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Joyce Endee

Wolfeboro couple found dead in their home

August 27, 2009
WOLFEBORO — Wednesday, Aug. 19, was a sad day for those who knew John and Ethel Clarke, of 11 Anagance Lane in Wolfeboro. The couple, aged 86 and 87 respectively, were found dead inside their home.

An investigation by the State Fire Marshall's Office, with the assistance of the Wolfeboro Police and Fire Departments, has concluded that accidental carbon monoxide poisoning was the cause.

Steve Wood, a neighbor, was called to the home by a friend of the couple who had gone to the house to check on them when Ethel did not show up for a scheduled bridge game. He discovered the bodies and alerted authorities.

The Wolfeboro Fire Department responded to the call, along with the Wolfeboro Police Department and officials from the State Fire Marshall's office. The investigation was completed on Monday, according to Wolfeboro Fire Chief Philip Morrill, and the Chief Medical Examiner's Office made the final determination that the couple died of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning.

John Clarke had a career serving in the Central Intelligence Agency. Ethel Clarke served in the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Both were active in the community.

Neighbor Diane Pelletier described Ethel as, "an awesome neighbor. She was just here sitting on our porch on Sunday (the 16th). She was the sweetest, kindest person." Pelletier said that the couple's garden was "gorgeous" and said they were known to share their produce throughout the neighborhood.

She says it is hard to believe that they are gone, that it happened fast, and added, "They will be missed, absolutely."

Pelletier said that the gas detectors operated by the firefighters kept "going off like crazy" every time they tested the levels, preventing them from entering the house for almost an hour, by her estimation. Morrill, when called, deferred to the State Fire Marshall's office as the source of information, but commented that they had four gas meters set at the minimum levels.

Wood, a former volunteer firefighter, said he instinctively knew something was wrong when he opened the door, so he held his breath and was in and out of the house in less than a minute. He recommends that everyone have a carbon monoxide detector in their home, a view also stressed by Morrill and Fire Marshal J. William Degnan, who said in a press release on Monday, "Carbon monoxide is the silent killer. Having a good working carbon monoxide detector can save many lives."

Wood shared his admiration for the couple, saying, " They loved life and lived it to the fullest. They did more in a day than most of us do in a week." He remembers John working outdoors sometimes from "sunup to sundown. He was always doing something."

The family held a memorial service for the couple this Wednesday, Aug. 26, in Cate Park, led by the Rev. Jim Christensen and Debra Moore, Minister of Christian Nurture, of the First Congregational Church, UCC, in Wolfeboro.

A final report from the State Fire Marshall's Office is forthcoming.

The couple's obituaries appear on page A10 of this edition.

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