Video: Massachusetts Murder Mystery

By MSNBC analyst & former FBI profiler
updated 2/6/2006 11:39:08 AM ET 2006-02-06T16:39:08

For 27-year-old Rachel Entwistle, life was good.  She and her British-born husband, Neil, also 27, and their 9-month-old daughter Lillian Rose had just moved into a new rental house just outside Boston.  But this happy picture ended when Rachel and daughter Lillian were found shot to death Jan. 22 in the master bedroom of their snow covered home.

The Entwistles were scheduled to host a dinner party for family and friends on Saturday, Jan 21. When family and guests arrived for dinner, the house was dark and no one answered the door. Investigation suggests that no one had spoken to Rachel Entwistle since Thursday, Jan. 19.  It now appears that Neil bought a plane ticket to England and left sometime on Friday or Saturday, the 20th or 21st.  His leased BMW was found in the parking at Boston’s Logan airport and has been seized by authorities.  Forensic tests on the car could include anything from notes in the car, to evidence of a weapon in the car, to dirt, mud, grass, etc., on the car’s undercarriage that could suggest where the vehicle may have been other than the Entwistle’s home and the airport. 

Here’s the challenge for investigators:  From the forensic and the investigative side of this matter, the case is initially challenged as Rachel's mother had police search the Entwistle's home at about 8:30 p.m., Saturday Jan. 21st, the night of the scheduled dinner party.  A police officer entered the locked residence by using a garage key code supplied by a neighbor, looked around, and reported no sign of any problem at the residence and left.
Sunday morning, Jan. 22, family and friends again entered the Entwistle's home by using the garage key code and again searched, but found noting of note.

Then at about 6:30 PM Sunday evening the police reentered the residence and, responding to a strange smell, they climbed the stairs to the second floor.  It was there they discovered Rachel with her daughter in her arms.  Lying under a pile of covers on the bed in the master bedroom, both had been shot to death.  Some reports suggest that one bullet passed through mother and daughter.  A second bullet had been fired into Rachel's head.  According to the death certificates, Rachel died instantly from the bullet to her brain.  Little Lillian succumbed to the bullet wound in her stomach.  Someone wanted them dead.

The problem for the local medical examiner is that time of death becomes hard to set once a body starts to decompose.  Critical, of course, is when was Neil last with his wife and child?  It appears that the believed time of death of the mother and daughter fit with the time Neil may have flown to the U.K.  Still, the time line could still suggest that the two victims were perhaps killed after Neil left?  But the lingering question, of course, is why did Neil leave in the first place?  Neither he nor his wife had apparently notified her family of an impending trip.  Why did he not rush back to help solve the murder of his family, or at least return for their funeral?
The crime scene at the Entwistle home may be hopelessly contaminated.  On two or three different occasions well meaning police officers, Rachel's family, and other mutual friends entered and left the now believed crime scene. Defense lawyers will be quick to note that a neighbor had the garage key code to enter the home. As the Entwistles had just moved into the house less that two weeks before the double homicide, hairs, fibers, and other materials related to the previous tenants could obviously remain in the home.  And of course any police officer, family member, friend or other first responder who walked through the house on Saturday and Sunday would leave trace material that might be located in the forensic search of the residence. Because of these facts, the crime scene is challenging and could eventually prove to be a weak link in this case.

If the victims were killed, as believed, by a small caliber firearm, perhaps a .22 or .25 handgun, is there any history of the Entwistles owning such a weapon?  Did they have contact with anyone who owned such a weapon?  It is known that Rachael’s stepfather had a gun collection, but some suggest that police may have eliminated the firearms from that home, one that the Entwistles lived in for about six months before moving into their new home.
If the weapon was not left at the crime scene, is it still in the possession of the offender?  Or has the perpetrator disposed of the gun in a manner designed to deny law enforcement access to it?  Any gun residue on the clothing of the shooter, or the clothing itself, could be long gone.  Because professional hit men often use a .22 caliber revolver, it has been suggested that this could have been a “professional hit,’ but could such a killer have so quickly tracked the family to their new residence?

Law enforcement will need to develop a tight time line for the last week that Rachel and her daughter were in their home.  They’ll need to establish who the family had contact with that week.  Time of death, physical evidence at the crime scene, time of travel for Neil, any telephone calls, computer entries, credit card bills, airline reservations, and Neil’s contact with others will become critically important.  Evidence related to Neil’s automobile and his interactions with former “clients” of his alleged Internet business will also need be identified and interviewed.

It’s been reported that Neil refused to be interviewed by Massachusetts authorities, during their recent trip to the U.K.  Authorities, therefore, may have to solve this double murder without his assistance and cooperation. Should authorities believe Neil is somehow involved, it will be challenging to get him back to the U.S.  As a British citizen, the U.S. and the local Massachusetts authorities will to need prepare a compelling case to persuade British authorities to extradite him back to the America.  Even though Massachusetts does not have the death penalty (something that would probably preclude Neil's extradition), it will still take time and work to get him back to the States, to include involving the US State Department and the British Foreign Office.  In the meantime authorities must look at what enemies the Entwistles may have had, especially related to Neil's alleged Internet schemes, scams, and other pyramid-type sales while British Police continue to follow his every movement.  One report suggests that at least one of his Internet sites was shut down on or about Jan. 9, probably around the time the Entwistles moved into their $2,500 a month rental house.  Some web sales "customers" were angry at being cheated by Neil (noting some Internet accounts may have been in Rachel's name).  But were any of those allegedly cheated by Neil angry enough to kill Rachel and their daughter?  It has also been reported that the family dog was found alive in the Entwistle’s home.  Was this because the dog was no threat, or was it because the dog offered no obvious emotional link to the offender, or the killer just saw no need to kill the dog, after all, it couldn’t testify against the killer, but neither could Lillian…

This is going to be a tough case without Neil Entwistle's cooperation, and tougher still due to the potential forensic contamination of the crime scene.  We've seen similar forensic investigative challenges in the death investigations of Nicole Brown Simpson, Ron Goldman, Jon Benet Ramsey, and many others.  Although many believe that Neil is the logical suspect, or “person of interest,” it is up to investigators and scientists to prove their case.  Meanwhile, Neil stays back in the good old U.K., perhaps drinking a pint or two while he too waits for the results of the U.S. investigation that he, apparently, refuses to assist.  Some understand why he did not return for the funeral, after all, his presence could have made that solemn and sad occasion into a media circus.  He is, after all, innocent until proven otherwise, but are his actions those of an innocent man?  Hopefully time will tell.

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