The Coldest Cut - The John Pond Cold Case Investigation

How do you solve a 20-year-old murder mystery? And how do you bring a dead man to justice?



Act 1:

The temperature dropped after sundown and Dennis Razis pulled his jacket up around his neck to stave off the chill of the early autumn night. The crickets were quieter in September, too quiet to obscure the 11 p.m. slam of his pick-up’s door or his crunching footfalls through the graveled Salem trailer park. He’d had a bad feeling as soon as he arrived, but remembering the promise of a cheap stereo, Razis pushed it out of his head.

Razis climbed the ramp built to accommodate John Pond’s wheelchair, rapped on the door at 9 Arthur Street and waited for Pond to let him in. He heard two people murmuring inside. Razis assumed Pond would be alone. He waited, but no one came to answer his knock. He was turning on his heel when the door opened a crack. Filling the entrance was a tall, gruff man eyeballing him.

“You don’t want to see him,” the stranger said. Razis heard Pond call from the other side of a wall. “Hey buddy,” Pond urged. “Go to 48 Arthur Street! Call the police! This guy is gonna stab me!”

The stranger stared Razis down and said, “He doesn’t have anything for you.”

Razis knew Pond, despite being disabled, was about to get a beat down. The issue is probably drugs, he thought. Shaken, Razis decided he didn’t want the stereo that badly and left.

Twenty-two years later, prosecutor Jeff Strelzin printed a lengthy memo and walked it up a flight of stairs at the NH Department of Justice to the office of the Attorney General. After years of work by Salem Police and the state’s new Cold Case Unit, Strelzin was about to bring John Pond’s killer to justice. But it would be a different kind of justice in this unusual murder — one that would be delivered not with the bang of a gavel, but with the stroke of a pen.

John Pond’s body was found slumped on the floor next to his wheelchair the morning of September 19, 1990, by his sister, Sandy Boerner. She lived in the home Pond had pleaded for Dennis Razis to run to: 48 Arthur Street. There were 26 stab wounds in Pond’s chest and shoulders. There was blood smeared throughout the trailer. Salem police noted that though he had been stabbed repeatedly, it seemed Pond was killed slowly — tortured by his attacker.

Salem cops learned Pond had been teaching the dubious art of house-breaking to kids who lived in his trailer park.

Analysis at the scene of the murder found that the victim’s blood was mingled with the suspect’s. If detectives could learn who the second sample belonged to, it would prove who was there at the time of Pond’s brutal stabbing.

Paul Marchaud had been a Salem police detective for only two weeks at the time of Pond’s murder. As the rookie, he was relegated to “go-fer” duty for the seven other detectives in the unit, collecting their notes and typing their reports. The rote work of collating the piecemeal work of his colleagues gave him a unique perspective on the investigation. Marchaud learned neighbors spotted a red pick-up truck around 11 p.m. and heard a commotion around midnight. The lab evidence was intriguing, but hardly conclusive. Smeared among the blood was an impression of a shoe — significant in the home of a man who couldn’t walk. The FBI would later identify the footprint as having been made by a New Balance sneaker. Also, a sample from the floor showed two blood types — one that matched John Pond and one an unknown assailant.

The victim in this crime, John Pond, was no saint. He was in a wheelchair because of a past misdeed, namely, taking a bullet in the spine during a shootout with police in Lawrence, Mass., when he was just 19. The cops claimed the young parolee was dealing drugs and pulled a pistol on them. Pond said he was just on that street corner smoking pot. Investigators found the casings for some .25 shells, but they never found a gun. Pond was acquitted of all charges.

Even while in his wheelchair, John Pond continued to live outside the law. Salem cops learned Pond had been teaching the dubious art of house-breaking to kids who lived in his trailer park. They’d bring him hot TVs or stereos and Pond would fence them for cash or drugs. When investigators combed over the scene of Pond’s murder, they found numerous stolen items Pond was in the process of selling.

Because of his black market dealings, there was no shortage of people who had a motive to harm Pond. Drug dealers were also likely suspects, but Marchaud and the other detectives learned Pond had no outstanding debts or beefs with the usual pushers.

