Tuesday's arrest of Gerald T. Montgomery for the murder and sexual assault of Laura Winterbottom, a bright, artistic 31-year-old Burlington woman, has brought a big sense of relief to the inhabitants of Vermont's largest city.
The horrific crime was discovered around 7 a.m. on March 9. The victim's body was found in her Ford Focus parked behind a vacant Hyde Street residence.
Back home in Westchester County, New York, where Laura grew up, her mom, Joanne Winterbottom, told their local paper that her daughter was an avid quilter who also enjoyed painting and photography. Besides working as a caregiver to an elderly woman, Laura also taught art to elementary school children and hoped one day to become a full-time teacher.
"She was a quiet, shy person," her mother said. "But she was a good person, and she did touch a lot of lives."
Laura Winterbottom had lived in beautiful, "safe" Burlington, Vermont, for six years. In New York City you expect this, right? Happens all the time, right?
The shock of realizing that any woman in Burlington could have befallen such a murderous fate should give folks in this community pause. The sad reality is that every day is a Red Alert Day for crimes against women like this one. We all have to look out for one another, because we truly are our neighbors' keepers.
Burlington cops, as you know, have been exceptionally tight-lipped on this case. Unfortunately, the vacuum created by that official silence was quickly filled by ghastly rumors on the street and bogus journalism on local TV.
Last week, Brian Joyce, reported on WCAX-TV that police were investigating the possibility the victim met her killer through the personals section of this weekly newspaper. It quickly became a hot topic on the streets.
With police not talking to him, veteran cop reporter Joyce may have felt pressure to report something, anything, regardless of merit.
Unfortunately that may have led Mr. Joyce to tell viewers of Ch. 3's 6 o'clock news an outrageous falsehood. He did, however, issue a correction and apology on the 11 p.m. broadcast. But he limited his "mistake" to telling viewers the personal ad shown on their TV screen was not, in fact, Laura Winterbottom's personal ad, as first reported.
We'll forever wonder how Joyce's story got aired in the first place, since the facts gathered indicated the real story was: "Police Find Seven Days Personals Not Linked to Murder."
That's because Winterbottom never activated the voice greeting for her personal ad, placed in December. Therefore, it was never possible for anyone to have contacted her through that ad. Seven Days had no more of a connection to this crime than did WCAX-TV.
Burlington police were quick to discount the WCAX news report. After all, detectives had stopped by the paper one week earlier. They already knew there was no connection between the murderer and Laura's personal ad.
When Chief Tom Tremblay announced Montgomery's arrest Tuesday morning, he made a point of saying that "speculation in the media" regarding "the possibility the singles dating scene was a factor" had been proven incorrect.
Wonder if that sound bite will make the 6 o'clock news?
P.S. The apparent solving of the Winter-bottom case leaves 25 unsolved murders in Vermont. Check http://www.dps.state.vt.us/vtsp/homicide/ for details on the victims whose killers run free.
Moonie Returns -- Fresh from his two-week visit to Uruguay to visit daughter Jae Clavelle, Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle had a few choice words for yours truly Tuesday morning regarding last week's "Inside Track."
Perfectly understandable that Mayor Moonie had a little steam to let off. After all, one might suggest we had written his political obituary.
As you may recall, we broke the news that Democratic State Rep. John Tracy is a candidate for mayor. The election isn't until next March, which made Tracy's "leak" all the more interesting. John Boy says he'll be a candidate regardless of incumbent Democratic Mayor Peter Clavelle's plans.
Mayor Moonie let us know he did not appreciate our characterization of his recent unsuccessful gubernatorial bid, in which he was trounced by Republican incumbent Jim Douglas.
Clavelle insisted he'd "fought the good fight against long odds," and "articulated an effective message." Unfortunately, it got him just under 38 percent of the vote.
Clavelle said he came home last weekend to two unexpected surprises. One was UVM beating Syracuse (Clavelle is a Syracuse alumnus); the other is that "Lo and behold, while I'm out of town, the mayor's race begins!"
"I was surprised with Tracy's pronouncement," said Mayor Moonie. "I have made no decisions, but I'll also tell you I love this job and I love the city of Burlington."
