Murder of Vermont golf pro Sarah Hunter still drives Capital Region women's support
Updated 9:05 am, Monday, September 19, 2016
Thirty years ago, Sarah Hunter was living the dream in her first year as a head golf professional of a country club just off Vermont's Historic State Route 7A.
Her dream life came to an abrupt end when she was abducted and murdered in the final days of summer, September 1986.
The brutal crime and a dismissal of charges just last year in the case still resonate in the lives of those who live in Manchester and surrounding towns.
People remember being horrified and frightened by the existence of a killer living among them — committing a crime that "doesn't happen in Vermont."
It also resonates in a close-
The Sarah Hunter story is about a golf lover's life ending too soon but leaving behind a legacy that a group of women from the Capital Region and their Vermont neighbors refuse to let fade away.
A women's golf pioneer
Hunter, 32, embraced her career at Manchester Country Club, a beautiful, challenging semi-
She reflected the family atmosphere of Manchester Country Club — which was more of a public club than a pretentious private club, those who played and work there said. She sported a smile and a welcoming presence when players arrived at the pro shop. She enjoyed teaching the game she loved, and she created a thriving junior golf program. It was that combination of skills that earned her a head pro status.
"Manchester was like a big family ... it wasn't really a country club, it was a golf club," said assistant pro Todd McIntosh in a documentary about the case.
"Sarah loved what she did and where she was doing it," McIntosh said. "She was very very proud of being a woman and doing what she was doing. And being respected for it by her peers.
"I think she was happy regardless of where she was or who she was with. People warmed up to her very quickly, even the ones that were old school and skeptical. They became believers, everybody loved Sarah."
He remembers very clearly the day she didn't show up for work: Sept. 19, 1986.
"She had an 8 o'clock lesson ... within 15 minutes I called the cops," he said, adding that he knew something was wrong but police said they would have to wait 24-
John Ottaviano, golf course superintendent at Manchester Country Club, was supposed to play golf with Hunter in a Pro-
"She was a great person, and I was looking forward to playing golf with her that day. It was very shocking that's for sure," he said. "I think it's a real shame (her killer) hasn't been prosecuted."
It is a complicated murder case filled with suspects, twists and turns. Hunter and her husband Fred were both golf pros at Manchester starting in 1982. They divorced, and she got work at a different golf course. Her ex-
Native Vermont musician and filmmaker Duane Carleton re-
Rumors and fear gripped the community as one suspect after another was interviewed by police.
There was a hint of closure for the case in 2014 when, 28 years later, Sarah Hunter was again headline news across Vermont. "Reckoning in sight for 1986 Vt. slaying" was a Page One headline in the Rutland Herald on July 20, 2014.
The third weekend in May is the traditional opening weekend of competitive golf for many of the Capital Region's players: the sold-
The course named after its town — nestled between the Green Mountains to the east and the Taconic Range to the west — includes all the challenges a mountain course can offer: sidehill, downhill and uphill lies along with challenging sand bunkers, deep rough, water hazards and high grasses.
The tournament was founded by Albany resident Ann Waters, who grew up in Bennington and was a close friend to Sarah Hunter. Waters started the tournament the year after her pal's horrific death.
Waters, a state worker, traveled back to play at Manchester regularly. She won the Ladies Club Championship a record 20 times.
Her nephew, Steven Senecal of Mendon, Vt. , near Rutland, was a member of Manchester Country Club in the late 1980s and remembers his Aunt Annie and Sarah Hunter as good friends who shared a passion for golf.
"Annie just wanted Sarah's legacy to live on," he said. "Sarah was a really, really good woman and so was Annie. They were incredible athletes."
Waters died in January of 2015. Senecal said it was a blessing: one month after Ann Waters' death, the Vermont state's attorney dropped charges against a man they extradited from prison in California to face charges in the Sarah Hunter murder.
"I thank the Good Lord he took her before the bad news," Senecal said. "She died thinking she had closure for her friend."
A strong desire for closure still exists.
The number of women participating in the tournament who knew Hunter has dwindled to just a few. But when you find people who knew her, they recall many of the same flattering traits.
Jeannine Goodale of Clifton Park and her golf partner Lois Somody of Somers, formerly of Schenectady, attended the 29th annual tournament in May and were two of a handful of women in attendance in this year's event who also attended the first Sarah Hunter Spring Classic in 1987, one year after her death.
