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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Alleged New Britain Serial Killer Loses Case in Small Claims Court

If you are a serial murder suspect and currently serving time for murder, don't expect justice in a small claims court. William Devin Howell learned that lesson last month when a Connecticut Superior Court magistrate ruled against him in his bid for reimbursement from a friend in the amount of $1,976.88.
Tough-ass Judge Judy would probably have ruled the same way.
Howell is currently serving a 15 year sentence for the murder of Nilsa Arizmendi. Last September, he was charged with murdering six others, whose remains were found alongside Arizmendi's behind a strip mall in New Britain, CT. Howell was recently granted a two month continuance so his attorney can review the reportedly voluminous amount of evidence turned over by the State and determine whether to contest probable cause before proceeding to trial.

While the odds may be stacked against Howell in his future murder trial(s), in my humble legal opinion he should have won at least part of his case in small claims court last month. Plaintiff Howell appeared at Middlesex Superior Court via video conferencing alleging that from April 2012 to December 2013, he sent Defendant Cheyenne Hackett a total of $2,240.00 to deposit into a savings account with People's United Bank. Ms. Hackett is the older sister of Howell's now deceased ex-girlfriend, Dorothy Holcomb. Howell earned the money by working a low-paying industry job in prison six days per week.

Howell testified that he only authorized Ms. Hackett to use $200.00 of the funds to pay for the removal of Holcomb's body from the morgue, and $50.00 to go towards phone bills previously accrued by Holcomb when she phoned Howell in prison. His claim is mostly consistent with the paper trail. Holcomb died in August 2012. One month later, $200.00 was withdrawn from the account. Both parties agreed that this money went to the morgue for the removal of Holcomb's body. Howell also presented a letter indicating that he authorized Hackett to mail a friend from Georgia $130.00 to pay back a loan. This would have reduced his claim for restitution to $1,846.88.

Ms. Hackett argued that the remainder of the funds were applied to the cost of cremation, prayer cards and obituary, money gifts to two of Holcomb's daughters, and miscellaneous expenses.
Watch Judge Judy and you'll see that in small claims court, it's all about the receipts. Here, the defendant failed to present any of the receipts regarding the above referenced items. Safe to say that a simple phone call to the funeral home would have produced a few of those documents. A request to Holcomb's daughters to write that the money was received as a gift would also have been helpful.

Alas, Howell is no ordinary plaintiff. The media has been all over the additional murder charges recently laid against the Virginia native. Affidavits provided by the State relay grisly details that have no doubt poured salt on the wounds of the victims' grieving family members. If any of them are reading this post, they are likely thinking that the suspect deserves a lifetime of medieval-style punishment and/or death. So what if he was shortchanged some cash?
Howell and Holcomb in better days. 
In the end, the magistrate ruled for the defendant, finding that the absence of paperwork memorializing the agreement between the parties contributed to the plaintiff's lack of credibility. Moreover, the magistrate could not find proof of the defendant's intent to commit theft. Never mind the fact that Howell had presented proof in the form of a bank statement indicating that the funds were still existent on March 31, 2014, almost two years after Holcomb's death. It stands to reason that Hackett would have paid off all death-related expenses and monetary gifts to family members by that time. Additionally, the magistrate's decision made no mention of potentially relevant banking statutes addressing the defendant's possible breach of fiduciary duty as trustee of plaintiff's account.

For Howell, it's all water under the bridge. As in Judge Judy's court, the Howell vs. Hackett ruling is final; neither party has the right to appeal. Just as well for Howell. A drawn-out and sensational murder trial looms on his horizon. Fair to say, he has more important things to worry about.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

When Will New Britain Serial Killer Suspect William "Devin" Howell Go To Trial?

The most recent mug shot of Howell, in September 2015.
On Friday, William "Devin" Howell was charged with the murders of the remaining six victims found behind a strip mall in New Britain, Connecticut. He is currently serving a fifteen year sentence for the murder of the seventh victim, Nilsa Arizmendi. Her remains were discovered by FBI cadaver dogs in April 2015.

Back in January 2007, Howell was convicted for Arizmendi's murder based on a single drop of the victim's blood found in Howell's blue van, also known as the "murder mobile", along with some rather damning testimony from Howell's best friend, Joseph Masters.

At trial, Masters recalled helping Howell to clean out the infamous van in in the driveway of Master's home in Virginia in late November 2003, just four months after Arizmendi went missing. Masters testified that the interior of the vehicle had a foul odor, and the seat cushions on the back bench were very stained. In the cleaning process, Howell removed the bloody cushions, wrapped them in garbage bags, and left them on the sidewalk for trash collection. He went on to replace the cushions with new ones.

In recent months, Howell has written to me twice from prison. He now goes by the name, "Bill." His handwriting is quite neat. He occasionally misspells words (ex. "weather" rather than "whether".) Otherwise, he seems relatively well-spoken for a high school drop-out who spent his adolescence partying to the hilt in Hampton, VA.

The letters reveal an unbelievably lonely and depressed man, as the above mug shot clearly depicts. He has no contact with friends or family. He has put on a lot of weight. It's also fair to say that he is scared out of his brains regarding what's to come.

When Howell last wrote me, he had yet to be charged with the remaining six murders. That said, I strongly sensed that he knew it was coming. He told me that, two years ago, he refused to speak with police officers about the current accusations without a lawyer present, and so was stripped of his "industry job" in prison as a kind of punishment by the Department of Corrections (DOC). Not a big deal to a prison outsider, but for an inmate who lives for a few extra dollars a week to purchase better quality soap or tinned spicy tuna at the prison commissary, it was a big deal to Howell. He took pride in having an industry job, as it pays a whopping $1 per hour, as compared with the typical prison jobs that pay 75 cents per day. Howell explained to me that he has worked all his life, and it discouraged him to be sitting in isolation, doing nothing.

In his last letter, approximately five pages in length (single-spaced, small handwriting), Howell shared some interesting details about his life before his most recent imprisonment. Since I am writing a true crime novel about the New Britain Serial Murders, tentatively titled, "15 Acres of Horror", I am not going to freely share that information with the public via blog post at this time. The reader will have to buy my book when it comes out- hopefully in 2017. (If that's not a self-serving plug on my part, then I don't know what is.)

It seems likely that Howell's murder trial based on Friday's arrest warrant will not take place for at least another year or two. I'm just guessing here about the timeline, but as an attorney I know that a trial regarding the murders of six victims will no doubt involve a long parade of witnesses for the prosecution, mountains of evidence, and numerous pre-trial motions that will inevitably result in delay.

It doesn't look good for Howell. The prosecution is prepared to present a case that depicts a monster of the most loathsome kind. He allegedly slept next to the dead body of one of his victims, Melanie Ruth Camilini, calling her remains his "baby" after he raped and strangled her. According to the prosecution, he put one of the tools in his van to use, as well, when he hit that victim with a hammer and shattered her jaw. He went on to bury her body parts in Virginia. And yes, there's also the issue of his allegedly cutting off her finger tips, post-mortem.

