East on the Jericho Road: The Murder of Paulette Crickmore

By John Philpin

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By John Philpin

Presidential candidate Howard Dean was still governor of Vermont when reporters grilled him about his thoughts on the death penalty. If the victim was a child or a police officer, he mused, he would support capital punishment. He cited the kidnapping and murder of Polly Klass in 1993 as one example, and the Oklahoma City bombing case as another. Reporters pressed him: what about a Vermont case? The murder of Paulette Crickmore, he said.

On the morning of September 10, 1986, the 15-year-old Crickmore left her Richmond home and was on her way to school walking east on the Jericho Road when she vanished. Searches of the area turned up no trace of the girl, or the book bag or flute case she carried.

On November 19, under slate-gray skies and the winter’s first snow flurries, a deer hunter in the Duxbury woods found Paulette Crickmore’s decomposed body. She had been shot three times in the head with a small-caliber weapon.

Statewide reaction to the homicide was immediate and intense. Parents supervised school bus stops or drove their children to school.

The case quickly became an obsession for Vermont State Police investigator Leo Blais. He worried over his daughter’s safety, and he wanted a killer off the street. Within days of taking over the case, Blais had a suspect, but he had no evidence. He developed background on his suspect, watched him, and waited.

Edwin Towne’s rap sheet reads like a bad dream. In September 1972, Towne abducted and raped at gunpoint a thirteen-year-old girl. He considered killing her, then changed his mind and released her near her home in Stowe, Vermont. He was arrested, charged, posted bail, and ran. In 1973 he was charged with simple assault in Rhode Island and ran to Florida. In June 1973, he picked up a couple hitchhiking and sexually assaulted the woman. In Tennessee in May 1974, Towne was charged with carrying a sawed-off shotgun. Because of outstanding charges, Towne avoided Vermont and migrated to New Hampshire. He was arrested there in 1975 for carrying a concealed weapon. He said he felt safe only when he had a pistol with him. In July 1976 while driving to work, Towne abducted and sexually assaulted a woman at gunpoint.

Towne approached the woman three times asking her if she wanted a ride. She declined. On his fourth pass, Towne produced the gun and ordered her into his car. He drove to an isolated location, forced the woman into the woods, and assaulted her. He drove to a second location, dragged the victim into the woods and told her he was going to kill her. Instead, he sexually assaulted her again. Following a two-and-a-half hour ordeal, the woman escaped when Towne stopped his car to get gas.

Sentenced to five to ten years in the New Hampshire State Prison, Towne’s minimum release date was summer 1979. In April, his case was reviewed for transfer to a minimum security facility. The chief of the mental health unit recommended the transfer noting, "He is seen as being of low average intelligence who responds to common basic human needs. The described sexual episode appears to be more the response to one of these basic needs rather than the act of any criminal. It is believed that he is the type of individual who learns by experience and profits by the consequences of his behavior."

Towne was paroled on August 5, 1979 and settled in Manchester, New Hampshire. Ten days later, police there questioned him about the sexual assault of a nine-year-old girl. Towne quit his job and ran.

On February 20, 1980 a young woman picked up Towne hitchhiking on a toll bridge leading to Vermont. He leaned close to her and pressed a knife against her abdomen. "Keep on driving," he said. "I’m just going to make you a little late for work."

Two more stops; two more sexual assaults. Late that afternoon, Towne broke into a vacant camp and left the victim there while he went to get groceries. For six hours she had feared for her life. As soon as he drove away, she fled.

A jury convicted Towne in August 1980 and sentenced him to concurrent terms of ten to fifteen years. According to the sentence, Towne would not be eligible for parole until 1987. The Vermont Supreme Court overturned the conviction, and a subsequent plea agreement resulted in a sentence of from six to eight years imposed in 1983. Towne was recommended for participation in the state’s sex offender treatment program.

Opened in 1982, the program did not accept all sex offenders. Their literature states: "Only those offenders who sincerely accept responsibility for their act and acknowledge the harm inflicted by it should be considered appropriate." At the time of his arrest in 1980, Towne wanted to talk to his victim, to set things straight so he would not have to go to jail. Offenders with histories of crimes other than sexual offenses were considered ineligible. Towne’s weapons and assault charges should have excluded him.

On September 7, 1984 Edwin Towne was back on the street.

He had shown improvement in treatment, officials said. He had opened up, admitted a lot. So they recommended his release. Towne continued in outpatient "relapse-prevention therapy" until November 13, two months after he had kidnapped and murdered Paulette Crickmore.

Detective Leo Blais had a list of twenty suspects, but one name jumped out at him. Edwin Towne lived in Richmond. Blais began following his suspect, and in late October pulled him over on Interstate-89 in South Burlington. The .32 caliber weapon under Towne’s car seat was not the murder weapon, but it was enough to involve BATF officers who later confiscated two rifles from the convicted felon. There was also the matter of an open warrant from Manchester, New Hampshire in the 1979 sexual assault of the nine-year-old girl. Blais was sure he had his man, but how could he prove it?

For this type of crime, the assailant’s weapon choice was unusual. Knives or blunt instruments are more common. Towne had used a handgun in an earlier abduction and sexual assault. Would the assailant simply dispose of the weapon? Towne felt safe only when he had a gun. He would want to know where the murder weapon was. Towne had told the cop that on the day in question he drove a load of concrete blocks from Richmond to Eden Mills where he was building a house. Towne placed himself on the Jericho Road where Paulette Crickmore emerged from a convenience store carrying her book bag and flute case and headed for school.

Call it a hunch, or the instincts of a seasoned detective. Leo Blais obtained a search warrant for Towne’s Eden Mills property. Using a metal detector, investigators found a .32 caliber handgun and three spent shell casings concealed in one of the foundation’s concrete blocks. Blais had the murder weapon.

Edwin Towne is serving a sentence of seventy years. He was the New Hampshire inmate who allegedly learned from experience and profited from the consequences of his behavior. He was the twice-convicted sex offender who impressed Vermont treatment professionals with his openness and sincerity. Towne apparently learned only one lesson: never leave a living victim.

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The Baton Rouge Serial Murders Series -- Intriquing 5 part series takes you behind the scenes of the search for the Baton Rouge Serial Killer through the eyes of John Philpin a famous criminal profiler who worked on the case.

John Philpin is the author of "Stalemate" (Bantam), a true account of child abduction and murder in the San Francisco Bay area.

Philpin is co-author (with Patricia Sierra) of “The Prettiest Feathers,” a work of fiction called “the ultimate psychological profile of a serial killer.”

The Fact: A special feature for KariSable.com readers -- Crime Profiler John Philpin's intriquing short story about a psychologist determined to prove that a Serial Killer can be rehabilitated.

© John Philpin

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