March 18, 2010

Man charged in grisly killings

By DAVID HENCH and GREGORY D. KESICH Staff Writers

NEWRY -- Maine State Police today will resume their search for answers into what provoked a shooting rampage over Labor Day weekend, in which police say a 31-year-old cook burned a man's body after killing him and then dismembered three women he shot later.

Christian Nielsen remains at the Oxford County Jail, charged in one of the grisliest murders in recent Maine history, a crime that has left this tourist town reeling with shock and loss. Three of his victims were well-known professional women in the Bethel area. Two of them left behind young children.

The women's bodies were found outside the Black Bear Bed & Breakfast, where Nielsen was renting a room. The carcasses of three golden retrievers were found inside.

Police say Nielsen has been cooperative since his arrest Monday night, but concede that they still don't know why a man with almost no criminal record could suddenly turn so violent.

''The police didn't get involved until Monday,'' said Deputy Attorney General William Stokes. ''How it happened, when it happened and why it happened is still unclear.''

Police believe that Nielsen, a line cook at the Sudbury Inn on Main Street in Bethel, shot James Whitehurst of Batesville, Ark., on Friday night, burning the body and hiding the remains in deep woods a few towns away in Upton.

Whitehurst and Nielsen - who acquaintances described as ''an awkward loner'' - were renting rooms from Julie Bullard, 65, owner of the bed and breakfast on Monkey Brook Road near the Sunday River ski area. Bullard had been painting the 1830 inn, a smart, white 2 1/2-story building with a swimming pool and tennis court, and was trying to sell it.

Nielsen had been staying there for about two months, Whitehurst for about a month.

Police, who spent several hours interviewing Nielsen on Monday night, said Tuesday that he killed Julie Bullard at the inn on Sunday, though it's unclear whether it was before or after the shift he worked at the restaurant.

Friends say that on Monday, Bullard's daughter Selby Bullard, 31, and her friend Cynthia Beatson, 43, both area real estate agents who live in Bethel, went to check on Julie Bullard because they hadn't been able to reach her by telephone and were concerned.

Police said Nielsen killed both women. They said the three bodies were dismembered, but provided no further details.

Police first learned something was wrong at 5:34 p.m. Monday when Nielsen's stepmother called police and told them there was a body behind the Black Bear. Nielsen's parents, who live in nearby Bryant Pond, came to the bed and breakfast after talking with Nielsen on the telephone. She said Nielsen had told his father that he had killed four people, according to a police affidavit filed in Oxford County Superior Court.

''It's a crime of horrific proportions,'' said Col. Craig Poulin, chief of the state police.

News of the killings swept through Bethel and Newry on Tuesday, making some residents wonder if the peaceful mountain towns will ever be the same.

Dorothy Duddy, a Bethel real estate broker who knew three of the victims, said the tightly knit western Maine towns of Newry and Bethel were in a state of shock. ''We are a small community, and up until today, we were in a paradise,'' she said.

Nielsen, who grew up in the Farmington area, smiled slightly and raised his eyebrows Tuesday afternoon as he was led past news cameras in Oxford County Superior Court in South Paris to his initial appearance before a judge.

Tall and thin with closely cropped light hair and a tattoo on the back of his neck, Nielsen wore a bulletproof vest over a jail- issue orange jumpsuit. His lawyer, Ron Hoffman, said police took that precaution because of the nature of the case and not any specific threat against Nielsen.

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