As with many serial killers who prey upon prostitutes, Howell is said to have had a twisted moral agenda in mind when he conducted his grisly crimes. The women were not mothers, sisters, or even human beings. They were disposable creatures who should have known that they would die and be buried in Howell's "garden" (as a fellow inmate claims Howell called the burial ground behind the mall) due to the lives that they led.

Although a defendant has a Constitutional right to a speedy trial, this is often waived by the defense. It is probably in Howell's best interest to permit his attorney to move slowly and get all of his ducks in a row, so to speak. On the other hand, one can argue that a speedy trial may be in Howell's best interest as he is being considered as a suspect in another murder in Florida. As time goes on, who is to say that authorities may not link him to other crimes and further incriminate him with such allegations?

After Howell appeared at the New Britain Superior Court last Friday, his defense attorney reiterated a most basic Constitutional fact: Howell is presumed innocent of these crimes until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. That said, the thirty or so grieving family members of the victims that filled the courtroom, along with the heinous nature of these six murders, makes one thing clear: Howell should be afraid right now. He should be very, very afraid.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Does New Britain Suspect William Devin Howell Have Any Other Victims?

This blog post will be short and to the point. I will expand on it more in my upcoming book, Murders in Connecticut, which will discuss the New Britain Serial Murders, along with other recent murders in Connecticut, some of which remain unsolved.

In a televised interview with Chief Investigative Reporter for Channel 8 News, David Iverson, dated May 14, 2015, I mentioned the similarities between the recent findings of skeletal remains behind the shopping mall in New Britain, Connecticut, and the unsolved murder of Jessica Muskus, whose remains were found alongside Route 8, Exit 41, in 2006. Jessica went missing from Waterbury on July 31, 2004. The question that Iverson posed to law enforcement on my behalf was: "Where was William Devin Howell on July 31, 2004?" More specifically, I wanted to know if Howell was incarcerated at that time. If so, he could be ruled out as a suspect in the unsolved murder of Jessica Muskus. However, if Howell was a free man living in Connecticut in late July 2004, then there is a chance that he may have killed Jessica Muskus and investigators definitely need to delve into the possibility.

This week, I obtained and reviewed voluminous court records, including affidavits that trace the whereabouts of Howell prior to the murder of Nilsa H. Arismendi, a heroin user and prostitute, in July 2003, up until the present time. Howell is currently incarcerated with a conviction of Manslaughter 1 for Arismendi's murder. He was detained for active violation of probation while living in North Carolina on January 30, 2004. He was extradited to Connecticut on February 19, 2004. He entered Cheshire Correctional Institute (CCI) on February 20, 2004.

Court records indicate that Howell had a fight over the phone with his then girlfriend, Dorothy Holcomb, on July 5, 2004. The fight had to do with activities that occurred in his blue van, where Arismendi's blood was discovered. There is no mention of Howell's whereabouts after the date of that prison phone call until May 16, 2005, at which time he was arrested for the murder of Arismendi and re-admitted the day following to CIC. He was thereafter transferred to several other facilities until accepting a plea for Manslaughter I on January 30, 2007.
Howell's van, courtesy of

Where was Howell on July 31, 2004, the day that Muskus went missing? Today I received the answer to my question, at least in part. According to documents just received via facsimile from CIC, Howell was discharged from CIC on July 22, 2004 and was a free man until his arrest in May 2005. In my mind, he is a viable suspect in the unsolved murder of Jessica Muskus and police need to look into the possibility.
The Channel 8 Interview can be found at the link below.

Friday, May 15, 2015

A Prayer for Mildred Alvarado

A random cemetery in small-town New England. Mary's feet are frozen in the snow. Still, she does not flinch. She is framed by a blue-grey winter sky; her stone hands pressed together in urgent supplication for the souls of the buried bodies in her midst.  It's almost dusk. Whitened wisps of clouds descend upon the shadowy hills. In this silent setting of tombstones and crosses, Mary's billowing form towers above the rest.
Mildred Alvarado's feet were also frozen in the snow. When her lifeless body was discovered at the ravine in Harwinton on January 20, 1989, Mildred's shoes had been removed. The killer must have kept them as a souvenir to mark his morbid fait accompli.

Mildred also wore no coat. Winters in Northwest Connecticut can be brutal, in terms of the cold. A tee-shirt and denim vest are hardly sufficient. Did the killer keep Mildred's coat, as well as her shoes? It's likely that Mildred was killed in an indoor location, or in the killer's vehicle, after taking off her coat.

How the Alvarado family wants Mildred remembered. 

The first thing you notice about Mildred Alvarado in her mug shot is her enormous glasses. It was the late eighties, after all, and spectacles on steroids were all the rage. But even by those outdated standards, Mildred's glasses were extraordinarily large. A single mother of four children, Mildred could pass for a teenager in this photo. Her wavy dark hair is messy; her bangs need trimming. Unlike Karen Everett, Mildred Alvarado's eyes are lifeless and without hope. At age 30, Alvarado had no doubt seen more, and suffered more, on the streets of Waterbury, Connecticut.

At the time of her death, Alvarado's life was in shambles. First off, she had bad taste in men. The two fathers of her children had long arrest records for drugs and neither one lived with Alvarado and the children. To make matters worse, Mildred had a serious addiction to heroin and supported the habit by selling her body. With her earnings going directly into her veins, Mildred had no money to pay her rent or support her children. Her neighbors at 45 Long Hill Road in Waterbury complained about the heavy traffic going in and out of Mildred's apartment. Fed up, Mildred's landlord, Geri Havard, evicted her and the children from the premises.

Now homeless, Mildred was forced to leave her two younger children, ages one and three, in the care of her grandmother. She hoped to get her life together. She had been a nurse's aid before turning to the needle. Maybe she could get clean and pursue that path again? Like most heroin addicts, Mildred desperately wanted to be free of her nightmarish addiction.

Unfortunately, the odds of successful remission and a productive future are not on the side of the typical heroin addict. A study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry finds that heroin addicts have only a 50 percent survival rate. The most common causes of death are drug overdose (21.6 percent), followed by homicide, suicide and accidents (19 percent), liver disease (15.2 percent) and cardiovascular disease and cancer (both at 11.7 percent). In Mildred's case, the tremendous stress of being a lower income, single mother of four children would also make her highly susceptible to relapse.

Though Havard had recently evicted Mildred, he described her with compassion following her death. "You could see when she'd sit outside with her boys, she really wanted to be with her kids" he told a reporter for the Republican American in November 2008. "She was the type of person your heart would go out to."

In the end, Mildred Alvarado, ravaged by heroin, was a loving mother who had been dealt a rotten hand in life.

Fly to Mary now, Mildred, as if in a dream.
Fall upon her snow covered feet and give to her the horror of your final moments on this earth.
In a mad frenzy, you convulsed and choked for air and all you could think about was your children, your poor children... You would never see them again.
Give to her your rage. Her serenity is your strength.
Now climb upon that pedestal, your bare feet touching upon hers, and rest yourself within that frozen, holy fire. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Is Suspected Serial Killer William Devin Howell Linked to the Unsolved Route 8 Murders?

On Monday, law enforcement officials announced the discovery of four dismembered bodies behind a strip mall located at 593 Hartford Road in New Britain, Connecticut. FBI cadaver dogs sniffed out the various spots behind a Subway franchise, a hair salon, and a liquor store last month. Excavators then arrived to dig up the remains.

