Many unsolved murders remain in Vermont
By PETER HIRSCHFELD Vermont Press Bureau | February 22,2009
Stefan Hard/Times Argus
Pamela Brown's headstone, which includes other relatives, stands in Wilson Cemetery in Barre Town.
Time takes its toll on murder investigations.
Witnesses die. Memories fade. And as new cases accumulate on barrack desks, police are unable to sustain the intensive resources initially devoted to homicide cases.
Every so often though, cold cases turn hot. And, as was the case earlier this week, law enforcement officials arrest a new suspect in a decades-old murder.
"The further out you get from an investigation where you're not having any results, it does make it more difficult," says Capt. Ed Ledo with the Vermont State Police. "But sometimes time is on our side. Someone may have a change of heart. Allegiances have changed. And there have been advancements in technology that help us out as well."
The 1982 murder of Pamela Brown was, until this week, one of 24 unsolved homicides in Vermont. And it wasn't even the oldest – a cold case involving the rape and strangulation of a Milton school teacher dates back to 1971.
As unsolved crimes age, the odds of resolution diminish, but state police detectives say they are actively using a host of new and old tools to apprehend violent offenders from the past. A Vermont State Police Web page, launched in 2004, catalogues the open homicide and missing persons cases currently under investigation. And the Vermont Forensics Laboratory analyzes sometimes decades-old evidence to shed new light on these cases.
"The driving force is to try to find justice for the victim," says Capt. Ed Ledo with the Vermont State Police. "That's the main goal, justice for the victim and closure for the family."
David and Ann Scoville waited nearly 14 years for that closure. Their daughter, Patricia Scoville, then 28, was raped, murdered and buried in a shallow grave off a wooded trail in Stowe in 1991.
The family's loss, David Scoville says, was made all the more difficult when an extensive police investigation failed to apprehend any suspects.
"There's the frustration of having seemingly nothing happen on the police end of things," Scoville says. "It tests your patience for sure. And it's not fun."
In the wake of their daughter's murder, the Scovilles lobbied the Vermont Legislature for the creation of a DNA database to track down violent offenders.
They told their story, and lawmakers listened, approving a measure in 1998 that set up the state's first DNA database. Law enforcement officials credit CODIS – or Combined DNA Index System – with identifying some 20 violent offenders in Vermont so far.
Among the perpetrators identified by the DNA database was, ironically, Patricia Scoville's own killer. In April of 2005, police arrested Harold Godfrey, a 61-year-old Kirby man. He was convicted of aggravated murder and will spend the rest of his life in jail.
Last week, detectives employed the same technology to tie Theodore Caron to the 27-year-old murder of Brown.
"We're just so pleased for Vermont, and for Pamela's family, to see that another match has been made, and it appears another person will be brought to justice," Scoville says. "It's happening all over the country and it's exciting."
Genetic evidence isn't the only forensic tool on which cold-case detectives rely, however.
Ledo says every few years, each open homicide case is reassigned to a fresh lead detective, who begins the investigation anew.
"Depending on where the incident occurred, a detective from the nearest barracks is assigned as the main case officer," Ledo says. "They go through all the evidence and look to see if new technology exists to advance evidence that was collected back then. They'll also look at whether things were missed at the time and whether people ought to be interviewed or re-interviewed."
Det. Sgt. Jason Letourneau has spent two and a half years probing the unsolved homicide of Angela Blouin, whose body was found on the side a Derby road in the spring of 1993.
Police believe Blouin, last seen exiting a Newport general store, was murdered.
"The first thing an investigator will do is sit down and review the entire case," Letourneau says. "Not only are we trying to learn the case and learn the people involved, it's pretty much like you approach it almost as if you were the first investigator to take the case when it initially happened."
Letourneau says getting a DNA hit on the state's database is one hopeful avenue, but old-fashioned police work can also yield leads. By keeping the case in the public eye, authorities hope to jog the memories, or consciences, of people who might know something about the crime.
To that end, detectives often will issue press releases on old homicide cases on the anniversary of the crime.
In spite of his overwhelming caseload, Letourneau says he'll periodically devote entire days to the Blouin case.
"These cold cases are among the more horrible crimes out there, and it'd be nice to solve it and prove what happened," Letourneau says.
The relationship detectives forge with bereaved family members, according to Letourneau, also fuels the investigation.
"You're hearing their emotions, and it puts some emotion behind it whenever you start talking to family members of the victim," he says. "You want to solve it, and make sure the people responsible are brought to justice."