Attack with machete, knife called planned, arbitrary
By Peter Schworm and John R. Ellement, Globe Staff | October 7, 2009
MONT VERNON, N.H. - The four small-town teenagers arrested yesterday in the brutal killing of a 42-year-old nurse and the maiming of her 11-year-old daughter stole upon a house they chose at random, solely because of its isolation on a forested patch of land along a dirt road, prosecutors say. They came in the dark of very early morning with a knife and a machete, intent on killing anyone they found inside.
They found Kimberly Cates, who was hacked to death in her bed, and her daughter, who sustained “very, very serious injuries,’’ inside the house around 4:30 a.m. Sunday, authorities said.
The sixth-grader underwent extensive surgery at Children’s Hospital in Boston and is expected to survive. David Cates, Kimberly’s husband and the girl’s father, was away on business at the time of the attack, and rushed home to be at his daughter’s bedside.
The grisly attack, described as both premeditated yet bizarrely arbitrary, was coldly planned, prosecutors say, and executed by a group of troubled teenagers who, on the surface at least, had little in common - and had no connection to the victims.
“They picked the house at random because it was in an isolated area,’’ prosecutor N. William Delker said yesterday during the teens’ arraignments in Milford District Court. “Before they entered the home, all four defendants were aware that the intent was to kill the occupants.’’
Prosecutors charged Steven Spader, 17, and Christopher Gribble, 19, with first-degree murder and attempted murder. They did not enter pleas, the customary practice for serious crimes in New Hampshire, and were ordered held without bail.
The two other teenagers - William Marks, 18, and Quinn Glover, 17 - face charges of burglary, conspiracy to commit burglary, and armed robbery, although prosecutors said both were armed with deadly weapons and were willing participants in the lethal scheme.
Prosecutors did not specify why Marks and Glover were not charged with murder but did not present evidence that they attacked Cates or her daughter.
Residents and friends described the teenagers as a group of disaffected youths led by Spader, a high school dropout who was frequently in trouble with the law over the past several months and saw himself as a kind of gang leader. Gribble, who was home-schooled and, like Spader, once a Boy Scout, wrote on his Facebook page about a fondness for “anything sharp’’ and posted a photo of himself smiling as he held his favorite knife. Marks was described as a troubled and malleable teenager whose behavior had taken a worrisome turn after he met Spader earlier this year.
At yesterday’s court appearance, prosecutors said Spader drove to the Cates home and wielded the machete, drawing gasps from the gallery. Spader, who wore baggy powder-blue basketball shorts, stood expressionless during the proceedings.
Spader has a lengthy criminal record, court records show. In August he served 13 days in jail after admitting he had waved a tire iron at a group of teenagers after ramming their car in a chase. He also faces charges of possessing stolen stereo equipment.
His record includes convictions for trespassing, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest, all within the past several months. He had been scheduled to be arraigned today on marijuana possession charges.
In an interview at his home in Amherst, N.H., Marks’s father said that he “rued the day’’ he met Spader and that the teen acted as though he were a gang leader. He said that he worried about Spader’s influence over his son.
Gribble, in his Facebook profile, expressed a fondness for weapons, especially swords and knives. According to a report in the Nashua Telegraph, he also wrote that he was prone to extreme anger.
“Although everyone has a light and a dark side, mine are very extreme,’’ Gribble posted. “If I like you (or at least don’t dislike you) I’m the sweetest nicest person ever. But heaven help you if I truly lose it. It’s not pretty.’’
His last status update, according to the newspaper, came Sunday at 10:58 a.m., hours after the killing. He wrote that he had enjoyed hanging out with two friends watching “Dexter,’’ a television show about a serial killer.
Gribble, who lives near Spader in Brookline, N.H., a small town about 10 miles south of Mont Vernon, was accused of stabbing Cates with a knife. Autopsy results showed that Cates died from multiple sharp injuries to the head, torso, left arm, and left leg.
Glover’s lawyer, Peter Anderson, described his client as a solid high school student without a prior criminal record, and said there was no evidence that Glover acted violently.
Prosecutors countered that Glover and Marks were both armed with a deadly weapon, and that all four knew the plan was to kill anyone at the home.
“He [Glover] went along with them willingly,’’ Delker said. Glover and Marks were held on $500,000 bail.
The crime holds an eerie resemblance to the 2001 murders of Dartmouth College professors Half and Susanne Zantop, who were fatally stabbed in their New Hampshire home by two small-town teenagers they did not know.
Police did not describe the circumstances behind the arrest, but friends and residents said that Spader and Gribble, in particular, were seen as ominous figures.
“I had heard stories of the trouble he had gotten into,’’ said Andrew Doyle, who went to high school with Spader. “I was shocked when I heard, but it still seemed plausible.’’
Mary Jennings, superintendent of the school district that Cates’s daughter attended, said the youngster, a black belt in karate, was known as a “very strong, happy young lady,’’ who had been at a school dance the night before.
“She was very engaged in school and very happy with her friends,’’ she said. Jennings said the girl, who has taken karate lessons for several years, was “greatly missed by her classmates.’’
Friends said Cates, a registered nurse who worked at several area hospitals, was a friendly spirit who was often seen running around the neighborhood.
“She was very energetic, and she put me to shame as a runner,’’ said Paul Apple, a neighbor and town selectman. “She was giving me a hard time, good-naturedly teasing me.’’
Apple, like many residents, was struggling to make sense of the crime, the town’s first homicide in at least two generations.
“It’s an uncomfortable moment when you realize life is an uncertain game no matter where you are,’’ he said. “People came to Mont Vernon because they believed it was safe, and now this happens.’’
Apple, 41, a father of three, said he did not regularly lock his doors, but has started to.
Other residents were similarly unnerved, saddened by a sense that life in their quiet village had unalterably changed.
“My wife just called, and said ‘I just want to wrap up the kids and run away,’ ’’ said Wesley Robertson. “But I guess we can’t do that.’’
Martin Finucane of the Globe staff and correspondents Michaela Stanelun and Jack Nicas contributed to this report. Peter Schworm can be reached at email@example.com