Community once home to Norman Rockwell scared after homicide

AP News
|
Posted: Jan 22, 2017 12:43 PM

EAST ARLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — People in a normally bucolic Vermont town, which regularly celebrates its history as the mid-20th Century home of Norman Rockwell, are being told to lock their doors and leave their lights on after an elderly woman was stabbed to death in her home.

Police in Arlington are asking residents to report anything suspicious that could help investigators find the person responsible for the death of Helen Jones, 81, whose body was found in her home Jan. 4.

No arrests have been made and police, saying they don't want to compromise their investigation, are releasing few details of what they know about her killing.

"We're not just frustrated, we're frightened," resident Margot Page told Vermont State Police officers at a Thursday community meeting of about 200 people at the packed white clapboard Federated Church in Arlington.

"We've not been confronted with this before," Page said. "I want to urge everyone to stand up and refuse to be a victim."

Jones' killing conjured memories of the 2010 murder of 78-year-old Pat O'Hagan, a grandmother who lived alone in rural Sheffield, about 150 miles north of Arlington. It was four years before three men were charged.

Arlington residents think Jones' killing is drug related and is linked to several other burglaries in the community around the same time. Police confirm the other burglaries, but won't comment on drugs or any links to Jones' death. They didn't say if anything was taken from Jones' home.

The last unsolved homicide in Arlington occurred in 1985, when Arthur Crandall died from a gunshot wound while at a friend's residence, according to Vermont State Police. The most recent homicide was the 2009 death of a baby. The boy's father was later acquitted of a manslaughter charge.

Police gave residents steps to stay safer, such as keeping house lights on, cars in the driveway and to install motion sensor lights outside. Such warnings are rare for rural Vermont, consistently found to be one of the safest states in the country. There were 16 homicides reported last year statewide, 17 in 2015 and 14 the year before that.

"We don't expect these things to happen in a rural community. People don't lock their doors," said Jane Kolodinsky, director of the University of Vermont's center for rural studies. "When it happens, it shocks everybody."

Arlington, a community of about 2,300 in southwestern Vermont, is better known as the former home of Rockwell and occasionally, the community will hold reunions of the artist's models.

It's also home to Battenkill, a waterway known worldwide for its trout fishing. The headquarters of the Orvis company, a sporting goods company founded in 1856, is located 10 miles up the road. Actors Michael J. Fox and Tracy Pollan were married in the idyllic town 28 years ago.

"People think of Arlington as being 'Vermont.' They think of covered bridges and Norman Rockwell," said Democratic State Sen. Richard Sears. "It's a nice little town, quiet."

At Thursday's meeting, residents stressed to police that Jones' killing has shaken their close-knit community's sense of security.

"The fear that is in my children's faces now, I don't know how to take that out of them," said resident Susan Jennings. "I don't know what to say to them."

Vermont State Police Lt. Thomas McCoy urged residents to be vigilant.

"Arlington is a great town, and we will do whatever we can to keep it safe," he said. "If you see something, say something."

McCoy added that that like many local residents, he usually doesn't lock his doors. "Maybe it's time to lock doors."