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Rare killing stirs remorse in Vermont villagers

Residents in Woodstock thought  51-year-old vagabond was harmless — until he was charged in woman's death. Now some wonder if  killing could've been prevented.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Some coins here, a couple of lottery tickets there, a wallet stolen from a parked car, some food taken from a vacant house.

When a rash of break-ins and burglaries hit earlier this year, lots of people here figured it was probably just Charles "Punky" Haynes, stealing to keep body and soul together.

Some of the thefts went unreported, or blamed on Haynes, a 51-year-old vagabond with a name for sleeping off alcohol binges under a covered bridge, or in unoccupied vacation homes.

He was homeless, but harmless. So everyone thought.

That was before 79-year-old Raynetta Woodward was found dead in her trailer — beaten with a hammer as she made biscuits one afternoon — and DNA evidence pointed to Haynes.

Now, he's charged in her death and his arrest has some thinking the killing could've been prevented — if folks had reported the earlier thefts, or if police investigating them had been able to find and arrest Haynes as the culprit.

‘Feeling a little bit of guilt’
"I think there's a lot of remorse," said Roberta Hutt, 64, Haynes' former landlord. "I'm sure we're all feeling a little bit of guilt."

Haynes, of Bridgewater, has pleaded not guilty and is being held on $250,000 bail. His lawyer, Kevin Griffin, didn't return calls seeking comment for this article. Haynes, who is at Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield, is not allowed to receive telephone calls.

Murder is rare in Woodstock, a picturesque town of 3,133 people whose tony boutiques, historic inns and restored architecture draws upscale visitors from Boston, New York City and points south. The last murder happened in 1986.

"It's a quiet New England village," says Police Chief Byron Kelly.

Here, even petty crimes are news. And the break-ins — mostly in neighboring Bridgewater — in the months before Woodward's killing unnerved people.

"Typically, what was being taken in the burglaries — a majority of which were unoccupied and unlocked — were food, small amounts of money — basically, just things somebody would take to get them through their daily existence," said Capt. David Covell, chief criminal investigator for the Vermont State police.

"In some of these cases, other than what was consistent with his M.O., there wasn't anything definitive to link him to these burglaries. Troopers would say 'Well, we suspect it's Charlie Haynes, who's lived in this area his whole life.' He's a longtime Bridgewater resident and this is typically what he did," Covell said.

'We know it's Punky'
Haynes' name kept popping up. A June 22 forum on the crime wave drew about 30 people to the Bridgewater Grange hall, where Vermont State Police Trooper Eric Hudson appealed for help from residents, some of whom said they either suspected Haynes in the thefts or had actually caught him in the act but never reported it.

"Everyone was saying 'We know it's Punky,'" said Phil Camp, publisher of the Vermont Standard, a local weekly that covered the forum. At least two victims came forward and signed complaints. Now, police were ready to arrest Haynes — if only they could find him.

"The pattern seemed to be that Mr. Haynes, since he was living hand-to-mouth, would resurface in very brief intervals and then go back into the woods," said Covell. "It wasn't as easy as going to a known address, or someplace where someone works, or to the house of someone they were friends with."

Haynes had had scrapes with the law, but nothing major — and nothing violent: a petty conviction in 1980, a marijuana conviction in 1984, and a 1996 conviction for furnishing alcohol to a minor.

He knew Woodward and had done work for her, weed-whacking outside the trailer she lived in, on unpaved Curtis Hollow Road, according to police.

"He's very quiet," said Hutt, who rented a room to him for 18 months and kicked him out, she said, because he was stealing. "He's not a violent person at all. We all have had a hard time picturing this. He wouldn't have hurt her. I know he wouldn't."

Great-grandmother struck in head
A white-haired great-grandmother and avid seamstress, Woodward was known for her feisty attitude and her beautiful quilts.

Police say that on July 1, she was preparing to bake biscuits for her brother-in-law — who lives next door — when she was attacked. The in-law, Lawrence Woodward got curious about why it was taking so long and walked next door, finding the biscuit dough on the table, blood on the kitchen floor and Woodward under a pile of blankets.

She'd been struck in the head. A bloody hammer was nearby.

A former roommate of Haynes' told police that Haynes had called him after the killing, sounding nervous, according to a police affidavit. Haynes, he said, asked for a ride "to get out of here."

Police found Haynes later that day, in a nearby field. Initially cited for trespassing and burglary, he was later charged with second-degree murder after DNA tests on a blood stain from his pants matched Woodward's.

Police also said Haynes was carrying $470 in cash when he was arrested, an amount missing from Woodward's money belt.

At Haynes' arraignment, Griffin declined to comment on the case. Woodward's relatives, including five sons, a daughter, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, also declined to comment, saying they do not want to jeopardize the case against Haynes.

Prosecutor Robert Sand believes that if people had come forward sooner to talk about Haynes' prior activities, things might've turned out differently. But he acknowledges that that's impossible to know.

"One of the things that is evident and unfortunate is that it seems some people knew about his activities, but didn't report them to the police," said Sand. "That's too bad in light of what has unfolded."

Not everyone buys the idea.

"It's really unfair, speaking theoretically, to say that this somehow could've been prevented," said Covell, the criminal investigator.