The Man Who Died Twice – The mystery of the death of Clarence Roberts

May be an image of 2 people and text that says 'CLARENCE AND GENEVA ROBERTS'

On November 18, 1970, a fire destroyed a barn at the home of Clarence and Geneva Roberts. While sifting through the debris, the fireman found the remnants of a body burned beyond recognition. It was initially identified as that of Clarence Roberts.

Ten years later, on November 29, 1980, another fire destroyed the new home of Geneva Roberts. Two bodies were found amidst the debris; one was that of Geneva, and the second body was identified as Clarence Roberts.

Today, the small town of Nashville, Indiana, is still divided over the fate of the man who was twice declared dead. The official ruling is that Clarence killed an unidentified man who was found in the first fire only to himself be killed in the second fire ten years later. Some, despite the forensic evidence that says otherwise, still believe he perished in the first fire.
A select few others reject both scenarios; they believe Clarence Roberts did not die in either fire and lived the last years of his life in hiding.

Both lifelong residents of Brown County, Indiana, Clarence and Geneva married in 1941 and settled in rural Nashville, a town of 800 people 60 miles south of Indianapolis.

The Roberts had four sons.

Clarence was a respected member of the community, having served as Brown County Sheriff and as a board member of the town’s bank. He was also active in the local chapter of the Masons.

Clarence and his brother Carson had operated two successful Nashville businesses together, first a lumber company and then a hardware store.

Both Carson and Clarence were earning good livings and living comfortably. Carson was content, but Clarence was not.

Clarence’s financial success had gone to his head. He had a good amount of money but not enough to finance the lifestyle he was living in 1969.

Clarence was becoming an out-of-control spendthrift. He purchased three luxury cars as well as a fashionable and expensive home.

When asked about the lavish purchases, Clarence said he had made a windfall from investments. In reality, he had incurred a pitfall, having lost nearly all of his money in failed investments in an apartment complex and several grain elevators.

The 52-year-old Clarence had been raised in a low-income family but had worked himself from rags to riches. Now, he was returning to the rags, and that was only the beginning of his troubles.

By the fall of 1969, Clarence was in serious financial peril, and several lawsuits had been filed against him.

One bank had recently been granted a $45,000 judgment against Clarence, and another was alleging he had defaulted on his home’s mortgage. In addition, the Wabash Insurance Company, which had loaned Clarence money for building the apartment complex, also filed suit, claiming he had submitted to them altered and fictitious bills totaling between $131,000-$200,000.

In June 1970, Clarence and his attorney discussed his filing for bankruptcy. Against his lawyer’s advice, Clarence rejected the option. In October, two of his prized luxury cars were repossessed.

On the afternoon of November 18, a bank officer went to Clarence’s home to discuss a note on which the bank suspected Clarence had forged his brother’s signature. Clarence’s remaining cars were at the location, and the bank officer believed he saw him in the home. Clarence knew of the bank’s suspicions and did not answer the door. He may have seen only one way out of his predicaments.

At 6:15 p.m. on November 18, 1970, neighbor Ella Cummings reported a small fire on the Roberts property. Geneva and her kids were not at home at the time of the fire.

By the time the fireman arrived on the scene, the fire had engulfed the grain barn the Roberts had used as a garage and storage area. By the time the blaze was suppressed, the barn had been reduced to ashes.

Beneath the remnants, the fireman found a body next to a half-melted shotgun. The body was too charred to recognize, but it was presumed to be Clarence. Knowing he had been severely depressed, authorities initially believed he had committed suicide.

The gun had been recently fired, but no gunshot wounds were found on the burned body. In addition, the gun’s position over the body was not compatible with the recoil, which would have followed its firing.

Further questions were raised when a tooth discovered near the body was identified as a lower right second molar. Clarence had that same tooth removed several years before the fire.

Amidst the ashes, Clarence’s Masonic ring was also found, only slightly damaged.

Investigators believe the ring was planted after the fire because it was virtually unscathed.

Brown County Coroner Jack Bond found an absence of carbonous material and internal burning in the victim’s respiratory tract. Because of the large amounts of carbon monoxide in the blood, Dr. Bond believed the victim had died from carbon monoxide intoxication before the fire.

Dr. Bond refused to sign the death certificate for Clarence Roberts and deemed definitive identification of the body impossible.

The Indiana State Medical Examiner, however, did rule the remains to be those of Clarence Roberts.

Geneva and her children, along with other family members, were certain it was Clarence found in the barn.

