A serial killer’s only survivor: The Connecticut River Valley killings
Eighteen years have passed since Jane Boroski sped through the New Hampshire night, pregnant, covered in blood and stab wounds, alive.
Boroski didn’t know it then, but she may have been a serial killer’s only survivor.
Now speaking publicly for the first time in years, she thinks she knows who attacked her that night: Michael Nicholaou,
a traumatized Vietnam veteran who later killed his wife and stepdaughter in Tampa.
“I am totally convinced,” she said.
Before the attack on Boroski outside a market in August 1988, New England police were investigating the gruesome slayings of at least six young women, all dumped disheveled along the wooded borderlands of Vermont and New Hampshire. The cases became known as the Connecticut River Valley killings.
Over the years, people approached Boroski with theories and suspects. She discounted them all until July, when she met St. Petersburg private investigator Lynn-Marie Carty and reviewed circumstantial evidence Carty collected during her own nine-month investigation into the killings.
Boroski looked at photographs of Nicholaou. In one, she saw something familiar. She says she is “99 percent sure” he was the attacker.
Authorities in New Hampshire are testing evidence to link Nicholaou to the Connecticut River Valley murders. They’ve found nothing so far and don’t expect answers for three to four months.
Nicholaou (pronounced NICK-allow) shot to death his most recent wife, Aileen, and stepdaughter in West Tampa on New Year’s Eve before he shot himself in the mouth. Aileen Nicholaou may not have been the first lover in his life to meet such an end. In 1988, the mother of two of Nicholaou’s children, who had talked of leaving him, vanished from Holyoke, Mass., four months after Boroski was attacked. The woman, Michelle Ashley, was never found.
Carty was hired five years ago to find Ashley, whose family thinks Nicholaou killed her.
After Carty learned of the Tampa murders, she renewed her investigation of Ashley’s disappearance. In researching 1988 New England murders, she learned of the Connecticut River Valley killings, documented in a book called The Shadow of Death by Philip E. Ginsburg.
Carty found coincidences. Several victims were nurses. She remembered hearing that Nicholaou’s first wife was a nurse and that his mother worked at a hospital. The killer knew the area. Ashley’s family lived in the heart of the Connecticut River Valley. Nicholaou had visited a hospital where one of the victims worked within a few months of her death.
The private detective, who specializes in family reunions, assembled a time line by February and persuaded New Hampshire authorities to look at Nicholaou.
The St. Petersburg Times reported in June that New Hampshire State Police detective Steve Rowland considered Nicholaou a “strong suspect” and would test his DNA and fingerprints against evidence in the murders.
Rowland has since referred calls to his supervisors.
Lt. Mark Mudgett of the State Police major crimes unit called Nicholaou a “person of interest,” just one of many leads.
After the Times report circulated through the bucolic Connecticut River Valley, Nicholaou’s ex-girlfriends contacted Carty with more tips.
Aileen Nicholaou’s Tampa relatives gave Carty access to Nicholaou’s belongings.
She found needles and lidocaine, a common anesthetic. She found computers containing sadomasochistic pornography.
Nicholaou’s psychiatric records from a stay at a Miami veterans hospital say he felt “guilt over being involved in killing civilians during his Vietnam combat duty” and could become “violent when threatened.”
Nicholaou was tried along with seven other soldiers for strafing civilians. The charges were dropped.
Medical records show Nicholaou reported chronic nightmares and daytime intrusive images about his combat experiences.
“He says that he wakes up in the middle of the night and he sees the face of some of these people which he would just kill randomly from the helicopter level,” Dr. Alberto Penalver wrote in the 1996 report. “He sees their face and the expression of helplessness that they had.”
Carty flew to meet Boroski this summer, bringing angel trinkets for her and her daughter. Boroski had met few people connected to the murders, and few had shown her the compassion Carty had, she said.Carty also contacted the sister of Barbara Agnew, a nurse murdered in Vermont in 1987.Anna Agnew, a Maryland social worker, felt as if her sister was killed all over again when the Nicholaou story broke. Barbara Agnew’s death shattered her family, she said.
Agnew keeps notebooks of news clippings and new facts she learns about the investigation.
“I actually have been able to get a little more action-oriented, and I find that it’s a little less sad,” she said.
Agnew, too, grew convinced of a link between Nicholaou and the New England killings.
“I’m confident he’s responsible for at least some of these,” she said.
She called Vermont authorities and is frustrated by the apparent low priority of her sister’s case. “To me, it’s not like a cold case,” Agnew said. “It’s a current case with current events, and it needs time and attention.”