Ten minutes south of the crime scene, on the day John Pond’s body was found, the landlord at 9 Kirk Street in Methuen, Mass., got a complaint of water leaking through the ceiling from an upstairs apartment. He let himself into Paula Gauthier’s unit and found her waterbed had burst, the mattress slashed open with a knife. He wondered who would be angry enough to do that.

Paula Gauthier was not home because she had spent the night with Michael Pond, John’s older brother. They were rekindling their long-term relationship. They had two children together and had been steady until he went to jail on a felony charge. While Michael was behind bars, Paula began dating Mark Craig, who had a handful of arrests himself. As the date of Michael Pond’s release approached — September 13, 1990 — Craig became more agitated, afraid Paula would leave him once her old boyfriend was freed. His edginess led to a barroom brawl, after which Craig staggered back to the apartment and asked Paula to remove broken glass from his left palm and bandage his hand.

It wasn’t long after Michael Pond’s release that he and Paula felt the old chemistry. On September 18, 1990 — the day before John Pond’s body was found — the two visited with John and Sandy Boerner in Sandy’s home at 48 Arthur Street. The couple went to a movie, making plans to return and spend the night at Sandy’s instead of the apartment Paula had sometimes shared with 
Mark Craig.

Unable to find his girlfriend that night, Craig flew into a rage. He repeatedly called Paula’s mother, who, worn by his persistence, admitted her daughter was with Michael Pond.

“When I see him,” Craig spat into the phone, “I’m going to break his face!”

Despite the strong motive pointing to Craig, he didn’t drive a red pick-up, so police continued to wonder who parked at John Pond’s house that night.

Despite the strong motive pointing to Craig, he didn’t drive a red pick-up, so police continued to wonder who parked at John Pond’s house that night. After a week of searching, detectives were surprised the vehicle they’d been looking for was the Salem Village Pizza delivery truck. Dennis Razis, part owner of the restaurant, was reluctant to cooperate. He told the cops he was about to get married and worried about his reputation.

When he heard John Pond had been stabbed after telling him he would be, Razis wanted to keep the lowest profile possible. When questioned, he wasn’t helpful in identifying the man he’d seen in Pond’s doorway and failed to pick anyone from a photo line-up. Hypnosis, and even a session with a sketch artist resulted in no new leads. Razis fingered no one, and certainly not Mark Craig.

An alternate theory of the crime hung over the investigators. What if Razis couldn’t identify Craig because there was a second person in the trailer with him? He could be an important witness, or been Craig’s lookout during the assault. Or he could have been the knifeman and Craig was his lookout. The alternative theories had police worried. These are the kind of details that create reasonable doubt at trial.

There was simply not enough evidence to arrest Mark Craig, despite his being a strong suspect. As weeks passed with no new leads, the investigation went dormant. For years afterward, Detective Paul Marchaud would pick at it, hoping to get some new angle. Its file was relegated to a drawer and became one of the department’s unofficial “cold cases.”

Act 2:

Salem Detective Sergeant James Chase had always heard of the Pond case. Hadn’t Paul Marchaud worked on it for two decades? But Chase’s interest was piqued in 2009 as the state announced it was forming a Cold Case Unit to examine more than 100 unsolved homicides and missing persons cases. Everyone at Salem PD thought the Pond case was solvable, and Chase believed now was the time to reopen the file.

The Pond family always believed Craig was John Pond’s killer. Craig had made numerous phone calls to Pond’s sister Sandy and brother Henry that night. It was clear he was hunting Michael and Paula Gauthier. But in the heat of the moment, everyone’s concern was for their safety — no one thought John might be caught in the middle.

Chase found reassembling the gathered evidence was difficult. The files, pulled apart and reshuffled over 20 years, were a mess.

Above: John Pond after the shooting, years prior to his death. Below: Mark Craig

When detectives questioned Craig in September 1990 about the murder, he denied any involvement. Craig had the massive build of a football player with a Cro-Magnon forehead, scraggly beard, and eerie pale eyes. As he spoke to police, he gestured with a bandaged hand that still wept blood. Craig said he’d known John Pond before his accident, and had crashed several times at the Arthur Street home after parties. Defiant during questioning, Craig said he hadn’t been there in several months.

