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Police: WWII veteran fatally beaten and home set on fire by son over cellphone

By RENATTA SIGNORINI | Tribune-Review, Greensburg, Pa. | Published: January 7, 2019

(Tribune News Service)— State police believe Douglas F. Novak beat his elderly father to death over a missing cell phone and then set his house on fire in an attempt to cover his tracks, according to court documents.

Authorities on Monday charged Novak, 40, with homicide in connection with the Dec. 20 death of Frank Novak, 92.

“He beat him with his … own hands and other blunt objects,” Trooper Steve Limani said. “It’s very difficult for someone that’s 92 years old to have to endure a beating for several hours. Subsequently, that’s what led to his demise.”

Novak has been held at the Westmoreland County Prison on $500,000 bail since his Dec. 21 arrest on arson and related offenses stemming from the fire on Courtview Drive, Hempfield, where he and his father lived. He now is being held without bail on the new charge.

Investigators were called to a house fire near Hannastown Golf Club around 9:15 p.m. and found Frank Novak dead lying in a bed. A witness told troopers he saw a man matching the description of the younger Novak standing inside facing a burning staircase after the fire call.

A state police fire marshal ruled the blaze an arson and said it started in the living and dining rooms. The fire didn’t spread to the elder Novak’s bedroom, which had its door closed, police reported.

The elder Novak had significant injuries all over his body, including bruises, cuts and broken fingers, troopers said. A forensic pathologist said he died from those injuries, not the fire, according to arrest papers.

“It appears that he had died because of trauma that he received from the beating,” Limani said.

The county coroner has not ruled on the cause and manner of death.

Douglas Novak was found early Dec. 21 at the intersection of Roseytown Road and Route 119 after someone reported a suspicious person to police. He admitted to beating his father Dec. 18 and setting the fire two days later, according to court papers. His mother was not home at the time.

The beating started during an argument over a cell phone, Limani said.

“For some reason, Douglas Novak believed Frank Novak, his father, had either hidden his phone or taken his phone and that’s where this whole argument stemmed from,” he said. “He believed that if he kept physically hurting his father, that he was going to get this information.”

He allegedly dragged his father’s body to where authorities would later find it.

“Subsequently, it appears that he tried to cover up this beating by setting fire to the home,” Limani said.

Novak’s defense attorney could not be reached Monday. Preliminary hearings are set for Jan. 15.

Frank Novak was a World War II Navy veteran who was well-liked by his Courtview Drive neighbors. He previously worked for American Window Glass. He and wife, Marianne Novak, also have a daughter and three grandchildren, according to his obituary.

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