ST. JOHNSBURY, VT - Melissa Jenkins had told friends that the man who used to plow her driveway, Allen Prue, made her uncomfortable. He had asked her out a couple of times and last fall showed up at her house drunk.
Yet when the prep school teacher got a call Sunday evening from Prue and his wife, saying their car had broken down near her house, she went to help just the same.
What Jenkins did not know, authorities said Wednesday, is that the Prues’ call was a deadly ruse, part of a ruthless, impulsive plot “to get a girl.’’
Two days after Jenkins’ body was found, Allen and Patricia Prue were arrested Wednesday and charged with her killing, accused of savagely beating and strangling her along a dark country road as soon as she arrived with her 2-year-old son to assist them.
In a police affidavit that grimly detailed the charges, yet left questions of motive unanswered, investigators said Allen Prue, 30, confessed to killing Jenkins and dumping her naked body in the Connecticut River.
In an interview with investigators, Prue said he and his wife were driving around when he “got the idea to get a girl’’ and made their way toward the Jenkins home.
“When Melissa Jenkins got out of her vehicle, he grabbed her and strangled her,’’ a homicide investigator wrote. Patricia Prue, 33, was “helping him,’’ he added.
When Jenkins stopped moving, the couple put her in the back seat of their car and drove away. As they headed home, Patricia Prue again choked Jenkins “to ensure she wasn’t breathing,’’ her husband told police.
Jenkins received a “severe beating’’ before her death, an autopsy found.
Later that evening, her son was found alone in her idling car about a half-mile from her home. The next day, investigators found her body in a remote area about 10 miles away.
The slaying has unnerved residents and prompted an outpouring of grief for Jenkins, a popular science teacher and waitress who had lived her whole life in this rural section of northern Vermont.
Wearing handcuffs and leg shackles in a Vermont courtroom, the Prues pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and improper disposal of a body.
They were ordered held without bail. Patricia Prue, according to the affidavit, denied any involvement in the slaying. Neither has a previous criminal record, authorities said.
Lisa Warren, the prosecutor in the case, said detectives had not found evidence of a sexual crime, but that the investigation remains active. She said that the couple’s motive was unclear and that the snowplowing was the only known tie between them and Jenkins.
Investigators also stressed that more charges could be forthcoming.
“Our efforts in this case are not complete, as there is still much work to be done,’’ said Ed Ledo, criminal division commander of the Vermont State Police. “However, we hope these arrests help bring some closure to the family and friends of Melissa Jenkins.’’
At St. Johnsbury Academy, where Jenkins had taught for eight years, school officials said the arrests were “good news for all who loved her.’’
“We can now turn our full attention to healing from this tragic loss, celebrating Melissa’s life, and mourning her death,’’ the statement read. “The words and signs of love and support from around the region, nation, and world have been overwhelming.’’
The school will hold a memorial service Friday.
After receiving the Prues’ call Sunday evening, Jenkins called a friend, saying she “got a weird call from a girl and guy who used to plow her driveway.’’
Jenkins gave the friend the name and phone number of Prue’s snowplowing business from a card she had kept.
After not hearing from Jenkins for about two hours, friends became nervous and drove toward her house, where they discovered her car with her son asleep inside.
Police responding to the scene said the toddler, Ty, told them that a man had been there and that his mother had cried. He pulled on the back of his neck to indicate someone “had done that’’ to his mother, police said. The child also said his Mommy left in a car, the affidavit said.
According to police, Prue detailed the couple’s disposal of the body, saying that he and his wife had put it in a tarpaulin, along with her clothes and their clothes, and poured bleach on them. They then weighed down the body with cinderblocks and dropped it in the Connecticut River, covering it with branches. They then went to New Hampshire where they burned the tarp and all the clothing.
Outside the courtroom, Allen Prue’s mother and sister insisted the couple is being wrongly accused.
“I want people out there to realize that he’s not the monster they are making him out to be,’’ said Donna Prue, Prue’s mother, who lives with the couple.
“Neither one of them are,’’ added his sister, Sharon Tinder.
“He’s had no contact with her whatsoever,’’ she said. “He didn’t even know her last name.’’
Tinder said she hoped police would keep searching for evidence that would exonerate her brother. She said the sight of her brother in shackles was “devastating.’’
Patricia Prue, a New York native, met her husband through an online dating service in 2008, the relatives said. She has a number of health problems, including depression and anxiety, Tinder said.
“When she gets really overwhelmed, she ends up having panic attacks,’’ she said. “And this whole situation, I’m sure, is very overwhelming for her.’’
Donna Prue said she believed the prosecution’s case “had a lot of holes’’ and said she believed in her son’s innocence.
“They’re making a big mistake,’’ she said.