Connecticut River Valley Killer
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|Connecticut River Valley Killer|
Connecticut River Valley Serial Killer|
New Hampshire Serial Killer
Span of crimes
|State(s)||New Hampshire, Vermont|
The "Connecticut River Valley Killer" refers to an American unidentified serial killer believed to be responsible for a series of stabbing murders mostly in and around Claremont, New Hampshire and the Connecticut River Valley, primarily in the 1980s.
In the mid 1980s, three young women disappeared around Claremont. In 1985 and 1986, the skeletal remains of two of the women were recovered within a thousand feet of each other in a wooded area in Kelleyville, New Hampshire. The condition of the remains made the cause of death difficult to determine, but certain factors pointed to multiple stab wounds. Between the recovery of the first and second bodies, a 36-year-old woman was stabbed to death in a frenzied attack inside her home in Saxtons River, Vermont. Ten days later, the remains of the third missing woman were found; an autopsy again revealed evidence of multiple stab wounds.
At this point, investigators began examining prior homicides in the area and found two previous cases, in 1978 and 1981, that further reinforced the presence of a burgeoning serial killer. At the peak of the investigation, and after additional homicides and one non-fatal attack, investigators noted similarities in M.O., often-used dump sites, and specific wound patterns that linked many of the murders, suggesting a common perpetrator.
On October 24, 1978, 27-year-old Cathy Millican (born May 25, 1951) was photographing birds at the Chandler Brook Wetland Preserve in New London, New Hampshire. The next day, her body, with at least 29 stab wounds, was found only yards away from where she was last seen. On July 25, 1981, 37-year-old Mary Elizabeth Critchley, a student from the University of Vermont, disappeared near Interstate 91 at the Massachusetts-Vermont border, where she had been hitchhiking to Waterbury, Vermont. On August 9, her body was found in a wooded area off Unity Stage Road in Unity, New Hampshire. Owing to the condition of the body, the medical examiner was unable to determine a cause of death.
16-year-old nurse's aide Bernice Courtemanche was last seen by her boyfriend's mother in Claremont on May 30, 1984. She was thought to have set out to see her boyfriend in Newport by hitchhiking along New Hampshire Route 12. She did not reach her destination and was subsequently reported missing. In April 1986, a fisherman happened upon Courtemanche's remains. Forensic examination uncovered evidence of knife wounds to the neck and an injury to the head.
On July 20, 1984, 27-year-old Ellen Fried—supervising nurse at Valley Regional Hospital—made a late-night stop to use a payphone in Claremont. Fried spoke with her sister for approximately an hour when she suddenly remarked on a strange car she'd observed driving back and forth in the vicinity. She stepped away from the phone briefly to make sure her car's engine would start and then returned. After speaking for a few minutes longer, Fried concluded the call. The next day, Fried failed to report to work and her car was found abandoned on Jarvis Road, a few miles away from the market where she used the payphone. Fried's remains were found in a wooded area near the banks of the Sugar River in Kelleyville the following September. Postmortem examination revealed evidence of multiple stab wounds and probable sexual assault.
On July 10, 1985, 27-year-old single mother Eva Morse (born May 6, 1958) was seen hitchhiking near the border of Claremont and Charlestown, New Hampshire, on Route 12. This is the last time anyone would see Morse alive, and she too was reported missing. In 1986, Morse's remains were found by loggers about 500 feet (150 m) from where Critchley's body had been discovered in 1981. Postmortem examination found evidence of knife wounds to Morse's neck. On April 15, 1986, 36-year-old Lynda Moore (born April 20, 1949) was doing yard work outside her home in Saxtons River, Vermont, a short distance from I-91. That evening, her husband returned home to find his wife's dead body, bearing multiple stab wounds. The crime scene suggested a fierce struggle had taken place. Numerous witnesses reported having seen a slightly stocky, dark-haired man with a blue knapsack lingering near Moore's home the day of the murder. The man was thought to be between 20 and 25 years old, clean shaven, with a somewhat round face, and wearing dark-rimmed glasses. The following year, a composite sketch was released.
On January 10, 1987, 38-year-old nurse Barbara Agnew was returning from a skiing outing with friends in Stratton, Vermont. That evening, a snowplow driver encountered her green BMW at a northbound I-91 rest stop in Hartford, Vermont. The door was cracked and there was blood on the steering wheel. On March 28, 1987, Agnew's body was found near an apple tree in Hartland, Vermont. She had been stabbed to death. There was a heavy snowstorm in the area during the night of Agnew's disappearance, and she was a mere 10 miles (16 km) from her home. Her reasons for pulling into the rest stop have puzzled investigators.
