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Suspect in Disappearance Held Without Bail in Vt.

  • Austin Colson



Valley News
Thursday, February 15, 2018

Burlington — A 38-year-old White River Junction resident who is a suspect in the January disappearance of a young Royalton man was ordered held without bail and was deemed a danger to the community by a judge on Thursday.

Richard P. Whitcomb Jr. needs to be detained pending trial on two federal gun charges in U.S. District Court because of his past conduct and criminal record — which includes a felony conviction for aggravated domestic assault in 2003, a judge ruled.

Magistrate Judge John Conroy cited the weight of the evidence in the gun charges against Whitcomb, his history of alcohol and substance abuse and past violations of court orders, including probation.

However, Conroy said he was unable to find that Whitcomb was responsible for the vanishing of Austin Colson last month. Colson, whose 20th birthday was on Tuesday, remains missing from his Royalton home.

Nobody has been charged in Colson’s disappearance, but in court papers filed earlier this week, a prosecutor said Whitcomb is a suspect in the Colson case.

Those court documents assert Whitcomb used a handgun as collateral in a cocaine deal with Colson last month. Colson was last seen on Jan. 11, when he was expected to collect scrap metal in the Royalton area. The trailer he was using was found a few days later in Sharon.

Colson’s mother previously told the Valley News she thought her son was going to meet up with Whitcomb to collect the scrap metal on the day he vanished.

Whitcomb’s mother, sister and wife sat two rows behind him in court during the detention hearing, which featured testimony from a veteran state police detective about the Colson investigation and the defendant’s past criminal history.

Whitcomb’s wife, Sara, declined comment to the Valley News as the hearing ended.

Richard Whitcomb, dressed in a dark green prison jumpsuit and with a shaved head, sat quietly next to assistant federal public defender Elizabeth Quinn throughout the hearing.

Whitcomb is charged in a two-count federal indictment. He is facing a charge of unlawful possession of a .32-caliber semi-automatic pistol as a convicted felon last month. Whitcomb, who lives on Connecticut River Road, has a felony conviction for aggravated domestic assault in Windsor County, court records show.

The second count is carrying and using the .32-caliber pistol during the distribution of cocaine last month, the indictment said.

After the hearing, state police Detective Lt. John-Paul Schmidt told the Valley News the Colson investigation remains a high priority. He said the department has spent “a lot of time and resources on the case.”

Detention Fight

Quinn was able to show Whitcomb had ties to the White River Junction community and was unlikely to flee. She said he wanted to stay and fight the gun charges. He has a child and is in the process of adopting his current wife’s children.

Conroy agreed he was not a risk to flee, but rejected Quinn’s arguments that Whitcomb was not a danger. He said the evidence was against him when it came to being a danger.

While Assistant U.S. Attorney Wendy Fuller did not attempt to prove that Whitcomb was responsible for Colson disappearing, she helped paint a picture of a defendant that could not be trusted. She noted that while his serious convictions were old, Whitcomb also had violated probation five times and eventually was discharged as unsatisfactory.

Fuller said Whitcomb had provided conflicting statements or lies when investigators questioned him about his conduct as well as his relationship with Colson. Whitcomb is believed to be the last person to see Colson alive, Fuller said in court papers.

She said Whitcomb was cooperating with investigators part of the time, but also made statements to state police that he didn’t realize could lead to federal gun charges. She believed Whitcomb thought he could talk about the handgun because the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was not interviewing him.

She said some answers in the investigation were designed to throw off state police “by trying to deflect this in a different direction.”

Among the false statements Whitcomb offered, Fuller told the court, was that he had last seen Colson on Jan. 8. Fuller said three witnesses reported Colson and Whitcomb were together the night of Jan. 10 and that Colson had returned a .32-caliber semi-automatic pistol to Whitcomb at the time. Colson was last seen the next morning, Jan. 11.

