The Zaccardi Family Murder

Jeffrey Zaccardi, 43, was the father of the family. He was from Foxborough and a graduate of Foxboro High School. Joseph reportedly wrote children’s books that he sold online on Amazon although he had reportedly posted his employment status on Facebook as “unemployed and going crazy”.

Mother of the clan was Deirdre, who was 40 years old worked in Boston as an office manager at EMI Marketing Strategy. The couple had met in college at UMASS Dartmouth and been married for more than 10 years. Dierdre volunteered with the children’s school and was elected to the school board. She was involved with Keeping Pace with Multiple Miracles that assists mothers who give birth to twins, or other multiples where she participated in support group for parents of multiples.

They had 3 children.  The oldest child was 11 year old Alexis who was followed by 9-year old twins – Nathaniel and Kathryn. All 3 children attended Abington public Schools.

On Monday, October 7th, 2019, a family member arrived to take the children to school. Instead they found Deidre unresponsive and bleeding in the downstairs on the couch and called the police.  The police searched the house and quickly found the remaining family members. The case of death for all 5 family members was gunshot wounds.  All were believed to have been killed sometime the previous night.  A neighbor recalled hearing 4 noises that prompted her to get up at approximately 1 am Monday Morning to investigate but thought it might have been the dumpster door blowing in the wind. She now believes it was likely the gunshots she heard.

The investigation quickly lead to Joseph Zaccardi becoming the main suspect – It is believed he shot his wife, then each of the children and then himself. This was confirmed in the medical examiner’s report. I am hopeful that if the shots were what the neighbor heard, then the children were asleep and not aware of what what happening.

The real question is why? What leads a children’s book author to kill his entire family? There were no known known domestic issues and the police were never called to the residence. There is no stories of a violent temper or abuse. There were no restraining orders. Deirdre had reportedly taken the Wednesday before the murders off to celebrate the Twin’s Birthday by taking them to the movies and in a support group the week before, said everything was “good”.

If you follow this case, you will read a lot of speculation in articles that depression and inability to support the family can drive this type of family annihilation but we really have no idea what the family finances looked like for the Zaccardi’s. There is also speculation that it is perhaps due to the role reversal of his wife being the main breadwinner that caused the strife, but this doesn’t seem like it was a new situation for the family with Dierdre working her job for at least 2 decades. Sadly, it’s doubtful that we will ever know for sure what happened in the last moments that caused this tragedy.

https://www.southcoasttoday.com/news/20191013/after-abington-fathers-murder-suicide-experts-examine-why

https://www.wxii12.com/article/unexplainably-tragic-loss-childrens-author-wife-3-children-found-shot-to-death-in-home/29397573#

https://www.southcoasttoday.com/news/20191009/da-father-killed-wife-3-kids-then-himself-in-abington

https://nypost.com/2019/10/07/massachusetts-family-of-5-found-dead-in-apparent-murder-suicide/

https://dailyentertainmentnews.com/breaking-news/joseph-zaccardi-childrens-book-author-idd-in-abington-murder-suicide/

The Murder of Melissa Benoit

13 year old Melissa Benoit was a resident of Kingston,MA. She lived in a home with her mother and an 11 year old sister. The family had recently been through tragedy when the year before, Melissa’s father had passed away unexpectedly at just 41 years old leaving the family devastated.

Melissa was last seen on a path near her home about 2:30 pm on Saturday, September 15, 1990 where she went to visit her father’s grave. Melissa frequented this path, visiting her father often, a feat made easy by the proximity of the cemetery to her home.

The FBI asked neighbors to search properties and undergo polygraph testing related to the case. By September 19th, suspicion had fallen on a neighbor who had lived in the area for 30 years. After failing the polygraph, this man, Henry L. Meinholz admitted to prior lewd acts including sexual assault at knifepoint and public masterbation.

The disappearance was immediately taken seriously and the search for Melissa was extensive, involving 1000 law enforcement officers and volunteers. After Meinholz’s wife consented, a search was executed on his home and Melissa’s body was recovered during that search.

Her body, clad only in a tshirt, was found in the basement of the Meinholz home 11 days after she went missing. She was wrapped in plastic sheet which was fashioned as a cord around her neck . There was a cord around her chest, and a cord around her left wrist, and evidence there had been cords around other limbs while she was alive. She was naked from the waist down and had multiple blunt force contusions on her body. She had contusions on her bilateral inner thighs consistent with sexual assault. Cause of death was asphyxia and blunt fore trauma to the head.