They return each year to support Hunter and only missed one year in its 29-
They knew Hunter because they were part of a group of six couples from the Capital Region who lived in the Schenectady area and took golf vacations together to play in Vermont.
"I remember her as a smiling, quiet girl. She had a great personality running the golf shop," said Goodale.
Two days after their 1986 trip to play in Manchester, Goodale and her traveling companions heard about Sarah's disappearance. Her purse was found sitting upright on a rock by two boys a few weeks later. Her body was found two months later — on Thanksgiving Day — on a farm 15 miles away.
"All I can ever think of is she was gone too soon ... too soon," she said, fighting back tears during a recent interview in her Clifton Park home.
Eloise Trainor of New Lebanon, founder of the Futures Tour (now the LPGA Symetra Tour), remembers Hunter. She set up a safety program for young women on the golf tour in Hunter's name. Hunter played on the Tampa Bay Mini Tour, which pre-
"She was a beautiful person and a good player. Things like this shouldn't happen and people should pay for what they've done," Trainor said.
The murder case
David Alan Morrison worked at a small gas station in Manchester near where Hunter was last seen. He was interviewed about her disappearance, but so were many others. Her body was found near a farm in Pawlet, a 20-
Investigators couldn't find the necessary evidence to bring charges against Morrison. He left Vermont in 1988 and was arrested later that year in a separate case on charges of attempted murder, sexual assault and kidnapping in Chula Vista, Calif. He pleaded guilty in that case and still is serving a sentence of 20 years to life.
After police said they linked Morrison to Hunter's murder using DNA evidence, prosecutors felt they had enough evidence to charge him. In 2012, the Bennington County state's attorney announced charges would be filed. It took two years to complete the investigation and paperwork, and in 2014 Morrison was charged with murder. Newspaper and television reports hailed the investigation team.
Forensic evidence, police said, showed strands of hair found in his car were that of Hunter's.
Ironically, also in 2012, Carleton was releasing the initial film "Overtaken by Darkness." Carleton zeroed in on Morrison in his documentary as the person most likely to commit the murder. When the documentary was re-
But the botched handling of evidence by police led Bennington County state's attorney Erica Marthage to dismiss the charges against him.
Marthage said in a statement released by the Vermont Department of Public Safety on Feb. 13, 2015, that: "Earlier this week it was discovered that a hair from the victim that was thought to have been found in Morrison's car, and sent to the FBI lab for analysis, was actually found in the victim's car."
Additionally, the case officer informed the State's Attorney's office that other physical evidence did not exist when in fact that evidence was in the possession of the state police, a news release said.
Vermont Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn ordered an investigation into the handling of evidence. The result of that investigation is a personnel matter that won't be released to the public, said State Police Public Information Officer Scott Waterman.
Around the same time a Vermont Major Crime Unit was created and a new lead investigator assigned to the case, said State Police Captain Jean-
When asked if it is still an active case, he said it is "very much so."
Sunny days return
Assistant golf pro McIntosh is one of the main subjects of Carleton's revised documentary. Carleton said his motivation in doing the documentary is to remember the person.
"It's purpose is to be the true documentation of what happened to her," Carleton said. "It's extremely respectful to the victim. This could have been your sister, your girlfriend, your wife."
A home video McIntosh gave to Carleton for the movie shows her physical appearance and character. Hunter was 5 feet 6 inches tall and 135 pounds, according to her missing person poster. Her resume listed her as 5 feet 8 inches tall; most people described her as tall and lean.
She was a joker, too. A home video shows her mimicking a golfer practicing her swing during a lesson.
An article in the Manchester Journal shortly after her disappearance said:
"Certain phrases were used over and over in descriptions of Ms. Hunter. Special, conscientious, disciplined, genuine, friendly ... Several people also mentioned that she had seemed very tired lately, but attributed it to hard work. She had started golf clinics for kids, and she wouldn't leave them," a club member said.
Her obituary gives a few more personal details: She was born in Greenville, Pa., and was a member of the Ladies Professional Golf Association. She was the daughter of a doctor and had two sisters and two brothers. She graduated from Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pa. She spent her summers in Florida working on the staff of the Ben Sutton Florida Golf School in Sun City Center. In lieu of flowers, donations were made to the Sarah L. Hunter Junior Golf Program at Manchester Country Club.
In a telephone interview, McIntosh reaffirmed what he told filmmaker Carleton about the person he called "his best friend."
She grew up playing golf at a country club, and learned to love and respect the game there. She believed golf courses were places to teach children about life, how to behave around adults and how to learn and enjoy competition, McIntosh said.