It wasn't the first time that skeletal remains were found in those fifteen acres of wooded land, which is swampy and inaccessible by cars. In August 2007, a man looking for a place to hunt contacted the police to report finding a human skull. Exhaustive searches ensued, and at least fifty bones were retrieved. In the years that followed, the victims were identified as Diane Cusack, 53, of New Britain, Joyvaline Martinez, 23, of East Hartford, and Mary Jane Menard, 40, of New Britain.  
Victims: Cusak, Martinez, Menard

Also on Monday, law enforcement agents revealed the identity of one of the four bodies found this April. Twenty nine year old Melanie Ruth Camilini was last seen with two men in Waterbury on January 1, 2003. Monday would have been her forty second birthday. She leaves behind two children.
Melanie Ruth Camilini

At Monday's news conference, Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane said that law enforcement was "confident" that they had found the suspect responsible for all seven of the murders. He reassured reporters that the suspect was not presently a threat to the community, meaning the suspect was either dead, or incarcerated.

On Tuesday, the suspect was identified as William Devin Howell, a 45 year old currently serving an 15 year sentence for the murder of Nilsa Arismendi, a Wethersfield woman, back in 2003.
William Devin Howell
Arismendi was last seen entering Howell's blue van at the Stop and Shop parking lot in Wethersfield. Police found Arismendi's blood, and the blood of another unidentified woman, in Howell's van. Arismendi's body was not found for several years. Howell subsequently accepted a plea deal under the Alford doctrine, which permits a defendant to maintain innocence while conceding that the state has enough evidence to successfully pursue a conviction. Arismendi's body was very recently identified as one of the four additional bodies found behind the shopping mall in April 2015. This certainly goes far in helping investigators to conclude that Howell is the likely suspect in the deaths of the other victims.
Howell is in prison for the murder of Nilsa Arismendi, above.

Additionally, another body was recently identified as that of Danny Lee Whistnant, a forty four year old cross-dressing prostitute from New Britain. To date, six of the seven bodies have been identified. The unidentified DNA in the blood of Howell's van discovered alongside the blood of Arismendi may lead investigators to identifying the final unidentified body.
Danny Lee Whistnant of New Britain

The unfolding story of four additional bodies being found in New Britain has made national news in recent days. Consequently, many readers of The Route 8 blog and local media outlets have contacted me with one pertinent question: Is William Devin Howell, the suspect in the New Britain murders, also the Route 8 killer?

My answer: perhaps- especially with respect to the unsolved murder of 22 year old Jessica Muskus, who went missing from Waterbury in July 2004. Where was Howell at that time? His van carrying the blood of Arismendi had been seized by police in April 2004, but was Howell a free man when Muskus went missing? Muskus's skeletal remains were discovered along Route 8, exit 41, in November 2006.

There are distinct similarities in the unsolved murder of Jessica Muskus, and the murder of the most recently identified victim in New Britain, Melanie Ruth Camilini. Both women were drug addicts. When Arismendi went into Howell's van, she intended to get drugs. Both women lived in Waterbury during the same time period, relatively speaking, and were last seen alive in Waterbury. Their bodies were likely dismembered in one location, probably in a vehicle or the killer's home, and then disposed of in a remote, wooded local. The killer was cunning enough to place the bodies in areas that allowed years of decomposition to take place before discovery, thus making any kind of successful forensic analysis nearly impossible. Additionally, both women had long hair. In fact, all of the Route 8 victims and the victims from New Britain had long hair. According to retired state detective Dave Carey, little things like the hair length of the victims can actually mean a lot. It makes up the killer's "signature."
Jessica Muskus

The location along Route 8 where the body of Jessica Muskus was discovered was only a short distance from the site in Campville where the bodies of other Route 8 victims were found in the late eighties. Muskus's skull was found at the foot of a steep embankment, detached from her other remains in a manner similar to that of the remains found in New Britain.

Whether Howell could be considered as a suspect in the earlier unsolved Route 8 murders of Everett, Alvarado, and Ubiera, is yet unknown. Those crimes took place between 1988-1993, when Howell would have been in his late teens and early twenties. He was certainly old enough to have committed the crimes, but was he still living in Virginia, his state of origin? When did Howell come to Connecticut to do odd jobs and cut grass for homes and businesses in the greater Hartford area? It's likely that the facts do not point to Howell's involvement in the earliest Route 8 murders. My upcoming book, Murder in Connecticut, will further discuss another suspect who was investigated at length in the deaths of Everett and Alvarado but never charged.

Connecticut is a geographically small state. Drive ninety minutes or less in any direction and you are over the border, or into the ocean. In the short space of nine years, from 1985 to 1994, there were nineteen unsolved killings of female prostitutes and drug addicts within the state’s modest limits. For this reason, a task force was created in 1992 to determine whether there were one or more serial killers at work.

In October 2014, a new task force was created, highlighting 52 unsolved homicides, missing persons, and unidentified remains cases that have occurred throughout the state. With respect to the New Britain strip mall murders, Connecticut offered $150,000, the largest award in the state's history, for information leading to the arrest of the UNSUB (police jargon for unidentified suspect).

In the book “Mind Hunter”, FBI Special Agent John Douglas writes that the solution rate to homicide in America was over 90% as recently as 1960. Since then, despite great advances in forensics and technology (including big-brother style surveillance in even the most "private" of places), and increased police power, the murder rate has been going up and the solution rate has been going down. Strangers are murdering strangers at a steadily increasing rate, and such crimes are extremely difficult to solve. 

So how did police determine that Howell was the culprit? Given that the remains of the New Britain victims were skeletal and exposed to the forces of nature for many years, it is likely that Howell either confessed, or a fellow inmate at the Garner Correctional Institution ratted him out. Serial killers are known to boast about their misdeeds, after all. Alternatively, a friend or acquaintance may have contacted law enforcement and snagged the vast award. Apart from a confession or inside information being provided, I can't see how the skeletal remains found would turn over any DNA evidence, nor that such findings would give officials the confidence displayed in a recent press conference.

To date, Michael Ross, "The Roadside Strangler", is the most prolific serial killer in Connecticut's history (not counting the myth of the Winsted Wildman.)
Sketch of The Winsted Wildman 
Howell rivals Ross as most prolific killer in CT

Michael Bruce Ross

Ross confessed to killing eight women between 1981-1984 and he was put to death in 2005. If William Howell is in fact the killer of all seven individuals found behind the strip mall in New Britain, then will assume the title of Connecticut's Most Copious LIVING Killer. If Howell is responsible for the murder of Jessica Muskus in 2004, or any of the Route 8 victims, he ties Ross with respect to the number of his alleged victims.

I would like to offer my heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of all of the victims of these heinous crimes. Many of the murdered women found along Route 8 and in New Britain had problems with substance abuse, and some were involved in prostitution. They were basically victims twice over; first, of a drug epidemic that is sweeping through our nation and leaving only death and destruction in its wake, and then, of the monstrous minds who hunt out the vulnerable and discard their human remains like rubbish. But let us never forget, these women were mothers, daughters, sisters, friends. As a community, we mourn their deaths...