Clarence’s nephew Bob White surmised that Clarence had accidentally set the barn afire while shooting himself. Bob said his uncle kept gasoline for his lawnmower in the barn, which may explain the barn’s rapid burning.

The declared remains of Clarence Roberts were buried at the local cemetery.

Because the fire investigation produced a growing list of perplexing questions, the remains were exhumed on December 21, 1970. The findings raised additional red flags when the victim had type AB blood. Clarence’s military records showed his blood type was B.

Clarence’s family countered that the military records of servicemen’s blood type were often inaccurate. They still believed he died in the fire.

Two days before the fire, Clarence had been seen at a bar in Morgantown, 13 miles south of Nashville, in the company of a man who appeared to be a vagrant. He was about the same age and height as Clarence and bore a physical resemblance to him. No one recognized the man.

As the men left the bar together, the vagrant nearly collapsed outside the bar. He had been drinking heavily, and some patrons believed he was excessively drunk; others thought he appeared to suffer a small seizure. Clarence said he would take the man to a hospital.

Police checked all the hospitals within a 300-mile radius. They determined the vagrant had not been admitted to any of them. He has never been identified and, because of his resemblance to Clearance, some believe he may have been the man found burned to death in the Roberts barn.

Several years after Clarence supposedly died in the fire, a dead man walking was reportedly sighted.

An acquaintance believed he had seen Clearance and an unknown woman in his tavern in April 1972. Other acquaintances think they saw him in 1974 and 1975.

An insurance investigator said he received reports of Clarence’s living in New Mexico and abroad in Mexico and West Germany.

In 1975, based on the alleged sightings and the forensic evidence suggesting he had not perished in the fire, a grand jury indicted Clearance Roberts for the murder of the now declared “John Doe” found burned to death on his property November 1970. The grand jury found the fire was an attempt to make the vagrant appear to be Roberts and that he had committed suicide.

Clarence had purchased several life insurance policies in the months before the fire, nearly $640,000 (although some sources say the amount was close to $1 million). He was ruled to have orchestrated the scheme to avoid paying his debts by having the insurance companies award Geneva his life insurance proceeds.

Geneva insisted her husband had died in the fire. Still, the Wabash Live Insurance and Modern Woodmen of America challenged her claims, saying the evidence was insufficient to declare Clarence dead.

Geneva filed an action against the insurance companies. The case dragged for several years. When it finally came to trial in 1978, a judge ruled in favor of the insurance companies, concurring that insufficient evidence existed to prove that Clarence Roberts was deceased.

Geneva’s claims to the life insurance money were denied.

Devastated by the ruling, both financially and mentally, Geneva had to move to a smaller home on the outskirts of Nashville. She became a recluse; when people arrived at her home, she would always greet them outside at the back door. She never let anyone, including family members, into the house.

After taking a kitchen job at a local Howard Johnson’s motel, Geneva began buying large cases of beer from local shopkeepers. Strangely, she was a diabetic who rarely drank. Geneva’s late husband, however, like to sip the suds, and the brand of beer she purchased just happened to be Clarence’s favorite.

When neighbors reported seeing a man on the grounds of Geneva’s home, rumors began to swirl. The man never let anyone get close to him. Police set up surveillance on her home, but they never saw him.

Geneva’s sister, who lived on an adjacent lot, said she could hear Geneva talking to the man but was certain the man’s voice was not Clarence’s.

Some believed Clarence Roberts had returned to Nashville. Soon, coincidence or not, a second catastrophic fire came.

On the evening of November 29, 1980, just over ten years after Clarence had supposedly perished in a fire, another inferno broke out at Geneva’s new home. After it was extinguished, firefighters found her body in the ashes.

Several hours later, a second body was found in another part of the house. It was identified as that of Clarence Roberts.

The second fire was a clear case of arson, and police determined Geneva had been murdered. The burn patterns from her bed led to the adjacent room where the second body was found, then down a hallway and out the home’s back door.

Turpentine was used to start the fire, placed from the bedroom to the back door, but it could not be determined whether it had been started by the man identified as Clarence or by a third party.

Investigators say they are 100% certain the male body found in the second fire’s debris is that of Clarence Roberts.

However, they cannot determine whether Clarence had murdered Geneva, died accidentally, or if he, too, had been murdered.

Some believe an unknown third party murdered both Clearance and Geneva. Others theorize that Clarence and Geneva committed suicide together so their children could collect on their life insurance policies.