Jeffery A. Strelzin, chief of homicide for the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office, said it takes time to complete forensic testing on cold cases. The New Hampshire State Police have no cold case squad.
Detectives work on them as time allows.
The state crime lab has tested some of the evidence but has found nothing to rule him in or out yet, Strelzin said.
Strelzin said Boroski’s belief that it was Nicholaou “doesn’t make a difference investigatively.”
“The goal is, for her and other victims, to get them some answers,” he said.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement spokeswoman Trena Reddick said that in the best of situations it takes a couple of weeks to run DNA tests.
But variables like the volume of evidence, a backlog and weathered samples complicate the process.
Former Tampa homicide detective Leonard Terrido, who was the chief deputy involved in the Ted Bundy serial murder investigation in Leon County, says the priority is lower because the suspect is dead.
“An innocent man is not sitting in prison. The guy is not going to escape,” Terrido said. “If you’ve got a whole bunch of cases you have to evaluate — a dead man? We’ll get to it when we get to it.”
Boroski still wears the scars of her stabbing 18 years ago. A night shift worker at a factory, she has always feared her attacker was still alive, still watching her. She longs for closure.
“It’s got to be him,” she said. “It’s just got to be.”
TURNBRIDGE, Vt. -- Half a dozen unsolved murders in Vermont and New Hampshire that are decades old may soon be solved, thanks to a private investigator from Florida.
Five years ago, Lynn-Marie Carty was asked to find Michelle Ashley, of Tunbridge.
Ashley had been missing since 1988 and, at the time, she was married to Michael Nicholaou.
"They said she went missing off the face of the Earth in 1988, and right before she went missing she told her mother, 'If I ever go missing, Mom, please look for Michael and save the children,'" Cary said.
Ashley's body has never been found.
Also in the early to mid-80s, six other women in the Upper Valley disappeared. Almost all of their bodies were found within a 30-mile radius of Claremont, N.H.
Carty thinks the deaths might be linked to Nicholaou, who killed himself, his wife and his stepdaughter on New Year's Eve in Florida.
"I found out that the man has been through a lot of trauma and fit the profile of somebody who would commit crimes like this," Cary said.
John Philpin, a retired psychologist and author from Reading, studied thse cases 20 years ago. He said he was asked by the New Hampshire State Police to develop a psychological profile of the killer.
"The biggest piece of evidence came from the medical examiner who looked at bones of some of the victims and was able to determine that they'd all be stabbed. So, we know from that that we were looking for someone who worked with a knife," Philpin said.
According to Philpin, Nicholaou fit the profile he created two decades ago because he never had a fixed address and frequently made trips to the area where the bodies were found.
"The connection of him to the area is what the main interest is. That, and given all of the characteristics, the habits that he did and would've done in the area," he said.
Carty and Philpin agree that Nicholaou needs to be ruled in or out as a suspect in the deaths.
"I think it's a blessing that these families can get the answers that they've deserved for decades and thru the diligent work of the police department, that will happen," Carty said.
"As far as Nicholaou, if it turns out that he's the person who is involved, (there's) no question he's a serial killer," Philpin said.
Forensic tests will reveal whether Nicholaou was involved in any of the murders from the Upper Valley.
The tests should be complete by the end of the summer.
A murder-suicide in Florida five months ago has rekindled interest in a series of unsolved murders in the 1980s along the Connecticut River Valley that separates New Hampshire and Vermont.
The Florida deaths on New Year's Eve 2005 caught the attention of a private investigator in St. Petersburg because she recognized the name of the killer, Michael Nicholaou, who shot his estranged wife and stepdaughter before killing himself.
The St. Petersburg Times reported yesterday that the investigator, along with a retired Vermont criminal profiler and a New Hampshire cold case detective, have been piecing together Nicholaou's life. DNA test results that could be ready by the end of the summer may complete a puzzle and solve six murders that have baffled investigators in the two states for two decades.
Lynn-Marie Carty was startled on New Year's Day as she read a news story about the murder-suicide in Tampa, because she knew of Michael Nicholaou (pronounced NICK-allow). Five years earlier, a Vermont mother hired Carty to find a daughter, Michelle Ashley, who had two babies with Nicholaou, then disappeared in 1988.
Carty said the mother suspected Nicholaou, based on something her daughter once said: "If I'm ever missing, he killed me, and you need to track him down and find the kids."
After a few minutes at the computer in 2001, Carty found a phone number for Nicholaou.
As she recounted it for the newspaper, Carty called the number and asked about Michelle. At first, Nicholaou denied knowing her, Carty said, but when she pressed, Nicholaou said Michelle was a slut who was doing drugs and had run off, abandoning the kids.