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Route 8 Copy Cat Killer

Hell hath no fury like a man scorned.

Michael Curry sat at a bar with a friend in early January, 1993. He was both devastated and enraged. His girlfriend had dumped him the week before, on Christmas Eve. Now, chugging down some beers and stewing over the break-up, the Thomaston man swore to his friend that he would get revenge by killing another woman. Didn't matter who. He just wanted the satisfaction of seeing a female beg for her life before he shot her in the head.

That same evening, Curry drove his Yugo to the Hillside section of Waterbury, where he picked up Evelyn Betancourt, a prostitute and crack addict.

At age 27, the unwed Betancourt had already mothered four children, two of whom had been adopted out through the state's Department of Children and Families. Needless to say, birth control was not a part of Betancourt's daily routine. Her life had long since disintegrated into a tail spin of sexual tricks in exchange for money with which she purchased crystal rocks of crack cocaine.

For just one greasy twenty dollar bill, Betancourt could experience the juxtapositional euphoria that only crack provides: the mellow buzz of marijuana, combined with an almost otherworldly sense of clarity and empowerment. When the high went away after only twenty minutes, her mouth tasted like chemicals and she was left with a lingering desire for another rock. Hours afterward, all she could think of was how she could find the next twenty dollar bill and smoke some more crack. It didn't matter that she was currently five months pregnant. She needed that high.

Brenda Betancourt later described her sister Evelyn, known to friends as "Lisa", as a tough woman who was familiar with the rules of the streets. Lisa knew not to to go into the cars of strangers, especially after the murders of Everett and Alvarado. She kept a book with the names and numbers of her regular clientele. According to Brenda Betancourt, those were the only men that her sister served.
But for some reason, perhaps due to her ravenous craving for crack, on that cold night January night in 1993 Betancourt broke her own rule and stepped into Curry's vehicle.

It would be the biggest mistake of her life.

Curry drove Betancourt to an abandoned drive-in theater in Waterton and pulled out a pistol. Betancourt fought for her life. She bit Curry and tore a clump of hair from his head. It was no use- Curry overpowered the pregnant prostitute. He forced her to her knees. Betancourt plead for Curry not to shoot. In response, Curry shot her four times in the head. He then drove 10 miles north, to the desolate area off Valley Road in Harwinton, and disposed of the body. Curry had read in local newspapers that two other bodies had been dumped in that location a few years earlier. It made sense to him to mislead the police into thinking the crime was the work of the cold case serial killer.

It was a sunny afternoon in January when Harwinton's Highway Supervisor, Tom Pollack, drove past the ravine where he had found the body of Karen Everett five years before. Known by locals as "The Forgotten Valley", the vacant stretch of land was once a hub of activity. In the mid-eighteenth century that part of Harwinton, known as Campville, boasted a mill, a post office, and a railroad that ran through the valley. The Hopkins-Alfred Clock shop, powered by the rambling waters of the Naugatuck River, employed many locals and was the pride of the town. In addition to clocks, it produced a variety of items essential to the Yankee way of life, including clothes pins, cash register components, and rifles.
The Hopkins-Alfred clock shop in Campville, CT. 

When the Great Flood came upon Harwinton in 1955, the old clock shop had been vacant for decades. Still, there were many residents living in Campville, and the small hamlet had a hotel, a bar, a restaurant, and various shops. The river was also a great draw to avid fishermen.

After the flood, homeowners sold their washed out land to the Army Corps of Engineers. They were given five years to vacate the premises. Consequently, Campville took on something of a post-apocalyptic air: residents stopped caring for their lawns, weeds grew the size of small trees, and farmers sold their herd and let their chickens run free through the empty streets.

One by one, homes were torn down, effectively erasing a once vibrant community.

After the Everett and Alvarado murders, Tom Pollack was assigned to create a roadway leading from Valley Road part-way up a mountain. Police then placed a camera within a fiberglass stone and camouflaged it with a hemlock branch. Night and day, the hidden blue eye gazed upon "The Forgotten Valley", surveilling for killers.

From the distance of the roadway, Tom saw what looked to be a human mannequin down by the river, about 500 feet from where the bodies of Everett and Alvarado were discovered. Three days later, his neighbor, Charlie Thierry, would also see the mannequin from the roadway. Both men suspected teenagers had stolen it as some kind of prank. By then, Campville had a nasty reputation as a place where all types of mischief occurred: drag racing, midnight parties in the woods, and acts of prostitution, for example.

When Thierry saw the mannequin, it had been moved up from the river's edge and was located about fifty feet away from where Pollack first saw it. Had Curry returned to the body to further corrupt it? Now it was positioned against the stone foundation of the old clock shop. Was this location not within the camouflaged camera's purview?

Thierry and a friend walked over to take a look and saw something that few mannequin's possess: pubic hair. In the winter sun, the nose was starting to thaw; a bug crawled out of the dead woman's nostril, across a fresh stream of blood that trickled into her mouth. Some reddish-brown hairs were subsequently removed from the corpse's left hand and stored as forensic evidence. Police initially thought that the body was the work of the Route 8 serial killer and that strangling was the cause of death. An autopsy later confirmed that Betancourt's swollen black and blue eye was in fact the site of the gun shot wounds.

Not long after, an anonymous caller tipped off the police that Curry was the killer. Interestingly, questioning of Curry led nowhere, and Curry went on to live as a free man until he began serving an eight year sentence in 1994 for setting a fire in Thomaston back in 1988. The fact that Curry was an arsonist, facing more arson charges originating in Plymouth, fits the profile of a revenge killer with low impulse control. While in prison, Curry bragged to a cellmate about killing Betancourt. Curry was thereafter arraigned on charges of capital felony murder, murder, and first-degree kidnapping. He had an alibi for the murders of Everett and Alvarado, however, and is not the Route 8 killer.

Her knees hit the cracked pavement. A giant white movie screen hovered in the background. 
'You son of a bitch', she thought.
'My life is nothing but shit, and here I'm begging to keep it. 
Don't shoot. Don't....'
The film fades to black.  
Evelyn "Lisa" Betancourt. Rest in Peace. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Steven Hayes Confesses to the Route 8 Murders

Maybe Steven Hayes' conscience was getting the best of him. While he sat on death row in October 2011 for the barbarous home invasion murders of a mother, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, and her two daughters, he wrote a series of letters boasting about committing seventeen other unsolved murders. All of the Route 8 victims were included in the list. Not only did Hayes confess to the Route 8 murders in writing, he provided detailed and grisly descriptions of the alleged crimes.

The convicted murderer knew full well that the Connecticut Department of Corrections would get hold of his letters and forward them on to the state prosecutors. Which they did. In turn, what did Hayes have to gain for his written statements?

Pizza, soda, and a plate of oysters with hot sauce.

No doubt, the food on death row must be awful. For this reason, a traditional "last dinner" is served to inmates just prior to lethal injection or the electric chair. That meal consists of steak, eggs, hash browns, toast with butter and jelly, and juice, unless the prisoner requests differently. Some death row inmates prefer the turf variety of meats. Southerners often request fried chicken. However, many Dead Men Walking lean towards the surf side of the menu: lobster tail, fried clams, scallops, and the like. And then there are the last meals with no rhyme or reason. Timothy McVeigh ate two pints of mint-chocolate chip ice cream. A kidnapper from Iowa requested a single olive with a pit in it.

