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Unsolved Burns murder still haunts Wolfeboro community

CHERYL TAYLOR of Rethreads Used Clothing in Wolfeboro has placed a notebook to collect memories of Stacey Burns on a shelf in her shop. It will eventually be given to Burns’ mother to share in the community’s memories of her daughter. Taylor says, the pink sparkly shoes, beaded bag and spray of flowers are a tribute to Burns’ personality and spirit. (Elissa Paquette photo) (click for larger version)
August 20, 2009
WOLFEBORO — Since the May 10 murder of Stacey Burns, a 41-year-old mother of five and school nurse in Wolfeboro, few facts have come to light about the case. The police remain silent and Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Strelzin, who has been in charge of the investigation since that tragedy on Mother's Day, has offered no suspects or time line for resolution of the mystery. But the story is not just about who robbed Burns of her life and sentenced her family to deal with the loss, it's about the repercussions in the community.

Cheryl Taylor, owner of Rethreads Resale Clothing on Mill Street, knew Burns as a sunny, playful customer, who was a sucker for anything pink. She'd come in often to explore and would see something and have it on to see if it fit, "before she came around the other side," says Taylor wistfully.

The conversation usually turned to their children, and the two would celebrate and commiserate with others joining in. After the murder, Taylor set up a spiral notebook for visitors to use to share their thoughts with the family.

Taylor says some were not able to bring themselves to the task until some time passed, and new thoughts are still shared. A summer visitor who remembered Burns' cheerful chatter, wrote a note to Taylor describing the idea of a community journal for Burns' mother as a gift "better than flowers and better than dollars… a way to keep the kids as a priority and keeping her love for them alive through everyone in the community."

There has been talk, too, of establishing a scholarship fund in Burns' name for an aspiring student in the field of medicine, as a means to keep her memory alive.

On the darker side, people speculate about who could do such a thing, and how, and they wonder if the case will ever be solved.

In a recent call to Strelzin, he assured that the case is ongoing and says that information still comes in regularly. In a recent interview on WMUR TV, marking the passage of three months since the murder, he remarked that a cold case is one that has run out of leads, and that is not the situation with the Burns' murder investigation.

Jim Vittum, a long time friend of Burns and her family and Burns' ex-boyfriend since last April, gave the most revealing look so far at the process in an interview with reporter Paula Tracy of the Manchester Union Leader.

According to the article, Vittum said he was at the house on Saturday, May 9, until 11:30 p.m. watching a movie with Burns and that he returned the next morning at 7 a.m. for coffee before Burns was to take one of her daughters to a lacrosse game. He said he left when there was no answer but returned when she did not show up at the local game, where both their daughters were to play, only to find police and rescue personnel vehicles in the driveway. Burns was dead.

Tracy quotes Vittum as saying, "My life will never be the same. The next eight days were surreal. The whole experience has changed who I am. I thought of myself as a pretty nice guy until then. Now I'm an angry person, short-tempered, quick and very sad."

The article says that Vittum recounted that the police interviewed him for 14 hours, "pulled the drains out of his house, scanned his hands, seized his car, clothes and other objects and subjected him to a polygraph test, which he failed. He said he did not know why he failed the test."

Phone calls to Vittum for an opinion as to the accuracy of the article and whether he felt he was represented fairly, have been unanswered. A call to his lawyer also was not returned.

It should be noted that Vittum is one of more than 50 people said to have been interviewed about their relationship with Burns and their whereabouts on that fateful weekend, according to a Granite State News interview with Strelzin in early June.

Online comments from local readers of the July 24 Union Leader article generally expressed a wait-and-see attitude and concern that not everything reported could be trusted. A Wolfeboro reader commented, "I hope the truth does come out but the reality is there are far too many players involved in this whole mess. No one seems to be mentioning the key club [swingers] that many people in the quiet town of Wolfeboro are a part of, but no one wants to talk about."

Police have not suggested a connection between Burns' death and a so-called key club, but names of alleged participants persistently surface as members of the public speculate about the case.

The stark and only fact presented to the public so far has been the press release from the Attorney General's Office declaring that Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas A. Andrew determined "the cause of death as stab wounds and the manner of death as homicide."

Though lives have been altered by the tragedy, Taylor says that, "Whoever took her life is only responsible for killing her physical body, but her positive energy is alive within us." Taylor's memory book is one means for healing.

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