No last name was necessary when anyone spoke of the woman who lived at 122 Cobblestone Court in Alburtis.
Althea Walbert was a lifelong resident of the borough of 2,300 people where nobody can remember the last time there was a homicide. Or even if there ever was one.
Althea and her daughter, Jeanette, were pronounced dead in their home Friday morning. As yet nobody knows exactly when they died, or how, or who would harm an 82-year-old woman and her 59-year-old disabled daughter.
Lehigh County Coroner Scott Grim has scheduled an autopsy for Saturday that will determine the women's causes of death. He said Friday the manner of their deaths was homicide. State Police at Fogelsville are leading the investigation of the unspeakable atrocity that was on the lips of everyone in town.
Althea was seen about the streets of Alburtis often and always with Jeanette. Althea tended to her every need, friends and neighbors said.
What we do know is that Althea was a character, and that she was a regular customer at Frey’s Store on Franklin Street, not far from her home.
Owners Harold Frey and Rick Wurst remember her vividly, mostly because they saw her Thursday driving by with Jeanette.
Althea was Pennsylvania German, Wurst said, you could hear it when she spoke.
“She had a fairly thick accent. She lived here all her life. Her parents farmed the land around the house.”
They left her enough money to live very comfortably, but she didn’t trust banks, and over the years she sold off parcels of the land.
“She was not shy about letting people know she had money. She would pull a thick wad of cash out of her purse to make a purchase and she didn’t care who saw it,” he said.
At the same time, Frey said, her frugality was true to her German roots.
“She didn’t own a phone,” Wurst said, “She asked me why she should have a phone if the only thing to use it for was a neighbor calling to say it was snowing and she could look out her window and see it was snowing herself.”
Indeed, the car she drove was very old and she never dressed to impress, he added.
But she quickly set aside her thriftiness if ever she saw someone in need.
“If she saw someone in here who she knew was hungry, she would buy him a sandwich,” he said.
Her flamboyance with cash, however, was the root of some trouble about two years ago. Someone, knowing Althea kept her cash-filled purse in the trunk of her car, took a crowbar to it and wrinkled back the lid to get into the space.
About two months ago, there was a similar incident, Wurst said, which leads him to believe the deaths were the result of a robbery.
Althea raised Jeanette alone for as long as he knew them, Wurst said.
“I think her husband died of cancer long ago.”
And she endured some health problems herself awhile ago, he said, which was around the time that she asked several people in town whom she had known for many years if they would care for Jeanette if anything happened to her.
“She asked me and a lot of my friends,” Frey said, “She was a feisty lady, but likable.
Next door to Frey’s, Mary Ann Bohlen tried to talk about Althea, but choked back tears as she spoke.
Bohlen moved to Alburtis more than 30 years ago from Allentown because she wanted to be part of a tight-knit community. The borough is her haven.
“Alburtis is safe. It’s quaint. We don’t even have a traffic light. If I’ve been somewhere, I feel peaceful coming home. I can feel the tension of the city traffic melt away when I drive into Alburtis,” she said.
Everybody knew Althea, she said.
“It’s a folksy town. Everybody talks to everybody at the post office.
“Althea was frugal, but she was harmless. Nobody should have this happen to them.”
Bohlen spoke in short, halted words and sentences. She was at the Giant in Trexlertown when she and a friend heard that there had been somebody killed in Alburtis.
“We got out of there and came home right away to see who it was,” she said, “And then we saw all the police tape and news vehicles around her house. I’m so distracted I can’t get into anything,” she said, “This has really rocked Alburtis.
“Just two weeks ago I sat on a park bench and talked with Althea. You just never expect this in your own backyard.”