Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Shadow of Death

In 1993, journalist Philip Ginsburg released a book on the Connecticut River Valley Murders, a series of up to 13 homicides--all stabbings--that occurred near the town of Claremont between 1968 and 1988. The book is titled, The Shadow of Death, and I found a first edition hardcover on Amazon for next to nothing.

The narrative Ginsburg pulls together is great. It's simply one of the best true crime books I've ever read, if not THE best. He takes great care to introduce us to a variety of strange characters, from junk yard creeps to the detectives trying to catch a serial killer.

Over the course of 20 years, police and profiler John Philpin came up with many theories about the predator. Some thought there might be a connection to local hospitals, as three of the murdered women worked in the medical field: Bernice Courtemanche, Ellen Fried, and Barbara Agnew. Agnew's boyfriend at the time distributed X-ray equipment to hospitals.

Of course, they never did catch the killer, though a number of suspects are discussed (Ginsburg uses fake names for them). The murders appeared to end abruptly in 1988, after Jane Boroski managed to escape her attack. She's the one who provided the sketch of the bad guy. It's assumed the serial killer either stopped or moved away.

The cases have appeared in the news again recently. A few years ago, a PI and a reporter tried to make a case for Michael Nicholau, a Vietnam vet with a violent streak who lived in Mass. But for many reasons that doesn't shake out. I also learned that one of the suspects in Ginsburg's book--Paul Oakes--committed suicide just last year as he was about to faces charges for sexual misconduct.

Those close to the case, though, suspect the real serial killer has yet to be named.

17 comments:

  1. What's the chance a person like the Connecticut River Valley murderer could just stop one day. Maybe if the girl getting away from him REALLY scared him. I bet he didn't feel enough to be 'scared' though.

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    1. I have been interested in the CT River case since it happened (I lived near Boston at the time where there was also the New Bedford Highway Killer case going on then.) My take on the case is that it was someone local to Claremont because the earliest crimes showed a good knowledge of the area. Where Boroski was attacked was a good bit to the south of that area and where Maura disappeared was a bit to the north. I have never felt Boroski was the same guy because of this and its brazeness and lack of success (all seen in none of the earlier crimes). She said the car had Mass plates. Mass is near that attack scene but a good drive with back roads on the rest. Nicholou was surely capable of the crimes but he lived down by Springfield at the time. Why would he drive great distances (and one murder was during a blizzard) to commit crimes he could do nearby? However, where Boroski was attacked was not that far away, so he could have done that crime, but not the rest.
      BTW I think the claim that serial killers CANNOT STOP has been a proven hogwash. BTK and Green River both stopped. If the circumstances that made the killer comfortable change (ie fear of getting caught, a new wife) they can stop. The claim they can't is based on caught killers, not on those not caught.

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  2. I don't think he stopped one day. It's been mentioned that this person found a love interest who worked as a nurse and kept the "copy cat killer" away from killing for 10 years. The on again, off again troubles are quizical as the "killer" and missing people were mostly found dead ot became missing when these two people broke up. The knife wounds were the same, a v shape.

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  3. Mr. Renner,
    I think you are a good researcher. I like the blog. It is interesting and if I get a chance to look at the Primose book I will try. I think, though, you are missing certain points about Maura Murray. I think her character was questionable. I do not believe she was going to meet a man or was suicidal either. I do not think she was going to meet anyone. And I would be surprised if she even had one sip of that alcohol. I know these are ideas that you disagree with.
    The timing of her actions does not make sense to me. Maybe you could explain or give your opinion about some of the following actions that I have trouble believing. She has an accident in her father's car, gets the accident forms, then goes on vacation even though she is supposed to get a different car the following weekend. Even if you disregard the fact she only has five days to file the paperwork, she has to be back by Friday because her father is coming back to get her a new vehicle. He certainly is going to want his paperwork filed by then. She is so concerned about getting her father his car the first night she wrecks is makes one wonder about whether he ever actually saw her dorm room that weekend? She had to pack sometime.
    Then there is the drinking. With the amount of alcohol she bought, she would literally have to drink each day the entire week to consume it. I am amazed as can be that she could drink that much and go running. I do not know why she would bring running shoes and apparrel when it seems like what she really needs to bring along are hiking boots and a GPS.
    She is the wierdest suicide victim ever. First, she starts drinking before she reaches her destination. What if she gets pulled over by the police or the car breaks down and police stop to assist? I do not think I would want to have alcohol on my breath, not to mention the whole suicide plan would be messed up since she would be on her way to jail.
    Why does she not call anyone for nearly three hours after her last call to check the messages on her phone? While her accident may have taken place in the woods, expressways usually are covered well by cell phone towers. Was there a payphone at the Swiftwater gas station? I just kept thinking there might be a need for one if the area has such poor cell phone coverage. I am surprised that after the accident her trail went east because you would think she would remember the gas station as a place to lay low as a place to stay until police are gone. If she had gone up to the area numerous times before you would think she would remember it. She has a prepaid card to call AAA so that is where I would have gone. As one person pointed out, she did not call the police and did not know anyone else had either. That is a good point. Why get into a vehicle when she could walk back to the gas station?
    The fact of the matter is you can debate this stuff all day and that is why it is such an interesting case. One of two things happened. She had an accident and someone with bad intentions picked her up or two, she came up with a great runaway plan. Good luck with your book about Maura Murray.