Meinholz, 52, a bookkeeper at a lumber yard and church deacon ,was charged and convicted with kidnapping and killing the young girl . He claimed the voices in his head taunted him that he was not a man if he did not have sex with her. Meinholz was not charged with sexual assault because it could not be proven due to decomposition, however he did testify to sexually assaulting her but stated the sexual contact with the 13 year old was consentual, which only shows what a true abomination this man was. Of course, no one believed any of his sick lies any way, I just hate that her mother and sister had to sit there and listen to that after all they had been through.

Meinholz was given life in prison without parole, and he started his time in prison in Walpole but after many threats and one an assault, he was moved to the prison in Concord. I didn’t need to add that part but it made me feel good to think he suffered some after what he did.

Meinholz died in prison in 2000. The judge in the murder trial discussed that it was unfortunate the days where defendants like Meinholz could be hanged in front of the courthouse had passed.

Melissa is buried next to her father in Evergreen Cemetery in Kingston.

Sources:

http://masscases.com/cases/sjc/420/420mass633.html

https://nempb2015.wixsite.com/nempb/melissa-benoit

https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/a-bible-school-instructor-abducts-a-teenage-girl

https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1993-02-07-mn-1615-story.html

https://www.boston25news.com/news/suspect-in-30-year-old-murder-says-different-man-was-responsible-1/716054831/

https://www.upi.com/Archives/1990/09/29/Funeral-for-slain-teen-as-history-of-suspect-emerges/9048654580800/

https://apnews.com/article/6af14b2c4a114fe9e21c0c397004e1e9

https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/71489669/melissa-benoit

The Murder of Mary Lou Arruda

Mary Lou Arruda was born on September 8, 1963 to Joanne and Adrian Arruda, and she was the oldest of the Arruda children, with 2 brothers Joseph and Tony; and a sister, Karen. They lived in Raynham, MA – a small, suburban town on the outskirts of the City of Taunton, about 32 miles south of Boston.

On her Birthday – September 8, 1978, late in the afternoon, fifteen year old Mary Lou Arruda was abducted while riding her bike in her neighborhood, near Church Street. Her bike was found a short time later by a neighborhood boy and returned it to her mother, who called the police.

The call touched off a search with police, dogs and volunteers that lasted for days but there was no sign of the 15 year old cheerleader. It seemed as if she simply disappeared. There were witnesses that placed an unfamiliar green vehicle in the area, and the police worked with the witnesses and even developed a sketch.

A full two months later, November 11, 1978, Arruda’s body was found in Freetown State Forest by a dirt bike rider. She was fully dressed and tied to the tree in a standing position. Experts believe that she was alive when she was tied to the tree, head to foot, and cause of death was ruled by the medical examiner as strangulation by ligature or positional asphyxia. There were several reports as I was researching indicating decapitation in this case – I did not see that in the official records that I went through – but due to the body being out in nature for 2 months, it’s safe to say that she was likely in advanced decomposition.

James Kater, 31, who worked at doughnut store in Brockton, quickly became the main suspect in this case. He was apparently married the day after Mary Lou was kidnapped to his 18 year old fiance and left the country for his honeymoon.

Kater’s alibi was that he was running errands all over town when Mary Lou went missing, which the police were able to summarily dismiss his alibi throughout their investigations by proving he wasn’t where he stated, or he wasn’t there at the stated time. Kater was also seen by witnesses driving his green car in the neighborhood where Mary Lou went missing from and also in the vicinity where Mary Lou Arruda’s body was found shortly after the kidnapping. He was arrested in December of 1978.

In February of 1969, Kater pled guilty to a amazingly similar crime, the 1968 abduction of Jacalyn Bussiere. The afternoon of June 22, 1968, the thirteen year old was walking her bike in her neighborhood when she was kidnapped. She was forced into a car and driven 20 minutes away into some woods. Kater hit her on the back of the head with an iron bar while making her to kneel at a stream, forcing her face into the shallow water. Jacalyn resisted and knocked his glasses off. It’s unclear if he was attempting to torture her or drown her. She tried to escape, but Kater forced her back into the car and drove further into the woods. He tied her to a tree at the ankles, knees and torso and then waited. After about twenty minutes where Kater reportedly did nothing but pace, he pulled a last tie tight around her neck and then strangled her with his hands. When she awoke, Jacalyn managed to untie herself. Kater was convicted and spent most of the years in between this attack and Mary Lou’s abduction in prison, having been released in January of 1976.

Kater fought hard to fight the Arruda murder conviction, having four separate trials, and many, many appeals on this crime. He was serving his life sentence at MCI Shirley when on January 9th he was transferred to Shattuck Hospital for treatment . Fortunately, He died of cancer on January 23rd, 2016, 38 years after the murder. Finally, giving the family a small peace.