As with many psychopaths, there was more than mere hunger behind Hayes' bargaining chip. In confessing to seventeen additional murders, and thereby elevating his heinous status from home invasion killer and rapist to serial killer, Hayes' hoped to one-up the authorities by killing himself before they got the chance to kill him via lethal injection.

Turns out, Hayes' was deathly allergic to oysters. The dozen that he ordered would most certainly do him in and Hayes would perish on his terms, not the terms of the people of the state of Connecticut. It would be his final coup d'├ętat- a message to the world that even murderers have the right to live free or die.

Hayes is not a particularly intelligent man. He incorrectly assumed that the authorities were unaware of his fatal allergy to oysters. In his simple way of thinking, his love of food, including oysters with hot sauce, would dupe prosecutors into believing that his intentions were sincere. After all, in between prior incarcerations Hayes worked as a cook for J&Ds restaurant in Torrington, and even at some high end establishments like Apricots in Farmington and the White Hart Inn in Salisbury.

The higher ups in the state corrections system did not buy it. Hayes was known as a notorious manipulator and liar.  Moreover, killing seventeen people (and getting away with it), in addition to the three victims of the Petit family, was not in keeping with Hayes' criminal character. A psychological evaluation provided to the court during Hayes' trial states that Hayes' "compulsive drug seeking led to repeated criminal activity, mostly burglary and larceny." In profiling terms, Hayes was a two-bit thief who got in over his head in the Petit family murders. He and his accomplice, Joshua Komisarjevsky, apparently entered the upscale Cheshire home intending to get some quick cash for drugs. The violent rape and murders that ensued unfolded with a kind of haphazard fury typical of "impulsive" offenders. Such individuals are reckless brutes who let their evil take over all sense of rational in the heat of moment.

In the end, Hayes wasn't smart enough – or conniving enough – to be The Route 8 Killer. The psychologist who interviewed Hayes in March 2009 described him as alternating "between a focus on his extensive failings and worthlessness and a perspective in which he had no choices and his criminal activity seemed to just happen." Basically, Hayes would have made a good Nazi in Hitler's regiment of non-thinking, non-questioning robots. According to the psychologist, Hayes "depends on others to organize his thinking and behavior." Seems Hayes is self aware of this trait. He wrote to the Parole Board in 2001, "I need someone to tell me what to do."

Not exactly the makings of a ritualistic and highly organized serial killer who has escaped detection for decades.

A year following his bogus confessions, Hayes admitted to the Hartford Courant that he made up the stories as part of a plan to kill himself with oysters. To date, Hayes remains on death row and his obsession with food has not waned. He recently filed suit in federal court against the state Department of Correction and several officers because he was not being served kosher food on death row. Hayes states that he has converted to Orthodox Judaism. His death row meal plan has, in fact, been modified to comply with certain jewish dietary laws. However, in his suit Hayes demands that more should be done to honor his newfound religious beliefs. His food must be truly kosher: prepared using separate cooking utensils.

The lawsuit is a farce, of course, as are most suits filed by death row inmates with far too much time on their hands. According to Jewish Prisoner Services International, Hayes is not a Jew in any shape of the word. First, he has not undergone the intense period of study required by a rabbinical court for conversion. Second, if he attempted to do so, any Rabbi in his or her right mind would reject Hayes' self-serving request to convert.

Although Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy recently signed the state's death penalty repeal bill into law, Hayes and Komisarjevsky, as two of eleven convicted killers on death row in Connecticut, will not be grandfathered into that legislation.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Is the Route 8 Killer also the New Bedford Highway Killer?

The 9 New Bedford victims
A serial killer was on the loose in New Bedford, Massachusetts, approximately 150 miles from where the Route 8 bodies were dumped, in the summer of 1988. Like the Route 8 murderer, the
New Bedford killer hunted prostitutes and/or drug addicts as his prey. From April 1988 to September 1988, a total of nine bodies were left in forested areas off of several highways leading from New Bedford. Most of the victims knew each other or were somehow interconnected through local workplaces, parks, and bars. Some of the victims were even neighbors. All of them were strangled. Some were sexually assaulted. Also like the Route 8 killer, the New Bedford killer had a penchant for the quick disposal of his strangled victims in wooded locations not far from the highway.

It took local and state police some time to locate the nine bodies in or near New Bedford city limits. Though the last New Bedford victim went missing in the summer of 1988, the last body was not discovered until the summer of 1989, long after the corpse had begun to decay and give off that foul, ammonia-like scent that trained dogs can easily find. To some extent, the Route 8 killer was not so organized. The bodies of Everett and Alvarado were found in a ravine only days, if not hours, after their respective deaths. This is an important distinction, as the longer a body is left to rot beneath the harsh elements of snow and sun, and lay vulnerable to natural predators like coyotes and vultures, the harder it is for investigators to find trace evidence at the scene of the crime. For example, hairs, often taken by birds to build nests, are gone, and prints in the mud are long lost memories.

Generally speaking, the two differences between the Route 8 serial killer and the New Bedford serial killer involve regional location, and the visibility of the bodies from the view of the road itself. Otherwise, the individuals in question bare noteworthy similarities with respect to their choice of victims and causes of death. Most importantly, it's the timing of the murders that takes the potential link between the New Bedford killer and the Route 8 killer outside the parameters of conspiracy theory, and into the realm of being a possible hit. Specifically, the New Bedford slayings abruptly ceased in September 1988. The Route 8 killings began in October 1988.

Did the New Bedford killer, who was obviously a ritualistic and highly organized offender, split town in late September or early October, move to Northwest Connecticut, and resume his activity in Waterbury?

If you want to learn more about the New Bedford murders, the book Killing Season, by Carlton Smith, is an excellent read. (Smith also wrote the bestseller, The Search of the Green River Killer).
Whereas Ann Rule, in her books, often writes about law enforcement with great admiration and respect (she was, after all, once one of them, as was her father), in Killing Season, Smith takes the dysfunctional powers to task. Evidently, in the late eighties there was a troubling division, competition, and overall lack of communication between the ranks of the local and state police in that part of the Bay State, and a tendency on the part of the DAs office to seek ego gratification through the media in hopes of future electoral wins. For this reason, according to Smith, the most savage serial killings in Massachusetts' history remain unsolved to this day.

The only suspect who was charged in the New Bedford slayings was an attorney with a taste for illegal drugs and pornography. Ken Ponte's life was turned upside down by the media circus surrounding his indictment. He was later cleared of the crimes.
Attorney Ken Ponte flees from reporters. 

As an aside, Ponte subsequently lost his license to practice law when he misused funds from his IOLTA account, the trust that attorneys are required to keep for monies belonging to their clients, not them. The big no-no of withdrawing clients' funds for personal use is frequently fueled by an attorney's ongoing substance abuse, which no doubt contributed to Ponte's irrational act. As a practicing attorney myself, I have a song that I sing in my head every time I look at the balance in my IOLTA: MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This." The legal bars of every state watch IOLTA accounts like hawks. It is drilled into the head of every law school student from day one that you do not, under any circumstances, put your greedy hands on that cash. It's just about the stupidest thing that an attorney can do. Although admittedly, living a lifestyle that results in being charged as a serial killer is a bit dumber.

