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Murder of Viola Manville by Mark Christie and wrongful conviction of Frank Sterling investigated on ID

Mugshot of Mark Christie
Mark Christie was eventually convicted of killing Viola Manville. Pic credit: Monroe County Sheriff’s Office

The Lake Erie Murders is in Rochester, New York, to investigate the brutal murder of grandmother Viola Manville, who was beaten to death by Mark Christie in 1988.

This case has a double tragedy in that an innocent man, Frank Sterling, spent nearly two decades in jail for the crime before new evidence revealed Christie was the true killer.

On November 29, 1988, 14-year-old Viola Manville was walking along a path by an abandoned railroad track near her home in Hilton, on the outskirts of Rochester, when she encountered teenage thug 16-year-old Mark Christie, who was armed with a pellet gun.

Christie would later admit to shooting the grandmother with the pellet gun and then hitting her with it. He then bludgeoned her to death with a railroad tie. He also partially undressed his victim to expose her to the cold, which he thought would hasten her death.

The police were left baffled by this senseless murder, but they ended up focusing their investigation on a truck driver called Frank Sterling.

Three years after the killing, the police interrogated Sterling for hours, just after he’d finished a busy shift. Sterling, tired and suggestible, actually admitted to killing Manville.

Despite retracting his confession and his lawyers arguing that he was coerced, Sterling was convicted of murder and sent to jail in 1992.

Tragically, the real killer struck again in 1994 when Christie kidnapped and murdered 4-year-old Kali Ann Poulton. He dumped the young girl’s remains into a coolant tank at the business where he worked.

Luckily, Christie was apprehended this time and was sent to prison. However, investigators still hadn’t connected him to the Manville killing.

DNA evidence exonerated Sterling and convicted Christie

It took nearly two decades before prosecutors finally allowed for a DNA evidence test in the Manville case, and the results were startling. Sterling was proved innocent and was finally released in 2010.

The new evidence put the already incarcerated Christie in the frame, and he was subsequently convicted on a second murder charge. Already serving 25 years for the Poulton murder, he had a further 20 years added on top, which means he won’t be eligible for parole until the 2040s.

On his release, Sterling moved to South Carolina and to rebuild his life after 18 years in prison; unfortunately, the time in jail took a heavy toll on his health, and he passed away in 2017 at the age of 53.

More from The Lake Erie Murders

Follow the links to read about more murders profiled on The Lake Erie Murders.

Teenager Debbie Gama was murdered by her high school English teacher, Raymond Payne, who used the 16-year-old as part of a sick sexual fantasy. He was sentenced to life in prison.

David Alexander Snow was one of Canada’s most dangerous killers. He kidnapped and murdered Ian and Nancy Blackburn after they found him squatting in their recreational home near Lake Erie. He then went on a violent crime spree, which took him across the country to British Columbia.

The Lake Erie Murders air at 8/7c on Investigation Discovery.

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