Mary Lou was laid to rest in St Joseph’s Cemetery in Taunton, MA .

https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2016/01/26/mother-relieved-learn-daughter-murderer-died-behind-bars/iZE80WT92LbHWj13ksbBZM/story.html

https://www.leagle.com/decision/2000836432mass4041808

https://www.tauntongazette.com/article/20160201/NEWS/160139696

https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/90782637/mary-lou-arruda

https://www.patriotledger.com/news/20160131/arruda-case-one-prosecutor-says-he–will-bring-to-my-grave

https://myfavoritemurder.com/220-live-at-the-chevalier-theatre-in-medford-ma-2018/

Movie about the case ” Predator at Largehttps://www.imdb.com/title/tt12343384/

Leann Ryba

This is the other case of local lore I referenced in an earlier blog post. This case is one of the stories around town where every fact I ever heard was completely wrong. When your sources are other 4th graders, I guess that’s to be expected.

Leann Ryba was born December 10, 1968. She lived with her mother and her 14 year old sister in downtown Middleborough. She was a junior at Middleborough High School. She had boyfriend, and many friends. She enjoyed music, singing and the fine arts; participating in the school and community theater programs.

The story I always heard involved her walking home from work through the woods at night. The truth from what I could research is that on May 15, 1985 Leann spent the evening having dinner with friends at Middleborough House of Pizza, and then reportedly hanging out behind the police station in the parking lot with friends. The was a typical hang-out for kids her age.

Leann was last seen at midnight of May 16th walking through town the short distance to her home, but she never made it. One article reported she was last seen just 5 houses from her home. Her body was found by her 14 year old sister and two of her friends on their walk to school. It would be horrifying to find anyone in this condition, but finding your sister would be particularly traumatizing. Leann’s body was nude from the waist down , brush pulled over the top half of her body.

Leann had severe injuries and her time of death was believed to be not long after she was last seen. Autopsy found her neck had been gashed open and she had been stabbed in the abdomen. She had blunt force trauma to the back of the head and bruising, which is believed to be from her being dragged. She had been sexually assaulted. Her cause of death was blood loss from the stab wounds. Her body was found on a dirt road called Woodlawn Ave just about 100 ft off South Main Street which is one of the main roads through the small center of town, and the street Leann lived on.

I am not certain exactly what first brought 20 year old Gary Plant of Freetown to the police’s radar but several witnesses had seen him in the area. Plant was a former Lakeville resident who graduated from Apponequet High in 1984.

Plant was arrested 3 days later at a baseball game after his house was searched. On a long, videotaped interview he admitted to facts that lead police to believe he was the murderer.

Hair matching Leann’s was found on Gary’s boot, and her bloody underwear was found at a place called “Mello’s Market” where Gary was known to be during that time period just after her murder. Two knives and some clothing were seized from the Plant home during the search.

Gary F. Plant was convicted of murder and aggravated rape. His attempt at appeal failed and he is still incarcerated at MCI Norfolk prison in Massachusetts.

Leann was laid to rest in St Mary’s Cemetery in Middleborough. It is clear from posts I read while researching this article that she is still missed to this day.

https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/regionals/south/2014/01/26/police-lieutenant-retires/ZB4inlDxHVjSnCH6UGRt3M/story.html

http://masscases.com/cases/sjc/417/417mass704.html

https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/45722714/leanne-marie-ryba

https://search.proquest.com/bostonglobe/docview/294259635/1D6727EFC8E840CFPQ/1?accountid=46911

The Riley Murder Suicide

Lakeville is small town, MA. There is barely even a center to the town. Blink, and you will surely miss it. Violent crime is almost non-existent in this town but tragedy still struck  51 Hill Street on a quiet Saturday. In this case, there seem to be more questions than answers…mainly, why?

The family home was locked with the deadbolts from the inside when the authorities arrived to the home in order to do a wellness check. The last confirmed sighting of the family was Friday, when the family returned from vacation. Once the authorities entered the home what they discovered was a terrible tragedy.

Paul Riley was a 52 year old Lt firefighter who worked out of Brockton, Ma. He was married to his second wife, Alicia (Frawley) Riley, who hailed from Brockton. He was said to have a good relationship with his first wife, with whom he also had a son.

Paul was known to be a good guy to family, friends and coworkers. There was no evidence of stress or domestic strife that any friends or family were aware of. There were no records that the police were ever called to the home for any issues other than false alarms from the home security system.

Alicia (Frawley)  Riley, was just 37 years old. Alicia was formerly of Brockton, and  was a volunteer at the Lakeville Animal Shelter. Alicia came from a big family, with 4 brothers and three sisters. Alicia and Paul had lived in the home at 51 Hill Street for 8 years, and were in the process of building a large, new home on Calthrop Drive in Bridgewater, MA, in a small subdivision of about 10 homes. The couple were their own contractors on the project.  This project was reportedly running over budget – but the couple did not show the normal signs of financial hardship. Could this have really been the cause?