She said Whitcomb also made up a story about going to Manchester with another man, Mark Rupple, but that proved false. Rupple, who is from the Enfield-Lebanon area, said he got a call from Whitcomb indicating he needed an alibi, said state police Detective Eric Albright, the lone witness called at the hearing. Albright said Whitcomb initially gave a false last name for his companion, but detectives traced him and interviewed him.

Fuller said Whitcomb lied about his cellphone. He also had erased much of its contents, which could be evidence, she said. One thing found by police was his internet search for, “How long does GSR last.” GSR stands for gunshot residue.

The internet search was located by the lead investigator, Detective Sgt. Richard Holden, as he checked Whitcomb’s iPhone, Albright testified.

Fuller also focused on two criminal convictions for Whitcomb. Albright testified the victim of the aggravated domestic assault recently was interviewed and provided new information. He said the woman reported that besides choking her and hitting her, Whitcomb had placed a handgun to her head and played “Russian roulette.”

Quinn, Whitcomb’s attorney, downplayed a claim made about 15 years after the fact, but Fuller said domestic violence victims often don’t tell all the details at the time of an incident.

Fuller also said that during his arrest for unlawful mischief at the home of another woman in 2002, Whitcomb made threats to the arresting troopers. When they asked him about a rifle at his home, he responded, “I’d rather use it on you,” she said.

She also said Whitcomb maintained he never went near the home on Route 14 in Sharon of Dana Colson, the missing man’s father, on Jan. 11, but cell tower records show otherwise.

Albright was on the witness stand during the late morning hearing for more than 30 minutes to outline past conduct by Whitcomb. After a lunchtime break, he came back to be cross-examined by the defense.

Albright said he had questioned Whitcomb on Jan. 16 at the state police barracks at Royalton. He said Whitcomb reported the two men had “a relationship involving narcotics.” Whitcomb often would serve as a middleman in drug sales.

Whitcomb said he would get cocaine from Colson and go out and sell it and return with the money, Albright said. He testified that Whitcomb, who had experience with cocaine and heroin, reported he would get either drugs or cash for “middling.”

Albright said Sara Whitcomb was trying to work with her husband on his drug issues by going to a therapist.

“She understood he had a narcotics issue,” said Albright, a trooper for more than 23 years.

Albright said Whitcomb explained he did not have money to buy drugs from Colson so he would leave his handgun as collateral. Whitcomb said he would sell the drugs to others and when he gave the money to Colson, he would get his handgun back.

Public Files

A review of public records at Vermont Superior Court in White River Junction also outlines misconduct by Whitcomb.

Whitcomb, who attended Hartford High School, was convicted in 2003 of felony aggravated domestic assault and served 10 months of a three- to nine-year sentence.

The nature of that assault is detailed in an affidavit filed at the courthouse in White River Junction.

In February 2003, Mary Adams, who was 21 at the time, called police from a neighbor’s house and told a dispatcher that her boyfriend — Whitcomb — “beat her up” in their Windsor home and then fled the area.

Adams told a Windsor police officer that a drunken Whitcomb punched and choked her. During the altercation, she said, he grabbed her by the hair, dragged her down into the basement, put her in a headlock and began choking her. She told police she couldn’t breathe and started to pass out, which is when he threw her to the ground and punched her in the head and other areas, according to an affidavit written by Windsor Police Lt. Vincent Jordan.

Adams told the officer that Whitcomb then went looking for his bullets and a hunting knife, the affidavit said.

“Whitcomb told Adams that he was going to kill her and slit her throat,” Jordan wrote.

 

 

Adams had been with Whitcomb for a year and the pair had moved to Windsor from West Lebanon. She told police Whitcomb previously had “pushed and shoved her around” and also threatened to kill her, the affidavit said.

Whitcomb ended up serving an additional three months for violating his probation conditions. Court documents indicate Whitcomb threatened and harassed Adams and her sister in December 2005, saying things like “you don’t know who you are messing with.”

Valley News Correspondent Mike Donoghue can be reached at vermontnewsfirst@gmail.com. Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com.