A few believe a more sensationalized story: That a desperate Clarence, wanted for murder, out of money, and with nowhere else to go, returned to Nashville after living in hiding for a decade, only to find Geneva with another man and murdered her in a jealous rage before again setting the home on fire.

The Roberts children still believe, despite the forensic evidence, that their father was killed in the first fire in 1970.

Although investigators are certain the second body found in the second fire is Clarence Roberts, exactly who lies beneath this grave, however, is still the subject of local gossip.

The headstone for Clarence Roberts reads that he died on November 29, 1980. The Roberts children, however, still believe his death occurred on November 10, 1970.

I could not find anything stating where the remains of the still-unidentified man killed in the first fire are now buried.

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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 Reading:
• Indianapolis Star
• Terre Haute Tribune
• Unsolved Mysteries
• UP


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The Disappearance of Martha Lambert


Martha Lambert’s brothers had previously run away from their St. Augustine, Florida, home, and when she was reported missing on November 27, 1985, many thought the twelve-year-old had done the same.

The home was often more like hell for the Lambert children. They had a great relationship with their mother, but their father was an abusive alcoholic. Neighbors recall frequent and loud fighting between Margaret and Howard Lambert. Howard was over 40 years older than his wife, and his ire often extended to his children, who had been placed in foster care on several occasions because of abuse. Each time they were returned home, and each time the brothers ran away. With Martha, it was a different story.

Police initially concurred that Martha had voluntarily left home but soon came to a different conclusion. Margaret believes her daughter was the victim of random killing by an unknown person. Investigators think she was killed by someone from her own troubled home.

Neighbors recall Martha as a friendly and polite child. But, she was more often than not dirty, frequently appearing to go several days without bathing.

Friends recall Martha being excited after school let out on Wednesday, November 27, the beginning of the extended Thanksgiving weekend. She went to a friend’s home, where she stayed until approximately 7:30 p.m. then returned home for supper. What happened afterward is still not known.

When Martha failed to return home by bedtime, Margaret grew concerned. After searching all night without success, she reported her daughter missing at 3:00 a.m. the morning of November 28. Police, however, also had no luck as they found few clues in their search for Martha.

When police questioned the Lambert family, Martha’s brother David, one year older than she, gave conflicting accounts regarding the last time he had seen his sister. He initially claimed Martha had left home after dinner without saying where she was going and that he saw her walking toward State Road 207. Later, however, he claimed to have seen her get into a black vehicle. Police could not find such a car.

Martha’s disappearance remained cold for 15 years before David Lambert was once again on center stage.

David grew from a troubled youth into a troubled adult. After being arrested for writing a bad check-in 2000, the 29-year-old dropped a bombshell. Saying he needed to get it off his conscience, David said he had accidentally killed Martha and buried her not far from the Lambert home in a Coquina Mine known as “The Pitts.” Authorities searched the mine but did not find Martha’s body. David was not charged with any crime.

Nine years later, in September 2009, David again said he accidentally killed his sister, this time claiming Martha’s death occurred as they were playing on the grounds of the abandoned Florida Memorial College near their home. David said Martha attacked him after he refused to give her money and that, in response, he punched and pushed her. According to David, Martha fell backward during the scuffle, hitting her head on a piece of metal, and died. He said he panicked after no one answered his cries and buried his sister’s body on the former college grounds. He said he did not tell anyone what occurred because he feared his father would have killed him.

Cadaver dogs searched the site where David said he buried Martha. Authorities say the dogs showed a “change in behavior” when sniffing the grounds where Florida Memorial College once stood. However, in the 24 years since Martha’s disappearance, the original buildings had been razed and replaced with several new structures. No trace of Martha’s remains were found, and if David’s claims of burying her there are true, they likely never will.

Police believe David’s accounts of accidentally killing his sister. Still, prosecutors declined to charge him because Martha’s body had not been recovered, and the statute of limitations for manslaughter crimes had expired.

David later recanted both of his confessions, saying he was led into them by police interrogators and that he only told authorities what they wanted to hear.

Margaret Lambert does not believe David killed Martha, saying her son is mentally incompetent, has suffered from lifelong emotional problems, and often makes up or sensationalizes stories to get attention. She still believes a stranger abducted Martha.

Martha Jean Lambert has been missing for 35 years. At the time of her disappearance, she was 12-years-old, stood 4’0 feet tall, and weighed approximately 70 pounds. She had blonde hair, blue eyes, and her upper front teeth protruded slightly. She has birthmarks on the front of her right thigh and on her upper left chest. Martha would today be 46-years-old.