The Riley family had just returned from a vacation in Disney World on Friday, which was the last day they were seen alive. Relatives did not hear from them, and called the police Monday night to check up on the family. The police arrived at approximately 6 pm and made the discovery of the tragedy after breaking into the house through a window. The house was secured from inside with the deadbolt. Alicia was found fully clothed, and deceased in the bathtub, and investigators stated it was unclear if she was shot there, or moved there afterwards but there was never any indication they found a secondary site in the house where she would have been shot.

The children, Matthew, 6, & Erin, just 2 years old were found in bed. The children were wearing their pajamas.  Autopsies for all 4 individuals in the home showed that each of the victims was shot just once, and that they had likely been dead for 48 hours, putting their deaths at sometime Saturday.  Police indicated there were no signs of a struggle in the home. Authorities believe Paul killed his wife and two small children before killing himself.

Paul’s body was found in his son’s bedroom with a .380 semiautomatic pistol underneath his body. Authorities said he purchased the gun in 1989, but that his firearms license expired in 1992. All indications were that his gun shot wound was self-inflicted.

There were no answers I could find on this case. No definitive reason, only a theory that the house they were building being over budget was just too much stress for him. Is that enough to drive a family man to become a family annihilator? Did something happen between the couple on vacation that caused a rift ? What drives a man to shoot his small children? In this case, they didn’t seem to find anything in the investigation that made sense, and I don’t think we will ever truly know.

https://www.capecodtimes.com/article/20000614/news01/306149927

https://www.upi.com/Archives/2000/06/13/Family-of-four-dead-in-apparent-murder-suicide/1287960868800/

https://www.southcoasttoday.com/article/20000615/news/306159995

https://www.upi.com/Archives/2000/06/13/Family-of-four-dead-in-apparent-murder-suicide/1287960868800/

https://www.southcoasttoday.com/article/20000614/news/306149999

Tara Gillon

Tara Gillon was  born July 27th, 1976. The 20 year old college sophomore who was studying at the University of Indiana student that was back in Middleborough, MA to visit her family during winter break from classes. Tara was home with her sister until 10:00 pm, when her sister left. I would like you to keep this in mind, since her parents returned home just around 11 pm. All of the following story happened when Tara was home alone for less than one hour. If that doesn’t scare you after reading this, nothing will.

On New Year’s Eve 1996 , 18 year old Ryan Burgess had been drinking and taking Tylenol with codeine. He had left a party early after having an argument. His girlfriend reportedly left the party with him around 9 pm and walked with him for a little while, but turned back to the Ash Street party as it was cold outside.

Around 10 p.m., Burgess saw a car leaving the house on Old Center Street – a place that Burgess likely saw as a target due to the way the home is set off the road,  with woods to the side and rear of the one family home. He likely intended to rob the home, since Mr. Burgess, despite his young age, had a long criminal history including breaking and entering charges and juvenile delinquency. Reportedly, Burgess had over 20 convictions by 15 years old.

After making his way around the home, Burgess broke into the back porch where he was reportedly confronted by the victim. The reports indicate the victim, Tara asked him what he was doing on the back porch. He said he was a friend of her sister, she screamed and he grabbed her by the neck and choked her extensively. He then left her on the couch while she struggled to breathe and went to the kitchen, grabbed a knife, returning to the victim. He then proceeded to stab her. Her autopsy indicated that this was a brutal attack. She was stabbed approximately 21 times, 11 of these wounds were said to be deep enough to be fatal. Extensive defensive wounds on her arms showed Tara tried hard to fight. In addition to the stab wounds, she suffered a fractured hyoid bone and hemorrhaging in her voice box, larynx and neck. She also had a bite mark on one of her nipples.

This sick jerk then dragged her out of sight of the windows, removed clothing from her bottom-half and raped her. There is no way to know whether she had already passed away or was dying while this assault took place. I have a hard time with this, what the hell was wrong with this guy?

He then smoked a cigarette and ransacked the upstairs but did not appear to actually take anything. Reports indicate that drawers were just sort of pulled out and disheveled. Burgess stated he left shortly after 11 pm when he heard a car pull into the driveway. This lines up with reports from Tara’s father and Stepmother, who were coming home from a New Year’s Eve Dinner. They believe they heard someone exit as they arrived. They found Tara naked from the waist down with extensive, gaping wounds. It was too late to save her, she was already gone

No stolen items were present when the police caught up with him shortly after the murder, and they caught him pretty fast since they were able to follow his initial track right back to the party.Police questioned the people at the Ash Street party. Soon after, they arrived at the Elm Street home that Burgess was staying at with friends. He no longer lived with his parents.