But I digress.

Ponte died in his home at age 61 in 2006. No foul play was suspected. The other major suspect in the New Bedford killing spree was a serial rapist known as "flat nose." As a young boy, Tony DeGrazia's nose had been bashed in by his abusive mother. Needless to say, he carried strong rage against women. DeGrazia was never charged for the serial murders since no evidence linked him to the crimes. He allegedly committed suicide in July 1991.

Serial killers are known to possess average to above average intelligence. The ones who are not labeled as "impulsive" but rather, "ritualistic", orchestrate their seemingly random acts of violence with meticulous precision. Often, the longer a killer's murders go unsolved, the more arrogant the killer becomes. Ultimately, investigators can only hope that this false sense of superiority will lead the murderer to get careless and leave behind some damning clues at the scene of the crime. Likewise, hanging around town for a little too long can be a serial murderer's biggest mistake. Take, for example, Ted Bundy. He was known as a "compulsive driver" and this trait allowed him to avoid capture for a significant period of time. Bundy drove long distances in search of his victims. In his book, Dark Dreams, FBI profiler Roy Hazelwood references one serial killer who put eighty thousand miles on his speedometer in just ten months.

If the New Bedford killer and the Route 8 killer are one in the same, then the individual was obviously smart enough to not let his arrogance at escaping justice get the best of him. He knew it was time to leave and move on to greener pastures, so to speak, where he could stump a whole new assortment of cops and detectives. Alternatively, he remained in New Bedford after his last murder in September, 1988, and chose to take grisly "day trips" to Waterbury, Connecticut.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Hunter and the Unidentified Caller

The Route 8 killer obviously liked the location where he had chosen to dump Karen Everett. Less than two months later, on January 20, 1989, the body of Mildred Alvarado, also a prostitute and heroin addict from Waterbury, was found in almost the exact same spot three quarters of the way down the embankment off Valley Road.

A dispatcher from State Police Troop L in Litchfield got the call on the evening of January 19th. The anonymous male caller said that he had been "down on Valley Road and saw a body." Then he hung up. Red flag. Who was that man? Why didn't he identify himself? Most importantly, if the caller was also the killer, did he want to tease the cops? Was this some kind of sick game?

Tom Pollack contacted me a few days following our interview at the McDonalds in Torrington. He had another recollection that he forgot to share with me. When Mrs. Brown called Tom and Lloyd to the site of Karen Everett's body off Valley Road in October, a police car simultaneously arrived. Evidently, a hunter had just phoned the state police to inform that a body was lying on the embankment. On further recollection, Tom can now say for sure that Everett's discovery happened on a Sunday afternoon. This is a significant detail since it's illegal to hunt on Sundays in Litchfield County. Moreover, that someone was hunting near that embankment seemed far-fetched, to Tom. It's a 50-foot incline beside an active roadway. Not a great place to shoot deer.

When the hunter phoned the police about Everett in October, did the police get his name? If not, then there's a chance that the unidentified "hunter" was, in fact, the killer, and this was all part of a power drama that he played with the authorities, placing himself in the position of the god-like puppeteer. Serial killers are a  narcissistic lot. Certain types take great pleasure in mentally toying with the police.

Back to the subsequent discovery of Mildred Alvarado in January 1989. Unlike Everett, Alvarado had not been sexually assaulted. She remained fully dressed in dungarees, a t-shirt with a Playboy logo, and a denim vest. Only her shoes were missing. With this difference in mind, there is the remote chance that Alvarado was not murdered by Everett's murderer. However, the similarities between Everett's and Alvarado's deaths are also striking. In addition to being placed in the same location as Everett, Alvarado had also been strangled. That Alvarado was dressed and not sexually violated may only indicate that the killer did not have the time to further his plan. Perhaps, in Everett's case, he had sexually assaulted the victim posthumously and circumstances with Alvarado, for example, the sound of a car approaching in the distance, did not permit a rape to proceed.

More speculation: if the hunter who phoned police about Everett in October, and the unidentified caller who phoned in Alvarado's sighting in January was, in fact, the killer of both women, it follows that he may also have been a local resident. Granted, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know to phone the police of a specific jurisdiction regarding a body sighting in that jurisdiction, regardless of where you lay your own head at night. That said, in the days when only paper phone books gave access to police numbers and the internet was an invention to come, perhaps the killer returned home to a nearby location, flipped open the Litchfield County phone book, and made the anonymous call.

According to serial killer scholar, retired police officer, and Winsted, Connecticut native Bob Peetz, serial killers known as "marauders" will grab and kill their victims in the area where they themselves live and dump the bodies at a remote local. Others, known as "commuters", travel to get their victims. The person who murdered Everett and Alvarado was probably either a marauder or a commuter; to wit, he either lived in Waterbury, or Harwinton. My loosey-goose phone book theory supports the idea of the killer as a commuter. Perhaps he worked in Waterbury and traveled back to his home in Harwinton each night. If so, the risk of his being sited near Valley Road would not be such an unusual occurrence as he lived nearby.

There's also a good possibility that the unidentified individual who phoned police about Mildred Alvarado, and/or the hunter who phoned in the Everett sighting, had absolutely nothing to do with the crimes. Maybe each man wanted to help, but just didn't want to get involved and risk turning into a suspect.

Killers who strangle are usually classified as "lust murderers." According to Peetz, strangulation is the most personal kind of death. The killer has to not only invade the victim's personal space, but grab them, hold them, and kill them. Additionally, lust murderers are known for a habit of returning to the dumping ground and tampering with the bodies, including having sex with the corpse. It's not outside the realm of possibility that Karen Everett was not sexually violated at the time of her death, but on the following day. Thus, the killer could have intended to return to Mildred Alvarado's corpse in the near future to commit the act of necrophilia and the anonymous caller put a stop to that. This is a dark supposition, on my part. Then again, true crime is not for the faint of heart.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Mutilated Torso at Pickle Park

Route 8 is a 67.34-mile state highway running north–south from Bridgeport, through Waterbury, then Torrington, all the way to the Massachusetts border where it continues on as Massachusetts Route 8. Most of the route is a divided highway but the northernmost 8.8 miles is a two-lane surface road. The infamous part of Route 8, where a total of six murdered bodies were dumped between 1986 and 2004, stretches for only about 8 miles, from Harwinton, at the top of the triangle, down through the edge of Litchfield and into Thomaston.

The Pickle Park rest area, now closed. 
Two years before the body of Karen Everett was discovered, the mutilated torso of Jack Franklin Andrews was found at a fenced-in rest area about six miles down the road, known by locals as "Pickle Park." No, the now closed off commuter parking lot did not host a farmer's market selling homemade pickles, organic blueberry jams, and apple jellies for the New York City tourists. Get your mind into the gutter on this one. Pickle Park was known in the 1970s and 80s as a meeting place for homosexuals in search of some quick action in the surrounding woods or in the backseats of their cars. Drug addicts and prostitutes were also known to frequent Pickle Park. Indeed, you might say that there were objects that resembled pickles to be found in this shady locale, and yes, in a way, the pickles were often for sale.