Well said, Mayor, but we don't think the campaign will be about love.
Mayor Moonie, the longtime Progressive who switched to Democrat for a shot at governor, also discounted our analysis of his recent Town Meeting Day defeats. Both the YMCA move to the waterfront and the local sales tax went down in flames.
As for the YMCA defeat, Clavelle told Seven Days he did not consider the outcome "a political setback."
"Political leadership is about bringing forth new ideas," said Moonie the Mayor. "Some will be embraced, others will not."
My God, Peter sounds like a Zen priest, doesn't he?
As for voters rejecting a local sales tax to ease the tax burden on homeowners, Clavelle said he was disappointed by that result, but not shocked.
"It's a tough sell," said the Mayor. "It was perceived as being another tax on top of an already steep pile of taxes."
As for the chances he'll pull a Coach Tom Brennan and retire, Clavelle insisted what we're hearing from our sources is bad information.
"You don't hear it from me and you don't hear it from anybody who's in the know," he told yours truly.
Meanwhile, Republican Party Chairman Jim Barnett finds a Tracy vs. Clavelle contest very interesting.
"I'm eager to see," said Mad Dog, "whether or not Clavelle is willing to battle it out in a Demo-cratic primary and prove his fidelity to the party, or whether he'll just seek the Prog nomination. Then again," added Barnett, Clavelle "may reflect on his defeats at the polls in March, on top of the results of the November election, and decide he has worn out his welcome."
As for the up-and-coming John Patrick Tracy, native Vermonter, Vietnam vet and "Man of the People," the GOP chairman said he hopes John Boy's campaign for mayor "doesn't play out in the health-care committee. We need reform that works for all of Vermont, not just an ideological statement designed to appeal only to the leftist Burlington Progressives he'll need to win."
Mr. Barnett doesn't mince words, does he?
Closer to home, Tracy's out-in-the-open mayoral campaign has quickly drawn critics from all parties. The hometown crowd is suddenly wondering aloud what John Tracy ever did for Burlington?
After all, they note, Tracy's golden-boy career has been spent under the golden dome in Montpelier. Many asked where John Boy was on the YMCA vote.
We have no idea.
Jeezum Crow -- OK, folks, we're convinced. No more speculation about Independent U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords retiring anytime soon. The Jeffords for Senate Campaign's hiring of Carolyn Dwyer -- Democratic U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy's former campaign manager -- is the nail in the coffin for those eyeing a shot at an open Vermont U.S. Senate seat in 2006.
Hear that, Rep. Bernie Sanders?
Dwyer is considered a real pro by those who know her best. Of course, her two Leahy victories were over "joke" candidates: Fred Tuttle in 1998 and Jack McMullen in 2004. Neither IDX business whiz Ritchie Tarrant nor Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie would be a "joke" candidate if either decided to step up to the plate.
Meanwhile, Vermont Democrats will sit this one out. Jeezum Jim is their hero nowadays. And Jeffords proved it anew last Friday as he delivered a blistering speech on the U.S. Senate floor highlighting the sheer madness of President George W. Bush's fiscal management of the United States of America.
On Monday Jeezum Jim told Seven Days he was surprised and somewhat dismayed there hasn't been "an outpouring of anger" from the American people.
The U.S. is in the worst financial shape in its history, said Jef-fords, and "no one is screaming."
"The situation this president has put us in is severe, and it's going to be a long time before we can get this country back into good shape," said the Vermont Independent. "We have just thrown money away, especially with tax cuts, tax cuts and more tax cuts."
Bush wants even more tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, noted Jeffords, meaning years of red ink as far as the eye can see.
And he's right -- nobody is screaming. It's as if we lived in a one-party nation. He who controls the focus of the news media controls the country!
Jeezum Jim was at the opening of Spectrum's new Pearl Street facility for runaway youth on Monday. It can't be said the 70-year-old Vermonter glides across the floor with the fluid motion of a dazzling runningback, but then, Jim Jeffords never really did.