At that time the police questioned Burgess, He consented to a search of his room. in that search, they found visible bloodstains on Mr. Burgess’ pants from the night before, a pair of sneakers that matched the footprints outside the crime scene, and Burgess himself had injuries from the Gillon resisting the attack, including scratches on his arms and lips. The blood on the pants was a DNA match to Tara’s when tested. Additionally, DNA from a cigarette butt found in the Gillon home was a match to Burgess.

Police have never found the murder weapon, believed to be a long, thin, steak knife that was removed from the Gillon kitchen. He confessed to his crimes and later tried to suppress his confession, based on a myriad of factors and evidence found in his possession when he was first questioned. His attempts were thankfully unsuccessful.

In 1998, Burgess was sentenced to 2 life sentences in prison without the possibility of parole. In  2001, the court rejected Burgess’ appeal and upheld the conviction.

Tara has been laid to rest in St Francis Old Cemetery in Taunton, MA.

https://www.southcoasttoday.com/article/19970104/NEWS/301049998

https://www.southcoasttoday.com/article/20010614/news/306149969

https://www.southcoasttoday.com/article/19980110/news/301109983

https://law.justia.com/cases/massachusetts/supreme-court/volumes/434/434mass307.html

https://caselaw.findlaw.com/ma-supreme-judicial-court/1257240.html

https://www.astro.com/astro-databank/Burgess,_Ryan

Ellen Gamache

When I was 9 years old I moved to Middleborough, large in area but still very small town in feel, especially in those days. Think cranberry bogs and small downtown area. I was entering into the fourth grade, kids I met and played with at recess would walk the edge of the woods that bordered around Burkland School and talk. Inevitably, there were two stories that came up. These were actual cases that actually occurred in the small downtown area that I called home at the time. One was the murder of a teenage girl, much more recent and very close to this school – I will detail that case in another post…and this case, a cautionary tale, in a very Adam Walsh way, a reminder to kids why you really shouldn’t talk to strangers that the time period was a little fuzzy on.

As most town lore goes, the stories were mostly short of details and then the details that you did hear frequently changed or the kids that were telling the details did not understand them. I think that’s a good thing especially for this case in particular, because it’s worse than any “monster under the bed” story. At that time, in the mid-eighties, it happened so long ago even at that time that no one was sure when it happened.

So, here is the real story…according to my research. I have included the sources below.

Ellen I. Gamache born July 5th, 1960 to Patricia and James Gamache. She, at the start of this story, was a small, five year old girl with short red hair. She lived with her family on Wood Street in Middleborough, Massachusetts. July 29th, 1965, Ellen went to the town playground with her two older brothers who were ages 8 and 12, and stayed in the kiddie corner area of the playground while the boys walked down the hill to the Town Pool. This playground is in close proximity to the town police and fire stations and was frequented by many parents with their small children in an area that is considered very safe.

Around 4 pm, Ellen could not be found by her brothers. By 6 pm, they had searched their neighborhood and their mother called the police who launched a large scale search launched for Ellen. Over 200 police with bloodhounds and volunteers searched, but she could not be located. The publicity of the search lead to tips, and were some sightings of Ellen, from a girl who saw Ellen in the man’s car and her and her mother reported it to police, and from other children saw her at the playground that day. There are some reports that Smith took her for an ice cream cone.

The search was extensive, residents and police combed the area looking for her. There was an expanded search at the Town Dump because several people had seen the suspect there not long after Ellen went missing. This search did not locate her but it seemed to bring in just enough tips to make Paul N. Smith a serious suspect.

Sadly, her body was found on August 8, 1965. She was located by a woman picking blueberries who had followed her nose to identify an putrid smell in the area. The place where she was found was a wooded area, off Montgomery Street in Lakeville, Massachusetts. According to sources, Ellen was found face down, naked from the waist down with her pants draped over her and her underwear missing. Her body was in an advanced state of decomposition and she was identified through her clothing. Smith stated he put his hand over her mouth until she was dead, both at trial and to another inmate. Autopsy found that Ellen had been stabbed 4 times, beaten and had clearly been sexually assaulted.

Paint chips found in the area near the body were later tied to the suspect, Paul N. Smith. Smith was a 33 year old painter and Handyman who was visiting his brother in town. Smith, a sex offender from the state of New Hampshire, was spotted at the playground while Ellen was there playing. He acted suspiciously after Ellen disappeared and a tip was called in by one of his own relatives. Additionally, his car was in background of pictures taken at the playground that day. He made attempts to sell his car just after the murder, and then traveled out of state to visit extended family. The car was located and impounded. Debris in his car also was similar to debris found on the victim. It is said in sources that he initially attempted to coerce another girl, to go with him for ice cream the day before. I wonder if her refusal saved her life.

