" and to sacrifice the last days of his life in jail? Who knows, and we will never know. It seems like it is a very horrible, evil thing to do. Not mentioning the way he did it. Shooting her is one thing, but the hatchet seems nothing less than cruel. According to police reports he said he wanted to make sure she was dead so he used the hatchet. Was this so that his wife would not wake up and feel pain, so that Nancy could die fast and not be in any pain? I don't know.

    I want to believe that is the case. That, in some crazy way he was trying to help her. As a Christian I believe murder is wrong. I do not defend Jay- but from knowing Nancy I know she was in excruciating pain every day of her life.

    This comment is quite random- I was thinking about them and decided to Google their names to see if anything would come up, and that is where I found this blog and this post.

    On a more positive note I loved them both very much. Some of the best memories I have with Nancy was making crafts in their basement and looking through scrapbooks she made. I loved looking at Jay's Hess truck collection and having a great conversation with them both... and about Notre Dame football!

    This was a great post, thank you for keeping her memory going.