Jane Boroski attack
The killings had apparently stopped when, late in the evening on August 6, 1988, 22-year-old Jane Boroski, seven months pregnant, was returning from a county fair in Keene, New Hampshire, when she stopped at a closed convenience store in West Swanzey to purchase soda from a vending machine. Boroski had returned to her car when she took notice of a Jeep Wagoneer parked next to her. Through her rear-view mirror, Boroski then saw the driver of the vehicle walking around the back of her vehicle. He then approached her open window and asked her if the payphone was working, at which time he immediately grabbed her and pulled her from the vehicle. Boroski struggled, and the man accused her of beating up his girlfriend and asked if she had Massachusetts plates on her car. Boroski responded that she had New Hampshire plates, but this did not deter her attacker, who proceeded to stab her 27 times before driving away and leaving her to die.
Boroski managed to return to her car and drive on New Hampshire Route 32 toward a friend's house for help. As she neared the house, she noticed a vehicle driving in front of her and realized that it was her attacker's Jeep. Boroski finally reached her friend's home at which the occupants immediately came to her aid. Her attacker apparently performed a U-turn and slowly passed by the house as Boroski was tended to before speeding away into the night.
Boroski was treated at the hospital, where it was determined that the attack had resulted in a severed jugular vein, two collapsed lungs, a kidney laceration, and severed tendons in her knees and thumb. Fortunately, Boroski's baby survived, although not without complications; Boroski's daughter would later be diagnosed with mild cerebral palsy. Boroski was able to provide authorities with a composite sketch and the first three characters of the attacker's license plate. However, the killings ceased following the Boroski attack and the case became cold.
On May 20, 1984, 16-year-old Heidi Martin went for a jog in Hartland, Vermont, on Martinsville Road. The next day, her body was found in a swampy area behind Hartland Elementary School. She had been raped and stabbed to death. 21-year-old Delbert C. Tallman confessed to the crime and was tried; however, he later recanted his confession and was acquitted. Nearly three years later, Agnew's body would be found approximately a mile from where Martin was discovered.
Tallman has resided in Bellows Falls, Springfield, and Windsor, Vermont, as well as Claremont, New Hampshire, the epicenter of most of the Connecticut River Valley killings. He was convicted in 1996 on two counts of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child and was incarcerated at Lake County prison in Florida for failure to comply with sex offender registration requirements. He was released from prison on October 6, 2010.
Given the circumstances of Martin's murder, and the dearth of information related to the arrest and trial of a suspect, some websites cite Martin's death as unsolved and part of the killings. There is, however, no evidence presently available to the public that Tallman was involved in any of the other cases.
In 2001, private investigator Lynn-Marie Carty was contacted by the mother of Michelle Marie Ashley, a Vermont woman who had been missing since December 1988, along with her two children. The woman enlisted Carty to gather information pertaining to the possible whereabouts of her daughter, as well as her two grandchildren, whom she believed to be in the company of Ashley's common-law husband, Michael Andrew Nicholaou.
Nicholaou was a Vietnam veteran who'd served as a helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army. He had earned two Purple Hearts, two Silver Stars and two Bronze Stars before being charged in 1970, along with seven comrades, with strafing civilians while on a reconnaissance mission in the Mekong Delta. Murder and attempted murder charges were ultimately dropped, and Nicholaou returned home in disgrace. During this time and throughout the remainder of his life, Nicholaou received treatment from the Veterans Administration for posttraumatic stress disorder. Years later, Army acquaintances would describe Nicholaou as having, on at least one occasion, abandoned his camp to seek hand-to-hand individual combat with the enemy, stating that he was going "hunting" for humans.
While living in Virginia, Nicholaou opened and operated a sex shop called The Pleasure Chest. The store was raided twice, and he and his business partner were charged with selling obscene materials; in one instance, they were convicted, and in the other, there was a mistrial. It was in Virginia that Nicholaou met Michelle Ashley and soon after moved to Holyoke, Massachusetts, where the couple had two children, Nick and Joy.
Ashley's family, who lived in New England, regarded Nicholaou as strange and quiet. As his marriage to Michelle became more troubled, she attempted to leave him, taking her two children with her. This prompted Nicholaou to pursue her, making contact with her family during this period. Ashley, who told family members that she feared for her life, eventually returned to Nicholaou, but expressed intentions to family to leave him for good. In December 1988, Ashley's mother dropped by the Nicholau residence to check on her daughter after weeks of no contact; she found spoiled food in the refrigerator, an abandoned baby book, and the apartment vacant. There was no trace of Ashley, Nicholaou, or the two children.
Shortly after consulting with Ashley's mother in 2001, Carty was easily able to obtain Nicholaou's contact information with some cursory Internet research. Nicholaou, who was living in Georgia, denied knowing anything about the family's whereabouts. Eventually, he stated that Ashley was a "slut" who had been doing drugs and ran off, abandoning the children. He stated that the children were fine. Carty confirmed this by reaching Nick the following day, who tearfully described life with his combat-traumatized father, who had since remarried.
By 2005, Nicholaou's second wife, Aileen, had also sought to escape him after he'd attacked her. On December 31 of that year, Nicholaou tracked down Aileen to her sister's home in Tampa, Florida. Wearing a black suit and tie and carrying a guitar case filled with guns, Nicholaou led his wife and stepdaughter, 20-year-old Terrin Bowman, into a bedroom while his sister-in-law fled to summon police. While awaiting for the arrival of the SWAT team, Nicholaou shot Aileen, Terrin, and himself. Aileen and Nicholaou died at the scene; Terrin died at the hospital a short time later.
