FBI Fingerprints Oversight Delays Murder Investigation 47 Years

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2019/02/21/fbi-fingerprints-oversight-delays-murder-investigation-47-years/

Justice came slow for Everett Nelson Delano, known as Red.

He was fatally shot at 9:35 a.m. Thursday, September 1, 1966 behind the desk of a gas station in Andover, New Hampshire, about 21 miles northwest of Concord, during a robbery. A friend of his who owned the station had asked him to look after it for a few hours that morning while he ran errands.

Delano, 49, left a wife and three children.

Red Delano was born in 1917 and was living in Orange, Massachusetts, on Route 2 about 15 miles east of Greenfield, in 1940, according to the federal census. He joined the U.S. Navy during World War II and stayed in afterward. In 1948 he married a fellow Orange resident, Blanche Forest, of French-Canadian ancestry.

Red Delano

The couple moved often while Red was in the Navy – including Newport, Rhode Island; Virginia, California, South Carolina, and Florida. In 1964, after he had put in his 20 years and left the Navy, presumably qualifying for a military pension, the couple settled in Wilmot, New Hampshire, just west of Andover. Red had the overnight shift as a security guard at Colby Junior College (today known as Colby-Sawyer College) in New London, New Hampshire, about a five-mile drive from the center of Wilmot.

At the gas station the killer shot him three times in the head with a .22-caliber gun — twice while he was upright, and then a third time at close range while he was lying on the floor, police determined. There were no witnesses, but a bullet had hit his watch, stopping it at 9:35.

Sanborn Garage in Andover, New Hampshire, 1966; all photos and other images from New Hampshire Attorney General’s report released Wednesday, February 20, 2019.

When the first witnesses arrived after the fact, Red was still alive. They thought he was drunk, passed out on the floor. He was making noises they thought were snoring.

1966 crime scene drawing

When state troopers got to the gas station they thought Red had been beaten up. It wasn’t until later that anyone realized he had been shot three times in the head. He was taken to the hospital in Hanover. He died the next day.

The first witnesses found the faucet in the bathroom sink still running. Police figured that the killer must have used the sink and left the water on. They lifted latent prints from the sink.

Bathroom sink at the gas station

About $75 to $100 was missing from the cash register. (That’s worth roughly $600 to $800 in today’s dollars.) But the robber missed a cash box hidden beneath the counter that had far more — $500. (That’s about $3,900 in today’s dollars.)

Police sent the prints to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“But the FBI, which had recently launched the Automated Fingerprint Identification System, never entered the fingerprints into the system. The investigation stalled by the end of the year,” states a story this week in The Union Leader.

Here’s how the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office handled that detail in a report released Wednesday, February 21:

“Typically, historic cases such as this are first examined to determine if there is any evidence from the original investigation that can be analyzed using modern forensic testing. As part of this analysis, it was discovered that the latent fingerprints collected and preserved from the bathroom sink at Sanborn’s Garage had been submitted by mail to the FBI, but they had not been entered into the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS).”

The F.B.I. could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.

With no fingerprints match, and no witnesses, and no likely suspects, the investigation petered out.

Delano’s wife, Blanche, eventually remarried. She and her second husband founded a restaurant and a gas station in the area. He died in 2004. She died in July 2006, at age 78, never having any idea who had killed Red.

Blanche and both husbands are buried together:

As for Red’s murder case …

A 1972 wire story quotes the New Hampshire attorney general of the time, Warren Rudman (1930-2012), later a U.S. senator, as saying that Delano’s death was one of only eight unsolved murders in the state at that time. There’s no evidence from the story anyone was working on it.

The state launched a Cold Case Unit in 2009, but didn’t include Delano’s case on the list of things to do – something one of Delano’s children noticed while looking at the state’s web site in 2013 and contacted police about.

“This case had not been identified in the initial organization of the CCU in 2009, likely due to its age,” the report states.

That nudge is all it took. Detectives dug out the latent fingerprints and quickly matched them to Thomas Cass — a frequent flier, as cops say, in the criminal justice system. In 2013, the year he turned 67, he was living in Orleans, Vermont, a town of about 750 people about 12 miles south of the Quebec border.

Cass had lived most of his life in Vermont, but had ties to Massachusetts – even working for a while as a roadie for Myles Connor, the Boston-area rock ‘n roll musician and art thief long thought connected to the 1990 Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum art heist. (Aside:  Connor was in prison at the time of the Gardner museum burglary on a drug conviction, but told investigators over the years that he had inside information about the theft, including, at times, the supposed whereabouts of the missing paintings and other objects – which some experts think all together could be worth $1 billion.)

Cass was born in North Brookfield, Massachusetts, about 25 miles southeast of Red Delano’s hometown of Orange, in 1946, and then moved with his parents as a small child to northern Vermont, where his folks were from. In the early 1960s he joined the U.S. Army and was stationed in Germany. He left in 1966 with a general discharge (which is less than honorable).

He came back to northern Vermont and got a job as a machine operator. On November 16, 1966, 76 days after Red Delano was shot, Cass, 20, married an 18-year-old girl from Springfield, Massachusetts at the United Presbyterian Church in Westmore, Vermont. Shortly afterward the couple moved to her hometown.

The marriage didn’t last. At some point he returned to Vermont. Sometime later — possibly much later — he got a job in maintenance for Northeast Kingdom Community Action, an anti-poverty agency that tries to improve education, income, and health among poor people. He retired in 2011, when he was 65.

He liked hanging out at the American Legion hall in Orleans as well as hunting, fishing, playing cards, and traveling to casinos.

