SHEFFIELD, Vt. — In this town of 700, Mary “Pat” O’Hagan is never far from memory. There’s a school playground dedicated to the 78-year-old grandmother, and a park bench honors her contributions to the Historical Society.
Her family still owns the white, two-story house where O’Hagan, who moved from Chelmsford in 1995 for the quiet, lived until authorities say she was fatally shot 3½ years ago in a botched robbery that shattered the calm of this New England town.
On Monday, new details about the slaying emerged as two of the three men accused in the killing stood before a judge to answer charges in the case for the first time.
“For us, our families, and all the residents of Sheffield and the surrounding area who have been shocked by this terrible crime, this action is the beginning of bringing peace and comfort back to the Northeast Kingdom,” said O’Hagan’s son Shawn. “It’s been a long three and a half years.”
After the shooting, the killers temporarily hid O’Hagan’s body in a nearby abandoned home and went to great lengths, including the use of bleach, to wipe clean the crime scene, authorities said. O’Hagan’s body was later taken to another area miles away, where her remains were found by hunters nearly a month later.
Attorneys for Richard Fletcher, 27, of Sheffield, and his half-brother, Keith Baird, 33, of Sutton, Vt., entered not-guilty pleas in Vermont Superior Court, where they are charged with first-degree murder. A judge set bail at $500,000 for each, although both were already being held in other cases.
A third man — Michael “Mouse Boy” Norrie, 23, of St. Johnsbury — was not arraigned, but is also facing a first-degree murder charge, say Vermont State Police.
Norrie, who is also incarcerated on another case, is a cousin of Fletcher and Baird’s, court records show. The three men are also charged with burglary and kidnapping in the attack on O’Hagan.
Charges were filed last week after Fletcher and Norrie allegedly made incriminating comments to investigators about the homicide while they were facing prosecution in federal court on unrelated cases.
Shawn O’Hagan, who lives in Manchester, N.H., said the arraignment marked “the final chapter of this process.”
“Somebody is being held responsible for our mother’s death. And, hopefully, this is the start for justice to be served.”
O’Hagan, who was well-known for her civic and church activities, was last seen Sept. 10, 2010. She was reported missing after she failed to show up at a rug-making meeting.
Sheffield held out hope O’Hagan would return safely. A candlelight vigil was organized in her honor. Ellie Dole recalled putting a sign in front of her house that said: “Come home, Pat. We miss you.”
“I left it out there a long time,” Dole said. “It’s such a shock for a small town of 700 people.”
O’Hagan’s remains were found Oct. 3 in Wheelock, about 10 miles from her home, police said. She was found face-down, wearing a sweatshirt, socks, and white sneakers, according to an affidavit by State Police Sergeant Jason Letourneau that was filed in court.
She was nude from the waist down, and a yellow rope, a red tie-down strap, and an electrical cord were found next to her body, Letourneau wrote.
Investigators allege O’Hagan was killed after Fletcher, Norrie, and Baird confronted her inside her home. They struggled, and Fletcher, either by accident or to scare O’Hagan, fired a shotgun into the kitchen ceiling, the affidavit said.
Norrie allegedly then shot O’Hagan in the back of the head, killing her, Letourneau wrote. The men moved O’Hagan’s body to an abandoned property located next to the woman’s home. O’Hagan’s body was moved again from that property, which was searched after she went missing, police said.
Fletcher, who described himself as a criminal forensic science buff, was put in charge of cleaning up the scene, the affidavit said. He told a cellmate he wore a body suit with booties and gloves and used bleach, paper towels, and rags to clean. He later used luminol, a chemical used to detect blood, and a black light to check the scene, the affidavit said.
The men moved O’Hagan’s body at least one other time days later, to the location where she was found, Letourneau wrote. Fletcher told a cellmate O’Hagan’s body was wrapped in a tarpauliln and driven to Wheelock by Norrie and Baird, the affidavit said.
Police also said their investigation had uncovered multiple accounts of the events leading up to the murder.
Norrie allegedly told authorities that he, Fletcher, and Baird were doing crystal meth and were looking to get more that night. He added that he went to O’Hagan’s house to look for pills.
Baird allegedly told a witness that he and others went to scare O’Hagan because she threatened to call police about stolen property being stored in a barn near her home. Fletcher allegedly told another witness that O’Hagan was killed after she learned the men had a meth lab inside an abandoned house near her home.
Another witness claimed the men wanted to rob O’Hagan of charitable donations she collected at a local event.
Beverly Delnicki, a resident of neighboring Wheelock who participated in a rug hooking group with O’Hagan, said she still longs for her friend.
“I miss her an awful lot,” she said. “I’ve been at loose ends.”Laura Crimaldi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.