The FBI came looking for Mr. Smith, prompting him to flee, leaving his things behind which included blood stained clothes and a knife. A stain from human blood was found on the defendant’s trousers in the suitcase. Due to the time period, DNA was not used in this case.

Police caught up with Paul Smith, and he was arrested in Vermont by August 9, 1965. He was indicted in September on 4 charges . He did not deny committing the crime with his defense being what amounts to insanity with his diagnosed schizophrenia causing him to have the “irresistible” urges to molest and kill a young girl. These urges had been present for some time but he said that he so far had been able to resist the urges. He was a convicted sex offender in the State of Vermont for prior acts that I was unable to uncover during the research.

He faced two trials in this case. The initial conviction was reversed on appeal. One objections was that the venue should have been changed due to a photograph that showed Smith reenacting Ellen’s death during the investigation tainting the jury pool. He was convicted of first degree murder during the second trial. and received a sentence of life in prison.

In 2018, a prison guard was accused of assaulting Smith who was 86 years old at the time, and received lacerations to his face. It’s hard to feel bad for Smith no matter what he has suffered in prison.

Ellen is buried in St Mary’s Cemetery in Middleborough.

https://plymouth.wickedlocal.com/news/20180503/plymouth—look-back-may-2

http://masscases.com/cases/sjc/357/357mass168.html

https://casetext.com/case/commonwealth-v-paul-n-smith

https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/54523225/ellen-irene-gamache

https://www.newspapers.com/clip/34255689/harold-betzold-of-whitman-is-a-public/

https://www.casemine.com/judgement/us/591498bfadd7b04934609d15

https://www.facebook.com/groups/2214200983/permalink/10155608738950984/

Celina Cass

Celina Cass was born January 2, 2000. She was tall for her age at 5’5 and weighed just around 92 lbs. Some of her classmates noted she was almost as tall as the teachers which hit my heart a little because I have a little sister that was the same way at her age. 

At 11 years old, Celina had just finished the fourth grade. She was looking forward to entering the fifth grade at West Stewartstown Elementary School.  Her favorite colors were pink and purple. She enjoyed dancing, swimming and arts and crafts. She played basketball and enjoyed spending time with her friends. 

Celina’s crooked tooth smile made her face unforgettable to the people who followed the case. According to an article quoting Marcia Laro, her paternal grandmother, this malformation was due to an accident while fooling around with friends a few years before, and she was that very week scheduled to have braces that would have corrected her teeth. 

The small New Hampshire town of West Stewartstown had population of between 380-900 inhabitants, depending on the source you trust, but in any case was so small that Celina’s class had just 10 fourth graders.

Celina lived an apartment house that had 4 apartments, that was one of the main streets through town, next to a restaurant and an old building that was once a school. The house was a large house described in many articles as,  ”Ramshackle”, and in need of repair.  This apartment was where she was last reported as seen by multiple sources.

Celina lived with her mother, Louisa Cass; Her stepfather, Wendell Noyes;  His mother Eunice (who seemed to mainly just stay overnight) , An adult son of Louisa’s previous boyfriend, 22 year old Kevin Mullaney and her 13 year old sister Kayla.  Louisa had been married to Wendell  since October 2010, so only 9 months  when Celina went missing but the couple had been dating for a couple of years.  Pictures of this wedding are still visible as of the writing of this post  if you find Wendell Noyes on Facebook. The family looks happy with no inclination of what’s to come. 

Sources from the school reported that Celina had reported being uncomfortable or afraid around Wendell shortly after the marriage, but I saw nothing in these articles  about any follow-up being done after these reports. Celina’s older sister reported that Wendell watched porn in the open at the home, and often referred to Celina as “Little Big Hoota”. 

Celina’s father, Adam Laro, had been having severe health challenges including congestive health failure and was reportedly in a medically induced coma just before the incident and signed himself out against medical advice when he found out Celina was missing. He had not heard that Celina was having any problems in the home but I feel like it’s very possible she would not want to worry a sick parent or thought it would cause strife between Laro and her mother. It made me sad when he wondered out loud in interviews in the following months and years  if there was anything he could have done or questions he could have asked that would have lead to revelations or somehow change what happened. 

I saw several sources question why Kevin Mullaney, a 22 year old with felony convictions would have been living with the family. Mullaney publicly stated in articles that Louisa was like a mother to him, especially after his own mother passed away. Being that Louisa used to date Mullaney’s father, it is unclear how long that she had been in his life so it makes sense to me. In a world where relationships are short lived, I feel like there are a lot of people who connect with former partners of their parents. That said, I do see the concern with his less than stellar record then,  and his future convictions since. One of the future convictions was fraud from trying to forge a check belonging to Louisa so I do wonder how she feels about him now. 

