A CT Cop Homosexual Love Triangle and Murder?
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A New Search In 1983 Killing
Recent Forensic Tests By New York Police Reopen Cold Case
By DAVE ALTIMARI And CHRISTINE DEMPSEY | Courant Staff Writers
December 21, 2007
When police 24 years ago searched a van belonging to an East Hartford police officer in connection with the shooting death of an Andover man, they found blood-like stains on the sun visor and ceiling they weren't able to identify.
They then went to the Andover Lake cottage that the victim, Richard O'Brien, shared with the cop, Michael Fowich, and Jonathan Childress, who went on to teach elementary school in Hartford for almost 20 years until 2005.
Investigators were looking for a .22-caliber, two-shot magnum that Fowich had sold to O'Brien, according to search warrants obtained by The Courant. They never found the gun and no one was ever charged in the killing. Frustrated former investigators said the case went cold because there were no eyewitnesses, no gun was ever found and forensic capabilities at the time were far less advanced than they are today.
On Thursday, New York and Connecticut state police returned to the lake, this time to search along the murky bottom for .22-caliber bullets, the same type used to kill O'Brien on or about Oct. 21, 1983, according to sources familiar with the investigation. O'Brien's body was found along I-95 in Mamaroneck, N.Y.
Sources said that Fowich and Childress used to shoot bullets into the lake for fun. Investigators have been at the scene for the past three days. They declined to comment on what, if anything, they recovered.
"We've completed our search of the lake and the possibility exists that we can come back again," New York Lt. James Murphy said late Thursday afternoon.
Earlier, 10 officers gathered on a small, frozen section of the lake's northern tip, behind a ranch on Lakeview Drive. One cut through the ice with a chain saw; 3-foot-tall cylindrical-shaped blocks of ice stood nearby. Other investigators carefully shoveled slush, while two others searched the shallow water while partially submerged.
The long-shot search is the latest movement in a suddenly hot cold case that sources said has been reinvigorated by forensic evidence New York state police have obtained in the past half-year.
In the past few months, New York State Police detectives have visited Connecticut several times, culminating in the three-day search of the lake.
Fowich and Childress previously denied any involvement in O'Brien's death. On Thursday, Fowich, who was in police department training all day, didn't return calls for comment and avoided reporters waiting in the police lobby. Childress refused to answer his door.
Search warrants obtained 24 years ago indicate police focused the investigation on the two men and believed that a "volatile affair existed within the homosexual triangle." The affidavit noted that O'Brien had been released from prison a day before his body was found and that O'Brien's return to the Andover home was going to "aggravate an already faltering and questionable relationship."
O'Brien walked out of a Fairfax, Va., courtroom on Oct. 21, 1983, around 2 p.m. after serving six months on a probation violation. The first phone call he made was to Childress at the flower shop that he and Fowich co-owned on Route 6 in Andover at the time.
O'Brien was seeking money to get home, according to the affidavit.The two men both told police they couldn't give him any. Fowich and Childress told police that was the last time they spoke to O'Brien.
O'Brien arrived at LaGuardia Airport at about 7:30 p.m. What happened to him after that is mostly unknown. O'Brien's body was found around 2:15 p.m. on Oct. 22 in some brush off an exit ramp in Mamaroneck.
He had been shot four times in the back of the head with a .22-caliber gun.
A witness told police that around 11 p.m. on Oct. 21 he saw a late model, dark-color Chevrolet van parked off the shoulder of that exit, the affidavit said. The van was backed up into the brushy area and the right side front and cargo doors were open, the affidavit said.
One of the search warrants that police obtained in 1983 was for Fowich's van. He owned a dark green Chevrolet van in the fall of 1983. Police recovered the stains on the visor and ceiling from Fowich's van, as well as hair-like fibers they were unable to match, the affidavit said.
While New York police would not identify the new forensic evidence, sources familiar with the case said that the possible bloodstains and hair taken from Fowich's van were preserved and sent to the forensic laboratory several years ago.
"We were able to reanalyze evidence that we couldn't at that time because the technology didn't exist," Murphy said.
Investigators first tried to interview Childress and Fowich at the Andover cottage the day after O'Brien's body was discovered but they were denied access without a search warrant. Police sources said Fowich ran into the woods when police arrived, a claim that he has denied.
When police returned with a search warrant, they found all of O'Brien's belongings neatly boxed up. There was no sign of a .22-caliber pistol that friends told police O'Brien had purchased from Fowich and kept at the house, the affidavit said.
Both Fowich and Childress eventually were formally interviewed about the homicide and denied any involvement. They also denied traveling to New York to pick up O'Brien. Both men acknowledged they had little in the way of alibis for the night O'Brien was killed.
Childress told police he had purchased fish at a local store and gone home, cooked it and watched television. Fowich said he had gone back to the East Hartford police station to catch up on paperwork, but there was no one who could corroborate his story.
Police also found discrepancies in their story about the van. Childress told police in 1983 that he left the van overnight in the floral shop parking lot for advertising purposes, but an employee of the floral shop told police she drove the van to the Lakeview Drive cottage after work, according to the affidavit.
Prior to his release from the Virginia prison, O'Brien told friends in New York that he was angry at Childress and Fowich because they had sold off some of his antique furniture and jewelry without his permission and may have emptied his bank account, the affidavit said.
O'Brien told friends that when he got out of prison he was going to move home, kick them out of the cottage and report Fowich to his superiors at the East Hartford Police Department, according to the affidavit.
The Courant first wrote about the O'Brien killing as part of a series of "cold cases" in 2000. At that time New York State Police acknowledged they were reopening the investigation. It is unclear if the renewed investigation will lead to closure of the case.
Both Fowich and Childress denied any involvement in their former roommate's killing when interviewed by The Courant in 2000.
"They have the same standards for me, being a policeman, as any other citizen. And if they had probable cause, they would have arrested me," Fowich told The Courant then.
"And they didn't have it. And they don't have it. Because I did nothing."
Police in East Hartford, where Fowich is a lieutenant, had little to say about the search.
"I have no evidence in front of me that implicates Mike Fowich of anything illegal right now," said Beau Thurnauer, the chief's assistant who heads up the department's internal affairs unit.
The chief, Mark Sirois, later said, the department has "no other comments on pending investigation of a different jurisdiction."
Contact Dave Altimari at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit www.courant.com/ andover to watch video from the search.