Mom Lashes Out At Murder Figure In Probe Of Donna Willard's Death

Posted: May 10, 1990

Marian Wolf said she wasn't surprised at all that attorney Robert B. Burke has become a central figure in the investigation into the execution-style murder of her daughter, Donna Willard, in her Southwest Philadelphia home.

Burke has been charged with eight counts of obstructing justice in a federal grand jury probe into insurance fraud. One of the potential witnesses against him was Donna Willard, who the FBI said was threatened by Burke that she'd get a pair of bullets in the head if she didn't lie for him.

Burke hasn't been charged in the murder. No one has.

Donna Willard was scheduled to appear before the grand jury March 14 but on March 6, she answered a knock at her front door and a man whose face was covered with what could have been black shoe polish shoved his way in and shot her twice in the back of the head as she attempted to run upstairs.

Her three children - Todd, 12, Donna, 10, and Jessica, 6 - were in their bedrooms when their mother answered the door.

Marian Wolf said last night her daughter was afraid of Burke ever since she knew she was going to testify before the grand jury.

Burke had represented her daughter and a male friend in an insurance case after their car was struck from behind by a truck outside Wildwood in 1985.

"Donna went to see a physical therapist a few times," said Marion Wolf. ''After that, she told the lawyer (Burke) that she didn't want to be connected with the case anymore and he gave her a personal check for $10,000 and said she was out."

Marian Wolf said Donna's male friend had contacted Burke in the first place to take the case. She said they never knew what the friend received in settlement. Donna lost contact with the man after that.

When the subpoena came, Donna called Burke and told him she was going to testify truthfully. Marian Wolf said soon after, the lawyer called her daughter and had her meet him. She said he took Donna to see a doctor in Fishtown.

"He told her to say she had seen this doctor so many times," the mother said. "She told him she wouldn't do that. Donna told me she was scared when (Burke) and the doctor went into a back room and started whispering. She said she walked outside because she felt safer."

In an affidavit filed in federal court, an FBI agent said eight different people represented by Burke in insurance cases said the lawyer told them to falsely claim they had been treated by a doctor in Fishtown.

She said the first time Donna talked to federal agents about the insurance fraud investigation, she came home and told her she had just signed her own death warrant.

"I thought it was just talk," said Marian Wolf. "I knew it was serious but you don't think about murder. Murder happens to someone else."

Burke will appear in federal court this afternoon in a hearing to determine if he will be held without bail. The assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case has called the lawyer a threat to the community who poses a risk of flight.

"He better not be let out," said Marian Wolf, who has been trying to gain legal custody of her daughter's children.

She said the children have been nervous and scared since their mother's murder and are seeing a family therapist at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. She said the bills are piling up and she can't get medical coverage for the children without custody papers.

In the meantime, though, she will be in federal court this afternoon with other family members, including her daughter Joan, who at 30 was four years younger than Donna but was practically a twin in physical appearance.

Marian Wolf said it will be the first time she's ever seen Burke.

"I want to see him and I want him to see me," she said. "I want him to see Joan, too, because it will be like forcing him to look at Donna again."

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