"Both of us were really passionate about teaching, especially teaching kids," McIntosh said. "I know teaching — and teaching kids — was her favorite part of what she did for a living."
That is why the tournament and youth programs in her name bring him comfort.
"Probably most people now don't know who she was," he said. "So it's important to carry that on."
Pat Joseph of Clifton Park, who has attended the memorial tournament at least a dozen times, says when she and a large contingent of women from the Capital Region started going to the tournament the weather was often nasty.
Before authorities publicly acknowledged who they believed the murderer was, she said, the tournament was marred by rain and sometimes snow. "We felt she was looking down on the tournament and saying, 'find him, find him,'" Joseph said.
In recent years, she said, Hunter has been at peace and taking care of the golfers by bringing nice weather.
Joseph's assessment came through once again this year as day two of the tournament on a Sunday was supposed to be hindered by rain. Yet the bad weather held off for the 136 golfers gathered from the northeast, including some who traveled from New Jersey, Connecticut and Maine.
"Sarah Hunter must have been smiling down on us today," said Barbara Price, chairman of the event since 1999, to those gathered at the 29th annual tournament.
Susan Kahler, club champion at Ballston Spa Country Club, and Suzie Mansfield, also of Ballston Spa, are part of a crew of about a dozen golfers from the Saratoga County country club to attend the event through the years. Kahler and Manfield have won gross honors in the tournament twice. This year, the team of Nancy Kroll and Mary Ellen Burt out of Pinehaven captured the top prize.
The Sarah L. Hunter Spring Classic raises $1,000 or more each year to support junior golf, teaching supplies for the camp and in recent years has been used to create family tee markers on the course, said Manchester Head Golf Professional Michael Harger.
"This is one of the top women's tournaments in the northeast," said Harger.
Kahler, of Niskayuna, agrees that it is by far one of the top annual women's tournaments.
"The people at Manchester Country Club are just top-
That, and the memory of Sarah Hunter, is what keeps Capital Region women going back.
"I just want people to know she's still with us," Goodale said. "We keep doing this for Sarah."
Article published Sep 17, 2012
Film reveals new details in Vt. slaying
By YVONNE DALEY
Duane Carleton believed he knew who killed Sarah Hunter, the Manchester golf pro viciously slain in a remote field in Pawlet 26 years ago. After four years spent interviewing people connected to Hunter and the investigation, Carleton had singled out David Alan Morrison, a former Arlington resident now imprisoned in California.
In a new movie, “Overtaken by Darkness,” Carleton provides heart-
“Overtaken by Darkness,” which premieres Tuesday in West Rutland and will be shown later this fall in Manchester, provides insight into the impact Hunter’s murder had on those who knew her as well as nervous residents who followed the news over the two months between her disappearance and the discovery of her remains on Thanksgiving Day 1986.
While there were leads and a few updates, little has been released about the case in the intervening years. “Overtaken by Darkness” explains the complexities of this case and the ways in which science, serendipity and curiosity finally led police to seek Morrison’s extradition.
At the same time, the movie raises questions about whether Vermont authorities could have acted sooner to charge Morrison with the crime.
Carleton is an unlikely transmitter of this tale in this venue. His long, dark and curly hair, Ben Franklin spectacles and mix of down-
But four years ago, when Carleton, 46, of Clarendon, decided to try filmmaking, he honed in on Hunter’s story.
“She was a truly good person, the first female head golf pro, accomplishing things with her life, working with kids. These are the things she should be remembered for, not as a cold case, an unsolved murder,” he said by way of explaining his interest in the case.
Thus, he began interviewing investigators, reporters, the teenagers who found her handbag two weeks after she was reported missing and criminal profiler John Philpin of Reading, whose observations about what kind of person fit the particulars of this specific crime are efficiently used in Carleton’s documentary-
He finished editing the movie just as police issued an arrest warrant for Morrison, 52, currently serving 20 years to life at the Corcoran (Calif.) State Prison for a catalogue of convictions in 1998 that include sexual assault, kidnapping and attempted murder.
Morrison was working at Lehigh, a gas station located just 170 feet from Leo’s Citgo (a Gulf station) where Hunter’s car had been partially concealed the night she disappeared, Sept. 18, 1986.
When she failed to show up for work at the Manchester Country Club the next morning, co-
Philpin is now retired and writing crime novels and a memoir. He has worked on cases around the world and helped solve many. Hired for this case, he too considered Morrison a suspect.
