Man accused of kidnapping in Woodsville dies of suspected heart attack

Keith Teele (Family photograph)

Keith Teele (Family photograph)

By JOHN LIPPMAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 11-02-2023 7:53 PM

EAST RYEGATE — A Woodsville man who maintained that he had been wrongfully accused of attempting to kidnap a juvenile at gunpoint was found dead at the residence where he was under court order to live while he was free on bail.

Keith Teele died of an apparent heart attack on Tuesday at the home of a friend in East Ryegate, Vt., according to members of Teele’s family, who said they believe that the stress he was experiencing as a result of the criminal charges and threats directed at him on social media contributed to his death. Teele and his attorney said from the outset that the whole matter was a case of mistaken identity.

“My God, 100 percent,” Penny Pearson, Teele’s sister, said of her belief that the emotional toll of the situation contributed to his untimely demise.

“I had talked with him for 30 minutes on Saturday,” Pearson said. “He was so stressed out. He said ‘I have so much anxiety. My life will never be the same,’ ”

Still, Pearson said, her brother expressed confidence he would be exonerated once the facts were confirmed.

Teele, 55, was charged in October with attempted kidnapping, criminal threatening and being a felon in possession of a dangerous weapon. Authorities alleged he attempted to kidnap an 11-year-old boy who was riding his bicycle home at night.

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Based on the police report of the alleged incident, Grafton County prosecutors initially sought during Teele’s arraignment to hold him in preventive custody. But after Teele’s attorney pointed out inconsistencies in the juvenile’s account, the judge released Teele with conditions.

Teele was under a 12-hour curfew and had to report to the Haverhill Police Department five times a week at the time of his death.

On Wednesday, the Grafton County Attorney’s Office filed a notice to dismiss the charges in Grafton County Superior Court, citing death of the defendant as the reason.

Grafton County Attorney Marcie Hornick declined to comment on the case.

The incident that led to Teele’s arrest began Oct. 11, when the juvenile came home crying after riding his bicycle and hanging out with friends, according to police. The boy said a man inside a car at the end of the street had pointed a gun at him and told him to get inside.

Police alleged Teele matched the physical description of the suspect provided by the juvenile and that Teele’s vehicle had a damaged front grill that also matched with a description of the vehicle provided by the boy, according to the police affidavit in support of the charges.

But public defender Emily Wynes, Teele’s court appointed attorney, took apart the police affidavit during Teele’s arraignment. She pointed out numerous differences between Teele and the juvenile’s physical description of the man he said attempted to force him into his vehicle, challenging the account of the alleged incident police said the juvenile provided.

Then in a motion for a probable cause hearing filed by the defense on Oct. 23, Wynes challenged the police account further, citing subsequent discovery that she said showed the juvenile had his answers coached and corrected by his father during police interviews, which were also conducted without participation of professionals at the Child Advocacy Center, which are supposed to assist in the investigation of child abuse crimes.

In the motion, Teele’s defense argued that after learning of the alleged incident, the juvenile’s father undertook his own “private investigation online and in person” that led him to believe the perpetrator was Teele, who lived in an apartment across the street from the home where the juvenile resides with his mother and mother’s male partner. At one point, the father texted the mother that he was considering “handling it hillbilly style.”

And when the father found a photo from Facebook of Teele with another man, he texted his wife “this guy gay.” In reality, the man in the photo whom Teele had his arm around was his deceased twin brother, Ken Teele.

The parents eventually showed the Facebook photo of Teele to their son, who initially asked why he was being shown the photo and hesitated to confirm he was person who had attempted to kidnap him, according to the motion.

Teele waived his Miranda rights and did not resist answering questions from the police, allowed his vehicle to be searched and provided the password to his phone when authorities asked, according to the court document.

Police did not find any firearms in Teele’s possession.

Teele, who prosecutors said during his arraignment had a criminal record in his native Massachusetts that included charges of assault and battery with a deadly weapon, worked as an EMS technician and had moved to Woodsville a few years ago to live near his stepsisters, family members said.

Although court documents put Teele’s weight at 350 pounds, family members said they were not aware of any acute health problems at the time of his death.

His main source of income was disability payments, they said.

“He was overweight, yes, but he had no history of heart disease and no health issues,” Pearson said. She said the last words her brother told her at the end of their last phone conversation was, “I love you.”

“I’m grateful for that,” Pearson said.

Teele is survived by a 39-year old daughter, a 27-year-old son, two step-sons and eight grandchildren, according to his obituary. A celebration of his life is scheduled for Nov. 18 in Marlborough, Mass.

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.