A1 A1
top story
Court rules details on Hinsdale double murder will stay sealed

Six months after two people were murdered in Hinsdale, officials are refusing to release an affidavit with the basic facts of the case.

The affidavit, which remains under seal, likely summarizes why investigators believed they had sufficient information to charge Derrick E. Shippee, 28, of Westmoreland, with the murders of Neal Bolster, 29, and Aaliyah Jacobs, 19, earlier this year.

The two Hinsdale residents were found shot dead in Bolster’s Plain Road home on April 11. A day later, Shippee surfaced in Vernon, Vt., dead of what was later ruled an accidental overdose. Law enforcement authorities had already obtained arrest warrants charging him with the murders, but Shippee had yet to be arrested and so never appeared in court.

Details about the case have been sparse ever since. Officials have not described the evidence that links Shippee to the killings or said what they believe his motive was.

The Sentinel has filed two motions in recent months seeking access to the affidavit, which investigators submitted to a local judge to convince him to issue arrest warrants for Shippee.

The N.H. Attorney General’s Office has opposed those requests, contending that making the affidavit public would compromise what it says is an ongoing investigation into the murders.

“The New Hampshire State Police and the Hinsdale Police Department continue to actively investigate the circumstances surrounding the homicides of Neal Bolster and Aaliyah Jacobs,” Assistant Attorney General Jesse O’Neill wrote in an objection to The Sentinel’s latest motion. “If the arrest warrant affidavit is unsealed, there is a substantial chance that potential witnesses’ testimony may be tainted by the disclosure of information contained within the affidavit.”

Judge David S. Forrest of the 8th Circuit Court District Division in Keene has declined to unseal the affidavit, citing the ongoing investigation. He denied The Sentinel’s most recent motion Monday, after hearing closed-door testimony about the investigation from Hinsdale Police Chief Todd A. Faulkner.

Afterward, Forrest said he was satisfied “at least for today that there is an ongoing, active investigation.”

Court documents like affidavits are presumed public. But judges can keep them sealed if convinced that the potential harm of disclosing the records outweighs the public’s interest in seeing them.

In the Shippee case, the information in the affidavit is “still being actively worked upon” by police, Assistant Attorney General Heather Cherniske said in court Monday. Cherniske said the affidavit must remain sealed to protect that investigation.

“There is an active investigation, and in a double homicide it takes time,” Faulkner said after the hearing. He said officials’ aim is not to keep information from the public, but to make sure that the investigation is done properly.

Forrest said The Sentinel could renew its motion in 90 days.

‘No contact’

Though little has been said about the murders themselves, prior court cases and other records reveal some details about Shippee, the victims and the weeks leading up to their deaths.

Bolster was on parole for an attempted armed robbery at Chesterfield Gorge in April 2011, which ended with a man being shot nonfatally in the chest. After serving about five years in N.H. State Prison, Bolster was released March 31, 2016. He returned to prison twice in 2018 for parole violations, according to N.H. Department of Corrections records.

The second of those stints lasted about seven months, ending March 7, when New Hampshire released Bolster into the custody of the Vermont Department of Corrections. He faced several pending criminal cases in that state.

Bolster left custody the following day, after posting bail, according to Vermont Department of Corrections records.

Bolster’s pending cases included an allegation of domestic violence from 2017 and charges that he participated in the June 2018 sale of fentanyl to Connor Rusin, a 25-year-old from Wilmington, Vt., who later overdosed and died.

He was also charged with violating a court order that he was to have no contact with Jacobs following an incident in which he allegedly assaulted her. (The 2017 domestic-assault case involved a different alleged victim.)

Court records and police reports indicate Jacobs had stayed at 240 Plain Road in Hinsdale in December 2017 and at least part of 2018. In a form filed in court in late 2017, she described Bolster as her “husband,” though her Facebook page later listed her as single.

In the days before their deaths, officials on both sides of the state line grew concerned by reports that Jacobs and Bolster were spending time together, despite the court-ordered no-contact provision.

In an April 9 email to Bolster’s parole officer, Windham County State’s Attorney Tracy Shriver wrote that she had “heard reports that he is consuming illegal drugs and spending time with the victim of record in his pending Vermont case,” later clarifying that she meant Jacobs.

