Book by local author explores Wetzel family tragedy


On a fateful night in March 1975, the lives of internationally recognized martial arts instructor Willy Wetzel and his son, Roy, changed forever.

“In Self Defense” by current Brighton Heights resident and life-long Northsider Sam Nicotero tells the tragic story of a man killed by the hands of his own son in Beaver County. Nicotero weaves this story together with a combination of court documents and the first-hand reporting he did shortly after the incident.

At less than 300 pages, the book takes the reader on a journey through Willy’s life as a middle aged fighter until his untimely death and the subsequent criminal trial that found Roy Wetzel at the center of media attention.

As an Indonesian immigrant to the United States in the 1950s, Willy set up one of the first martial arts instruction schools in the country. His school combined the various techniques he had learned over the years and resulted in a hybrid form he called Poekoelan Tjimindie Chuan Fa.

Nearly two-thirds of the book chronicles the internal family struggles the Wetzeles faced as Willy and Roy’s relationship, although never good from the start, almost completely disintegrates in the months leading up to that fateful springtime evening when an argument over an income tax form escalated into a deadly struggle.

The drama increases rapidly as Nicotero recounts testimony from key witnesses and Roy himself, from one of the most debated trials of its time.

With an ending worthy of a Hollywood production, the story would be unbelievable were it not based on actual events.

Though the raw content and facts of this incredible story help maintain reader interest from beginning to end, at times the numerous grammatical errors are distracting. Also distracting are the changes in point of view throughout.

The prologue begins with Willy guiding us through the night he was killed. Then, the book switches to an omnipotent narrator until the last chapter which has Roy expressing his feelings about the result of the trial and his future.

Nevertheless, this compelling story is worth a read if for no other reason than to see how complicated relationships have the potential to end badly. In this book, there are no clear-cut winners. All involved lost something the day Willy died.

This book is available in print ($15) at the Heinz History Center, Eides Entertainment, Penguin Bookshop in Sewickley or as an e-book ($9.99) on

Margaret Singer is currently working toward her master’s degree in journalism at Point Park University.

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