“Everything we do, we leave physical evidence of our presence,” he says in the film. “The same thing is true psychologically. It’s a matter of putting these together. The next step is the crime reconstruction. I always viewed it as the choreography of murder.”
“Each criminal has his own logic,” he explains, and while a crime may seem senseless to others, it usually follows “the killer’s logic.”
In this case, Philpin’s investigation indicated “a guy whose fantasies were probably telling him he was godlike ... invulnerable” but also “someone for whom that would have been a compensatory self image,” someone whose self image and fantasies were in conflict with reality.
Philpin speculated that this contradiction might come from some physical disfigurement, such as a limp or a pockmarked face. Curiously, Morrison is Samoan-
The fact that Hunter’s clothing was folded and placed in a fairly neat pile on the ground suggested that she had done so, rather than the murderer who would not have taken such care. Yet, there were other clues, revealed in the movie, that also suggest Hunter tried to escape and that rage overtook her assailant.
The year after Morrison moved, he was investigated in two separate sexual assaults, then charged and pleaded guilty to murder, sexual assault and kidnapping in a third case in Chula Vista, Calif. Investigators there began to suspect him in other cases.
In 1990, Morrison wrote to Vermont Corrections officials, suggesting he might talk about “Vermont” if he could serve out his sentence in New England, Philpin said. Apparently officials did not take him up on that rather vague offer, but more recently used DNA evidence including a strand of hair taken from Morrison’s car, which DNA identified as Hunter’s.
In an interview, Philpin speculated that Morrison “wanted out of California because he’d committed other crimes there that would have put him on death row. They found things like a driver’s license of a woman who was missing, a journal or diary he had kept. People don’t stop. It’s a mistake to think that they do. They don’t stop until they’re caught.”
Carleton is quick to concede that he is not a journalist; there are obvious people not interviewed in his film, especially the lead investigators in Vermont who declined his request for interviews and his offer to pay for a DNA test of the evidence from Morrison’s car a few years ago.
He was also reluctant to, as he put it, “torture” family members with his theories and questions.
“I wanted my film to be extremely respectful of Sarah Hunter and her family,” he said. “If it was my sister, that’s not how I’d want my sister remembered, as a cold case. I’m glad that the case is now about to be closed.”
“Overtaken by Darkness” will premiere at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the West Rutland Town Hall. Philpin and Carleton will discuss the case and film at Lebanon College in Lebanon, N.H., on Oct. 16. The Manchester date has not been announced.
Documentary looks into Sarah Hunter murder case
Posted: Sep 17, 2012 7:52 AM EDTUpdated: Sep 19, 2012 7:06 PM EDT
By WCAX News
WEST RUTLAND, Vt. -
A movie about a recently solved cold case in Vermont debuts Tuesday.
36 year old Sarah Hunter was murdered 26 years ago in Manchester.
The case went unsolved until this year when investigators arrested 52-
Duane Carleton's "Overtaken by Darkness" provides never revealed details about the case. Like in 1990, Morrison wrote a short letter to Vermont corrections officials that was never taken up.
"The proposal which he would talk about with Vermont in exchange, for being brought back here, we all assumed he was talking about Sarah Hunter but that wasn't done, it never happened," said criminal profiler John Philpin.
The Clarendon film maker will premiere his documentary Tuesday at the West Rutland Town Hall. Showtime is 7 p.m.
By Associated Press
Film on Hunter's death to show in her hometown
'Overtaken by Darkness' screens Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Published Oct 21, 2012
MANCHESTER, Vt. —A documentary film on the murder of a southern Vermont golf pro 26 years ago is going to be shown in her hometown.
The kidnapping and murder of Sarah Hunter was a mystery in Vermont for 25 years. Earlier this week, a dedicated police detective on the other side of the country helped close the cold case.
David Allan Morrison, 52, abducted Sarah Hunter, then sexually assaulted and strangled her, Vermont State Police and the Bennington County State’s Attorney’s Office said at a press conference Monday.
The new film, "Overtaken by Darkness," will be shown at the Village Picture Shows in Manchester in Tuesday at 7 p.m.
The 1986 death of 36-
The film was released on Sept. 18, the anniversary of Hunter's death.
'Overtaken by Darkness' explores long-
Andrew McKeever -
The story of the abduction and subsequent death of Sarah Hunter, then 36, and a golf pro at the Manchester Country Club, returned to the front pages earlier this summer, when a man incarcerated in a California prison for other, unrelated crimes, was linked to the homicide through forensic DNA evidence. The convict, David A. Morrison, 52, is still in California, awaiting extradition to Vermont.
