|Gary Dodds, who is accused of faking his disappearance, listened yesterday to testimony during his trial in Dover, N.H. (MIKE ROSS/ASSOCIATED PRESS/POOL)|
Missing candidate mystery deepens in N.H.
Authorities say he may have used tunnel to hide in seaside mansion
DOVER, N.H. - A mansion, a tunnel, and a vanishing man: The mystery deepened yesterday in the case of a man accused of faking an overnight disappearance in 2006 to attract attention to his flagging congressional campaign.
Authorities believe that Gary Dodds may have spent some of the 27 hours he was missing after a car crash hiding in an apartment in an 1805 mansion believed to have a tunnel to the outside. Police say that when they knocked on the door, a man answered but would not let them in. When they got in hours later, the man had vanished.
Dodds owned the building, Cutts Mansion in Portsmouth, which also housed his campaign office. Police went to the apartment of campaign staff member Alison Spruce on the afternoon of April 6, 2006, while searchers were looking for Dodds in the snowy woods two towns away.
State Trooper Joseph Ebert said he and other officers stood watch until Spruce returned home and let them in.
"There was a very low chance that someone could leave the apartment without being seen," Ebert said.
Spruce testified that she was in and out of her apartment that day, leaving to attend college classes, take a walk, and visit her parents. She was not asked to explain the man's voice police reported hearing.
She said she would have known if anyone had been in the apartment.
"I would like to think so," she said. "I am very meticulous. I would like to think I'd know if someone had been there."
Dodds, 43, is on trial in Strafford County Superior Court on charges of falsifying evidence, creating false public alarm, and leaving the scene of the April 5, 2006, crash in which his car went over a highway guardrail in Dover.
He was found the next night a mile from the crash scene under a pile of leaves, fading in and out of consciousness and missing a shoe. Dodds told authorities he remembered little after the crash, other than nearly drowning in an icy river and then wandering until he could go no farther.
His lawyers say he has been wrongly accused by law enforcement officials to deflect attention from their bungled search and rescue.
But prosecutors say he faked his story and soaked his feet in cold water for hours as part of a ploy to attract attention to his campaign for the Democratic nomination in the First Congressional District.
Dodds's wife, Cindy, offered a few political theories of her own, telling one state trooper during the search that she hoped her husband had not been harmed by "someone from his campaign" and that she suspected the state Democratic Party of playing a role because it wanted Jim Craig to win the primary.
Cindy Dodds also gave other reasons she feared foul play, Trooper Robert Quinn said.
"She told me that her husband did not drink, didn't have a girlfriend, didn't do drugs," Quinn said. "So basically, she felt this was suspicious in nature."
But in a pretrial hearing, County Attorney Thomas Velardi sought permission to present evidence that Dodds was having an affair. A judge barred any mention of the alleged affair, but said he may reconsider his decision.
There also was no mention in court of the tunnel at the mansion, which was built in the old seaport by ship's captain Edward Cutts. But in 2000, Dodds described it in a Portsmouth Herald story about efforts he and his wife were making to renovate the building and learn its history.
"Roy Jones, whose family was the last single family to live there, said you could walk in the tunnel standing up until the edge of the property, then you could crawl the rest of the way," Dodds told the newspaper. He said the tunnel ran from the mansion to a cove.
Authorities estimate they spent $18,000 searching for Dodds with teams assisted by dogs and a helicopter.
Dodds was never considered a contender in the primary, which he lost to Carol Shea-Porter. She defeated Representative Jeb Bradley, a Republican, in the general election.