The evening of July 25, 2011 was not a normal evening, even before Celina went missing. Her sister Kayla went to sleep at a friend’s house. This friend was 17 year old, Kaylin , who was said to be Kevin Mullaney’s girlfriend at the time. There was a car accident around 8:00 pm where a local resident hit a deer and briefly afterwards, Celina and her mother came outside to see the commotion. Neighbors, Jason Atwood and his girlfriend, Cassandra Hunt saw Celina at that time dressed in a pink shirt, denim shorts and flip flops. They reportedly returned home between 8:30 and 9:00 pm because it had started raining.  The last reported sighting of Celina was at 9 pm that same night of July 25th, 2011 when her mother went to bed. Noyes reports several different stories of when he last saw her so I am going with Louisa’s version, where she hugged her daughter good night and said she loved her.   Celina had been using the computer. This was verified by computer forensics that indicated that Celina was logged in IMVU, a social media site, from 09:05 pm until 10:28 pm. Kevin reportedly returned home around midnight but saw nothing out of the ordinary, made himself food and went to bed and left early the next morning for work. 

Louisa testified that she got up around 2 am to use the bathroom. She stated that after she returned to bed, Wendell got up to use the bathroom but she does not remember him coming back to bed as she went back to sleep. Remember this, it’s important later. Louisa got up between 7:00-7:30 and left for work around 8 am. 

Shortly after 8 am, Kayla returned home with Kaylin, and Wendell told her that Celina was missing. Kayla left and drove around the area with Kaylin but returned home after not locating Celina. Kayla noted that she realized that Wendell had not yet notified her mother, so she dialed the shop and handed Wendell the phone to make certain that her mother was aware. Louisa later reports that call came into her at around 9:00 am and she came directly home. 

According to a friend of Wendell’s, Robert Wheeler, Wendell  reported to him that Celina was missing at 7:40 am. This is where the inconsistencies start. This would have indicated that he was aware she was missing prior to Celina’s mother leaving for work and he never told her that Celina was missing at that time.  A 9-1-1  call was placed by a neighbor, Deborah Whalen, when she heard Celina was missing and no one had yet notified the authorities,  this call was placed at approximately 10:50 am, and first responders arrived at around quarter past 11. Another one of Wendell’s friends indicated an entire conversation that Wendell had with Kayla about getting Celina while they were speaking on the phone, and then Celina not being there when later it was discovered Kayla was not even home yet.  She was still with Kaylin.

This missing person report triggered a massive search, including authorities who seemed to take the case seriously immediately.  Investigators immediately noted that Celina’s bed was stripped to the egg crate covering and Kayla’s bed was made. There was insulation that was noted in photographs of the bedroom that was later matched through door in cellar near the bulkhead. This is believed to be how the body was taken out of the home.

Both Kayla and Louisa both noted that Wendell was doing laundry, which they both mentioned was strange as he never would have done that by routine. This would most certainly not be something someone would do after finding a child missing. One of Celina’s sheet were in this load of laundry.

Wendell Noyes changed his story several times about when he last saw Celina, how many beers he drank the night before and what time he got up during the night and the morning. During an interview with police,  Noyes walked out of an interview when police tried to discuss the inconsistencies in his story. He was followed by the police who monitored him as he walked to the bridge and yelled as he gestured towards the dam where Celina was later found. In another instance he drove investigators in a circle around where Celina was later found when they asked him to show them areas where he thought they should search. 

Three days after the disappearance, Wendell reported in an interview that the family was “grieving” as if he was already aware that she was gone. During a vigil, He reported folded her pictures down and while they were moved to the hotel for the investigation of the home, Wendell allegedly punch Celina’s picture 3 times in front of a witness. He denies these events. He also pretended to throw a grenade at the media. Louisa says in interviews that she grew suspicious of Noye’s involvement, and separated from him.

Celina’s body was found on August 1, 2011. She was submerged in 15 ft of water near the Canaan Hydrostation Dam and the railroad trestle about a half a mile from Celina’s apartment. According to the arrest affidavit, Celina’s body was wrapped in a Blue Comforter and a Plaid Blanket. There are pictures if you visit the link for the affidavit . There was twine wrapped around the exterior of the Blue comforter that was approximately 30 ft in length and wrapped around overlapping itself, and tied in knots. A rolled up Winnie the Pooh sheet was tucked between her legs along with a sandbag that weighed approximately 52 lbs. The sandbag was believed to be heavier but some contents had been spilled out. This sand was thought to have been intended to weigh the body down. Her cause of death was not immediately released but was later thought to be drowning. She was wearing only a t-shirt and a bra when she was found. Later interviews with police lead to the information that Louisa kept twine the same or similar to this twine for crafts and it was stored in Wendell’s toolbox.  The sand bag between Celina’s legs when her body was found matched the other 3 sandbags from Wendell’s truck. Eunice had given these to Wendell and stated there had been 4. These bags weighed 70 lbs, they bag with Celina has lost some of it’s contents. Celina’s cause of death was drowning and her vaginal area had abrasions that indicated that could have indicated sexual penetration.