Jack Franklin Andrews
Jack Franklin Andrews was an experienced criminal. He had a long rap sheet of arrests across the country: from California to Oregon to Tennessee and Florida. He had also been charged in other states with an assortment of crimes: burglary, possession of stolen property, assault with a weapon, and providing false information and assignation to commit prostitution. The fact that Jack had no arrest record or charges pending in Connecticut may very well indicate that the transient had not been in the Nutmeg state for very long.

Unlike Karen Everett or future victims found along Route 8, Jack was not killed by strangulation or shooting. Rather, Jack's legs and arms were cut off. According to autopsy results, this may have happened while the victim was still alive. At some point in the grisly process, a major vein was probably sliced and Jack literally bled to death. Let's hope he passed out from the trauma of the ordeal early into the killing. A trucker found Jack's torso located at the rest area along Route 8, at the Litchfield/Thomaston town line between Exits 39 and 40 in November 1986.

Not only were Jack's arms and legs cut off by the killer, he had been castrated as well. Jack's sexual preferences are unknown. That said, it is easy to deduce that he was lured into a sexual act and then violently attacked by someone carrying tremendous rage against gay men. First, there is the medieval horror of removing a man's genitalia; second, there is the unfathomable energy and unconscionable concentration required to saw away the victim's major body limbs, one by one.

For fellow true crime fanatics, I highly recommend the book "Dark Dreams" by FBI profilers Roy Hazelwood and Stephen G. Michaud. It's a kind of serial killer 101 manual which explains the ever-evolving field of investigative profiling with respect to unsolved sexual serial crimes. Profiling is both a science and an art. The profiler looks for patterns and similarities: the positioning of the bodies, the gender, age, and physical appearance of the victims, the means of death, and the emotional and psychological intent that would have contributed to the crime, to name just a few.

On the other hand, there will always be differences between crimes, even if the same person committed them. Inconsistencies result from the unique circumstances at hand: the victim's behavior, the particular mood of the killer that day, and the amount of time that the killer had to commit the act, for example.

Under such analysis, the murder of Jack Franklin Andrews was completely unrelated to the murder of Karen Everett and future female victims along Route 8. There are just too many differences between the crimes, ranging from gender, to manner of death, to speculated intent. For this reason, the mutilated torso at Pickle Park, while being an interestingly macabre footnote in my future true crime novel, remains just that- a footnote.

Pickle Park has since been closed off to the public. Probably just as well.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Prostitute as Prey

Since the days of Jack the Ripper and well before that, prostitutes have always been easy prey for serial killers. The reasons are obvious. Prostitutes are a highly vulnerable population. They are out at night, on the streets, and willing to get into a car (or a buggy or dark alleyway, in Ripper's time), with a total stranger. When they go missing, sadly, few people seem to notice or even care.

Several of Jack the Ripper's victims were alcoholics. It wasn't uncommon for them to disappear for days at a time on drunken binges. Their absence from the streets was part of a larger pattern of addiction. Likewise, in today's world, most prostitutes are drug addicts. A loved one or another prostitute may report them to the authorities as a missing person but by then, days or even weeks have passed and the case is already getting cold.

In theory, local and state police should dedicate equal time and zeal to every missing persons' case. In reality, it is often assumed that the prostitute overdosed and died, or skipped town with her John, and so less energy is put into the investigation. Compare this to the prompt detective work and frenzied media coverage that occurs when a suburban soccer mom from a high-end neighborhood is missing in action. The recent book and movie "Gone Girl" did a fine job of depicting that dynamic.

Based on my online research, no one reported that Karen Everett was missing before her body was called in to the state police dispatcher by Harwinton highway supervisor Tom Pollack. Karen, a known prostitute and drug addict, was last seen early in the evening of October 14, 1988, walking on North Main Street in Waterbury, in the neighborhood where she lived and worked. That section of Waterbury was also known as a common stopping point for drug addicts and prostitutes.

According to police reports, two weeks earlier she had been busted at a Waterbury park with nine bags of heroin and arrested. At the time she went missing, she was released on bail with a trial pending. With these facts in mind, it goes without saying that her two day absence from the community was not a startling development. Karen was looking at another lengthy stay in the state penitentiary. Maybe it was time for her to leave Waterbury and find another place to live.

I don't think that anyone can define a "typical prostitute". These women come from all walks of life and one thing is certain,  as little girls they don't plan on someday selling their bodies for drugs and money. They do, however, often share a common childhood history of sexual and/or physical abuse and emotional neglect.

So who, exactly, was Karen Everett? Her mug shot tells us that she was an attractive, brown haired, green eyed caucasian woman. It seems, however, that Karen was far more than just another pretty face. In an article for the Waterbury Sunday Republican dated November 23, 2008, Karen's former landlord and employer, Alan Lane, describes the twenty four year old woman as nice, hard working, and extremely lonely. "Other than my wife and I, I don't think she had a friend in the world."

For every serial killer in America, there are thousands of do-gooders like Lane and his wife. They saw Karen as being different from the other girls working the streets in that neighborhood. Even though Lane knew of Karen's drug use, he took the risk and hired her as a courier for his mortgage firm. Lane even gave Karen the keys to the company car. He and his wife also allowed Karen to rent the apartment above their place of business because they were hopeful that she would kick her drug habit and make a clean start. To that end, Lane signed Karen up for methadone treatment at a local Waterbury clinic.

Lane and his wife must have seen something special in Karen. What was it about her that gave the older couple hope and fueled such generosity? She was smart, for one thing. She liked to read and write, and she talked about enrolling in college someday. As for her background, according to Lane, Karen came from a prosperous family in Virginia. This fact is confirmed by an online search of The Phelan and Healy Family Tree, which lists Karen as the third cousin of Taryn Lynn Phelan and states that Karen's body was buried at St. Bridget's Cemetery in Cheshire, Connecticut.

The Cheshire connection seems related to the fact that Karen's maternal grandmother lived in Cheshire at the time of the murder. It's not clear why Karen moved to Waterbury in 1981. On the surface, she had a golden childhood involving racing and showing horses in Virginia, for which she had won ribbons. This no doubt contributed to Lane calling her a "tomboy"in the article.

Look up tomboy on and here is what you'll find: an energetic, sometimes boisterous girl whose behavior and pursuits, especially in games and sports, are considered more typical of boys than of girls.

That endearing quality is evident in Karen's mug shot. Her head tilts slightly to the right, highlighting her naturally high cheek bones and delicate nose. Her eyelids are heavy from heroin use, but the drugs had not yet killed their light. In those emerald eyes there remains a trace of confidence- some might call it "attitude".  I'd like to think that Karen was a fighter, up until her very last breath at the hands of a killer.

