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Murder in Nantucket

A beautiful woman had brains, a multimillion-dollar business, and a brand new love in her life. So who would want her dead?
/ Source: NBC News

Manhattan and Nantucket -- two islands less than an hour apart by air, but two very different worlds.This fall, those two worlds collided. A love affair that had started just seven weeks earlierbetween two sophisticated New Yorkers ended, according to police, violently in a quaint cottage on Nantucket. That's where Beth Lochtefeld, a millionaire businesswoman, was allegedly murdered by Tom Toolan -- someone she had thought would be the love of her life. Now friends and family in New York and on Nantucket are left asking: could a romance that seemed so right go so tragically wrong? Dateline NBC's Edie Magnus reports.

Exclusive Nantucket, with it's tranquil beaches and cobble stone streets invites its residents to live the simple life. It was the prospect of that simple life that lured 44-year-old Beth Lochtefeld to this small island off the coast of Massachusetts last spring. She'd come back to the place of her childhood, and magically seemed to find the one thing that had eluded her: a man who shared her passions, a man with whom she could build a life in this place so special to both of them. But it didn't turn out that way.

Chief William Pittman: “How could this happen here? This has not happened before in many people's memories.”

By all accounts Beth Lochetefeld -- the third of five children -- lived a charmed and extraordinary life. She had a sharp mind and a playful spirit, a close knit family and many good friends. Bernadette Feeney was among them.

Bernadette Feeney: “She was the type of person you wanted to be friends with. She was so selfless, she loved life, loved to have a good time, and she was so generous with her gifts.”

After graduating with a degree in American Studies from Notre Dame, she traveled the world, and later built a wildly successful architectural consulting firm from the ground up.   

Richard Oemler: “It's not easy to build a business in New York City. It's a very tough place. And she built a multimillion dollar business. That says an awful lot about her.”

Richard Oehmler, a close friend of her brother, knew Beth for more than 20 years. He remembers a phone call from her when he was diagnosed with acute leukemia.

Richard: “The call stands out in my mind because where most people call and ask, ‘How you feeling? How did this happen? You know, what can I do for you?’ Beth said, ‘How are we going to beat this thing? How are we going to beat this? I'm in the boat with you.’ That really captures her spirit.”

Friends say Beth was just as apt to lavish loving attention on a total stranger, as she did an elderly woman in her Manhattan apartment building who died with no family or friends nearby.

Elizabeth Gleick: “Beth took it upon herself to plan a memorial service at a nearby chapel.”

Elizabeth Gleick is an assistant managing editor at People magazine, which put Beth's story on its cover. 

Elizabeth: “She went through the woman's belongings and found photographs of her and put together some photos for her for the ceremony, and took care of her in death. This is something in New York that doesn't happen very often.”  

Richard says it was perhaps because of Beth's high personal standards that, at 44, she hadn't found her soul mate yet.

Richard: “To spend the rest of her life with somebody, that person really had to live up to those standards.”

But those closest to her say while Beth certainly wanted to find a husband, she wasn't waiting around for that to happen. She sold her business and moved to Nantucket to be closer to her family. She was doing philanthropic work and writing an inspirational book entitled “Tell Me About Your dreams” -- which featured artwork by her father.       

And as fate would have it, it was here, it seemed, that the one missing piece of her life showed up. This past Labor Day, Beth Lochtefeld met 37-year-old Tom Toolan in the kitchen of their mutual friend, Bernadette Feeney. Feeney says Beth and Tom's attraction was immediate.

Bernadette: “There was this palpable energy between them from the get-go immediately. And talking to her on the phone she said, ‘I finally met my match.’"

Toolan certainly seemed to have all the right credentials. He'd grown up in New York City, attending private schools, then graduating from Columbia University. He sold cars for a while after college, but had his sights set on Wall Street and eventually landed a job at Smith Barney. Friends say he was quite charismatic, loved to write and had a passion for the arts.

Bernadette: “And she you know called me up and said, ‘He could talk about Vivaldi.’”

Kate Davis: “He almost had a kind of teddy bear-like lovely quality that's hard to find.”

Kate Davis and David Heilbroner have lived in the apartment next door to Toolan in New York for the past five years.

