FRAMINGHAM — Kerry Gilpin hopes her sister died quickly. That the blow that crushed her skull was an accident, and that 15-year-old Tracy Gilpin did not suffer that October night in 1986.
But without any answers, Gilpin also pictures the worst, an endless string of terrible scenarios. What if it was the neighbor, later convicted of murdering another teenage girl, who said a voice in his head made him do it? What if it was the man found abusing his dogs in a nearby rest area? What did Tracy endure?
“It’s been 30 years. I know it’s solvable,” said Kerry Gilpin, now a major in the Massachusetts State Police who spent 12 years working in its Crime Scene Services Section, and has never let her sister’s case go. “In my heart of hearts, I know that that person is out there.”
Now, Gilpin and her family are offering a $25,000 reward to anyone with information that leads to an arrest and conviction in the unsolved murder.
Tracy Gilpin was last seen on Oct. 1, 1986, near her home in Kingston, when she left a party to go buy cigarettes. Three weeks later, her partially clad body was found in a makeshift grave in Myles Standish State Forest in nearby Plymouth.
“We think there are a lot of people that know something,” Gilpin said in an interview at State Police headquarters in Framingham. “That, for one reason or another, they’re afraid to come forward, or maybe they’re embarrassed. Or they don’t want to come forward now because it’s been so long.”
After more than 30 years, the teenagers who might have seen something unusual that night are adults, maybe with teenage children of their own, Gilpin noted. She hopes they can find it in themselves to do the right thing. Until now, the reward has been $10,000, but the Gilpin family hopes the increase will generate new leads.
“We’re always hoping we’re going to be in a position to solve these terrible unsolved crimes,” said Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy J. Cruz. “With forensic testing, I don’t think it’s ever really fair to say anymore that you’re at the end of the road.”
Tracy Gilpin was hilarious, genuine, and carefree, her sister said. Gilpin recalls her sister acting out dramatic soap operas with her dolls, calling herself “Karen” and making Kerry double over from laughing. Tracy was meticulous about her appearance, always making sure her hair was perfect. She made friends easily, and was always swapping jewelry with them. She was idealistic and romantic — she loved the Lionel Richie and Diana Ross song “Endless Love,” and dreamed of having lots of children when she grew up.
“She really believed she was going to have her dream,” Gilpin said.
But on Oct. 1, after getting paid from her baby-sitting job, she went to a party. After leaving with some friends, who went to their own houses, she stopped to buy cigarettes, then vanished. Cruz said a woman offered her a ride, but Tracy declined, saying she was going to go for a walk.
Her body was found on Oct. 22 in the woods, covered with brush. There was a large boulder on her head, and her pants and shoes were missing, Cruz said. Her mother identified her by her jewelry.
The case remained unsolved, and four years later, the brutalized body of another Kingston teenager, 13-year-old Melissa Benoit, was discovered in a neighbor’s basement, raising fears that the killings were linked. The neighbor, Henry Meinholz Jr., who worked at a lumber yard and taught Sunday school, was later convicted in Benoit’s murder, but Cruz said investigators did not believe Meinholz was involved in Gilpin’s killing. Cruz said he remains open to new evidence, however.
Over the years, investigators have pursued other leads, such as a report of a man abusing his dogs. But they never panned out.
Gilpin said she believes the perpetrator was someone who knew Tracy. Rocky Nook, the Kingston neighborhood where she went missing, is not an area you travel through unless you know it, she said. Tracy would have fought or screamed if anyone tried to kidnap her, Gilpin said. And her sister’s body was discovered at the edge of the forest, almost as if someone wanted her to be found.
Gilpin said she has never considered that her sister’s case might not be solved. Her death tore her family apart, she said. Holidays were too painful to spend together.
She has two brothers, the younger of whom was born after Tracy’s death but has many of her mannerisms. Her mother has never moved out of the home Tracy lived in. Sometimes, people call Kerry “Tracy” by mistake. They all need an answer.
The Gilpin case is one of Plymouth County’s oldest active unsolved cases, Cruz said, but the passage of time offers some advantages. Technology continuously improves, witnesses recall some detail they never shared, and sometimes, perpetrators feel burdened and talk about their crimes.
“Nothing’s too small,” said Cruz. “One little piece of information may lead you to a bigger piece. That piece may lead you somewhere else. Eventually, you have enough pieces, you can put the case together.”
Anyone with information should call the State Police detective unit at 508-923-4205.