The parole officer, Ryan Conover, responded that he had heard similar reports of drug use and was due to see Bolster the following day.

He added that Jacobs’ mother had called him to say her daughter was spending time with Bolster, though Jacobs herself denied that. “I have also told Bolster that he is to have no contact with Ms. Jacobs and if I find out that he is, he will be going back to prison,” Conover wrote. The email exchange was first reported by the Brattleboro Reformer.

Shriver had also reached out to Faulkner, the Hinsdale police chief, that day, and he wrote back late that afternoon. “We have had contact with both together on more than one occasion,” Faulkner wrote in the email, which The Sentinel obtained through a public-records request.

He added that police were investigating Bolster for possible drug sales.

“We are looking at Bolster for a drug sales complaint and would like a little time to make this happen as the information is good and we possibly have someone that can get a buy into him,” Faulkner wrote.

Bolster and Jacobs were found dead two days later. At the time, neighbors said they tended to see an unusual number of cars come and go from the house at odd hours.

A previous arrest

Shippee had also been suspected of having ties to drug activity in the region, according to police reports reviewed by The Sentinel.

Brattleboro police officer Sean Wilson pulled over Shippee and a woman for an alleged motor-vehicle violation in October 2017, according to affidavits and other documents written by Wilson.

Wilson wrote that he found suspected heroin and crack cocaine on Shippee and in the vehicle. A subsequent search of their apartment on Moore Court in Brattleboro yielded a nine-millimeter handgun, ammunition, a digital scale, more than 2,500 bags of heroin, 76 grams of cocaine, 111 grams of crack cocaine and $3,353 in cash, according to Wilson.

But Shriver, the state’s attorney, ultimately declined to prosecute the case, according to a handwritten note in Brattleboro police files dated February 2018.

Shriver told the Brattleboro Reformer earlier this year that the case had “significant problems.” “The constitutional violations in that investigation were significant enough that I could not file the case,” she said, according to the paper.

Reached Monday, Shriver confirmed her office never filed the case, but declined to comment further on the decision because she did not have the details of the two-year-old arrest on hand.

A Brattleboro Police Department official told the Reformer that the issues had to do with the traffic stop and how Wilson obtained consent to perform searches.

Wilson has not worked at the department since November 2018.

Shippee’s previous run-ins with police included a reckless-conduct case in Hillsborough County, in which the then 19-year-old Hinsdale resident was accused of accidentally shooting a friend in the leg in Milford in November 2009. The charges were later dropped or dismissed.

Shippee was also accused of a 2011 burglary in Westmoreland. The case ended with him pleading guilty to a misdemeanor count of receiving stolen property.

Cecily Weisburgh / Sentinel Staff 

It’s primary day in Keene today, an opportunity for voters to cast ballots and whittle the fields in the mayor and City Council races. The general election will be held next month. This morning, right to left, Art Bingham, Maggie Rice, Carl Babbitt, Sen. Jay Kahn, Liam Henderson and Craig Henderson hold signs supporting candidates outside the Ward 3 polls at Keene Middle School Tuesday morning.

Republicans assail Trump's decision to pull troops from northern Syria; Turkey readies offensive

WASHINGTON — Republicans in Congress assailed President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria’s border with Turkey on Monday, warning that a threatened Turkish invasion would lead to a dangerous resurgence of the Islamic State, the slaughter of U.S. allies in the region and a boon for American adversaries.

Calling the decision “a major blunder,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., usually a staunch defender of Trump’s foreign policy, said in an interview that it was “an impulsive decision that has long-term ramifications” and “cuts against sound military and geopolitical advice.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., urged Trump to “exercise American leadership” and warned that “a precipitous withdrawal” would benefit Russia, Iran and Syrian President Bashar Assad, and increase the risk that the Islamic State would “regroup.”

Some senior officials at the Pentagon said they were blindsided by the decision, the second time in less than a year that Trump has upended U.S. strategy in Syria after a telephone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Defense officials and observers on the ground said the small contingent of U.S. forces had already begun withdrawing from the border area. The troops were participating in joint patrols under a U.S.-Turkish agreement to establish a safe zone on the Syrian side that now appears to be moot.

A senior administration official, who spoke to reporters on the condition of anonymity, said the 50 to 100 troops in the safe-zone area would be redeployed elsewhere in Syria.

