Loot From Old Thefts Turns Up in Plainfield
Driver's licenses, wallets and other items that were stolen from Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital in the late 1970s and early 1980s were found in the woods off Cutler Road in Plainfield recently. Police have been tracking down the original owners, who have scattered across the country. (Courtesy Plainfield Police Department)
Plainfield — Patrol officer William Heighes was sitting in the Plainfield police station on a recent Sunday afternoon when a visitor arrived with an unusual story. The man, a turkey hunter, said he was walking in recently logged area off Cutler Road when he stumbled upon several wallets, drivers licenses and credit cards lying in plain view on the ground. They appeared to be from the late 1970s or early 1980s, and belonged, from what he could see, to women.
Heighes briefly panicked. There are unsolved serial killings of women in the area from roughly that time, and he wondered if his sleepy day on the beat would end with a break in the area’s most notorious cold case, and perhaps a grisly discovery.
“Oh boy, what have I got?” Heighes told himself. “Have I got property from those missing women? Do I have those missing women? ... Am I going to find the burial site when I get up there?”
Police quickly determined that the items in the woods did not belong to the victims of the so-called Connecticut River Killer, and that the rightful owners were very much alive.
Plainfield police then spent days tracking down victims from the all but forgotten thefts, a search that spanned from the Canadian province of Alberta to Iowa to Hanover.
“The whole thing is just weird,” Plainfield Police Chief Paul Roberts said.
Police said the items were taken sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s by a petty thief who boosted wallets and purses from several women who worked at the old Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital in Hanover.
In all, police found five driver’s licenses, three hospital identity cards, three bank or credit cards, five wallets, two sets of keys, loose change, a lipstick case, a purse, a name tag, a ring and a container of birth control pills, all sitting near a stump in the woods.
Plainfield police tried to run checks on the names that were visible on the identity cards, but most law enforcement databases have been overhauled several times since the late 1970s. They found no record of an arrest, or of any victim reporting the missing items to the police.
A few longtime Upper Valley police officers and at least one of the victims had vague memories of an arrest made in the case, Roberts said, but they could not be sure if the crime was ever solved.
The wooded area where the hunter found the stolen items was about 30 yards from Cutler Road, past a stream and over a steep embankment, and about a quarter-mile from an unpaved road and a snowmobile trail. The cache sat untouched for years until the area was logged over the winter. Police believe that loggers removing fallen trees tore a hole in a purse that was buried just beneath the surface, allowing several wallets and others items stashed inside to spill out.
Some of the driver’s licenses expired in 1978. The last one was issued in 1982. There were several pennies — the newest of which was issued in 1982.
“It’s pretty sad when you have to document the crime by the date on the money you found,” Roberts said.
Unable to solve the case, Plainfield police were determined to at least return the items to the victims.
Some of the owners were easy to identify: Plastic credit cards, hospital cards and drivers licenses held up remarkably well, and several names were easy to read. (Cash did not withstand the elements; no one is getting back any money that may have been left in the stolen wallets.)
Working through the Lebanon High School Alumni Association, Roberts tracked down the Mary Rich, the owner of two recovered drivers licenses.
Rich, it turns out, never left Lebanon. Roberts called, introduced himself.
“You don’t remember me, do you?” Rich asked Roberts.
He didn’t, but she had been his babysitter when he was growing up.
“I used to take care of you,” Rich told him.
Police thought they had found another victim living in Alberta. Heighes called the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, though he cautioned his case was something of a low-priority long-shot. Undaunted, the Mounties immediately began knocking on doors, Heighes said.
“God bless them,” Heighes said.
Alas, Angeline Dennis, now Angeline Marcotte, wasn’t in Canada, but Heighes eventually found her in Iowa.
In an interview, she was excited at the prospect of receiving her old license in the mail.
“I think it’s wonderful they would take the time,” Marcotte said. “It will be interesting to see. It’s always interesting to go through old memorabilia.”
Others were less enthusiastic.
Hanover resident Linda Whitcomb — owner of two licenses, two credit cards, a brown wallet and hospital cards for her and her son — had forgotten the incident, and said she has little use for the items, which police have told her they are going to give her anyway.
“What am I going to do with if after all these years?” Whitcomb said in an interview. “I don’t know why you would follow up on it.”
Officially, the case is closed. Police have no leads on the thief, and any statute of limitations has long passed.
But there is still one more loose end they wouldn’t mind tying up.
One of the discovered nametags bears the name “Vicki,” and police think she is the owner of the ring found nearby.
While they know it may be a decade or three too late, Plainfield Police Department would like to talk to her.
Mark Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3304.