Police records showed Craig had been arrested in the trailer park in February 1990 after a disturbance. He’d been hiding in John Pond’s trailer when the cops arrived, and though Pond denied he was there, Craig came out of the bathroom and turned himself in. Pond confided in his sister that he was terrified of Craig. As he was taken away in cuffs, Craig mistakenly blamed John Pond for his capture. He shouted, “This whole place is going to burn down!”

The presence of two blood types commingled in the spatter told detectives someone else had been close enough to get his own blood mixed in with the dying man’s. DNA testing was not available to Salem police in 1990, but in 2003, Marchaud sent the blood sample for screening. The results again showed some of the blood belonged to John Pond, but the other person remained unknown. Marchaud desperately wanted to test that second sample against Mark Craig’s DNA but they didn’t have any — and didn’t have legal grounds to collect it.

At the time, Mark Craig was in state prison on unrelated charges. In the years after the slaying, he committed a string of assaults, drug charges and probation violations. After his last sentence in 2004, he was released to a halfway house in Concord.

One morning in May 2004, Detective Paul Marchaud was reading the obituaries. It was both a personal and professional habit of his. He snapped forward in his chair when he saw Mark Craig’s name. At age 37, he had overdosed at the halfway house. Marchaud’s eyes widened. The prime suspect in the Pond case, which dogged him his whole career, was dead. It seemed Craig would take his knowledge of September 18, 1990, with him to his grave, and justice for John Pond’s family would remain permanently out of reach.

But in ways Marchaud had yet to understand, he was far closer to solving the crime.

Act 3:

Rather than feel disappointment he’d never get to cuff Craig for the case, Marchaud would later confess to a bit of satisfaction at discovering he was dead. He’d remained a thorn to law enforcement and — perhaps — his early exit was a kind of justice too.

Marchaud put the newspaper down and looked up the number for the state medical examiner’s office. Craig’s body was still there. The detective asked if they could take a vial of his blood. They still didn’t have probable cause to run a match against the 2003 DNA screening, nor had they ever ruled out a second person in the trailer with the murderer. Marchaud asked the medical examiner to store the sample until they could figure out a legal way to introduce it.

It wasn’t until 2009, when a federal grant funded the state’s first Cold Case Unit, that Salem police got the help they needed. As Sergeant James Chase was compiling old files to send to the unit, the Pond case floated to the top of the pile. Chase contacted the unit’s supervisor, veteran homicide prosecutor Will Delker and explained they were stuck with two blood samples and no basis to compare them. Delker reasoned the deceased have no expectation of privacy, deciding that testing the blood sample would not violate Mark Craig’s rights.

Chase found reassembling the gathered evidence was difficult. The files, pulled apart and reshuffled over 20 years, were a mess. Items from the crime scene had been stored for two decades in a locked trailer at the police station. Chase discovered rodents had burrowed in and chewed John Pond’s bloody clothes in a paper evidence sack, as well as nibbled around the edges of floor boards detectives had cut out of the trailer in 1990. When he contacted the medical examiner’s office for Craig’s blood sample, they didn’t know where the five-year-old vial was. “We’ll get back to you,” they told him.

The easiest thing for Sergeant Chase to do was track down a detective to run the investigation. Paul Marchaud had retired three years earlier, but agreed to come back part-time as a special investigator. No one involved questioned why they should put the effort in a 20-year-old crime in which their prime suspect was already dead. “How do we not do it?” Chase asked rhetorically. They had to know once and for all if Mark Craig — and Mark Craig alone — murdered John Pond.

Investigators called the Pond family together to tell them the crime had been solved. The response was under-whelming. Relatives had emotionally closed the case years before.

Craig’s blood sample was eventually located and submitted for a DNA comparison. For weeks, the detectives were on tenterhooks waiting for the lab report. When it arrived, it proved their suspicions: the blood co-mingled with John Pond’s was Mark Craig’s.

“Jimmy! We got him!” Marchaud exclaimed. Chase shook his head. The DNA didn’t rule out accomplices to the crime. “There’s more to do,” he said.

