WILKES-BARRE, Pa. Pharmacist Michael Kerkowski's short run as one of northeastern Pennsylvania's biggest drug dealers ended in a shallow grave on a hillside littered with bodies.
The 37-year-old Kerkowski had been missing a year when his corpse was discovered June 5, buried along with the remains of his girlfriend behind the home of a one-time bank robber he had once called his best friend. The couple had been strangled.
Farther down the hill on the ex-convict's property, investigators found the charred bones of at least three more people, whose identities are unknown.
The grisly discoveries surprised prosecutors, who had insisted for months that Kerkowski was on the lam to avoid being sentenced for selling thousands of doses of the painkillers OxyContin, Vicodin and Lorcet to addicts at his shop north of Wilkes-Barre.
And after a week of digging, police are worried they have something bigger on their hands.
"Is this some sort of a dumping ground for bodies? We don't know," said state Trooper Martin Connors. "Will we find more? We don't know."
Authorities have refused to say why Kerkowski and girlfriend Tammy Fassett were killed.
Investigators have been trying to learn more about Kerkowski's entanglements in the months before his death, and his connection to Hugo Selenski, 29, who has been jailed since the corpses were discovered at his Kingston Township home.
Selenski, who served seven years in federal prison for a 1994 bank robbery, has denied any involvement. Asked by a reporter whether he knew who buried the bodies, he said: "Nope."
Police have not charged him with the slayings. Instead, they have held him on charges that he robbed Kerkowski's father and persuaded the elder man that his missing son was still alive and in need of cash.
Investigators went to Selenski's home after being tipped off by an informant about where to find the bodies of Kerkowski and his girlfriend. The cause of the death of the three other people has not been established. All five corpses had been buried within the past year or two, police said.
Kerkowski's troubles began in April 2001, when he was charged with selling pills to an undercover trooper. A month later he was charged with involuntary manslaughter in the 2000 overdose death of a customer.