Military officials stressed that they would not provide any assistance to Turkish forces or the U.S.-allied Syrian Kurds whom Turkey has demanded leave the area. The Kurdish forces, who are lightly armed compared with the Turkish military, have fought alongside Americans for years.

One official said Americans overseeing coalition air operations over Syria, which have been conducted by a number of allied nations in addition to the United States, had stopped providing intelligence information to Turkey related to the flights and had removed Turkey from the roster of countries taking part in that mission.

By nightfall, despite Erdogan’s pledge to begin an air and ground assault on Kurdish areas, Turkish troops did not appear to have advanced. A defense official said that the U.S. military was aware of apparent bombing or shelling by Turkish forces but that it appeared to be outside the safe zone.

In a tweet Monday afternoon, Trump seemed to have second thoughts, warning that “if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey.”

At the State Department, another senior official authorized to brief reporters on the condition of anonymity denied suggestions that Trump had endorsed a Turkish incursion. “We do not support this operation in any way, shape or form,” according to the official, who said Trump rejected an appeal from Erdogan for military assistance.

Top officials, including Defense Secretary Mark Esper, said as recently as last week that they were committed to making the “security mechanism” work, a reference to the presence of U.S. personnel in the safe zone and joint patrols.

The U.S. troop presence in eastern Syria has provided a symbolic bulwark against Turkish incursions, as well as expansion by Assad’s forces and his Russian and Iranian allies into areas that Kurdish and U.S. troops have cleared of the Islamic State. In addition to concern about a militant resurgence, U.S. military officials have expressed a sense of loyalty to the Kurds.

That sense of loyalty was an important factor in Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s decision to resign in December after Trump — following a conversation with Erdogan — abruptly decided to withdraw all U.S. forces from Syria. That decision was later walked back, though the number of U.S. troops was reduced from about 2,500 to about 1,000.

Last month, as the United States and Turkey traded recriminations over Ankara’s purchase of an advanced Russian air defense system and haggled over the safe zone, the two governments continued to promote the idea that shared commercial interests could bridge their disagreements.

During a visit to Ankara in September, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said he had had an “especially productive meeting” with Erdogan that included discussions about Trump’s proposal to generate up to $100 billion in trade between the two countries.

Sunday’s call between the two leaders originated as a conversation about the air defense issue and economic cooperation.

“Erdogan then raised going into northeast Syria, claiming that the safe zone mechanism that we’d set up and were executing was not meeting his needs and he wanted to do a unilateral operation,” the State Department official said. But “there was no specific indication at this time he would push the button, and we still don’t know in the end what he’s going to do.”

Trump’s tweet about “obliterating” the Turkish economy did not indicate what conditions he believed would merit such a response. Asked about a possible Turkish massacre of the Kurds, the senior administration official emphasized that Trump’s main concern was the safety of U.S. personnel but insisted that “the president has made it very clear there should be no untoward action with respect to the Kurds or anyone else.”

In a Sunday White House statement and Monday’s tweets, Trump suggested that the United States was shouldering too much of the burden — and the cost — of fighting the Islamic State.

He also retweeted an assertion that the Syrian Kurds are akin to Turkey’s own Kurdish autonomy movement, which both Turkey and the United States have labeled a terrorist group. That stance, part of Turkish dogma and the rationale for its planned attack, has been anathema to U.S. policy for years, especially since Syrian Kurdish fighters have served as the primary ground force against the Islamic State, with the United States providing logistical and air support. The Kurds have suffered more than 10,000 casualties in the fight.

The fast-moving developments threatened a fresh military conflagration in a large swath of northern Syria, where Ankara has been increasingly unnerved by the Kurdish presence and close U.S. ties to the fighters.

Erdogan has been threatening an imminent invasion for months, both to create a buffer against the Kurds and to provide a place where Turkey can relocate some 3.5 million Syrian refugees who have fled over the border.

The Trump administration believed that the safe-zone agreement would satisfy Turkish security demands and provide a measure of protection for the Kurds so they would continue to spearhead the ground fight against Islamic State forces, which have dispersed in Syria and Iraq. But Turkey has repeatedly complained that the zone is too small and U.S. implementation is too slow.