Salem police worked hand-in-hand with detectives of the Cold Case Unit for a closure, sometimes referred to as an “exceptional clearance.” The Unit helped convene an investigative grand jury with the power to subpoena witnesses and compel their testimony. Using this forum, authorities brought Dennis Razis back in for questioning.

Razis told the grand jury how a large man met him at the door and how he could hear Pond yelling from the back room, where his body was found the next day. But what Razis told the grand jury that he never told investigators in 1990 was he drove directly from Pond’s trailer to a payphone. He called his fiancée and told her how he’d been spooked by what he’d seen. His now-wife also testified, confirming his story that only one man had been seen.

Most cold cases would remain room temperature without the heat provided by tenacious investigators. Two decades after the crime, retired Salem police Sgt. Paul Marchaud, pictured here at left, and Salem police Capt. James Chase, right, were able to mine the stacks of files and documents that constituted the Pond murder for clues and patterns that could finally close the book on the case. Detectives know that opening an old case is like opening an old wound, but sometimes that’s what is needed to bring healing to the families and loved ones left behind.

Paula Gauthier testified she had changed the bandage on Mark Craig’s bloody hand twice — once before the murder and once after. She said the wound hadn’t healed. In fact it looked worse, oozing blood and puss. She also said Craig liked to wear New Balance sneakers.

The most important evidence the grand jury heard came from Tim Jackson, a state lab criminologist. Using the latest forensic technology, he re-examined the floorboards detectives had cut out of the home. Jackson discovered additional shoe impressions obscured from the naked eye beneath the smears of blood. All of the impressions were made by the same pair of New Balance sneakers, all in Craig’s size. The DNA and footprints proved Craig lied about not visiting the house for months. It also proved — once and for all — there had only been assailant.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeff Strelzin, who had taken over the Cold Case Unit from Delker, prepared the memo to bring to Attorney General Michael Delaney. It said, on the night of September 18, 1990, Mark Craig went to John Pond’s trailer looking for Michael and Paula. Craig suspected Pond knew where his brother was and repeatedly threatened him with the knife he used to slash Paula’s waterbed. Pond’s cries for help, first to Razis and then to his sister on the phone, went unheeded. While Michael and Paula slept down the street, their own lives in mortal danger, Craig tortured Pond in his wheelchair with cuts to the neck and shoulders. Unable to get any more information, Craig finished Pond off around midnight, stabbing him repeatedly.

Strelzin told the AG with the testimony, the DNA and the other forensic evidence, they were convinced Mark Craig, acting alone, murdered John Pond. If Mark Craig were alive, Strelzin said, they would seek an indictment and were confident they’d win a conviction at trial.

Delaney pondered the weight of memo. When he signed off on its findings, the Pond case was closed.

Investigators called the Pond family together to tell them the crime had been solved. The response was under-whelming. Relatives who had put John’s death behind them, who rationalized their roles or accepted the circumstances, had emotionally closed the case years before. Some were angry the police had reopened these wounds. Others, after taking it in, expressed thanks for this small measure of justice.

“It’s not a fairness system; it’s a justice system,” says Jeff Strelzin. “It’s not fair this family isn’t going to get their loved one back.”

While not as flashy or dramatic as dragging a suspect into court, these special clearances prove the worth of a Cold Case Unit in providing assistance to local police in solving unsolvable homicides. The town of Salem now knows there was but one perpetrator in the Pond case, and that his killer is no longer walking the streets. It proves, dead or alive, for two days or 20 years, New Hampshire law enforcement will keep searching until they get their suspect.

Investigators say they have a handful more cases like John Pond’s: solved murders with deceased perpetrators ready for exceptional clearance. That specialized work will be somewhat harder now. The federal grant funding the New Hampshire Cold Case Unit expired in June 2013. The State Police have allocated a small portion of money to keep it going.

As for the John Pond investigation, the final act took place in a government hallway. A memo was placed in the front of a thick, well-organized file. The word “closed” was written on the cover, and the paperwork was moved from a cabinet of a hundred or so other whodunits, to the one where justice – however small or uncelebrated – is stored. NH

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