David Heilbroner: “He was the picture of the affluent yuppie on the Upper West Side. Tom was 6'2, 6'3, built like a linebacker and dressed always dressed really well.”

And on New York's Upper West Side, Toolan was quite the man about town.

Becky Hammons: “I thought flowers, how nice.”

Becky Hammons, a bartender at Blondies Sports Bar, dated Toolan once.

Becky: “And we had plans to go to dinner at the New York Athletic Club and I thought, well that's nice. He's very charismatic, he's very smart, he told me all about he went to Columbia, his family is all Ivy League-educated.”

But Tom Toolan had had one well-publicized bump in the road--he was arrested for trying to steal an $80,0000 Roman bust from a Park Avenue antique show. He pled guilty to disorderly conduct and his attorney described the incident as a harmless drunken prank. But it did cost Toolan his job at his current employer, Citigroup, and he'd had some trouble keeping a foothold in the financial world ever since.

But that didn't cause Beth Lochtefeld to turn away. By all accounts she was crazy for him.

Bernadette: “She said, ‘I just love this guy.’ She said he was very protective of her, and she loved the way she felt in his arms.”

They were two single people who'd been looking for love for a long time and suddenly seemed to have found it.  

Bernadette: “The last time that I saw them together she held my gaze, you know, and she said, ‘I've never been happier in my life.’ As if to say, "Hold on to this.’"

Elizabeth: “They were alternating weekends at each other's homes. And it was moving very quickly.”

So much so that six weeks into the relationship, Dateline has learned Tom Toolan asked Beth Lochtefeld to marry him. Their romance was apparently one for the storybooks -- until it wasn't.

Elizabeth: “She just -- her friends said she was glowing and she was excited that he was maybe the one and then it went terribly, terribly wrong.”

In mid-October, Beth Lochtefeld and Tom Toolan had been dating for around six weeks. Long enough that mutual friends were daring to hope these two single people might be headed for a life together. He obviously thought so because he'd asked her to marry him. But Beth hesitated, saying it was too soon. Even though her friends thought she was so happy with him, privately, Beth had apparently been having some doubts.

Elizabeth: “She told her father that she was seeing oddities in him and that he wasn't necessarily the guy she thought he was.”

And it seems Beth's instincts were right. It turns out, behind the dashing good looks and charm there was another side to Tom Toolan -- a dark side that this woman says surfaced when he drank. Remember Becky Hammons -- the Manhattan bartender who said Toolan showed up on their one date with flowers?

Becky: “So, you know, all was good at the moment.”

That moment didn't last. Later that evening at a bar with her friends, she says Toolan changed.

Becky: “You know because that's when I think he's been drinking more. And his behavior turned and got very possessive and accusing me of you know, misbehavior and that, you know, that were just -- he was imagining.”

And during the taxi ride home, she says Toolan only grew more jealous and threatening.

Becky: “He was very aggressive in the cab, and he wouldn't leave me alone. He was, you know, just very- just- he was just sort of groping and aggressive. When we got there that's when I jumped out, and I ran. I literally ran across the street because he was getting out of the cab. He was - I left him in the middle of the street with the cab driver yelling at him, trying to get him to pay the fare.

Becky Hammonds never went out with Tom Toolan again, and she isn't the only woman who remembers him as her “psycho" date. Another young woman in Atlanta whom Toolan dated for several years was reportedly harassed by him. "He proposed to her", neighbors said, "but in the end she called it off and he went bonkers -- driving by her house as if he was keeping tabs on her."     

Before he met Beth Lochtefeld, Tom Toolan reportedly asked at least two women to marry him, but both said no, in part because of his drinking. Darlene Young, a woman who knew Toolan for about a year, was a dog walker for one of Toolan's former girlfriends.

Darlene Young: “Sara told me that they got engaged and then a few days later she was breaking off the engagement and saying that he has a lot of issues that he needed to take care of, among those may have been a drinking problem.

Friends say Beth knew all about Tom's drinking problem, but wasn't put off by it. They say it was in her nature to give him a chance, and after all, they'd only been dating for six weeks. And then Beth went to Tom's apartment on a Friday afternoon, October 21. Toolan's neighbors remember seeing them together.

