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Decade in Review: Shootings rattled, and rallied, a community

By Izaskun E. Larrañeta and Karen Florin

Publication: The Day

Published December 28. 2009 4:00AM   Updated December 28. 2009 9:50AM
Day File Photo
Flowers mark the spot where liquor store owner Jared Silva was gunned down in 2007. Silva was killed as he closed his business on Ocean Avenue in New London.

Some crimes committed over the past decade went beyond the police station and courtroom to galvanize the community.

The Oct. 12, 2007, murder of New London package store owner Jared Silva stunned the city.

Silva, 46, was gunned down in front of his Ocean Avenue store in what police would later say was an attempted robbery. Word of his death spread quickly, prompting many people to place flowers in a display that reached several feet high on the store's doorsteps.

The community set up a reward fund to find the killers; they hosted benefit dinners for Silva's family; and community watch groups increased their presence in the neighborhood.

The city rallied and held a memorial service for Silva on Oct. 16 just a few feet from where he was killed. About 400 people attended to remember him and to call for an end to violence in the city.

But as the memorial was under way another city man, 24-year-old Vincent Jones, was shot to death in his Denison Avenue apartment. His brother-in-law, Johnny Joyner, was charged in the shooting. Joyner's criminal case is pending.

Two weeks after Silva's death police arrested Gary Clarke, 21, and Cosmo Frieson, 19, both from New London in connection with the murder.

Frieson has accepted a plea deal in which he will be sentenced next year up to 20 years for his role in the robbery.

Frieson told police that Silva fought back when they accosted him and that Clarke panicked and shot Silva in the face. Clarke's case is pending.

Violence near city bar

The shooting of Vernell O. Marshall outside Ernie's Cafe in June 2007, the second homicide to take place outside Ernie's within six months, made area business leaders, police and city officials question whether the local establishment should remain open.

Petitions for both closing and keeping the bar were circulated. The establishment remains open.

Curtis McGill, who allegedly ordered Marshall's killing because he had not paid a drug debt, was acquitted by a Norwich jury last year. Kurtis Turner was convicted in July and sentenced to 60 years in prison.

Six months earlier, 33-year-old Todd Thomas was shot outside of Ernie's. His killer remains at large.

Community remembers schoolteacher

After schoolteacher Leslie Buck was found dead in her home six and a half years ago, her colleagues and others in the community created a foundation in her name that buys books for students who can't afford them, awards college scholarships and sponsors reading programs in all the town's schools.

They also dedicated a reading garden at the entrance to Deans Mill School in Stonington where she taught second grade, established a reading day in her name and hold a fundraising walk in the borough each spring that draws as many as 500 of her former students and their parents as well as teachers and friends.

Her husband, Charles, long considered a suspect, was arrested in January and charged with her murder.

Police allege that Buck struck his wife with a club as she stood at the top of the stairs in their Masons Island Road home on May 4, 2002.

Two days before her death, Leslie Buck was kidnapped by a handyman, Russell Kirby, a friend of Charles Buck.

Kirby was sentenced in July 2004 to 21 years in prison. He has remained incarcerated on a $500,000 bond since the state Supreme Court overturned his conviction in 2006.

His case will be retried next year.

Deadly rampage in NL

Other crimes led to changes in procedures and attempts to change state laws.

In what one veteran attorney described as the "saddest case" he'd seen, Robert Swain III went on a deadly rampage during a domestic dispute with his ex-girlfriend, Jennifer Turner, in New London's Crystal Avenue highrise on April 20, 2004. He stabbed Turner and a neighbor, Rita Whitehead, then barricaded himself in Turner's seventh-floor apartment with two children. As police tried desperately to get inside, Swain fatally stabbed his and Turner's 15-month-old son, Josiah, and Emmaline Turner, a fourth-grader who was having a sleepover with her big sister and baby nephew during school vacation. Swain was sentenced in 2007 to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The crime changed the way the city's police and fire departments communicate. During the incident, police had attempted to get a key to enter the apartment from the fire department, but the fire officials, not knowing what was taking place, said it was against their policy. The victims' family members received an undisclosed settlement from the City of New London and the New London Housing Authority in a wrongful death lawsuit.

No violent offender registry

Sierra Giorgi suspected that something was amiss with Thomas Wood and even gave her mother information about him in the event that something happened to her.

