In September 2007, Dennis Donahue was arrested for the 1993 strangulation death of a Buffalo woman. Based on the latest DNA evidence, cold case investigators also implicated him in connection with two other murder cases with similar MOs: an unsolved case from 1975 and the alleged strangling murder of his ex-girlfriend’s daughter.
Read on to learn more about the details of these cases and Donahue’s role in each of them.
Who Is Dennis Donahue?
Dennis Donahue, also known as Dennis Donohue, was born on September 9, 1952.
Not much is known about his childhood or early adult years. But by the mid-2000s, Donahue had been living a seemingly quiet life of solitude in a South Buffalo neighborhood on Weyand Avenue for 15 years.
He worked as a local bartender at the Southside Grill, which was just a few blocks from his home, but he mostly kept to himself.
Unbeknownst to residents in the area, Donahue had some very dark secrets from his past.
A few of his former neighbors said that they noticed some strange things about him, but would not have suspected him of criminal activity.
“I have never seen him talking to anybody,” said a former neighbor, Jeff Kazmierczak. “Just real quiet, kind of a [loner].”
Another former neighbor, Roger Schwarzott, agreed, adding that “he was kind of a real keep-to-yourself kind of guy.”
Despite not having too many interactions with Donahue, Schwarzott also recounted a strange incident that he witnessed outside of Donahue’s home.
“Well, I remember one time there was a girl there and she came running outta the house,” Schwarzott recalled, “just afraid out of her gourd. I don’t know what he did, but she was deathly afraid when she came running out of the house.”
Judging by these descriptions, it seems pretty safe to say that Donahue may have been involved in some unpleasant situations that his neighbors were unaware of…that is, until investigators were able to link him to three murder cases that had previously gone cold.
Dennis Donahue Was Known for Having a Temper
In early 1993, Donahue was dating a woman named Lynn DeJac (later known as Lynn DeJac Peters), but their relationship was tumultuous from the beginning.
Donahue and DeJac would often get into explosive arguments due to his controlling and aggressive nature. It also didn’t help that they were both heavy drinkers.
DeJac had two children from a previous relationship, 13-year-old Crystallynn Girard and eight-year-old Edward Girard. Crystallynn would sometimes get caught in the middle of these arguments between Donahue and DeJac, in an attempt to protect her mother.
Donahue was known for getting jealous every time DeJac went out without him, and he constantly accused her of cheating on him. Sometimes the accusations were warranted, sometimes they weren’t. Unfortunately, in the end, it was her daughter Crystallynn who ended up paying the ultimate price.
What Happened the Night of Crystallynn’s Murder?
On the night of February 13, 1993, DeJac and Donahue attended a wedding together. DeJac had left Crystallynn alone that night, as she often did, to babysit her younger brother.
However, the couple got into an explosive argument and ended up leaving the wedding reception early.
According to DeJac, the night of the wedding was the absolute last straw in her short-lived relationship with Donahue. After just two months of dating, she decided to break things off with him, but he refused to let her go and started getting aggressive.
Apparently, a few days before the wedding, Donahue had hired someone to follow DeJac during a night out with a few of her girlfriends. He was very possessive of her, accusing her of cheating on him, and this made her furious.
“Truth of the matter,” DeJac admitted, “I was playing him.”
But it wasn’t in the way Donahue thought. DeJac wasn’t cheating on him; she was trying to extort a business deal out of him for a profit, so that she could become more financially stable and independent. It didn’t work.
After she tried to leave Donahue on that fateful night, she headed over to her mother’s bar where she also worked. He followed her there and continued to harass her in front of everyone who was present, including other patrons and workers. DeJac decided to leave the bar and go home, but Donahue continued to follow her.
“I’m not saying I was a saint,” DeJac told The Today Show in 2008.” I wasn’t a saint, by no means…I know what happened. No one else knows what happened as far as what our lives were like. I lived in a house that was six doors down from where I [worked]. I could literally see my home outside the window from where I worked.”
Fueled by alcohol, drugs, and rage, the argument continued as DeJac kept trying to get Donahue to leave her home. Around midnight, Crystallynn emerged from her bedroom, awakened by all of the commotion, and tried to help her mother call the police.
The first time, Donahue knocked the phone out of DeJac’s hand, but she was able to retrieve it and call 911. Donahue finally left the house. Afterward, DeJac told her daughter that she was going back to the bar and instructed her not to answer the door when the police arrived, because she “didn’t want to get in trouble” for leaving her underage daughter alone to care for her son.
