A String of Murder – The Death of Rena & Danny Paquette

Lying on the Merrimack River in south-central New Hampshire, the town of Hookset is between Concord, the Granite State’s capital, and Manchester, its largest city. With a population of approximately 14,000, the community views itself as a quintessential New England town.

Hookset is home to Robie’s Country Store, a National Historic Landmark, and a venue frequented by presidential candidates during New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary. While Robie’s Country Store is Hookset’s claim to fame, the fortunes of the Paquette family are its claim to infamy.
In 1964, 13-year-old Danny Paquette found his mother burned to death in a suspicious fire. Rena Paquette’s death was ruled a suicide, but many believed she had been murdered.

Over twenty-one years later, on November 9, 1985, Danny Paquette was shot to death only a few blocks from where he had found his mother. Despite over two decades between the incidents, residents believed the deaths were related. It was ultimately proven they were not. One of the Paquette deaths has been solved, but the other remains shrouded in mystery.

Two brutal murders occurred in Hookset during the 1960s when the town’s population totaled only 2,500 people.

On February 1, 1960, 18-year-old Sandra Valade disappeared after leaving a YMCA swimming class in Manchester. Nine days later, her body was found in a snowbank. She had been sexually assaulted and shot.

On January 12, 1964, fourteen-year-old Pamela Mason responded to a newspaper ad asking for a babysitter. The following day, she was picked up at her home by the person who had placed the ad. Her remains were found eight days later in a ditch along what is now Interstate 93 near Manchester. She had been beaten, stabbed four times, and shot twice in the head.

Authorities believed the same person had killed the two young women and that he was someone local.

Rena Paquette, a 54-year-old housewife, told friends and family she believed she knew who had murdered the girls. She also believed one of them had been killed in the barn on the Paquette family farm. She told the police of her suspicions, but they deemed her claims uncredible.

When Danny Paquette, Rena’s youngest child and the only one still living at home, awoke on February 3, 1964, he was surprised to find no sign of his mother. As his father, Arthur, was away on a business trip, Danny called his uncle Charlie, a Manchester policeman.

Charlie had not seen or heard from his sister. It was a cold morning, and he became alarmed when he arrived at the home and found Rena’s winter clothing accessories still in the house.

Danny and Charlie had searched for over an hour before Danny noticed smoke coming from the barn, one mile from the family home. Inside the barn where Rena had told police one of the girls had been murdered, her son found her lifeless body.

Rena had mental issues; she would likely today be diagnosed as suffering from depression. The police ruled her death a suicide, concluding she had set herself on fire and then crawled into the barn to die.

The Paquette family did not share the police sentiments, chiefly because no flammable substances or containers were near the barn’s vicinity. They were certain Rena had been murdered, possibly by the same person who killed Sandra Valade and Pamela Mason.

In January 1966, 11 weeks after Rena’s death, 28-year-old local delivery man Ed Coolidge was arrested for the murder of Pamela Mason. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Coolidge’s conviction, however, was overturned in 1971 when the Supreme Court claimed the evidence was illegally obtained. He then pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and received a reduced sentence. Coolidge was never formally charged with the murder of Sandra Valade.

Coolidge was the person Rena Paquette believed had murdered the teenage girls. He was cleared of any involvement in Rena’s death, which remained ruled a suicide.

After serving 25 years as a “model prisoner,” Ed Coolidge was paroled in 1991.

All of Rena’s children were devastated by her death, but it was the most traumatic for Danny as he was tormented by the experience of finding his mother’s burned body.

Danny grew from a troubled teen into an even more troubled adult. He married and had children but was devastated when he lost custody of them after his wife Denise divorced him in 1981.

Shortly after the divorce was finalized that summer, Danny went to Denise’s home, demanding to see his children. After he tried to beat down the door, she called the police, and Danny was arrested.

Danny was sent to a psychiatric hospital to undergo hypnosis to help alleviate his anger. The session, however, resulted in a shocking allegation.

Under hypnosis, Danny said that shortly after waking up on the morning of February 3, 1964, the day over twenty years earlier when he would find his mom dead, he had seen her arguing with a delivery man. He then said he briefly returned to bed before awakening again to an empty house.

In a subsequent session, Danny claimed the man he saw was Ed Coolidge and that he had threatened to kill Danny’s mother.

After the revelations, police re-examined their investigation into Rena Paquette’s death.

They again found no evidence linking Coolidge to the incident and stood by the suicide ruling.

Danny Paquette was released from the psychiatric hospital after five months. By mid-1985, he had remarried, and his mental state had improved.

