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Book delves into Paquette slaying

Last modified: 5/2/2010 12:00:00 AM
Since the police solved Danny Paquette's 20-year-old murder in 2005, just about everyone involved has been heard from - except Paquette's killer, Eric Windhurst of Hopkinton.

Did Windhurst, then 17 and with his gun trained on Paquette, really say he'd shoot when his chewing gum lost its flavor? Did his classmates and family keep his secret for 20 years?

Does Windhurst, now 42 and serving 15 to 30 years in prison, regret pulling the trigger?

The answers are coming Tuesday with the release of Our Little Secret by Hopkinton authors - and newlyweds - Kevin Flynn and Rebecca Lavoie. The 300-page book begins and ends with prison interviews with Windhurst. In between, the authors unravel a teenage murder plot and cover-up that stumped investigators for two decades.

Lavoie, who has written for the Monitor and national magazines, gained access to Windhurst though a mutual acquaintance. She talked with Windhurst about six times on the phone, two hours at a time, before visiting him in prison five or six times, she said.

"He was like what people told me he would be," Lavoie said. "He's got a big visiting list. He's doing well in prison. He's funny and makes jokes. But I never forgot I was meeting someone who was deeply conflicted. There is a lot of baggage there."

Meanwhile, Flynn spent months poring over 2,500 pages of police files and interviewing authorities and Paquette's brother about the investigation that had frustrated them for so long.

Flynn had some practice at true-crime telling. He was formerly a reporter for WMUR and recently wrote Wicked Intentions, the true story of murderer Sheila LaBarre of Epping.

"We didn't set out to say who did it, but (rather) how it happened," Flynn said of the Windhurst book. "That is where the twists and turns come in."

The result is a suspenseful read even if you already know the story. The authors have developed names and facts in police reports into characters and plots.

Windhurst is portrayed as both intimidating and remorseful. Melanie Cooper, Paquette's sexually abused stepdaughter whom Windhurst thought he was protecting, lied repeatedly to cover up the truth, but she's also a mother of five with deep religious convictions.

This was not the first murder to devastate the Paquette family. Our Little Secret reaches back to the unsolved murder of Danny Paquette's mother in 1964, when Paquette was 15, and moves forward to Cooper's decision to come clean and give up her one-time ally.

With help from Windhurst's recent girlfriend, the authors re-create in detail Windhurst's last day as a free man. And they clarify whether Windhurst was motivated in part to kill Paquette because he believed allegations that his own father had abused his stepsisters.

"It's operatic in its arc," Lavoie said. "It takes place really over a 40-year span. Everyone talks about the Hopkinton part, but really that's just part of a much larger story."

 'This had to be a book' 

It was Lavoie who first saw the Windhurst case as a story. She was working in an office with someone from Hopkinton the day Windhurst's arrest appeared in the Monitor.

"I said, 'Do you know him?' And she said, 'Yeah, I knew him well.' And it was clear throughout the conversation that she had heard what (Windhurst) had done (20 years earlier), and that it hadn't impacted her and her husband's relationship with him. He had babysat for their kids.

"I said, 'How can that be?' " Lavoie recalled.

Lavoie had done some writing but not much. At the time, she and Flynn, then friends but not romantically involved, were helping each other out with their projects. Because Flynn dislikes pitching his ideas to publishers, Lavoie offered to call some magazine editors about Flynn's LaBarre project.

Lavoie said she hit it off with an editor at Playboy magazine, and when he asked whether she had any projects of her own, she mentioned the Windhurst case. "I don't know why I said it," she said, "but it was the first thing I thought of."

The editor liked the idea and gave Lavoie and Flynn about three months to turn in a magazine-length story.

In 6,000 words, they told of Windhurst and Cooper's friendship at Hopkinton High and Cooper's fears of further sexual abuse from Paquette, the stepfather she was hiding from. He was 17, she was 15, and they had given the police a phony alibi when first questioned about the murder.

Windhurst allegedly told some friends and family the truth. But it didn't seem Cooper had. At the time of the murder, she was living with relatives, one of them her aunt Kathleen McGuire, a state homicide prosecutor who later became a judge.

"The theme of the piece was: What does it take for a whole town to keep a secret for such a long time?" Lavoie said.

They relied on state investigative records obtained through a Right-To-Know request and interviews with Windhurst's then-girlfriend and police investigators. Cooper, then a Mormon and mother of five living out West, declined to participate because the piece was intended for Playboy, Lavoie said.

When she and Flynn finished the piece, "we realized there was so much detail, this had to be a book," Flynn said.

 Rich with details 

They started anew, rereading the 2,500 pages of investigative records and interviewing the main players. The files were rich with details, including a narrated video of the murder scene shot at the time and police detective notes made during interviews.