While she was at the bar for the second time that night, Donahue showed up again, still reeling from the argument that occurred earlier in the evening. According to DeJac, Donahue started chasing her around the bar in a drunken rage at one point.
That night, she ran into an ex-boyfriend of hers named Michael Nichter. The two spent the rest of the evening together and were followed by an incredibly angry and jealous Donahue. Allegedly, at one point during the night, Donahue caught up with the pair and put a knife to Nichter’s throat, threatening to kill him, but then let him go.
Nichter then drove DeJac back to her house so that she could check on her kids. They arrived there around 4:30 a.m. When DeJac saw that both Crystallynn and Edward were sound asleep, she asked Nichter if she could spend the night at his place for her safety. Nichter acquiesced.
DeJac returned home around 2:30 p.m. the next day (Valentine’s Day), only to find her daughter’s cold, dead, and naked body (save for a pair of red socks on her feet) lying face up on her bed. Mortified, she called the police.
They took her in for questioning. Unbeknownst to DeJac, this was not a routine interrogation. She would become the primary suspect in her daughter’s brutal murder…and was convicted just a few short months later.
The Trial and Conviction of Lynn DeJac Peters
Lynn DeJac Peters was charged with second-degree murder for the death of her daughter.
It’s important to note that, during the trial, she became pregnant with twin boys and would later deliver in prison. She married the boys’ father, Chuck Peters, shortly after they were born, while she was serving her prison sentence.
Despite a glaring lack of evidence and the fact that Lynn had a solid alibi in this case, the prosecution was able to use her parental negligence and irresponsibility, along with her drinking habits, to paint a negative portrait of her in the minds of the jury.
In addition to discovering male DNA mixed in with Crystallynn’s own blood throughout several parts of her body, the original coroner’s report also stated that there were trace amounts of cocaine in her system—not enough to lead to a death by overdose, though.
Prosecutors tried to insinuate that Crystallynn was a drug addict. But, DeJac vehemently refuted this, calling it a defamation of her daughter’s character. She argued that Crystallynn was a good person and a model student who was on the honor roll at school.
In the beginning, the focus of the investigation was on Dennis Donahue, given DeJac’s description of his behavior that night. But after he successfully passed a polygraph test, detectives moved on.
Then a man named Wayne Hudson, who was charged for a crime he’d committed and was facing a life sentence in prison, agreed to testify in court that DeJac had confessed to him that she’d killed her daughter that night.
He claimed that the two of them were drinking at the bar later that night when Lynn DeJac allegedly told him that she’d killed Crystallynn.
Hudson received a lesser sentence in exchange for his testimony.
Ironically, the prosecution even called Donahue as a witness. In return for testifying in front of a grand jury during the highly publicized 1994 trial, Donahue was granted automatic immunity by the state of New York. That meant that even if he were found guilty of the heinous sexual assault and murder years later, he could never be investigated, put on trial, or convicted in this case.
Also see: Cindy Shank Wiki: Mom of 3 Gets 15-Year Sentence for Crimes Her Dead Ex-Boyfriend Committed
A Violent Serial Killer?
To further understand this convoluted case, it’s important to know that, years later, detectives were able to link Dennis Donahue to the unsolved murders of two other women in the Buffalo area.
At the behest of one of his fellow parishioners, Detective Dennis Delano of the New York City Police Department opened a full-scale investigation into Donahue for the 1993 murder of Joan Giambra.
Donahue was previously considered a person of interest in the case, but at the time, there wasn’t enough evidence to apprehend or convict him.
The Murder of Joan Giambra
By 2007, Detective Delano was already well known for exonerating several innocent people behind bars in some very high-profile cases. So when Trish Radzikowski saw him participating in a musical performance at her local church, she knew that she had to approach him.
Radzikowski’s sister, 42-year-old Joan Giambra, was found dead in her apartment about seven months after Crystallynn Girard’s murder, on September 9, 1993.
Giambra was found lying naked on her living room floor, sexually assaulted and strangled to death. The main difference in this case—other than the location of the body—was that her 11-year-old daughter, Kathleen Giambra, was also found naked, lying on top of her mother in a completely catatonic and almost comatose state.
Kathleen says she has no memory of exactly what happened to her or her mother that night.
Police initially suspected Joan’s estranged husband, Sam Giambra, as the murderer. A week before she was murdered, Joan had obtained divorce papers—and was planning to serve them to him soon.
However, since there wasn’t enough evidence back then to prove he did it, he was never charged.
Retrospective DNA testing found underneath Joan’s fingernail