If you have any information on the disappearance of Martha Lambert, please contact St. Johns, Florida, County Sheriff’s Office at 904-824-8304.

Further Reading:
Charley Project
Doe Network


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 guest bloggers 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.

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The Missing Ballerina – Jennifer Casper Ross

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-6afxp-1043c4d

Jennifer Casper-Ross had achieved every little girl’s dream of becoming a professional ballerina. At the age of 19, she was the youngest to ever audition for the Greg Thompson Productions. Eleven years later she would disappear completely without a trace. What happened to this beautiful dancer?

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https://mytruecrimestories.com/2018/11/15/missing-ballerina-the-jennifer-casper-ross-disappearance/

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Murder of Dexter Stefonek

David Stefonek enjoyed the autumn and early winter of 1985, chiefly because his father was finally enjoying life again. Sixty-seven-year-old Dexter Stefonek had traveled from Wisconsin to spend a few months with David and his family in Oregon. Dexter was relishing the time with his grandchildren, and it brought joy to David to finally see a smile return to his father’s face.

Dexter had been despondent for much of the past year as his wife Vivian’s health deteriorated. Her death occurring on Christmas day of 1984 was particularly hard.

David wanted his father to stay with him through the end of winter, or at least through the Christmas season. Dexter, as much as he had enjoyed his extended stay in Oregon, however, wanted to get back home. Against David’s wishes, Dexter began the drive from Oregon to Wisconsin in the early morning hours of November 18.

The winter of 1985 was a particularly cold one across the northern United States. Dexter’s drive encompassed going through six frigid states; he did not make it out of the third state.

Three weeks after leaving Oregon, Dexter Stefonek was found shot to death in eastern Montana. Over thirty-five years later, his murder is one of the coldest cases from one of America’s coldest states.

The distance between Corbett, Oregon, and Rhinelander, Wisconsin, was nearly 2,000 miles. Dexter, anxious to get back home, told David he planned to pull into rest areas when he got tired instead of staying in motels.

Located off Interstate 94, 20 miles from the town of Glendive, the Bad Route Rest Area in southeastern Montana is approximately 30 miles from the North Dakota border.

When Fred Siegle, the rest area’s custodian, arrived for work at 8:30 a.m. on November 19, he noticed an unoccupied pick-up truck parked at the facility. Fifteen minutes later, Clyde Mitchell, a highway maintenance supervisor, stopped at the rest area and also saw the truck. He remembered it as a white four-wheel-drive Chevy with blue trim and a cowcatcher on the front. He noticed numerous clothes and bedding in the back. Clyde recalled the vehicle having Arizona license plates.

Other than employee vehicles, the Chevy was the only car at the Bad Route Rest Area. The seldom-used rest stop was a sprawling area with room for at least a dozen freight trucks and a few dozen cars. Fred and Clyde thought it was strange that the Chevy was parked far from the bathrooms on a frigid day.

Clyde left the Bad Route Rest Area to complete his rounds. Fifteen minutes later, as Fred was leaving the rest stop, he saw a brown Plymouth Horizon pull into the parking lot. The driver got out, carrying two large plastic containers. Fred believed they were milk jugs. He said the car’s driver was at least six feet tall, between 35-40 years old, with light skin, and wearing a parka.

Half an hour later, Dawson County Sheriff received a call about a car fire at the Bad Route Rest Area. When he arrived at the scene shortly after 10:00 a.m., the inside of the vehicle was engulfed in flames.

Police found that the car to be Dexter’s Plymouth, and it was determined to be the same car seen earlier by Fred and Clyde. However, it was clear that Dexter was not the man who drove the car to the rest stop. Fred described a much younger and taller driver. An examination of the charred vehicle supported the latter description. The driver’s seat was pushed all the way back, indicating a man likely at least six feet tall had been driving. Dexter was only 5’5.

An arson expert determined that gasoline had recently been put into the car, not to fill it up but to set it on fire.

A little over twenty-four hours had passed since Dexter left Oregon when his burning car was found nearly 1100 miles away near Glendive, Montana. Dexter was last seen filling his car with gas the day before in Park City, Montana, 220 miles southwest of The Bad Area Rest Stop.

Deputies searched the area but found no trace of Dexter.