On Sept. 19, 1986, Hunter was reported missing and her car found at a local gas station in Manchester.
It was not until more than two months later -
A film about Hunter's abduction and subsequent death will be shown at the Village Picture Shows Tuesday, Oct. 23. (Journal File Photo)
The fascination with the crime retained its hold on many people, even as the years went on, the case, and the leads, grew colder.
Now a documentary film about the crime is about to be screened in Manchester, the product of years of work by an amateur filmmaker, who promises new information about the case, as well as offering insights into the effect of the crime on the people who knew Hunter.
Duane Carleton, a musician and a fifth generation Vermonter from Chippenhook, a small town located near West Rutland, first got interested in the case when performing at the former Maxwell's, a bar and restaurant on Depot Street, about five years ago.
The result of that is "Overtaken by Darkness," a one hour and 25 minute-
"I didn't find anything that wasn't in the public domain," Carleton said. "You are going to see information in the film that has never, ever been available to the public."
The origin of the movie grew out of a conversation he had with some of the patrons at Maxwell's one evening when he arrived for his engagement a little early. In the course of asking about the hotel and bar known as Grabbers that used to be across the street, and is now an empty lot with only a foundation, he heard about the Hunter case and how the grisly murder had never been solved.
There it might have ended, but a year or so later, he heard another story about a previously unsolved cold case in Barre from 1978 that had finally been cracked, he said.
"For some reason, when I heard that story, the Sarah Hunter story popped back into my head," he said. "I had always had an interest in video ... I decided I would try to make a film."
So began a long journey of first learning about the documentary art form, starting with buying a book. Then came time at the cable access television channel in Rutland, PEG-
Working together with an initial partner on the project, the pair waded into a world of research, interviewing and editing. Then more research. "The very first thing we did was to go to the town offices of Manchester and talked to the town clerk; we looked for the death certificate which we assumed would be here, because Hunter was a resident of Manchester," he said.
Only it wasn't. It was eventually found in Pawlet, the site of her death. The certificate gave them some clues and a starting point, which led them through the archives of several newspapers, including the Rutland Herald and the Manchester Journal, where Carleton spent several hours going through old back issues in 2009.
As he progressed through the research and subsequent interviews of people who remembered Hunter, the project underwent a subtle shift -
"This was a well-
Among the issues he had to confront were both the visceral, emotional reactions he got from some of the people he interviewed, as well as a curiosity about what this long-
"The hardest part was that people still feel intensely emotional about this story. And to me, that was part of the story," he said. "I was viewed as a journalist and because I was a stranger with a camera nobody was sure what my motivations were. As I started to talk to more people who were more closely associated with it, that became more difficult."
Some were reluctant to talk about the case because the murderer was still at-
Then, in a remarkable coincidence of timing, five days after he had finished editing the film, and was waiting to get a mug shot of David Morrison, came word of his arrest in the case.
"It stunned me," he said. "I played in Killington that Sunday and got home at 3 a.m. and at 6 a.m. my wife woke me up and said there was going to be an announcement about Sarah Hunter that morning. I never had to do the public request for the mug shot because it was everywhere."
The showing in Manchester may be one of the last times the movie may ever be seen. It premiered in West Rutland on Sept. 18, the anniversary of Hunter's death, and Carleton was initially reluctant to even have it screened in Manchester, he said.
"To be honest, I've been a little nervous about showing it here," he said. "I wasn't sure and I'm still not, how Manchester would accept it."
It's not a salacious film, he said, and there are no gory crime scene photos. It's not a tabloid documentary, and he tried to be as careful and tasteful as possible, he said.
It was the kind of crime that wasn't supposed to happen in a rural, bucolic state like Vermont, and certainly not in a small town like Manchester, where everybody supposedly knew everybody else and the notion that someone evil enough to commit such a kidnapping and murder might still be in their midst was scary and eye-
"One of my main concerns throughout the entire thing was I have no interest in causing any kind of harm to her family, friends -
Thousands of hours of filming and editing later, will there be a second film after this one then? Maybe. Or maybe not, he said.
"It was a rough emotional ride," he said. "This shouldn't have been my first film. Will my next film be about an unsolved homicide? Probably not." "Overtaken by Darkness" will be shown at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 23 at the Village Picture Show theater, on Depot Street.