Giorgi, who was studying to be a nurse/anesthesiologist, met Wood at a Waterford karate studio where she taught children.

She would be found outside the karate studio on July 1, 2005, with multiple stab wounds to her throat and head.

Friends said that Sierra looked for information about Wood on the sex-offender registry and on the Internet to no avail.

What she didn't know was that he had served time in prison for killing a 67-year-old man in Bridgeport in 1990. He was released after serving 14 years of his 20-year manslaughter sentence for good behavior.

Friends have lobbied for a law to provide for an online registry of violent offenders. "Sierra's Law" has been approved in committees but has never made it to the full legislature.

Wood was sentenced in January 2008 to 43 years in prison.

Double-murder motivated survivors

Family members of Gregory D. Giesing and Derek C. VonWinkle, stepbrothers who were fatally shot at their home in Groton on May 27, 2006, hope to get some answers in early 2010, when Ian T. Cooke is slated to go on trial for capital murder.

The family members have attended more than 50 of Cooke's court appearances in the past three years and have memorialized the 25-year-old victims at annual picnics. Linda West Giesing, mother of VonWinkle and stepmother of Giesing, died before she saw the case resolved.

Mrs. Giesing and her husband, Brian, testified before the Connecticut legislature in 2007 in a successful effort to make firearms owners and dealers responsible for promptly reporting the theft or loss of any of their guns.

Remains in a suitcase

Yet other crimes are remembered for their brutality or shock value.

For more than two years, Allen L. James carried the remains of his son, Alquan White, in a suitcase. The gruesome discovery wasn't made until James fled from Waterford police on Dec. 28, 2003, during a traffic stop.

The ensuing investigation revealed that nobody had closely scrutinized the boy's disappearance.

James, who confessed to throwing the toddler across the room, was sentenced in January 2009 to 14 years in prison.

2-year-old murdered

Before her untimely death, 2-year-old Treau Bemis spent her short life among her many caretakers - parents, grandparents and aunt.

It would be Bemis' aunt's fiance who would charged in the little girl's Sept. 16, 2007, drowning murder.

Craig R. Betancourt told police that while bathing Treau he sprayed her in the face with the nozzle for about 10 minutes until she stopped breathing. He is charged with a capital felony and his criminal case is pending.

In other crimes against children, Paul J. Brown was sentenced in 2004 in Danielson Superior Court to life in prison for the Feb. 8, 2002, murder of his 5-year-old son, and Charles A. Davis Jr. was sentenced to 72 years in prison in May 2008 for killing his girlfriend and their daughter.

Bizarre hostage situation

Richard J. Shenkman, arrested in March 2007 for allegedly torching his ex-wife's beach home, is accused of kidnapping her and taking her hostage in his South Windsor home on July 7 of this year.

The hostage case took a bizarre twist when he chose to communicate his demands through The Day's court reporter.

Nancy Tyler managed to break free from her husband when she unscrewed an eye-bolt that tethered her to the wall.

Before Shenkman was apprehended, he allegedly set his South Windsor home ablaze.

Shenkman is being held without bond in the Niantic arson case and on $12.5 million bond in the kidnapping case.

Home explosion,
dead body

In a cold, snowy day on Jan. 5 a quiet neighborhood on Richardson Hill Road in Griswold was disrupted by an explosion and flames that consumed the home of 69-year-old Denise M. Mueller.

A firefighter would discover a suicide/confession letter in the mailbox addressed to police.

In the letter, Carson Mueller, Denise Mueller's son, said that a murder had been committed and provided information on the location of the body. Hours later, state police located the body of Mueller's mother in the Pachaug State Forest near the Griswold-Voluntown town line.

Mueller was charged with her murder. A three-judge panel committed Mueller to the Whiting Forensic Institute, a hospital for the criminally insane, for up to 60 years.

Stealing to gamble

One crime wave had nothing to do with violence.

A New London judge said in 2001 that the region had an "epidemic" on its hands with addicted gamblers stealing from their employers. That was the year that Yvonne Bell, the longtime tax collector of Ledyard, was charged with stealing $300,000 from the town to play slot machines at Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun. The embezzlement cases continued through the decade, and many of those charged were middle-aged women with no prior criminal records who were considered trusted employees and pillars of their communities.

As the year came to a close, the dining services director for East Lyme schools and the business manager of a Gales Ferry condominium association were changed with embezzlement.

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