Four months later, in February of 1986, Bill and Cindy Shaw made a routine run to dump garbage at a landfill 17 miles northwest of the Bad Route Rest Area where Dexter’s car had been found ablaze. Cindy was an artist and often found materials to use in her artwork at the landfill. On this day, she found something much worse.

Cindy found a wallet on the ground. Inside was Dexter’s driver’s license and a substantial amount of money. As Bill and Cindy searched the landfill, they found several scattered items of clothing and a suitcase that also contained money.

Upon further search of the landfill, Bill discovered something more horrifying. When he picked up a boot, he was shocked to see a man’s foot sticking out from beneath a mattress.

It was Dexter. He had been beaten and shot twice in the head. There were bruises on his hands, throat, and the front part of his skull.

The suitcase and clothing items found at the Shaws at the landfill were identified as Dexter’s. They were still in good condition, appearing to have been recently discarded. The Shaws did not see any of those items when they had been to the landfill the previous week.

After completing the autopsy, however, the Dawson County Coroner believed Dexter’s body had probably been at the dumpsite from the time his car was found burning when it was discovered.

One week later, graffiti written in pencil was found on the wall in the men’s restroom at the Bad Route Rest Area. The note read, “HOT JOCK SHOT WAD FROM WISCONSIN 11/85 SATURDAY THE 3rd”.

Police believed the graffiti is a reference to Dexter’s murder. “HOT JOCK” may be a trucker’s CB handle, and the “WISCONSIN” is Dexter’s home state. The “SATURDAY THE 3rd” is not clear. November 3, 1985, was a Sunday and was two weeks before Dexter was last seen.

It was never determined who wrote the graffiti.

The man seen parking Dexter’s Plymouth at the Bad Route Rest Stop is suspected of murdering him. He is believed to have been 35-40 years old in 1985, making him in his late 60s to early 70s today. He is described as at least six feet tall with a light complexion. In November of 1985, he was clean-shaven.

The suspect’s vehicle was a white Chevy 4 x 4 truck with a Hawaiian blue horizontal stripe on its side. It had a white camper shell top and a cattle guard on the front bumper.

Clyde Mitchell saw that the truck had Arizona license plates with a Phoenix plate holder. Under hypnosis, he recalled the first three numbers of the license plate as 147. Investigators found 279 vehicles in Arizona with those numbers. They narrowed the possibilities to 60 plates with the numerical beginning of 147 but could not link any of them to Dexter’s murder.

Over thirty-five years after meeting a brutal end in the brutally cold Montana winter, Dexter Stefonek’s murder remains unsolved. The murder is a cold case, literally and figuratively, as investigators said they have received few clues in recent years.

If you have believe you have any information on the murder of Dexter Stefonek, please contact the Dawson County Montana Sheriff’s Department at (406) 377-5291.

Further Reading:
Billings Gazette
Eau Claire Leader
Green Bay Press-Gazette
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.

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.

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The Strange Death of Janice Wilhelm

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-x8fww-1038747

One suspicious suicide in a small town may not be unusual, but five deaths within a square mile of each other? Within a year an oil boom hits Centerville, Texas and the deaths are all swept under the rug. While a handful of people get rich, the family members of the victims are left with nothing but questions.

 

Synova’s new book Black Gold Runs Blood Red in Texas covers a series of suspicious deaths in a rural Texas county. Could all of these deaths be a series of unfortunate coincidences? 

 

Janice Wilhelm was found dead by a gunshot to the neck when she was disabled and couldn’t use that arm. Her father Morris Robeson died by a gunshot to the back of the head when he had a neck injury and couldn’t shave his own face. The only man to question and try to investigate Morris’ suicide ends up taking his own life in a bizarre way. Is there a conspiracy over oil rights in this community?

 

Synova’s book will be available for preorder on June 1, 2021.

 

Check out www.synovaink.com today and follow Hootie on Youtube under Hootie’s Social Club

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.

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.

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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.

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Tip from Dying Witness Breaks Cold Case – Suspect let off on technicality

Photo courtesy of Knox News Archives


A trucker was found dead in the cab of his tractor-trailer. Bullet holes riddled the man’s torso and the cab of his truck. John Constant was shot 17 times by a high-powered rifle, but there wasn’t any blood in the cab leading investigators to wonder if the hit was staged. Forty-six years later, a dying witness blows this frozen case wide open. Will the killer finally face justice?

Hollywood may be fond of happy endings, but the reality isn’t as pleasant. In this case, the main suspect was let off the hook because of a technicality. Maybe he did it. Maybe he didn’t, but we will never know because it won’t go to trial.

