The Connecticut River Valley Killer has never been conclusively identified. The only thing known is that an unidentified murderer killed and/or attacked several girls in the New Hampshire and the surrounding areas in the late 1970s and early to mid 1980s. While the exact date of the killings is unclear, the case was opened when the first piece of evidence was discovered in the 1980s.
Don't let "Connecticut" in the name fool you. Several skeletal remains -- all sustaining similar wounds -- were discovered in New Hampshire and Vermont. These discoveries were shocking to the Connecticut River Valley area. New England and New Hampshire especially has had historically low crime rates. NH was the least dangerous states in the nation even when national crime was at its peak. The cold case has remained very shocking and deeply disturbing to the CT River Valley residents, especially to local women. The killer, whoever he may be, is widely considered NH's first serial killer.
As the crew of crime scene cleaners that responds to these types of emergencies, the National Crime Scene Cleanup empathizes with the families affected by this tragedy. Our heart goes out to all those affected.
Throughout the 1980s, several skeletal and decomposing human remains were discovered at various sites in the Connecticut River Valley area. Unfortunately, like many cold cases, more is known about the victims left behind than the killer themself. The investigation faced several difficulties due to:
The major details that point to the workings of a serial killer are based on the evidence that investigators were able to collect. Even though it’s not a definite that a single killer is responsible, authorities have deduced the workings of a serial killer because:
While most of the bodies were discovered after the victim went missing after hitchhiking or after their car was found abandoned, there were three murdered under different circumstances, and two whose stories provided eye witness and testimony. Several witnesses described him as a:
Authorities have named some suspects, although nothing has been conclusive and the case remains unsolved.
A damning confession came through when Grafton, NH resident Gary Westover, a 46 year old paraplegic, told his uncle, retired Grafton County sheriff deputy Howard Minnon, that he had witnessed the murder of a woman likely to be Barbara Agnew. On his deathbed, Westover confessed that three friends had loaded him and his wheelchair into their van for a night of drinking in Vermont around the time Barbara Agnew went missing. On the way, his friends had abducted, murdered, and left a woman in a remote location. In October 1997, Westover’s uncle Minnon shared the information with authorities, but no action was taken.
Westover died in March 1998. His uncle Howard Minnon died in 2006. Shortly after his uncle passed, ten years after Westover’s original confession, one of Westover’s aunts wrote to Agnew’s sister with the information Westover had originally confessed.
Agnew’s sister sent the information to an investigator working on a Holyoke, MA missing persons case that may have connections with the alleged serial killings. Michael Andrew Nicholaou, a Long Island native with a rough childhood, was a person of interest. During high school Michael was a competitive wrestler and a black belt in karate, but his affinity for violence did not stop there. He enlisted in the Army and served as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. He received two Purple Hearts, two Silver Stars, and two Bronze Stars during his service. He was discharged from active duty for unlawfully flying his helicopter low and, with three other soliders, murdering civilians in Mekong Delta with bombs and machine guns. His charges were dropped and he was being treated for PTSD at a local VA hospital after he returned home.
Michael married 20 year old Holyoke native Michelle Ashley Nicholaou in Charlottesville, Virginia and moved to Holyoke, MA (roughly 90 miles/140 km from Claremont) in 1988. Michelle's family noted she had changed drastically after meeting him. She frequently expressed many issues with him to her family, at one point even trying to leave him. Michael was very posessive and controlling over her and stalked her until she returned. She once mentioned to her family that she was afraid for her life to leave, but planned on doing so after her sister's wedding in 1988.
Shortly after her sister's wedding, in December 1988, her family reported Michelle missing. When questioned later, Nicholau initially claimed he had never known her, then admitted he had a relationship with her. He said she was a "slut" that had ran off with a Colombian drug dealer. The family found their apartment abandoned. Michael brought their two children with him. His children tearfully recalled being neglected and relocated several times.