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    1. A lot of that information came from Fred Murray and you're assuming he was telling the truth.

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    2. Your trains of thought are very refreshing. Please keep it up! ~Kolina

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    3. Dear Anon 3/4 @ 9:28,

      I agree with James' response to your post. More importantly, and in addition, it is not clear to me that your discussion supports the point of your post, as you yourself state it in your opening paragraph.

      I don't think she committed suicide either. I think there are a lot of reasons to think she did not. I have read James talking about those reasons. What of his reasoning on this do you disagree with specifically? Moreover, for what it is worth, the one thing that truly defines the mind of a suicide victim is panic and lack of rationality. By all medical accounts, the vast majority of suicides are desperate cries for help gone completely awry.

      There is so much evidence - contrary to your stated "belief" - that she was meeting someone that it is hard to dismiss on the logic you present. I would like to hear your reasoning about how you know she was not. You just state your "belief," to use your words. Incidentally, I personally also find it hard to dismiss what that "ring of truth" Topix poster (which James posted) said: that the accident was staged. Much, much opinion and evidence points that way. This also suggests to me that she was meeting someone, a point which I have discussed in a logical construct in other places on the blog.

      As for the running drunk part, having been a pretty good collegiate distance runner myself I will tell you that I have run off many buzzes and hangovers and drunks in my time. There is no inconsistency there. But speaking from a larger perspective, I wonder what inconsistency you are really point to? She was a runner. She packed her running shoes. She clearly was upset by something she was alerted to by the telephone call at work and decided urgently to get out of dodge. She clearly was suffering and having problems and reacting irrationally. That is not inconsistent with suicide. There are pieces of evidence not consistent with suicide (such as the fact that most young people who commit suicide do so in ways where either then can be stopped or will be found). While I too think she did not kill herself, contrary to your post, her apparent state of mind is not at all inconsistent with suicide so it is a viable theory. Her state of mind is also not inconsistent with running away to a new life. It also is not inconsistent having an accident, panicking more and running off and meeting with any of several bad fates, including abduction, death by exposure and being hit by a car and scooped up by the driver hiding his crime.

      In that context, my question to you is this: what is the inconsistency - specifically speaking - that you refer to James as having missed? Much of what you say is interesting reasoning, and reasoning others have offered here, including me. But it does not support the stated point of your email, which seems to be - as you stated it - an assertion that James is "missing something" about this case. What specifically? Could you tell me? In fact, it is not clear to me at all that James even disagrees with the points you list in your first paragraph that you say he disagrees with. When I consider that, I wonder what perspective you are bringing to this, and also, perhaps, whose axe you grind.

      John Green

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  4. James, have you read Bill James book 'True Crime'? I just started it.

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  5. Interesting, I didn't hear about the Oakes suicide. Reading a little more about him, he doesn't seem like a good fit for the Valley Killer. For one thing, he was a rapist while, judging from the Boroski attack, the Valley Killer didn't sexually assault his victims: he just annihilated them. This would seem to suggest a picquerist signature, in which the knife is integral to the crime and repeated, frenzied stabbing becomes a substitute for sexual penetration.

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  6. James, are you working on the Timeline? I check all the time to see if it's up yet. Maybe you should make it clear on the timeline what is known and what is 'known', as in what Fred Murray has claimed happened.

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  7. Was Oakes the guy that Ginsburg called Henry Barker in his book?

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    1. I do not see the reason why Fred Murray would lie on important points regarding his daughter's dissapearance. It is possible that he would try to remain silent on samll issues regarding her behaviour which he might consider trivial but thinks would be blown out of proportion by others. perhaps it is a bad judgement call but I do not believe is an intentional plan to disrupt the investigation...

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  8. Notice the crooked nose on the drawing?

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  9. I went to college in VT and am basically obsessed with this case. Where the hell is Maura? And what's the probability that at that time at night when she crashed, she JUST SO happened to be picked up by an erstwhile murderer/serial killer? I realize that it's theoretically possible, but I just can't shake the (extremely strong) feeling she's still alive somewhere.

    If she ever Googles her name, she'd find this blog... I really hope Maura resurfaces someday. This is one strange case.

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  10. Weird that Paul Oakes and Claude Moulton both worked for (owned?) junk yards / recycling yards in the same area, right?

    Brian

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  11. Are there any photographs of Fred Murray when he was younger? How old is he now? Do we know where he has lived for the last 20 years? Biographical information?

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