Hooksett Police Chief Stephen Agrafiotis, who filmed the crime scene in 1985 as a new Hooksett patrol officer, took several calls from Flynn during the book's research. "He'd say, 'I'm reading this file and I think it's saying this, but I want to be sure that's what you meant when you wrote it,' " Agrafiotis said.

Agrafiotis said he was willing to help the authors, in part, to show law enforcement "never forgets" an unsolved murder.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeff Strelzin, chief of the state's homicide unit and the prosecutor who charged Windhurst, also agreed to an interview with the authors.

He said the police file on any case is going to be detailed because investigators need a solid case to take to trial.

But the Windhurst file was particularly rich with details, he said, because the case had essentially been investigated twice, once at the time of the murder and again more recently.

Strelzin told the authors that his office also considered charging Cooper with her stepfather's murder. She was with Windhurst when Paquette was killed in 1985 and had talked to Windhurst of her sexual abuse.

The authorities didn't say that publicly when they charged Cooper in 2006 with hindering the investigation by lying to the police about the murder. She served 7½ months in prison before her release in 2008.

Strelzin hadn't read his advance copy of the book when reached last week. (He's described as having "features that were not classically handsome but striking in their intensity," and looking "easily a decade younger than his 43 years.")

Strelzin said he and his office agreed to talk to Lavoie and Flynn only after the case was closed. The office routinely turns down media requests to discuss cases while they are open.

"We try to protect the case and respect the victim and their family," he said. "This is not entertainment for us. This is real people being killed and real families suffering."

 Photos and words 

Flynn knows the first thing readers will do with Our Little Secret is flip to the middle for pictures of Windhurst and Cooper. They are there. But their words are where readers will linger.

Although Cooper declined to be interviewed, she dominates the book, through letters she wrote about living with her aunt and uncle in Hopkinton and other documents.

She's an especially strong presence in the tale when she agrees to call Windhurst about the murder in 2004 at the police's request. The police were listening in and would pass her helpful notes when the conversation stalled.

Flynn and Lavoie had not only recordings of the phone calls between Windhurst and Cooper, but also investigators' notes about everything from Cooper's body language to her request for Tylenol before she dialed the phone. During one phone call, Windhurst asks Cooper, a practicing Mormon, if she really believes in God.

"That he looks down on you and He knows that you are a good person and a good mother?" Windhurst asks her.

"Does a good person kill someone? I don't know," she responds.

"God loves everybody," Windhurst says. "God doesn't have prejudice or racism or bigotry."

Cooper goes on to ask, "So, he loves Danny (Paquette)?"

Windhurst replies: "He loves everybody. But everybody dies for a reason. And only God knows why those people die. Only God knows why."

Windhurst's interviews with Lavoie, on the other hand, are revealing in less obvious ways. He declined to discuss the shooting itself, saying "no good" would come from his version of the truth now. But he clearly wanted his say. As for the chewing gum anecdote, Windhurst first calls the story "bulls---" but then confirms a nearly identical version.

Windhurst told Lavoie he gets letters from people calling him a hero for shooting a man who was sexually abusing a child.

He said his parents have never visited him but he speaks with deep respect for his father, John Windhurst, whom the state had considered charging with sexually abusing his two stepdaughters years earlier.

"What would be the benefit of punishing a very elderly man for something he did so long ago?" he asked Lavoie.

Windhurst vehemently denies Strelzin's theory that Windhurst knew of his father's alleged abuse when he shot Paquette and was killing not just for Cooper but for his stepsisters as well.

Windhurst and one of his stepsisters who had alleged abuse against John Windhurst told Lavoie that Windhurst did not learn of the allegations until years after Paquette's murder. Absent that motive, why would Windhurst kill someone he'd never met for a classmate he'd known for only about a month?

Windhurst's hormones at 17, an overprotective nature and his belief that Cooper was in real fear of her stepfather drove him to kill Paquette, Lavoie writes. "Unfortunately, (Cooper) told the right guy about this," Windhurst said.

Lavoie believes Windhurst is sincerely remorseful and thankful that when he leaves prison he will truly be free. But she also believes he has a "revisionist" view of the past and is unable or unwilling to admit to some of its darkest truths.

"He's manipulative, but I don't know if he knows he's doing it," Lavoie said.

The authors are already at work on their next true-crime book about another New Hampshire murder; they won't reveal which one until they sign a book contract. Lavoie said she and Flynn felt shunned by some locals during their research and writing of Our Little Secret. She expects those feelings to resurface when the book is released this week.

"Everything in here really did happen. That's what I tell people," she said. "I'm telling a story of something that actually happened."


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