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Schuylkill County cold case makes national television

It was a case that haunted Schuylkill County for years: the death of a teenager, with no explanation. His story was recently the subject of a true-crime TV episode.

SCHUYLKILL HAVEN, Pa. — Corporal Robert Betnar remembers the moment well. 

It was 2008, and a suspect was finally arrested - 23 years after the death of a 13-year-old boy from Schuylkill Haven. 

At the time of his arrest, 43-year-old Joseph Geiger told reporters, "I didn't do it."

He would later admit he was the one who delivered the blow that left David Reed dead in the woods in 1985.

"People thought that a harder look needed to be taken at Joe Geiger, which we eventually did," said Cpl. Betnar.

"We always had a feeling that Joe Geiger had something to do with it, but now we had the proof. We knew 100%," said David's cousin, Pam Russell.

In August of 1985, the 13-year-old went out for a bike ride in his neighborhood in Schuylkill Haven and never returned home.

His body wasn't found until four months later, badly decomposed, in the woods near his house.

David's killer is the one who led police to the body. Geiger, who was 20 at the time, told detectives his dog had been bringing bones home from the woods. Those bones belonged to the boy Geiger had buried four months earlier.

"Truth is stranger than fiction sometimes. Certainly for the killer to be on TV looking like he's assisting the investigation, yeah, that's pretty unbelievable," said Cpl. Betnar.

An autopsy concluded Reed died from natural causes - possibly undiagnosed diabetes. With no witnesses, no evidence, and no cause of death, Reed's case went cold. 

But police knew there was more to the story - an investigator says so in the 'Cold Case Files' episode.

It wasn't until 2005 when Cpl. Betnar took over the case that the family finally started getting some answers. 

"It was a cold case for a reason. So not much progress had been made. We decided to re-do the entire investigation from scratch."

"It had been so long, and it almost felt like it was forgotten," Reed's cousin, Pam Russell, said. "And then when he came along, we had new hope."

Through interviews, and forensic technology not available in the 80s, Betnar was able to link Joe Geiger to Reed's death. He admitted to punching Reed in the face during an argument over marijuana while they were sitting in a parked caboose near the woods. Geiger accused the teen of stealing his pot plants. Reed fell and hit his head on a metal wall. Instead of calling 911, Geiger dragged the teen into the woods.

"It's always gonna hurt, and there's always gonna be that hole there. But at least now we know, and David can rest peacefully," Russell said.

David's family, and Corporal Betnar, are glad the story is getting national attention. 

"I hope the TV show honors David's memory, and does the family justice and gives hope to people out there who have unsolved cold cases that these difficult cases can be brought to a successful resolution," Cpl. Betnar said.

"Because it went so long without anyone knowing what actually happened to Dave," said Russell. "It just gets the story out there because he can't speak for himself."

Geiger is a free man now. He pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and served two years behind bars.

The 'Cold Case Files' episode is titled 'The Bone Keeper,' in reference to Geiger collecting the bones of the boy he killed.

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