Jeff Blanchard: Highway Murders Case Redux -- Bizarre Bridgewater 'Treatment'

Providence Journal
November 8, 2006

Letter to Sam Sutter
Dear Sam:

CONGRATULATIONS on your election as the next district attorney of Bristol County, Mass., and congratulations as well on your decision to reopen the Highway Murders case.

My first reaction when I read that in the papers was: Wow, finally someone with the guts to tackle the big one. Then I thought, wait a minute. He doesn't take office for two months! Is he warning someone? And what's it mean, anyway, to reopen a murder investigation (into the serial slaughter of 11 women over a six-month period of 1988) when it was never closed by either of the D.A.'s who came before you, whatever you think about their pursuit of those responsible?

Nonetheless, it seems appropriate that the new day of reckoning falls on Jan. 1, your first day back in the office where your career as a prosecutor got its start. Jan. 1 is also the birthday of a New Bedford native named Kenny Junier, who is serving a life sentence just up the road in the state prison at Norfolk, a medium-security campus with an average daily population of 1,250, including 275 murderers.

Far be it from me, Sam, to accuse this man of anything, much less orchestrating a serial killing that has stumped the law for 18 years, despite the involvement of investigators at every level from New Bedford's Weld Square to Washington, including several top profilers from the FBI, a forensic anthropologist from the Smithsonian and a raft of state and local police, several of whom have known Junier since grade school.

The investigation was clouded by external events from the beginning -- most notably by the abduction of the then-D.A.'s wife, who was locked in the trunk of her own car just as the murders began, and by the presidential election campaign going on at the time between the D.A.'s friend, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, and George H. W. Bush, father of the current president -- a race decided in no small measure by the furor stirred up over this state's record on prison furloughs.

It wasn't until Election Day of 1988 that Ron Pina, the D.A., acknowledged for the first time publicly the possibility of a serial killing.

A convicted rapist who has spent most of his life behind bars, Kenny Junier started out 30 years ago in Walpole (where his fellow inmates crushed part of him in a workshop vice) and then won a transfer to the Bridgewater Treatment Center for the Sexually Dangerous, before eventually getting sent to Norfolk. It was his Bridgewater years that you two should talk about, Sam.

This is the road less traveled that could make a difference.

From what I can gather, through interviews with New Bedford police officers and sources who worked at the Bridgewater Treatment Center, the release program that Kenny Junier participated in was not so much liberal or permissive as bizarre. In Junier's case, it meant six-days-a-week out, one day in -- or enough freedom for this sadistic rapist to establish a routine complete with a car, a rental apartment near Weld Square and a job on a highway crew. He wasn't alone, either.

Among the privileged Bridgewater inmates who made the Whaling City their get-away in 1988 was Ronny Leftwich, who had been jailed for an assault on a 67-year-old Nantucket woman -- a crime that the police chief described as the worst he'd ever seen -- transferred to Bridgewater, released on furlough, deemed "out-of-bounds" after six months and brought back in, and released again in 1995 into the custody of Father Martin-Henri, who had founded a monastery to minister to felons and drug addicts.

Leftwich was then rearrested, in Martin-Henri's murder, in which Lefty has always maintained his innocence, while admitting to having dumped the body.

He is now doing life at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Shirley.

Which, unfortunately, Sam, is not to suggest that your job is half-done. Lefty and Junier had other friends in New Bedford who are not currently behind bars, ex-cons and public servants alike.

Established 50 years ago by the Harvard-trained psychologist Harry Kozol, Bridgewater is a continuing experiment in the rehabilitation of sex offenders. What makes it unique in the land is not its population -- deviants and predators can be found all over the prison system. But at Bridgewater the inmates serve civil commitments, with their freedom and other privileges decided by a select group of therapists, some with track records that favor inmates at the expense of public safety.

Of those who should not have been released, it is obvious in retrospect: Nathaniel Bar-Jonah (David Brown), the child cannibal who was allowed to leave on the promise that he would move to Montana, which he did, near a playground where he found his victims; Michael Kelley, whose friendship with his keepers led to the murders of two women, including one who was mentally handicapped; and, most recently, Paul Nolin, who was convicted in the 2003 murder of an aspiring golf pro from Falmouth.

Nolin's case could have served as a clarion call for drastic change, or even as a simple reminder that Bridgewater's past is a problem for the future, but the lessons seem all but lost on an ill-informed public, which is nothing new for critics of the Treatment Center.

As far back as 1992, one therapist there was warning anyone who would listen of the dangers ahead. She even compiled a list of 26 inmates who were purged from the Treatment Center in the early 1990s, men who were privy to the darkest jailhouse secrets regarding corruption, drugs, porn, sex and so on, and were either released outright or transferred to other jails. The list was circulated among the highest government officials as part of an affidavit filed in a federal lawsuit at the time, but as far as anyone knows, the only lasting effect was to get the therapist fired.

Some of the 26 re-offended and are now back behind bars, some aren't.

Paul Nolin's path from convicted rapist to convicted killer is a study in how the Treatment Center operates, and why we should all be worried about its future.

Nolin's primary therapist was a Catholic priest named Donald Turlick, a licensed counselor with a private practice on Cape Cod and a résumé that features Kenny Junier and Michael Kelley as previous patients whose freedom he recommended.

After Nolin was released from prison he moved into the priest's home in Mashpee, next door to the Cape Cod Children's Museum.

Turlick's fellow Catholic priest Bernard Kelly, a friend since their seminary days in the 1950s, then employed Nolin as a handyman at St. Joseph's, in Woods Hole, and at his home in the Cummaquid village, in Yarmouth.

To Father Kelly, Bridgewater is known as "the university," and Nolin was a graduate, someone he can entrust with the keys to the church despite Nolin's rape and torture of a young boy whom he tied to a tree and left in the woods.

As the handyman, Nolin had complete access to church grounds, including a stand-alone bell tower he used as his private party spot and, late one night three years ago, as an enticement for a new acquaintance, whom he stabbed to death and stuffed under some rocks outside the boathouse of a nearby estate.

Nolin's murder trial revealed that he, Kelly and Turlick were linked every which way -- socially, sexually, financially, as priest-penitent and patient-counselor. Nolin's lawyer was the husband of Turlick's lawyer, and Nolin was named as a major benefactor in Kelly's will.

But Nolin alone was held responsible for the murder. Turlick disappeared without so much as a reprimand, and Kelly was removed from St. Joseph's for alleged financial improprieties.

His oft-delayed trial is now slated for Nov. 14 -- next Tuesday. It remains an open question as to how far back investigators will go in searching for money, but among his many parish jobs there was only one where Turlick and Kelly worked together -- St. Francis Xavier, in Hyannis, home of the Joseph P. Kennedy altar.

For what it's worth.

Jeff Blanchard, an occasional contributor, is a Cape Cod-based writer.


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