Despite what his own diplomats have negotiated, Trump “just wants out” of Syria in general, said an adviser who has repeatedly discussed the issue with him. “He doesn’t want to be there. He doesn’t want to pay.”

“He doesn’t believe any of his advisers that tell him that [the Kurds] are in jeopardy, that Erdogan will kill them,” the Trump adviser said. “The president has always professed to believe that Turkey and Erdogan’s ... massive military capability can contain ISIS” and protect the eastern region from Assad and his allies, despite U.S. military warnings to the contrary.

A White House statement Sunday night said that if the Turks chose to move into Syria, they — and countries in Europe and elsewhere — would be responsible for fighting the Islamic State and guarding thousands of militant prisoners the Kurds are holding in eastern Syria.

In his tweets, Trump criticized European governments that have largely refused to repatriate their own citizens who are among the captured Islamic State fighters.

In a statement Monday in Paris, French Defense Minister Florence Parly said that “we will be paying extremely close attention as to whether this announced U.S. withdrawal, as well as a potential Turkish offensive, create a dangerous diversion” that allows an Islamic State resurgence.

France’s position on repatriating prisoners, she said, “has not changed. We believe that those who committed crimes in [Syria] must be prosecuted in that country. Our position is unwavering. I am not saying anything new, just as the United States is not saying anything new.”

The United Nations has also objected to Turkey’s plans to relocate refugees, saying international law allows repatriation — unless agreed by the refugees themselves — only to the places they came from in the first place. A relatively small fraction of the Syrians in Turkey are from the arid border region.

Cecily Weisburgh / Sentinel Staff 

Tom Reynolds, right, files his ballot as Selectman James Stitham looks on at the Ward 3 polls at the Keene Middle School Tuesday morning.

top story
First vaping-related lung injury confirmed in NH

New Hampshire’s first confirmed case of severe, vaping-associated lung injury was announced Monday by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services.

The patient, whose name, age, gender and condition are being withheld by the agency for privacy reasons, is an adult from Sullivan County. The person was hospitalized, but has since been discharged, according to a news release from the department Monday.

The case is one of 1,080 confirmed nationally as of Oct. 1 from 48 states and one U.S. territory in recent months, as reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of them, 18 have been fatal. The majority of patients have been under the age of 35, and more than one-third were 20 or younger.

Vaping refers to inhaling vapor from an electronic device such as an e-cigarette, which frequently involves heating a liquid that can contain nicotine, marijuana or other substances. Those active ingredients are delivered in solvents.

People with the lung condition often experience symptoms gradually, including breathing difficulty, shortness of breath and chest pain before being hospitalized, according to the CDC. Other symptoms that have been reported are vomiting, diarrhea, fever and fatigue.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan said the New Hampshire patient had reported vaping nicotine products within the past 90 days.

Chan said this detail is important, as the latest national findings suggest marijuana-related vaping products, which contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), are playing a central role in the outbreak.

“... even though a majority of patients report vaping THC products, some have reported only vaping nicotine products. Until we have more information from the national investigation, no vaping is considered safe,” Chan said.

The department is investigating other possible cases of the lung injury in New Hampshire, he noted, but state officials do not release the number of cases being investigated because it changes too frequently to be accurate.

Across the state border, Vermont Department of Health spokesman Ben Truman said three cases in Vermont have been confirmed in the past few weeks. Twenty-three cases have been investigated in all, with three pending classification.

The N.H. Department of Health and Human Services has been working closely with health care providers and with the national investigation, Monday’s release says, to identify people affected by vaping and its potential life-threatening health complications.

The department also recently developed a free youth-focused cessation program, My Life, My Quit, targeting nicotine and tobacco vaping.

Participants will work with a coach — who has been trained on tobacco treatments and adolescent tobacco prevention — to help them build a quitting plan, the department stated in a separate news release last week.

Adults interested in quitting tobacco or nicotine products can access help through the free QuitNow-NH program.

But for those wanting to stop vaping THC products, there is no state program at this time, Chan said. The best option is to connect with a primary-care provider, he said.

To enroll in My Life, My Quit, visit www.mylifemyquit.com or call or text “start my quit” to 1-855-891-9989. Those interested in QuitNow-NH can enroll at www.quitnownh.org or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.