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Father arrested in family slayings

Caught on road; allegedly admits killings in letter

By Maria Cramer and Stephanie Ebbert
Globe Staff / June 18, 2010

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The 43-year-old Winchester sales executive accused of killing his family, including his two young children, was caught in a small, rural town just south of the Vermont border yesterday, a day after fleeing his home, where police said he left letters confessing to the crime and describing his marital and financial problems.

Thomas Mortimer IV was arrested in Bernardston on four counts of murder in the deaths of his wife, mother-in-law, 2-year-old daughter, and 4-year-old son, whose bloodied bodies were found in the house by firefighters and emergency medical technicians, said District Attorney Gerard T. Leone Jr. Leone appeared shaken during a press conference following Mortimer’s arrest.

Two identical, typed letters that Mortimer left in the house described problems he was having with his wife, Laura Stone Mortimer, 41, the DA said.

“There can be no rationale or reasoning for someone taking the life of a child,’’ Leone said. “But the writings do reveal whatever warped and twisted rationale he had.’’

He paraphrased some of the letter. “I did these horrible things,’’ Mortimer allegedly wrote. “What I’ve done is extremely selfish and cowardly. I murdered my family.’’

Mortimer will be arraigned this morning in Middlesex District Court in Woburn, Leone said.

In a voice that was strained at times, Leone described the moments that led to the gruesome discovery.

On Monday, Mortimer’s parents, who live in Avon, Conn., were spending a second day at the Colonial house on Windsong Lane in Winchester, baby-sitting young Charlotte and her brother Thomas, known as Finn, while their parents were at work, Leone said.

By the end of the workday, Thomas Mortimer and his wife were fighting on the phone, an argument that resumed when the couple returned to the home they shared with Laura’s mother, Ragna Ellen Stone, 64.

The argument did not immediately lead to any physical violence, however. Winchester police said they had never been called to the house for a domestic disturbance.

Laura’s sister, Debra Stone, talked to her and to their mother on Monday evening. At 9 p.m., Stone took another phone call.

But by Tuesday morning, Debra could not reach them.

When she called again, Thomas Mortimer picked up, according to Leone.

“It’s going to be a while before she can get back to you,’’ Mortimer allegedly said.

That morning, he called his office to say he was ill and phoned Finn’s preschool to say the boy would not be coming.

The next morning, on Wednesday, Debra Stone went to the family’s house and found the door locked. She peered through a window and saw blood.

She left, then returned with a neighbor before calling 911.

Emergency officials broke into the house through the garage. Once inside, they found the bodies of Stone Mortimer and Finn lying in a pool of blood.

As they went farther inside, they saw Stone’s body in the hallway.

The trail of blood then led them to the second floor, where they found the body of little Charlotte, covered in blood, in her crib.

Leone said Mortimer used “blunt force trauma and sharp objects’’ to kill his family, though he did not specify the weapons.

There were signs in the house that Mortimer had tried to kill himself, Leone said. He did not elaborate.

As police searched for Mortimer, they used cellphone towers to track his movements and found that on Tuesday he had been in the Woburn, Wilmington, and West Andover areas. Near Andover, Mortimer threw the phone into the trash on Route 133, Leone said.

Police caught a break late yesterday morning when the gray Toyota Highlander Mortimer was driving broke down in the Lake Pleasant area in Montague.

A man and his son helped Mortimer jump-start the sport utility vehicle, but were suspicious and called Montague police to report the incident and license plate number.

In nearby Bernardston, a tiny town of about 2,100, police received an alert from Montague authorities to watch for Mortimer’s vehicle.

Bernardston Police Chief James Palmeri was patrolling Route 10 when he spotted the SUV headed south on the road some time after 1 p.m.

Palmeri said he was not looking for Mortimer, but that he was at the right place at the right time.

Leone said Mortimer tried to flee, but the chief managed to pull him over.

Palmeri said he arrested Mortimer without incident.

Mortimer, dressed in a gray, long-sleeve T-shirt and khaki pants, did not appear to have any blood on him, and, according to Palmeri, said nothing as he was placed under arrest.

Leone said he believes that Mortimer was trying to drive to Connecticut.

Mortimer’s father, Thomas Mortimer III, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

On Wednesday, during a brief interview with the Globe, he said his son and daughter-in-law had been arguing about how to raise the children, but the squabble appeared to be minor.

Mortimer had been out of work for about a year, but had recently started a new job at a Burlington technology services firm.

His boss has said Mortimer was working hard and was determined to excel. Other employers described him the same way: a professional, polite man eager to do well.

Andy Kim, chief executive officer of Proxy Networks Inc. in Boston, where Mortimer worked as a sales operator from 2006 to 2008, described him as friendly, personable, and respectful.

“He never complained. . . . He never made waves,’’ Kim said. “He seemed like any normal father taking care of the kids. They were the focus of his life.’’

In Winchester, where many residents were stunned by news of the deaths, about 100 people attended a memorial service last night at St. Eulalia Church.

Advocates for domestic violence victims said this type of killing is often foreshadowed by a pattern that may include unemployment, previous physical abuse, a controlling attitude by the perpetrator, drug and alcohol abuse, and threats to kill or hurt family members.

The deaths bring the number of domestic violence deaths in Massachusetts this year to 22, including perpetrators who killed themselves.

“This number is shocking and unacceptable,’’ said Toni Troop, spokeswoman for Jane Doe Inc., a statewide coalition against domestic violence and sexual abuse.

“It bespeaks the facts that domestic violence remains underreported and that knowing the warning signs can save lives.’’

Travis Andersen of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Jack Nicas contributed to this report. Maria Cramer can be reached at mcramer@globe.com; Stephanie Ebbert at ebbert@globe.com.

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