But our eyeball-to-eyeball encounter left yours truly convinced the fire still burns brightly within Jeezum Jim's heart, and his inner vision remains crystal-clear. His spirit is in fighting-trim; our junior senator looks and sounds like a man who knows he's got promises to keep and miles to go before he sleeps.
Ambassador Dubie? -- Why more people don't make a habit of watching Ch. 3's "You Can Quote Me" on Sunday mornings amazes me. Sure, generally it's pretty boring, but then there are Sundays like the recent one when Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie did things to the English language rarely heard in public.
As everyone knows, the Doobster interviewed for a Bush administration appointment about two weeks after winning the Lite-Gov's race in November. He didn't return our phone calls for a month. And when we finally confirmed the facts, he declined comment.
What we learned was that our GOP Lite-Gov is a candidate to be U.S. Ambassador to the International Civil Aviation Authority in Montreal. It's a big deal in the world of aviation and a plum assignment for an American Airlines pilot like the Doobster.
When asked about it by Ch. 3 reporter Anson Tebbetts, Dubie lit up like a Christmas tree and touted his credentials, sounding like a serious candidate for the post.
"The job is still open," said Dubie. "I'm still under consideration for the job."
He noted the organization is a subchapter of the United Nations, and that President Bush only recently appointed a new U.N. ambassador.
Brian sounded like a punt-returner who can see the end zone.
But when asked about the issue of being straight with the voters, Brian quickly blamed it all on his wife!
"When I got a phone call to interview for this job," said Dubie, "I talked to my wife, and my wife says 'they want to talk to you, go talk to them.'"
Dubie went into a rambling recital of his work as Gov-Lite and expressed his commitment to serve out his term. Unless, of course, asked Tebbetts, he gets a certain phone call?
"Well, you know," replied Doobie-Doo, "if the President of the United States calls Brian Dubie and says I need you to serve, well, you know."
Then, in his very next breath, Dubie quickly tried to cover those tracks.
"I am focused on being lieutenant governor and that is my intention. Beyond that, you know, it's kind of academic. There's a lot of different scenarios. I am very motivated to be the best lieutenant governor that I can be."
Sure you are, Brian. Whatever you say.
P.S. Good luck getting the ambassadorship. Bush could do a whole lot worse than a guy who sells Vermont maple syrup on the side.
Media Notes -- The new face with the deep voice on the local TV news scene belongs to WPTZ's Ben Stein. Ben's a Cornell grad who picked up his journalism master's at Columbia University.
Stein grew up outside Philly and previously covered politics for WMGM, the NBC affiliate in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Meanwhile, Burlington Free Press business reporter Shawn Turner is heading for Crain's Cleveland Business in Ohio. Turner's been here since December 2003. His new job means a trip home -- he grew up 45 minutes from Cleveland.
Comeback Trail -- Unusual sighting this week online. Former Times Argus Managing Editor Scott Fletcher has popped up as vice-president of communications at a Plainfield-based mail-order outfit that sells a "blueprint for a happy, successful sober life."
The blueprint costs $109. Cheap if it works, eh?
More at http://www.homerecovery.net.
Mr. Fletcher's bio leaves out mention of his dismissal from the Times Argus in 2002 for writing dramatic feature articles that read like fiction. Turned out, they were fiction. A juicy one was about a 15-year-old female Montpelier heroin junkie who did not exist.
Mr. Fletcher's wife Kristin Fletcher, a former sportswriter at the TA, is listed as the company's president.
New Boys in Town -- WVNY-TV General Manager Erik Storck tells Seven Days he expects the FCC will approve the sale of the station by the end of the month. Smith Media LLC is buying the "non-licensed assets," he said. And Michael Lambert Broadcasting of Burlington LLC is buying the rest.
Lambert, said Storck, is "a gentleman out of California who's been in the business for a long time."
Smith Media LLC also owns WFFF-TV, Fox 44. And the money behind Smith Media leads one to a Boston investment firm called Boston Ventures. More info available at http://www.bostonventures.com.
As for the possibility of WVNY getting back into the local news business, Storck said, "You never can tell. I'd sure like to do it."
Wonder if the Burlington-Plattsburgh market is ready for "Nude News?"