In 2001, while living in Lutz, Florida, Michael met a woman named Aileen Bowman and married her in Vegas. The couple and their children (including Aileen's daughter Terrin, whom she had prior to meeting Michael) moved throughout Georgia and Florida several times. Aileen had similar issues with Michael, insofar as being held at gunpoint and demanding his son run over her with his Jeep. Aileen went into hiding frequently and in 2005, Michael discovered her and her daughter's whereabouts. He arrived to Aileen's sister's house wearing a trench coat and two concealed guns. Michael held Terrin hostage in her room for three hours while Aubrey, Aileen's sister, called authorities and waited for a SWAT team to arrive.
It was too late. Michael shot his wife and step daughter Terrin, then himself in a murder-suicide. The private investigator hired by Michelle's parents, Lynn-Marie Carty, took special interest in this story, connecting it Michelle as well as the other New England killings.
While nothing conclusive has been declared, Carty may have been on to something connecting Aileen's killer to Michelle's disappearance and the attacks on the other women.
Investigator Steve Rowland has been on the case since the beginning and had never heard of Nicholaou or these details until after his murder-suicide. In 2018 he told a local publication that DNA testing has been delayed due to other homicidal cases at the forensic lab. As of 2022, the case remains unsolved.
Based on the lack of evidence and speculation, it's deceptive to give an exact number of victims. So, the list suspected victims and timeline of the Connecticut River Valley killer include:
The motive behind the killings has never been determined. Many important details have yet to be discovered, solved, or, undoubtedly, leaked to the press. The only thing that is conclusively and publicly available are names, pieces of their story, specific information from their autopsies, and the areas associated with them.
In October 1978, 26 year old Catherine Millican was spotted taking photos of birds at the Chandler Brook Wetland preserve in New London, NH. Authorities have speculated that she was murdered shortly after, as her body was discovered the very next day, only a few yards from where she was last seen.
The coroner determined Millican had sustained at least 20 individual stab wounds in a V shape, very similar to the pattern of the other victims. Profiler John Philipin mentioned sexual misconduct may have been involved, but no physical evidence exists to suggest otherwise.
To this day, Ms. Millican's case remains cold.
In July of 1981, Ms. Critchley, a student at the University of Vermont, disappeared from I-92, hitchhiking near the Massachusetts border. Her friend reportedly dropped her off at Exit 13 on Massachusetts Turnpike in Framingham, MA. She had been trying to hitchhike to Waterbury, Vermont. Unfortunately, Ms. Critchley was one of the first hitchhikers that went missing in this investigation.
Ms. Critchley wasn't found until about a week and a half later. Her body was discovered in Unity, New Hampshire close by where Morse's body would be discovered almost 5 years later. The condition of the remains made it difficult for the medical examiner to determine the cause of death, so many details have been left up in the air. Besides the the dump-site, there may be more information connecting Ms. Critchley's death to our serial killer than we know.
Heidi may be the CT River Valley killer’s youngest victim. 16 year old Heidi Martin was last seen jogging on Martinsville Road in Hartland, VT on May 20, 1984. Her body was tragically discovered a day later in a swampy area by a Hartland Elementary School.
Heidi’s association with the alleged serial killer stems from the discovery location of her body.
That same year, during Heidi’s investigation, a man named Delbert Tallman (photographed left) confessed to killing Heidi, but then retracted his confession, claiming another man had killed her.
Despite living in multiple locations near where the bodies were discovered, it isn’t clear how closely associated he was to the killings. Tallman would’ve been 16 years old at the date of the first killing, and 23 years old in 1985. Boroski's testimony decribed someone older with a rounder face.
Tallman was tried and found not guilty, although ten years later in 1996 he was tried for lewd conduct with a child. He was later arrested for inadequate sex offender registration compliance. He was released from prison in 2010.
17 year old Bernice Courtemanche was last seen around 3:30pm on May 30, 1984 in Claremont. Bernice may be one of the CT River Valley serial killer’s youngest victims. It’s believed that like Critchley, Bernice had been hitchhiking on New Hampshire Route 12 to try to get to her boyfriend’s house in Newport, NH.
She was declared missing two months prior to the disappearance of her personal nurse Ellen Fried. The police speculated Bernice had drowned in the Sugar River. Her body was later discovered two years later on April 19, 1986 by a fisherman in the woods near Newport.