On November 9, 1985, Danny was repairing a bulldozer at his home while his friend Kevin Cote worked in the garage. At around 11:00 a.m., Kevin heard a loud pop. When he went outside, he found Danny lying on the ground. Paramedics quickly arrived but pronounced Danny dead at the scene.

Kevin initially believed Danny had been electrocuted, but an autopsy found he had been shot in the heart. Phone service had stopped when Danny was shot, and authorities pulled the fatal bullet from the telephone cable.

As it was the first day of hunting season, police suspected Danny had been accidentally shot by men hunting in a local gravel pit, approximately one mile away. Ballistics experts, however, determined such a shot was impossible. They concluded the shot was fired deliberately from close range, a finding supported by two sets of footprints found near the crime scene. After shooting Danny, the culprit had fled into the woods.

Many Hookset residents believed Danny’s murder was related to his mother’s death over 21 years before.

Rena Paquette’s body was exhumed in 1991.

New Hampshire State Medical Examiner Roger Fossum found the burn patterns on her body inconsistent with self-immobilization patterns. He believed Rena might have been stabbed or suffocated in another location and then moved to the barn.

Dr. Fossum changed the cause of Rena Paquette’s death from “suicide” to “undetermined.” It has, however, been determined that Danny’s murder was not related to his mom’s death.

In 2005, 20 years after the murder of Danny Paquette, Eric Windhurst was charged with the crime.

Windhurst was dating a high school friend of Danny’s. At the time of the 1985 murder, he was dating Danny’s 17-year-old stepdaughter Melanie Cooper.

The couple was questioned after Danny’s death. They said they were attending a field hockey game at the time of the murder. Twenty years later, however, Cooper admitted she was with Windhurst when he killed Danny because, she claimed, her stepfather was sexually abusing her.

After his arrest, Windhurst’s relatives told police it had been an “open secret” among the family that he had committed the murder.

Melanie Cooper was sentenced to fifteen months in prison for hindering the investigation into her stepfather’s murder. Eric Windhurst pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to fifteen to thirty-six years in jail.

Melanie Cooper was released from prison in 2008.

Eric Windhorst has recently gained his freedom, having been released in October 2020.

Some sources say Danny did sexually abuse Melanie, but others say he didn’t. We may never know, and he was never formally charged with the crime.

SOURCES:
• Boston. com
• Boston Globe
• Dailymail. Com
• Unsolved Mysteries


THIS LIST OF LINKS IS NOT AN ALL-ENCOMPASSING SOURCE CITING. ALL OF THE INFORMATION USED IN THIS ARTICLE CAN BE EASILY FOUND ONLINE. LINKS BELOW WERE USED AS SOURCES AND ARE RECOMMENDED READING FOR SYNOVA’S READERS. SYNOVA STRIVES TO CITE ALL THE SOURCES USED DURING HER CASE STUDY, BUT OCCASIONALLY A SOURCE MAY BE MISSED BY MISTAKE. IT IS NOT INTENTIONAL, AND NO COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT IS INTENDED.


Each week Synova & her team of guestbloggers highlight an obscure cold case. Synova works directly with the victims’ families to give them a voice and to generate leads for law enforcement. The potential viewership currently sits at 500,000!

Help Synova’s team reach a million people with these cold cases. Together we can solve some of these cases.

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Deep in the heart of Dixie lies a hidden evil. It’s tentacles stretch from state to state, from county to county. The Dixie Mafia has produced infamous outlaws, bank robbers, and murderers. The story contains tidbits from each of their lives and even includes the story of a famous sheriff, but this book is not about them.

Silenced by the Dixie Mafia is about a big sister who has fought for answers for over five decades. It’s about a father who was an ex-alcoholic turned into a gambling addict. A father’s decisions would lead to the death of his disabled son and eventually lead to his own demise. Now left alone to find answers and make sense of the chaos is a brave little southern belle named Phyllis.

Tying back to the ambush of Sheriff Buford Pusser on August 12, 1967, this story will change history as we know it. The world knew nothing about the Dixie Mafia until the murders of Judge Vincent Sherry and his wife Margaret in 1987. This public assassination brought this band of ruthless criminals into view, but the truth was still hidden until the death of the Andersons.

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The Chosen One – The Horrific Kidnapping & Murder of Jacob Wetterling



According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, approximately 800,000 children go missing each year, but 97% are returned unharmed within a few days. The vast majority either run away or are abducted by a relative, generally the non-custodial parent; most of the rest are taken by someone they know.