Kate: “The door was somewhat ajar and so I remember talking briefly with Tom and I believe his girlfriend, Beth. They seemed perfectly comfortable with each other.

Merryle: “He said very clearly, ‘This is Beth.’ And, you know, so he was I guess he was trying to tell me, ‘Oh yeah. She's special, you know?’"

That was the night he proposed. But somehow, after she told him, not yet, things apparently went terribly wrong. Beth's brother later told reporters she tried to leave Toolan's apartment -- but he wouldn't let her go. 

Elizabeth: “She escaped in the middle of the night and fled back to Nantucket. At that point, she was terrified.”

Soon arriving in Nantucket, Beth went to the police, according to Chief William Pittman.

Chief Pittman: “She wanted to talk to an officer about the process for getting a protective order. It was clear that he creeped her out, but as far as anything else, she wasn't ready to go that far and she wouldn't give the officer his name.”

Beth then spends the next two nights at her brother's house. He says she was too afraid to go back home. Little does Beth know, while she's there, according to Port Authority police, a drunken Toolan goes to new York's Laguardia Airport and tries to board a plane to Nantucket. He is stopped at security with a 10-inch kitchen knife in his pocket. He's given a summons and misses the flight, so he takes the first one out the next day.

Back in Nantucket, it's now Monday morning, October 24. Beth takes a box full of Toolan's belongings and goes to a parcel shipping store.

Elizabeth: “The clerk describes her as seeming stressed out, says to the clerk, ‘This is a bunch of stuff that belongs to my psycho ex-boyfriend.’"

While Beth is at the store, Toolan is arriving at the Nantucket airport. He goes to the rental car counter where he talks to rental agent Dave Murphy.

Dave Murphy: “Dressed very well, had a scarf on that goes for a few bills and a very nice overcoat. He looked like Hugh Jackman coming out of the Waldorf.”

After renting a car, Toolan drives to a marina and buys a 4-inch fishing knife. Meanwhile, Beth, apparently thinking the situation has cooled down, returns to her rented cottage.

Elizabeth: “She told her landlady who lived next door that she was going to pick up her nephew from school at one in the afternoon.”

Around midday, the landlady says she sees someone resembling Tom Toolan approach Beth's house. An hour later she looks at the house once again and senses something is wrong.

The landlady looked out her window saw that Beth's car was still there. It was after one o'clock realized that Beth was supposed to be picking up her nephew from school, called Beth's brother.

Beth's brother calls the police. Chief Pittman says three officers are dispatched to Beth's home.

Chief Pittman: “They saw her on the floor in the front room.”

Beth Lochtefeld was lying, lifeless, on the floor of her living room. Police say she'd been stabbed repeatedly. And there was reportedly blood splattered on the walls and signs of a struggle.

Meanwhile Dave Murphy, the car rental agent remembers seeing Toolan back at the Nantucket airport returning his car just a few hours after he'd rented it.  

Dave Murphy: “He was very calm--the scarf and his attire.”

Toolan takes a flight to Hyannis, Mass., rents another car and starts driving towards New York City. But by then authorities have issued an all points bulletin for him -- and he's pulled over in Rhode Island, where police say he fails two breathalyzer tests.

Officer: “He was arraigned on driving while intoxicated charges, as well as being a fugitive from justice.

After waving extradition, Toolan was taken back to Nantucket to face murder charges in the death of Beth Lochtefeld.

Bernadette: “I still can't believe it.”

He has pled not guilty. For friends like Bernadette Feeney, it's all a blur of grief and bewilderment.

Bernadette: “I know like intellectually that it happened, but I don't believe it.”

And beautiful Nantucket has become the site of police tape and candlelight vigils. This is the first murder here in more than 20 years.

Hundreds of mourners came to Beth Lochtefeld funeral on the island to say goodbye. Still more carrying candles in her memory stood outside a shelter for victims of domestic abuse. In New York City as well, a memorial service was held to honor an extraordinary woman, taken brutally and much too soon.

Richard: “She made me feel like a special person. At the memorial I suddenly, here was a whole church full of people who felt exactly the same way.”

Bernadette: “I loved her. And I'm glad I told her I loved her. I feel blessed to have been on this planet at the same time she was, and that our paths had crossed. And I believe something really powerful and good will come of this tragedy.”