A coroner determined stab wounds in the neck, a traumatic injury to her head, and a slit throat in the autopsy. Because of the area she had been last seen and where the wounds were discovered, it’s believed she was one of the victims as well.
The 26 year old part time personal nurse of Bernice Courtemanche, Ellen Ruth Fried, also went missing just two months after Bernice. In July 1984, while Ms. Fried was at Leo’s Market in Claremont, she stopped to call her sister on a payphone when she noticed a strange car circling the parking lot during the call. She mentioned this to her sister, went to check that her car would start, and then finished the conversation.
Fried worked as a registered nurse for the Valley Regional Hospital nearby. She did not report to work the next day. Her car was later found abandoned on Jarvis Road, near the area of the payphone.
She wasn’t seen until 18 months later, when her body was discovered by Sugar River in Kelleyville on September 19, 1985. Forensics found multiple stab wounds and a possible sexual assault.
The investigation took a turn in April 1986 when Mrs. Moore’s husband discovered his wife’s body in the backyard of their Saxton River, Vermont home. It’s thought that Moore had been sunbathing in the backyard when she was attacked. Witnesses claim they saw several people outside the household, including a dark haired man wearing cheap glasses and carrying a blue knapsack.
The crime scene was a complete mess as she fought her attacker while he stabbed her repeatedly around the neck in a similar area as Morse, Courtemanche, and Moore. Moore’s stabbing patterns were also similar to other victims.
The differences in Moore’s case is that this time numerous witnesses were able to describe the assailant and Moore’s body was not in a remote location. Thanks to several witnesses, a composite sketch of the killer was created through their descriptions. The case investigator John Philipin speculated the killer had either been startled or interrupted prior to moving Moore’s body.
Eva Morse had a difficult start to her life but was doing her best to turn things around. Morse, a 27 year old single mother, was attempting to repair an unstable relationship with a child she had in her teens. She had just celebrated her daughter’s 10th birthday a few days prior to going missing. The book The Shadow of Death by Philip Ginsburg, mentioned she may have appeared vulnerable for being a practicing lesbian. Rumors had circulated about her association with aggressive and unsafe people.
Rumors aside, the evidence suggests too strong of a link to the serial killer to ignore.
Barbara Agnew was a divorced registered nurse with a young son working at a cardiac unit in VT. In January 1987, Ms. Agnew was driving home from a skiing trip in Stratton, VT when she had decided to pull into a rest stop 10 miles away from her home. Investigators, friends, and families are all puzzled as to why she decided to stop. Was it because of a heavy snowstorm in the area? Some speculate she had stopped because of the weather, while others speculated that she had stopped to throw out garbage, or just make a phone call at a payphone.
What is evident, however, is that her abandoned BMW had been found on I-91 in Hartford, VT with the door open and her blood on the steering wheel. Two months later that March, her body was discovered under an apple tree in Hartland, VT.
Her body had the same V-shaped stabbing pattern as several other victims. Agnew was also found only a mile away from where Heidi Martin’s body had been found three years prior.
The authorities were hoping that the attacks and murders had stopped when, in August 1988, a seven-months pregnant Ms. Boroski stopped for a soda at a gas station in West Swanzey. A man in a Jeep Wagoneer pulled up next to her. She noticed the man walking around the back of her car and heard him ask her if the payphone was working, before walking up to her open window and violently pulling her out of the car. He then stabbed her 27 times before getting back into his car and leaving her there to die.
Ms. Boroski made it back to her car and was able to drive it to a friend's house, but not before she realized that her attacker was just ahead of her in the Jeep. In fact, she was behind him the entire way to her friend's home. She made it to her friend's home where she witnessed her attacker pull a U-turn and drive slowly by where she lay in the yard, staring at her the entire time. He drove off as her friend helped her into her car so she could be brought to the hospital.
At the hospital she was treated for a severed jugular, collapsed lungs, a lacerated kidney, and several severed tendons. Miraculously her baby survived, although later had complications with cerebral palsy.
Unfortunately, the case is still open. Please consider sharing this article to spread awareness about this cold case. And if you have any information about any of these murders or the suspects, contact authorities in either Connecticut or New Hampshire.References