Every once in a while, though, there is a rare and sensational exception. The kidnapping of 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling was one of the oddest on record; the FBI could find no similar abduction in its files, past or present.
For over 27 years, the abduction of Wetterling was one of America’s most infamous kidnappings, and the clues to his fate were few and far between. Jacob Wetterling‘s kidnapping may have been unique, but of the 3% who do not return within a few days, the end result is all too common.

On the evening of October 22, 1989, 11-year-old Aaron Larson stayed overnight at Jacob’s home. It was a Sunday, but because of a teacher’s conference the following day, the boys would not have to go to school and could stay up later than usual.

Shortly after 9:00 p.m., Jacob called his parents, Jerry and Patty, who were attending a dinner party. He asked if he, Aaron, and Jacob’s 10-year-old brother, Trevor, could ride their bikes to the nearby Tom Thumb convenience store to rent a video. The store was only one mile from the Wetterling home.

After a bit of pleading, Jacob convinced his dad to let them go to the store. The boys left home shortly after 9:00 p.m. It was dark, but they all had lights on their bicycles.

Jerry told the boys to be careful and to watch out for cars. The thought of a lurking kidnapper never crossed his mind.

The boys arrived at the store, purchased a video, and headed back to the Wetterling home.

Halfway there, a masked man jumped out in front of them and ordered the boys off their bicycles. The boys laughed, believing it was an early Halloween gag: Aaron even said something to the effect that Halloween was still over a week away. But when the man repeated his instructions, this time brandishing a gun, the chuckles instantly turned to fear.

The masked man ordered the three boys to toss their bikes to the side of the road and lie face down. He then asked each boy his age, and each boy answered. The man ordered Trevor to run into the woods, saying he would be shot if he looked back. The gunman then ordered Aaron and Jacob to turn over; when they complied, he looked at each boy. He then ordered Aaron to run from the scene. Aaron caught up with Trevor, and when the two no longer heard voices, they looked back and saw nothing but darkness. The masked man, and Jacob, were gone.

With their hearts pounding and still in shock over what had occurred, Aaron and Trevor ran to the Wetterling home and summoned neighbor Merlyn Jerzak who called 911. Police arrived within minutes and immediately mounted a search, confident they would find the culprit and Jacob would be home that evening. They were wrong on both counts.

Despite the prompt action of police and the extensive national publicity, the kidnapper was not identified, and Jacob never came home.

As the days passed, police received thousands of tips of possible sightings of Jacob from across America, Canada, and even overseas. None, however, checked out.

Even as the years grew into two decades and then a quarter of a century, Jacob’s kidnapping continued to be periodically profiled on crime shows and news magazines. Despite the continued publicity and the offer of a $200,000 reward, few substantive leads surfaced in the case.

In May 2014, investigators announced they believed Jacob’s 1989 kidnapping was related to the sexual assaults of five teenage boys, which had occurred southwest of St. Joseph in 1986 and ’87. The assaults occurred in and around Cold Spring and Paynesville, 11 and 28 miles, respectively, from St. Joseph.

All of the boys, like Jacob, were kidnapped from the roadside. All of the others, however, were taken in daylight. All were sexually molested and, unlike Jacob, were then released. No arrests were made, and no suspects were publicly named.

One of the Cold Spring’s victims, twelve-year-old Jared Scheierl, had been abducted and sexually assaulted in January of 1989, seven months before Jacob’s kidnapping.

It was not until October 2015 that DNA from his sexual assault was found to match that of Danny Heinrich, a lifelong area resident living in Paynesville at the time of the attack.

Heinrich was interviewed by investigators in December 1989, two months after Jacob’s kidnapping, and again several months later. He bore a strong resemblance to the composite made based on Jared’s description of his attacker. Police, however, could find no evidence linking him to the crime, and Jared did not pick him out of a photo lineup.

Heinrich’s DNA was taken, but it would be nearly 27 years before the technology advanced enough to produce a match to that found on Jared Scheierl.

Heinrich could not be charged with the sexual assault of Jared Scheierl because the statute limitations for the crime had expired. When they searched his home, police found thousands of images of child pornography involving young boys on his computer. Heinrich was arrested on October 28, 2015, and charged with multiple counts of possession of child pornography.

Because of the similarities between Jared and Jacob’s cases, Heinrich was also officially named as a person of interest in the 1989 kidnapping of Jacob Wetterling. With the federal pornography charges certain to imprison him for the rest of his life, Danny Heinrich decided it was time to come clean.

In August 2016, the imprisoned Heinrich, through his attorney, told authorities he was the man in the mask from that October evening of nearly 27 years ago. He agreed to lead them to Jacob’s remains in exchange for a reduced sentence.

