Author Topic: ADDISON COUNTY DOE: W, 13-15, found with two others near an old logging road - 15 May 1935  (Read 233 times)


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History Space: A 1935 Middlebury cold case

DETECTIVE KRIS BOWDISH and STATE ARCHIVIST TANYA MARSHALL, For the Free PressPublished 12:17 a.m. ET Oct. 30, 2016

What happens to an 80-year-old cold case that hasn’t had a lead in more than 70 years?

How do you identify the victims of a violent crime 80 years after they were discovered?

Can the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration be the link to solve a 1935 triple homicide cold case?

Wednesday, May 15, 1935, began like any other day in Vermont. For Mary Dague and her 18-year-old daughter, Inez Perry, that day included an afternoon walk in the woods in search of mayflowers. They were on an old logging road a little more than 4 miles outside of Middlebury. On the way back from their hunt, a white rock caught Inez Perry’s eye and, without much thought, she gave it a kick. But the rock did not roll out and tumble across the ground as expected, instead, it turned to reveal that it was not a rock at all but rather a skull.

A gravestone in Middlebury where the three unknown victims of a 1935 homicide are buried. (Photo: Courtesy of Middlebury Police Department)

The three victims

By nightfall, Middlebury Sheriff Ralph G. Sweet and Addison County State’s Attorney John T. Conley, along with several residents, uncovered the skeletal remains of a mother and her two children. The case was immediately classified a homicide, as all three had suffered apparent gunshot wounds to their skulls. The case was vigorously investigated by Detective Almo B. Franzoni of the Vermont Attorney General’s Office.

A nationwide search of missing persons, as well as possible suspects, was launched but neither the victims, nor their killer, have ever been identified. After haunting Vermont public officials and law enforcement for more than 80 years, archival records recently helped shed some light on the case’s many twists and turns.

The entrance wound in the skull of mother, as photographed by the Vermont Chief Medical Examiner’s Office in 2011. (Photo: Courtesy Vermont State Archives and Records Administration)

The victims in this case were reported to be a mother, approximately 35-45 years old, and her two children, one about 9 to11 years old and the other 13 to15. Further examinations, by various doctors at the time, concluded that the three victims were all members of the same family due to similarities in their bone structures and what appeared to be a tendency of anemia. Early reports show the children were a boy and a girl, and then later two boys.

The entrance wound in the skull of youngest child, as photographed by the Vermont Chief Medical Examiner’s Office in 2011. (Photo: Courtesy Vermont State Archives and Records Administration)

The most striking evidence in this case, and perhaps the greatest lead, was found within the skulls. While all had some form of dental work done on them, one of the victims, the eldest child, had extensive dental work including a gold band encircling the entire set of teeth in the upper jaw with an Angle’s ribbon. The dental work was valued at $1,500 at the time.

The crime scene

The three skeletal remains were found on the side of a remote logging road leading to the Brookins/Blackmer hunting camp in East Middlebury. Reported by a local newspaper as being “dumped unceremoniously under a pine tree right near the road,” the bodies were discovered under a thin layer of pine needles and leaves and bound tight in what was initially described as an Army duffel bag. A small tree root, about a half to three-quarters of an inch thick, had grown over the leg of one of the victims. That evening, Sheriff Sweet returned to the site with Dr. Lewell S. Walker, the regional medical examiner. Walker reported that he was unable to determine the gender or age of the three victims but that each had died from a “shot clean through the head.”

A crowd gathering at the crime scene, as photographed and published by the Burlington Free Press on May 20, 1930 (Photo: Courtesy Vermont State Archives and Records Administration)

In the following 48 hours, details of the crime scene started to take shape. While the bodies were originally reported as being found naked, the reality was that only bones remained, meaning that they had been exposed to the elements for at least three to five years. All three victims appeared to have been killed in an identical manner — one single shot to the temple —a crime that investigators thought possibly occurred while they were sleeping since remnants of a pillow were also found.

Other evidence included a “few hanks of matted hair,” described as both blond and dark, possibly auburn, with some of the strands being several inches long; a small piece of a woman’s silk dress; badly disintegrated remnants of a black, possibly green, and buff striped awning; four small block pulleys; the corner of a woolen blanket; and the snap from an automobile side curtain. A flattened .38 caliber copper jacketed bullet, consistent with a Colt automatic, was also found under one of the skulls.

Map to location of crime scene, as published by the Burlington Free Press on May 18, 1935. (Photo: Courtesy Vermont State Archives and Records Administration)

The investigation

The investigation began in earnest the day after the remains were found. Sheriff Sweet returned to the scene with State’s Attorney Conley and Detective Almo B. Franzoni from the Vermont Attorney General’s Office.

State’s Attorney Conley brought the skulls to Mary Fletcher Hospital in Burlington where they were photographed. He then traveled alone, armed with revolver and blackjack, to see Dr. Alfred B. Rogers, a Boston dentist who specialized in treating irregularities of teeth and was also a graduate of the Angle school. Dr. Rogers concluded that no unusual skill was required to have performed the dental work done and that the work could have been done in any dental clinic, including clinics providing services to those of poor circumstances. Extensive work was done to contact dentists throughout New England and further but a match was never made.

The youngest child’s facial composite. (Photo: Forensic Anthropology Department at the New York Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.)

Detective Franzoni turned his attention to persons of interest beginning first with R.R. Luding of Buffalo, New York. A guest of the Middlebury Hotel, Luding had shown “great interest in the finding of the skeletons” and reportedly followed investigators from Middlebury to Burlington in an automobile with Indiana license plates. Police were asked to keep a lookout for him, but the search was discontinued almost as soon as it started. Instead, information about a stranger who went by the name Irving or Arthur Denton caught Detective Franzoni’s attention.

According to Middlebury residents, Denton showed up in August 1931 buying high-price items, including a Ford automobile and a property on Starksboro Road, and paying for them in cash. He also whitewashed his property’s windows, blackened its lights, and warned neighbors to keep away. In February 1932, Denton abruptly left town ordering the sale of his property with the money going to the Pacific National Bank in Seattle, Washington. While recalling Denton, the neighbor living closest to the crime scene stated that 1932 was the year a dank odor of “decaying flesh” came from the woods but could not be placed.

Harold Young was another person of interest. Young came to Burlington in 1929 to operate a store on the corner of Monroe and Champlain streets, which was part of the Grand Union Tea Company. Believed to be a bootlegger or in the moonshine business not too far from Buffalo, New York, persons who knew him said that Young said “it got too hot” for him there. His acquaintances also said he owned a .38 caliber Colt. John Deyette, who owned the building where the store was located, said Young was taken back after receiving a notice that his wife and child, a girl about 11 years old, planned to join him in Burlington. Soon after their arrival, Deyette told authorities that Young left with his wife and daughter for three days and returned without them. Soon after, Young also left the area.