NATICK — After three years, he is still out there.
The person who killed Stacey Burns gets to walk around, while five motherless kids, a shattered family, and countless friends try to hold themselves together.
‘‘So many people are angry and frustrated,’’ says Stacey’s older brother Michael Keane, 45, sitting in the living room of their childhood home in Natick Friday. ‘‘I guess I am, too. That person is living their life. They get to see their children and have joy if they choose. They’ve put our family through hell.’’
Stacey and Michael, just a couple of years apart, were always close. In college, they told friends they were twins. He was always in awe of his younger sister’s incredible energy, and of the way ‘‘she filled everyone’s buckets. She sensed in you if you needed something, and she provided it.’’
She’d pull into her driveway, in Wolfeboro, N.H., where she was raising her kids after a bitter divorce, and neighbors would converge. ‘‘For God’s sake, could we just have her for two minutes?’’ her sister Kelly would joke.
Stacey, an elementary school nurse, never burdened her family with her problems — ‘‘her tragic trait,’’ Michael calls it. Her brother doesn’t want to talk about it, but divorce papers show Stacey feared her former husband, Ed Burns, and said he had been abusive. At the time of the killing, the two were at odds again and headed back to court.
After the marriage ended, Stacey dated a Wolfeboro logger named Jim Vittum for a year. Stacey had broken off that relationship, but Vittum, a loner and divorced father of two living in his former wife’s basement, refused to accept that, her friends and family said. She tried to convince Vittum it was over, once and for all, the afternoon before she died. But he showed up at her house that night, sitting down to watch a movie with the kids.
‘‘She had bad taste in men,’’ Michael said. ‘‘She always did, God love her.’’
Early on Mother’s Day, 2009, Stacey’s two teenage children discovered her body, on the floor beside her bed, stabbed dozens of times. Somebody had slipped into the unlocked house, killed her quickly and savagely, and gotten out.
Police questioned her former husband, who is now raising the couple’s five children. ‘‘We believe Ed is not the murderer,’’ Michael said.
They questioned Vittum, too, for 14 hours, right after the killing, according to a bizarre interview he gave to the Manchester Union Leader a few months later. He was there the night before she was killed and early the next morning, he said. He said police searched his house and gave him a polygraph test, which he failed. He volunteered that his blood might have been on Stacey’s hands, because she had earlier helped get a splinter out of his hand.
If Vittum is a suspect, investigators aren’t saying. All they will say is that they’re still working the case hard. But Vittum certainly believes he is a suspect. Friends in Wolfeboro tell the Keanes they’ve heard him reminding people he’s in the middle of the mystery and that he was featured on ABC’s ‘‘20/20’’ last year. ‘‘All of a sudden, he’s somebody,’’ Michael says.
Whoever killed Stacey, he’s free. Her family never will be. Suspended, they’re doing what they can to honor Stacey. Michael started staceyburnsmemorial.com, a website to keep her memory alive and to raise money for her children, who need it.
The Keanes believe police are doing their best, but want to keep the pressure up. To that end, Stacey’s family and scores of her friends marched to the State House in Concord Thursday.
Vittum told people in Wolfeboro he was going to march with them.
‘‘We got word out that we prefer he not go,’’ Michael says.