On September 1, 2016, Heinrich led investigators to some farmland near Paynesville, approximately 30 miles from where Jacob was abducted. After an hour of digging, Jacob’s clothing was found.

Human remains were discovered a short time later. On September 3, dental records confirmed the remains were Jacob’s.

Under the terms of the agreement, for revealing the location of Jacob’s remains, Heinrich, plead guilty to only one of the 25 federal child pornography charges. He had to testify in court about the sexual assault of Jared Scheierl and give the details of Jacob’s kidnapping and murder but would not be charged with either crime.

In a soft, somber tone far from the demanding and thundering tone of 1989, Danny Heinrich described in chilling detail how he ended Jacob Wetterling’s life.

Heinrich testified that he drove Jacob to a remote location near Paynesville, where he handcuffed and sexually molested him. Afterward, he uncuffed Jacob and told him to get dressed. As Jacob was doing so, Heinrich said he was crying, “What did I do wrong?” and begging, “Please take me home.”

Heinrich claimed he told Jacob he would take him home and planned to let him go, but the sirens of a police car racing to the kidnapping scene caused him to panic. Instead of releasing Jacob, as he had done with his other victims, Heinrich shot him in the back of the head and buried him at the locale near a gravel pit.

A year later, Heinrich says he returned to the site and found that Jacob’s jacket had risen to the surface, becoming visible. He then moved the remains and reburied them on the farmland where they would be found.

In accordance with the plea agreement, Danny Heinrich was sentenced to the maximum prison term of 20 years for the child pornography charge. He will be eligible for parole after 17 years, in 2033, when he will be 70 years old.

State authorities may seek Heinrich’s civil commitment as a sexual predator at the end of his federal prison term, which could prevent him from ever going free. Should he ever be released from prison, he will be required to register as a sexual offender for the rest of his life.

Investigators say they are certain Jacob is the only person Heinrich murdered.

Four months after Jacob’s abduction, his parents, Jerry and Patty Wetterling formed the Jacob Wetterling Foundation, an advocacy group for children’s safety. In 1994, the federal Jacob Wetterling Act was passed. It was the first law to institute a state sex-offender registry.

Patty Wetterling ran for the congressional seat of Minnesota’s sixth district in 2004 and 2006 but was defeated both times. She is the current chair of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.


THIS LIST OF LINKS IS NOT AN ALL-ENCOMPASSING SOURCE CITING. ALL OF THE INFORMATION USED IN THIS ARTICLE CAN BE EASILY FOUND ONLINE. LINKS BELOW WERE USED AS SOURCES AND ARE RECOMMENDED READING FOR SYNOVA’S READERS. SYNOVA STRIVES TO CITE ALL THE SOURCES USED DURING HER CASE STUDY, BUT OCCASIONALLY A SOURCE MAY BE MISSED BY MISTAKE. IT IS NOT INTENTIONAL, AND NO COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT IS INTENDED.


Further Info:
• ABC News
• Fox News
The Hunt with John Walsh
Minnesota Daily
Minnesota Star Tribune
NBC News


Each week Synova & her team of guestbloggers highlight an obscure cold case. Synova works directly with the victims’ families to give them a voice and to generate leads for law enforcement. The potential viewership currently sits at 500,000!

Help Synova’s team reach a million people with these cold cases. Together we can solve some of these cases.

As a way of saying “Thank You” when you sign up for Synova’s true crime newsletter, you will get her Grim Justice eBook as a free gift! Please help us reach out to more people in our search for truth.

SIGN UP HERE


Order Your Copy Today!

Deep in the heart of Dixie lies a hidden evil. It’s tentacles stretch from state to state, from county to county. The Dixie Mafia has produced infamous outlaws, bank robbers, and murderers. The story contains tidbits from each of their lives and even includes the story of a famous sheriff, but this book is not about them.

Silenced by the Dixie Mafia is about a big sister who has fought for answers for over five decades. It’s about a father who was an ex-alcoholic turned into a gambling addict. A father’s decisions would lead to the death of his disabled son and eventually lead to his own demise. Now left alone to find answers and make sense of the chaos is a brave little southern belle named Phyllis.

Tying back to the ambush of Sheriff Buford Pusser on August 12, 1967, this story will change history as we know it. The world knew nothing about the Dixie Mafia until the murders of Judge Vincent Sherry and his wife Margaret in 1987. This public assassination brought this band of ruthless criminals into view, but the truth was still hidden until the death of the Andersons.

Order Your Book Here