Carty asked about the children, Nick and Joy. He had them, he said. They were fine. The conversation was short, and when Carty called back the next day, Nicholaou's phone was disconnected.
Carty tracked down Nick Nicholaou on the phone and told him she didn't think their mother had abandoned them. He and his sister had always thought otherwise. Nick cried as he described their hard life, being dragged around by a father still traumatized by his duty in Vietnam.
In Vietnam, Michael Nicholaou flew helicopters for the 335th Aviation Company, called the Cowboys. The Times interviewed a dozen Cowboys, who recalled Nicholaou as a brave and duty-bound man with a dark side. A least once he left camp on his own, carrying only a knife and seeking hand-to-hand combat with the enemy. It became a legend in the company.
Back at home, friends noticed evidence of posttraumatic stress disorder, a mental illness for which he later sought treatment in Miami and Tampa.
Michelle's family thought Nicholaou was creepy, too quiet during visits to Vermont, where Michelle's mother and grandmother lived. He and Michelle had an apartment in Holyoke, Mass., about 110 miles down Interstate 91.
Once, Carty said, Michelle told her mother she feared Nicholaou and planned to leave him after her sister's November 1988 wedding.
In December 1988, her mother went to the couple's Holyoke apartment. The Christmas tree was up, presents unopened. The refrigerator was full of spoiled food.
In the years that followed, Nicholaou, with kids in tow, visited his mother in Virginia, friends in Florida and Army buddies across the country. He told some people Michelle had run off with a drug dealer. He told others she was dead.
A few days after reading that Nicholaou had killed his latest wife, Carty punched words into Google.com: New England. 1988. Murder.
She clicked on the story of a pregnant New Hampshire woman who was the sole survivor of a series of attacks known as the Connecticut River Valley murders.
The remains of at least six other young women had been dumped beside back roads along Interstate 91 in a stretch that straddled Vermont and New Hampshire. A killer had slit throats and stabbed victims repeatedly in the lower abdomen.
The dead included Mary Elizabeth Critchley, a hitchhiker; Bernice Courtemanche, a 17-year-old nurse's aide; Ellen Fried, a nurse; Eva Morse, a single mother; Lynda Moore, a housewife; and Barbara Agnew, another nurse. Only Jane Boroski survived.
Noticing that several victims were nurses, Carty remembered hearing that Nicholaou's first wife was a nurse and that his mother worked at a hospital. She later learned that Michelle and Nicholaou had been at a Hanover hospital on Thanksgiving, 1986. A nurse from the hospital disappeared two months later.
She also learned the killer used a martial arts grip on the surviving woman. Nicholaou had a black belt in karate. Relatives remembered Nicholaou taking Christmas gifts out of a station wagon with wood-paneled sides in the mid-1980s. The surviving victim had told the police her attacker drove a wood-paneled Jeep Wagoneer.
At the time of the murders, fear crept into the area. Security guards shuttled nurses to their cars. Boyfriends armed girlfriends with guns. People locked their doors.
"It was the worst thing that ever happened in this area," said Carla Hawkins, sitting on a stool at McGee's, a bar in Claremont. Her family took in one of the victim's daughters.
"I was freaked out about it," she told the Times. "Still am."
Carty learned that the last attack was only four months before Michelle and Nicholaou disappeared from the area.
Carty read online about John Philpin, a criminal psychologist who, in the 1980s, helped the police profile the serial killer. She called Philpin in Felchville, Vt., and told him what she knew about Nicholaou.
Philpin agreed Nicholaou could be the killer.
"This is the first, I'd call it major, lead in three or four years," Philpin told the Times.
In February, Carty called the New Hampshire State Police and spoke with Detective Steve Rowland. Rowland usually hears from family members of the victims who are seeking updates, or from people who want to share theories about the killer.
But Lynn-Marie Carty had more. It was the first time Rowland had heard of Michael Nicholaou, and Carty's information revived the investigation. She also suggested the police might try to match Nicholaou's DNA with evidence from the crime scenes.
By April, authorities considered Nicholaou one of their three strongest suspects, Rowland said.
The other two are still alive. The police can't check their DNA without probable cause. That's not the case with Nicholaou.
"His profile fits the profile of somebody that would commit this type of crime," Rowland said. "There's no question about that."
Rowland now has Nicholaou's fingerprints, and he's working to get DNA from the medical examiner in Florida. The forensics lab that tests DNA is backed up with current homicide cases, Rowland said, so he doesn't expect an answer until late in the summer.
But he told the newspaper he wouldn't be surprised if the results point to Nicholaou.
Last edited by Gary Dee : 09-17-2006 at 03:05 AM.
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