On April 20, the Knox News reported that prosecutors dismissed the murder charge against Max Calhoun. The witness reportedly contacted the police after talking to the victim’s family over Facebook. These messages were enough to cause concern, and the authorities requested their phones. When the phones were received, the messages weren’t there. Were they intentionally deleted, or were they so old that they had been deleted before the police were ever called? We will never know.

Here’s the problem. If talking to the victim’s family on social media is enough to destroy a murder case, I wonder how many other cases should have been dropped? How many cases? What were in those messages? Were they benign, or were they sinister? Of course, the Knox News article doesn’t dive into the reason why the messages were no longer available, but it’s sad that this 48-yr-old murder won’t receive justice now because of social media. Here’s a glimpse into this legendary murder:

John Raymond Constant, Jr. was found murdered in the cab of his truck on March 16, 1973. The tractor-trailer truck was parked near the Little Tennessee River just off Hwy 411. The driver had suffered seventeen gunshot wounds, but police quickly realized the crime scene was staged. Although the cab was riddled with bullets and Mr. Constant was shot multiple times, there was no blood found at the scene.

A witness who lived in the area recalled hearing a car with a loud exhaust come by followed by what sounded like gunfire. A few moments later, he heard the vehicle pass again. Was this man ambushed while he rested in his cab, or was the scene staged? Was the car with the loud exhaust filled with the killers, or was it the escape route after staging the scene?

Strange Side Note:

The tractor-trailer truck’s emergency flashers were left blinking. Whoever did this wasn’t too worried about being caught, or they would have hidden the truck and shut off the lights.

Possible Motive:

Why would anyone want to murder this man? It seems Constant was starting to keep records of the shipments he was hauling. These shipments included bootleg cigarettes and black market items shipped by the local chapter of the Dixie Mafia. Family members claim John had been threatened and had decided to go to the FBI with his records.

Within a few months, outside investigators were brought in to form a task force since there were rumors of involvement by prominent citizens in the local community. Investigators wondered if this case could be tied to the Ray Owenby murder in June of 1973. The two men were good friends, and both were murdered three months apart.

Ray Owenby was shot while clearing land for development in Spring City, TN. He was shot four times but still managed to drive the bulldozer a mile down the road to find help. He collapsed upon arrival. No suspects emerged in the case, but the similarities made police wonder if there was a connection.

Investigators believe John Constant was killed the day before his body was found and was transported to the location. Witnesses would emerge early in the investigation that seemed to corroborate this theory. Constant was seen at a garage in Etowah owned by H.B. Calhoun. Another man claimed to have seen John Constant and two men at a car wash in Etowah on March 15. While the witness washed his car, he heard something like firecrackers, and then a truck drove away with someone slumped in the seat. The witness was put under hypnosis, and a few new details emerged. The driver was Marvin Ray “Big John” Pittman, and the other man was supposedly Harold Buckner.

Big John Pittman was a drifter and worked as a hitman for the Dixie Mafia. He would eventually be murdered in his home in Tampa, Florida. His body was found on June 5, 1975. He had been shot once in the temple and left for dead.

Harold Buckner’s story doesn’t have such a quick ending. Buckner would be arrested in September 1982 after a witness came forward on their deathbed. Buckner had just run for Sheriff and lost and claimed it was a politically motivated arrest. It would take a year, but the charges were eventually dropped due to lack of evidence. To this day, Buckner claims he was framed, and the investigation was nothing more than a “witch hunt.”

After the deathbed witness statement and the subsequent events, the case sat dormant for decades. Richar Fisher, former D.A., told reporters that he always believed several people had a hand in the murder plot against John Constant. If something didn’t come up soon, everyone would be dead.

Although the case went cold, the victim’s family believed they knew the murderer from the beginning and fingered Max Calhoun (son of H.B. Calhoun). John’s two brothers threatened the Calhoun family within weeks of the murder, and eventually, a protection order was placed on them.

“I am confident in my mind that you set my brother up to be murdered.” – Harold Constant to Max Calhoun.

Now we may never know if Calhoun was responsible for the death of John Constant. If Calhoun isn’t the killer, hopefully, they will find the ones responsible before this case is forgotten in the annals of history.


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 Reading:

Newspapers.com

middle Tennessee mysteries

knoxnews.com

The daily times

advocate and democrat

tba.org

knoxnews.com


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


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