Wendell was hospitalized when her body was found after bizarre behavior including laying face down in the driveway. On August 4, 2011 Wendell Noyes checked himself into a mental health clinic. This was not the first time that he has sought help for mental health issues. In 2003, He was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic  and committed to a state psychiatric facility after breaking into a former girlfriend’s home and threatening to harm her. In that case, he was found incompetent to stand trial. 

In 2013, the Cass’s apartment home went up in flames. No cause was released in the fire and the family had no longer lived there at the time of the fire. 

In 2015, an inmate sharing a space near Mr Noyes indicated that Mr Noyes confessed to him that he had in fact, killed Celina because Noyes, and another unnamed man were having sex with her and thought that they might have gotten her pregnant. The inmate was confirmed to be in the space near Mr Noyes there was no way to corroborate the information, or the source, due to the fact these two were the only inmates in the immediate area. 

Interesting side note, though possibly not directly related to this case, in 2019 Gordon Noyes – brother to Wendell Noyes, of Canaan, VT was convicted of repeated sexual assault of a child in his care resulting in felony sexual assault charges. He already had a longer criminal history and this conviction garnered him a 25 year sentence. After the case, two more victims came forward. 

Two witnesses reported strange events the morning Celina went missing. At 2:07 am, a man going to work reported a vehicle backed up on the bridge near where Celina’s body was found. It was dark and he did not know the make of the vehicle. This is an exact time due to GPS installed in the vehicle. Additionally, a friend of Wendell’s reported exchanging a wave with him at 5:30 am when he saw him out.

June 20, 2016 Wendell Noyes was arrested and charged with the second degree murder of Celina. 

As his defense, Mr Noyes asserted that Kevin Mullaney was the perpetrator. He indicated the evidence – a pair of pajama pants and a pair of Celina’s underwear as evidence along with Mr Mullaney’s less than stellar record. Several sources have pointed out that Mr Mullaney allowed the police to search his truck without a warrant and would have been very unlikely to do so if he was aware that these items of Celina’s would be found there.  I did see several sources note that a pair of muddy, sandy  & semen stained boxers of Mullaney’s were found in the basement area shared by the girls. I could find no official sources indicating this information and therefore am not able to say much about that except that it would have been easy for Wendell to move laundry Kevin left in the bathroom or his room and the police cleared Mullaney in this case after interviewing him extensively including polygraph testing. Important to note, Mullaney was no angel and is, at this time, an inmate in New Hampshire prison for several charges including the attempting to steal from Louisa. 

Wendell Noyes is thought by most to have been solely responsible for Celina’s death but  sadly due to the court finding in February 2017 that Mr Noyes not only incompetent to stand trial but that Mr. Noyes may never have the capacity to be competent to stand trial, the charges were dropped. This is extremely rare. 

Murder charges could be reentered if Mr. Noyes is ever declared competent.  He is admitted to New Hampshire Hospital and is committed for a minimum of 5 years. Hopefully, after 2 violent acts, that’s where he will remain.

Affadavit : https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bw1u4tuUje88Z1F5M3ZlMFdVcTA/view

Celina Cass: Stepfather Ruled Not Competent for Murder Trial

https://www.wmur.com/article/mother-of-girl-found-dead-in-2011-speaks-about-ex-husband-s-arrest/5212293

https://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/death-new-hampshire-girl-celina-cass-remains-mystery-autopsy-inconclusive-article-1.944520

https://www.concordmonitor.com/found-incompetent-to-stand-trial-wendell-noyes-still-headed-to-state-prison-8377376

https://www.concordmonitor.com/found-incompetent-to-stand-trial-wendell-noyes-still-headed-to-state-prison-8377376

https://www.wcax.com/content/news/Man-convicted-of-sexual-assault-of-a-child-513281071.html

https://www.bailbondshq.com/new_hampshire/nhdoc-inmate-MULLANEY/79455

https://apnews.com/article/6966445761f045179c19f7da134fcb58

http://archive.boston.com/news/local/new_hampshire/articles/2011/08/04/authorities_search_celina_casss_home_as_father_and_grandmother_wait_for_answers/