Karen Everett: reader, writer, equestrian, and tomboy from Virginia. Rest in Peace.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Discovery of Karen Everett

Foliage junkies across Connecticut know that the peak of the season is around Columbus Day each year. In Litchfield County, the landscape is set afire every October with violent flames of red, orange and yellow, intermixed with broken lines of evergreen. Tourists with credit and debit cards in hand make the easy day's drive from New York City and Boston to behold the beauty up close. They visit the quaint small towns along the winding country roads, most of which are replete with seventeenth and eighteenth century history, local artisans, cozy eateries, and many, many family-owned Italian restaurants. The Nutmeg State warmly welcomes the tourists, who give a great boost to the state's economy.

The residents of Northwest Connecticut, on the other hand, tend to rake leaves.

Tom Pollack was doing yard work on the Saturday (or maybe it was a Sunday, he now forgets) when he got the call about the body in the ravine. It was October 16, 1988, or maybe it was October 15, 1988. Today, on February 14,  2015, Tom can't recall what kind of yard work he was doing. Rest assured, like most locals with more than a quarter acre of land, Tom was probably raking leaves that day. Or mowing grass before the first frost arrived. Or picking up branches from the windblown trees....

Virginia Brown's house was located just off Route 8, at the Harwinton Exit. She called to alert Tom to a "very bad road problem" nearby. It made sense for Mrs. Brown to call Tom. As the highway supervisor, a job otherwise titled Public Works Director in many towns across the country, Tom was, after all, in charge of all things road related. He asked her for details but Mrs. Brown would say nothing else. Seems she was too disturbed to expound. Tom wasn't on the clock that day, and a general indication that there was a "very bad road problem" wasn't enough to incite him to immediately drop his rake and run to investigate.

Minutes later, Tom was called by Lloyd Shanley. A longtime resident of Harwinton, now deceased, Lloyd was the town's first Democratic selectman in a town that historically voted Republican. Mrs. Brown had just phoned him as well, complaining about the "very bad road problem" stating, "you have to come see this", with no further explanation. Lloyd's follow up call prompted Tom to put down the rake, so to speak.

Tom and Lloyd parked their vehicles at Mrs. Brown's house and she led them to the place of concern on foot. She stopped at the top of an embankment and pointed to the object, placed about three quarters of the way down the incline. There, at the foot of a tree, lay the partially dressed body of Karen Everett.

Tom cannot recall if the dead young woman had a top on, but she definitely wore no garments from the waist down. (A subsequent source says she wore only a grey tank top). Needless to say, that detail indicated that the crime was sexual in nature. (That's my observation, not Tom's. As an aside, another source has told me that two of the bodies wore only one sock, indicating that the killer had taken a sock from each victim as a perverse kind of "trophy". More on this detail later).

The killer must have thrown the woman's body over the guardrail and it toppled down to that position. My first thought is that the killer must have been a strong, sturdily built man, or perhaps two men did the job of dumping the approximately 5'4, 110 pound victim over the rails. Tom counters that the body may have been tossed off the back of a pick-up truck, as a future suspect was known to drive a pick up truck, and so body size or strength was not an issue. Regardless, it appears that poor Karen was dead on arrival at the grisly burial ground.

Tom and Lloyd did not go to the body, but immediately phoned the state police. They quickly arrived at the scene, and within an hour, the body had been carried up to the roadside. The absence of decomposition indicated that this was a relatively fresh kill. Karen had obviously been strangled. Police would subsequently identify her based on fingerprints.

Does Tom have anything else to share about his observations of the victim? I'm hoping he may get a little teary and touch upon his feelings at that moment in time. Not Tom. His eyes drift to the table and he flatly says, "No, not really. That's it."

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Interview with Tom Pollack

It's a bitter cold Valentine's day morning in Torrington, Connecticut. Much of New England has been pummeled with snow in recent weeks, and another 6-8 inches is expected later in the afternoon. In spite of the harsh weather, or perhaps because of it, the McDonalds on Main Street is quite the happening place.
A scattering of tables and booths host animated groups of men roughly ranging from age sixty to eighty-five. Some drink coffee but few are eating. They're there to talk. In a day where Facebook and video games consume the free time of a socially awkward younger generation, these men can teach us a thing or two about the importance of social capital. The banter is friendly and relaxed. Everyone knows everyone else, it seems, as indicated when they casually leave one table to join another, or call out to an acquaintance across the room.
Tom Pollack, a 72 year old retired highway supervisor for the town of Harwinton, rises from his booth of acquaintances to greet me. I'm here to interview him about the Route 8 murders but before we begin, I would like to talk to some of the men about the Flood of 1955. Tom points me in the direction of John Thrall, a fellow Harwinton resident. John is very old- old enough to have been a full-fledged adult at the time of the flood. After getting some flood stories from John, I join Tom at a private table.
The 1955 flood, I tell Tom, is going to be an important part of my upcoming true crime novel about the Route 8 Murders. Tom is perplexed. The Route 8 murders began in the late 1980s. I explain that the flood seems to be in the blood of the people of this region of Connecticut. It was obviously an emotional and financial trauma to many local communities, and it has stayed in the public psyche for decades.
He stares at me and says nothing. Feeling like a witness losing credibility on the stand, I try a different angle. Flood imagery, from a literary perspective, is rich with meaning... it speaks of God's punishment of men's evil and the subsequent cleansing of the earth, which gives hope for the future. This is all relevant to a book about a serial killer, don't you think?
He puts up his hands and says, "nah...ah...", and shakes his head with disapproval. Tom is a voracious reader of true crime novels. He sifts through them for the facts, and discards all the "bull-shit", as he calls it. Clearly, Tom Pollack is a no-nonsense, "just the facts, Jack" kind of guy.


So let's talk about the facts, Tom, as you can remember them. Let's talk about that day in October 1988 when you discovered Karen Everett's corpse in a roadside ravine.

The Route 8 Murders

Four unsolved murders occurred along Route 8 in Connecticut from October 1988 to August 2004. Three of the female victims were involved in drugs and at least two were known prostitutes. All of the victims lived in Waterbury. It is my hope that this blog attracts great attention from the public, and that otherwise unknown individuals come forward with information about these cold cases. They are relatively old- the cases, that is. Not the memories. Not the pain; as felt by the families and loved ones of the victims and, dare I say, as felt by the victims themselves, whose voices still haunt us from another realm….

Help me.
Hear me.
Make sense of this nightmare.
Comfort me in my death.
Give meaning to my life.

And I do hope, as an audience, that your concern and your compassion can give meaning to the lives of the victims.

Ultimately, my weekly posts and the interactive content contained within this blog may transform into a true crime novel. That is my hope. My greater hope is that the Route 8 killer is found and convicted- and that the loved ones of the victims find resolution.

Finally, a huge disclaimer is in order before the posting begins. As this blog will endeavor to journalize a “work in progress” (i.e. my future true crime novel titled “The Route 8 Murders”), complete factual accuracy in this blog is not initially guaranteed. I will endeavor to be as correct as possible with respect to all of the information and insights that emerge from my research and interviews in the year ahead. That said, the very act of investigating cold cases is not dissimilar to stumbling about a forested maze on a murky night.  At times I may go down a wrong path, which may, in turn, lead me to a different path that bears great promise. Again, this is why I seek the help of the audience at large. Join me in this unfortunate adventure and let’s bring the killer(s) to justice.