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Family finds some closure in resolution of 1987 homicide of Judith Whitney of Amherst



Wednesday, December 31, 2014
Joseph Graveline of Northfield remembers the day in July 1987 when his late sister, Judith A. Whitney, told him she was going to New Hampshire for a week or two to go camping with a new friend, Edward Mayrand.

“She said he was a really nice guy,” Graveline said Tuesday. “I took her on her word.”

Whitney, 43, never returned to her home in Amherst. Her body was found in woods in Winchester, New Hampshire, four months later. Police and Whitney’s family all strongly suspected Mayrand had killed her, but the New Hampshire assistant district attorney handling the case did not think there was enough evidence to charge him, Graveline said.

Mayrand, formerly of Northampton, died in prison in 2011 while serving a term for the murder of Patricia Paquette of Providence, Rhode Island, in 1994.

But after his death, a New Hampshire cold case unit worked on the Whitney case and last week, New Hampshire Attorney General Joseph A. Foster announced that investigators had concluded that Mayrand killed Whitney, as well as Kathleen Daneault, a 25-year-old Gardner woman, in 1983.

“It was the greatest Christmas present we could ask for,” said Jeannie Graveline, Whitney’s younger sister by 22 years. “It’s confirming what we already know. We knew in our hearts that he had taken her life, but it’s comforting that it’s come to an end.”

Three of Whitney’s siblings interviewed by the Gazette this week recalled her as a bright, outgoing person who loved hunting and the outdoors. She had three daughters and was like a mother to her younger siblings, too. She also had a drinking problem, they said, which led her to the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in 1987 where she met Mayrand.

Even though they never doubted Mayrand’s guilt, the siblings said they felt a sense of closure after hearing that Whitney’s case had been solved. Closure, but not really peace, because they still believe he should have been charged back in 1987.

Though the assistant district attorney on the case told them there was not enough evidence to go forward, they said they felt that there was plenty of circumstantial evidence of Mayrand’s guilt.

“It’s something we’ve all talked about. One of the most frustrating things is he couldn’t be stopped sooner,” said Jeannie Graveline, of Greenfield. “More women would still be here.”

The nine-page statement the New Hampshire cold case unit released Dec. 23 portrays Mayrand as a rapist and serial killer who murdered three women around New England by strangling them. He was first convicted in 1975 after beating, strangling and raping a woman in Warwick who managed to escape. He got out on parole in 1983 and soon after was suspected in the murder of Daneault in 1983 because he was the last person seen with her.

After Whitney’s disappearance in 1987, Mayrand was questioned extensively by police but said he had not seen her since 10 p.m. on July 3. He had violated his parole by leaving his halfway house and the state, so he was sent back to prison to serve the rest of his sentence on the rape charge, according to Gazette archives. He was released in October 1988.

In 1994, he was convicted of strangling and dismembering Patricia Paquette in Providence, for which he was serving a 35-to-60-year sentence at the time of his death.

New Hampshire Assistant Attorney General Benjamin Agati said last week that no other active cold cases are believed to be linked to Mayrand.

The latest investigation into Whitney’s case did not turn up new DNA evidence or other scientific proof. But it did find DNA evidence tying Mayrand to the murder of Daneault. The similar ways the two women were killed, interviews with people who saw Mayrand in the days before and after Whitney’s death, and inconsistencies in Mayrand’s stories about that time frame led police to conclude that he murdered Whitney.

There was evidence that Daneault and Whitney were apparently strangled with strips of cloth torn from their own clothing. Whitney’s body was also found with a drawstring from her raincoat tied around her neck, according to the report.

Recalling Judy

Judith Whitney was born in Kentucky and grew up, the oldest of six children, in Greenfield. She married Warren Whitney and spent most of her adult life with him in Sunderland, where they raised three daughters. They were separated, but not divorced, at the time of her death.

Jeannie Graveline, 48, said her sister Judy “was like a second mother to me, because our mother passed away in 1971.”

“She was a bright, resilient, engaged person,” said Joseph Graveline 65. He said he and Whitney were close because they were the oldest siblings. “For me, she was a very special person. Once, when I was young, I got sick for three days with a fever and she sat by my bedside the whole time.”

Whitney had worked selling firearms at the former Pioneer Sporting Center at 137 Damon Road. “She loved hunting, camping, all that stuff. And she was very outgoing — she loved people,” Jeannie Graveline said. She was a licensed pilot.

Another sister, Tina Graveline, 60, of Greenfield, said Whitney’s problem with alcohol worsened near the end of her life and her family did all they could to help her with her addiction. They were pleased when she “got herself to the point to get help” and started attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

Mayrand, who was living in the Hairston House for recovering alcoholics at 25 Graves Ave. in Northampton, was also attending those meetings as a condition of his parole, according to Gazette archives.

Tina and Jeannie Graveline said that they believe Mayrand, then 40, preyed on their sister. People out on parole for violent crimes should be meeting separately from others, they said.

“People in AA are vulnerable. And even though (Mayrand) had been in prison for rape and had been suspected in murders, all that stuff was confidential. No one could say, ‘be wary of this guy,’” Tina Graveline said. “And she was always very friendly and tried to help people. I think she took him as a nice guy.”

Joseph Graveline said his sister had told him July 2, 1987, that she would be out of town for a week or two, and he was not worried that she seemed to have stayed away longer. But Warren Whitney, whom she was in the process of divorcing, was concerned, so they went together to report it to police July 20.

Police in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire, found her car and a search effort began. But Joseph Graveline said he knew long before they found her body that his sister was “gone,” because she was not someone who would get lost or just not let people know where she was.

Meanwhile, Mayrand told conflicting stories about where Whitney was to police, friends and staff at the Keene motel where he and Whitney had been staying. He drove around in her car until he abandoned it on the side of a road, police said, and gave away her jewelry to women.

Throughout the initial investigation, police were focused on Mayrand. But the Gravelines said the assistant district attorney told them there was not enough evidence to charge him.

“I was really disappointed that the district attorney at the time didn’t think they had a case that they could get before a jury,” Joseph Graveline said.

“They had circumstantial evidence, Eddie’s contradictory statements, and lots of witness testimony,” about his behavior before and after Whitney’s death, he said. “If 12 intelligent, carbon-based life forms had looked at this, I think most people would be smart enough to convict the guy.”

He said it was around 2010 when New Hampshire law enforcement officials informed him they were reopening the cases of Whitney and Daneault because Mayrand would soon be due for parole. “They wanted to prepare a case to make sure he never left prison again,” he said.

They called the family again in 2011 to let them know that Mayrand had died of lung cancer in prison. The next time Joseph Graveline heard from New Hampshire officials was about a month ago when they told him they had concluded Mayrand had killed both women and that they would release a report of their findings soon.

Joseph, Tina and Jeannie Graveline all said they were grateful that the case was re-examined and for the hard work of the investigating officers — some of whom are from another generation, Joseph Graveline said.

“It’s a kind of closure to all this. Even though Mayrand passed in jail,” Jeannie Graveline said. “They didn’t give up on pursuing it.”

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.