While those might be normal pursuits for a man in his 60s, investigators in 2013 had reason to “like” Cass as a suspect in the 1966 murder of Delano, besides the fingerprints they had. In 1967, the year after Delano died, Cass had robbed a gas station in Springfield, Massachusetts with a sawed-off shotgun. The armed robbery led to one of many convictions for serious crimes, including robbery, burglary, theft, assault, and drugs.

He apparently had little trouble entering into relationships with women but more trouble keeping them going.

“Tom was very good to everyone he cared about,” a loved one later wrote.

As for everyone else …

“In an interview with one of Mr. Cass’s ex-wives, she advised that Mr. Cass grew up in an abusive family and his father was an alcoholic. When she met Mr. Cass, he portrayed himself to her as a ‘businessman and a crook’,” the attorney general’s report states. “… Also during this time, she recalled that Mr. Cass entered someone’s home and terrorized the family. Mr. Cass eventually went to prison for this incident. She told the [Cold Case Unit] investigators that Mr. Cass was a very violent person and on multiple occasions he had threatened her life. She obtained a restraining order against Mr. Cass and then divorced him. She stated that he was proud of his past criminal career and would boast about it. She believed that he would hurt people to get what he needed.”

When police interviewed Cass at his home the first time in 2013, they got conflicting information.

“When asked if he had any knowledge of the homicide in Andover, New Hampshire in 1966, he denied having any knowledge of this and claimed he did not know where Andover, New Hampshire was located. He said that he had been in New Hampshire only once, and that was Hampton, New Hampshire. In the same interview he acknowledged that he had once stolen a car in Vermont that he drove into New Hampshire,” the report states.

That was in 1971. An arrest for that crime generated a mug shot:

Thomas Cass, 1971, approximately age 25

Police interviewed him a second time, in October 2013. He provided a sample of his DNA but refused to take a lie detector.

If the second interview rattled him, he didn’t show it. But he started making preparations. He visited a lawyer about drawing up a will naming the woman he was living with (who was not one of his ex-wives) as the beneficiary.

“She reported that Mr. Cass had told her that he had never been to Andover and that he was not involved in the murder,” the report states. “However, Mr. Cass had also once told her in the past, ‘you never talk about something that has no statute of limitations.’ She also told investigators that in the past Mr. Cass had made comments about never going back to prison. He told her that he would not die in a square box.”

Those statements intrigued investigators. The only crime that doesn’t have a statute of limitations is murder.

Thomas Cass, in his 60s

Meanwhile, interviews with people who knew Cass produced details consistent with someone who might have been inclined to kill.

“Another of Mr. Cass’s ex-wives reported that she overheard a conversation with some of her husband’s associates in which they were bragging about a homicide they got away with in the 1970s of a young woman who they claimed ‘knew too much’,” the report states. “The ex-wife reported that in a separate incident she had witnessed Mr. Cass leave their home with a gun to retaliate against someone who owed him money. She also witnessed the aftermath of a brutal beating Mr. Cass inflicted [on] someone who owed him money. That individual was treated at a local hospital and released. She also described an incident in which Mr. Cass beat an individual with the butt of his gun.”

On Thursday, February 20, 2014, investigators showed up at Cass’s home a third time, unannounced. They told him they had “forensic evidence” tying him to the murder of Delano, without telling him what it was. (It was still just the fingerprints – lab technicians were unable to get DNA from the other evidence found at the scene, including a cigarette butt and a hair, but investigators probably wanted him to think they had a DNA link.)

Presented with this information, Cass’s story got shakier.

“Mr. Cass stated several times that to the best of his knowledge he had never been to Sanborn’s Garage. He then said that did not remember being at the gas station. He explained that his regular driving route from Massachusetts to Vermont did not take him into Andover, or past this gas station. He then said that it was possible that he went by Sanborn’s Garage and that he got gas there, but that he did not know when that would have been,” the report states. “When offered the opportunity to give his explanation of events, Mr. Cass requested a lawyer and the interview was terminated.”

Vermont State Police in short order raided the house with a search warrant, but found no firearms and no other evidence.

That had to be disappointing, because the case investigators had at that point was hardly airtight. They had no witnesses, no murder weapon, no DNA, nothing that tied him to the victim or the area where the crime occurred. Instead they were relying on 47-year-old fingerprints taken from a public bathroom, the suspect’s shifting stories, and his past convictions for violent crimes (which would be inadmissible in court). Letting him think they might have DNA evidence was probably meant try to get him to confess.

The tactic worked, in one sense:  Cass felt police were getting close to arresting him. His girlfriend told Cass’s sister that if she wanted to see him she should come quick.

He got some cash together and that weekend he bought a Llama .45-caliber handgun from a friend, without telling him why.

On Monday, February 24, 2014, Cass shot himself in the right side of his head, and died.

Even with their suspect was gone, police continued to investigate the Delano murder. The report mentions an interview with Cass’s final girlfriend in November 2018 that did not produce illuminating information about Cass.

It’s not clear from the report why it was released three days shy of five years after Cass killed himself, but authorities may have concluded they have gotten everything they’re going to get. They say they are satisfied they have their man.

The fingerprints, his inconsistent statements, the types of crimes he committed elsewhere, and his suicide after being questioned about the murder make authorities confident that Thomas Cass killed Red Delano.

“The evidence derived from this investigation, and all of the reasonable inferences that can be taken from that evidence, establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Cass shot and killed Mr. Delano on September 1, 1966, during the course of a robbery at Sanborn’s Garage in Andover, New Hampshire,” the report states. “…This previously unsolved homicide is now solved.”