Carty investigated Nicholaou's past and tied him to the Connecticut River Valley killings, which took place at around the same time as Michelle's disappearance. Among many points of interest to Carty was that one of Nicholaou's ex-wives was a nurse, a profession shared with three of the Connecticut River Valley victims. While Nicholaou's residence in Holyoke was about 90 miles (140 km) from Claremont, Carty was able to determine that Ashley had relatives in the area, and a note in the abandoned baby book placed her in 1986 at the same hospital from which Agnew would disappear a short time later. It was also determined that Nicholaou owned a Jeep Wagoneer on August 6, 1988, which is consistent with the vehicle described by Boroski. Carty shared her findings with Boroski, who expressed that there was "some resemblance" between a picture of Nicholau and the man that attacked her. Boroski became convinced that Nicholaou was her attacker and, by extension, the Connecticut River Valley Killer.
In 2007, New Hampshire cold case detectives stated that they were in the process of examining surviving physical evidence, as well as Nicholaou's possible connection to the case. To date, no conclusions have been publicly announced, and Nicholaou has not been conclusively linked to any of the killings.
It is worth noting that Nicholaou's candidacy as a suspect is hampered by the fact that he lived in Virginia at the time of the Courtemanche, Fried, and Morse murders, and likely both up to and beyond that time. Furthermore, online sleuths have variously posited Nicholaou as being the Colonial Parkway Killer, the Route 29 Stalker, the Blue Ridge Parkway Rapist, and the murderer of Julianne Williams and Lollie Winans at Shenandoah National Park. There is no physical or compelling circumstantial evidence presently available to the public which factually connects Nicholaou to the Connecticut River Valley killings, or any similar cases in New Hampshire and Vermont, beyond his slight resemblance to some sketches.
Gary Westover's deathbed confession
In October 1997, a 46-year-old Grafton, New Hampshire, paraplegic named Gary Westover related to his uncle, retired Grafton County sheriff's deputy Howard Minnon, that he had a confession. Westover told Minnon that, in 1987, three buddies picked him up for what was described as a night of partying. Allegedly, they loaded Westover and his wheelchair into their van and set out to Vermont, where they abducted, murdered, and dumped Agnew, the Connecticut River Valley Killer's final victim. Westover provided the names of the three friends. Thereafter, Minnon shared Westover's information with his wife, daughter, and law enforcement. However, Minnon felt that authorities were not interested in his information. Westover died in March 1998, and Minnon died in 2006.
In August 2006, one of Westover's aunts wrote Anne Agnew, sister of the victim, with the information originally given by Westover to Minnon. Agnew forwarded the letter to Carty, who ran Nicholaou's name by Westover's aunt, who stated that the named "sounded familiar." Carty believes that authorities are in possession of the names Westover provided to Minnon, and further speculated that Westover may have become acquainted with Nicholaou at a local VA hospital, although none of this has been confirmed and the Connecticut River Valley killings remain unsolved.
Other possible victims
Joanne Dunham, 14, was sexually assaulted and strangled on June 11, 1968, in Charlestown, New Hampshire, and has been tangentially linked to the canonical killings on the basis of geographic proximity. On October 5, 1982, 76-year-old Sylvia Gray was found bludgeoned and stabbed to death in a wooded area, a few hundred yards from her home in Plainfield, New Hampshire, a day after having been reported missing. 38-year-old Steven Hill was last seen on June 20, 1986, retrieving his paycheck from his Lebanon, New Hampshire employer. On July 15, Hill's body was found with multiple stab wounds in Hartland, across the Connecticut River from where Gray's body had been found four years earlier.
On June 24, 1988, decomposed body parts consisting of arms and legs belonging to a woman were found dumped alongside Massachusetts Route 78 in Warwick, Massachusetts, less than a mile from the New Hampshire border. The entire body was believed to have been dismembered. The head and torso were never found and are believed to have been disposed of elsewhere. Investigators ruled the death a homicide. The victim was described as white, average height, with an athletic type body. The woman's identity is still unknown and the homicide remains unsolved.
On July 25, 1989, 14-year-old Carrie Moss of New Boston, New Hampshire, left her parents' home to visit friends in Goffstown and disappeared. Almost exactly two years later, on July 24, 1991, her skeletal remains were found in a wooded area in New Boston. While her cause of death could not be determined, she was thought to be the victim of a homicide.
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Delbert Tallman lights a cigarette as he leaves Windsor County Courthouse in White River Junction, VT., yesterday after being found not guilty in murder of Heidi Martin. Tallman, 22, confessed to slaying 16-year-old Hartland girl last May, but later recanted confession and blamed killing on another man. Tallman is accompanied by his attorney, Robert Keiner. his mother, Joan Gilman, follows.
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