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2 Men Charged in Upstate Home Invasion Murder of Inwood Violinist: Police

By Lindsay Armstrong | August 22, 2014 5:05pm | Updated on August 22, 2014 10:50pm
 Mary Whitaker, 61, was found dead on Wednesday, August 20th.
Mary Whitaker, 61, was found dead on Wednesday, August 20th.
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Westchester Philharmonic

MANHATTAN — Upstate police arrested and charged two homeless men in connection with the home invasion murder and robbery of an Inwood violinist Wednesday, authorities said.

Jonathan Conklin, 43, and Charles R. Sanford, 30, who are believed to live on the streets of Erie City, broke into the home of Mary Whitaker, 61, in Chautaqua County, looking to rob the place, local law enforcement said.

Whitaker was shot in the chest and leg during the break in and left for dead while the two men made off with her credit cards and car, according to Chautauqua County Sheriff Joseph Gerace.

They were spotted on security camera using the card in an Erie City convenience store and arrested the day after two of Whitaker's colleagues found her in her home after being unable to reach her by phone.

Whitaker lived on West 218th Street and played for the Westchester Philharmonic, but she also played with another orchestra at the Chautauqua Institute, police and colleagues said.

Whitaker’s house sat on the border of Sherman and Westfield, both small towns near Lake Erie. Gerace described the area as a very peaceful place.

“It’s very rural, a very tight-knit community, very low crime, especially violent crime,” he said.

The sheriff’s office was partnering with a local branch of the FBI, the Erie City Police and the New York State Police on the case.  

Whitaker was an accomplished musician who performed for many summers with the upstate orchestra and regularly with the New York City Opera Touring Company. She worked with Barbra Streisand during her 2006-'07 tour, according to her profile with the philharmonic. 

News of Whitaker’s death sent shockwaves through the musical community.

Joshua Warby, the executive director of the Westchester Philharmonic, said he was stunned by the news.

“We’re talking about a human being who was incredibly beloved by everyone who knew her,” Worby said. “She was gentle and strong and generous and wise… We loved her and we’re going to miss her.”

A neighbor at Whitaker's Inwood home described her as a friendly and loving person

"We have a 4-year-old toddler who Mary was completely in love with," said Bill Warner, who became friends with her during his four years living in the building. "She was a very friendly person. Really patient, really outgoing. This was a total shock."