By Eric Francis
WOODSTOCK – The arc from harmless local character to petty thief to convicted murderer completed itself last week when Charles “Punky” Haynes Jr., now 53, stood in the blue prison uniform he has been wearing since his arrest two years ago and admitted he was responsible for bludgeoning to death an elderly deaf woman.
On the first day of July 2009, Bridgewater’s constables, the Vermont State Police, and Windsor County Sheriff’s deputies had already spent that entire year to date first investigating, and then trying to find, Haynes in connection with a series of seemingly minor break-ins that were occurring with growing frequency across Bridgewater.
Mail had been pulled from mailboxes, opened, and left scattered down area roadways while nearby homes had been entered with things like food from the refrigerator and loose change lying on countertops being taken, and increasingly “Punky,” had been mentioned as the suspect.
It would not be until well after a neighbor noticed that 78-year-old Raynetta Woodward was overdue for dinner after having said she was going home to make some biscuits that other homeowners would tell investigators they too had suspected Haynes was entering their properties and taking things but they had been reluctant to even report the incursions out of a sense of pity for his homeless plight.
Whether that feeling that Haynes was essentially safe played any role in how he got into Woodward’s home on the afternoon of July 1 still isn’t known, but when her bloodied body was discovered hours later where it had been hastily stuffed under a pile of clothes with the money belt she always wore around her waist missing, Haynes was mentioned as someone who had done yard work and other odd jobs for her in the past and who might have noticed where she kept her cash.
The investigation into Woodward’s murder went right straight through the evening at her residence on the Curtis Hollow Road, less than a half-mile from the Bridgewater Mill Mall, and as midnight came and went, members of the Vermont Forensic Lab’s Crime Scene Search Team wearing headlamps and carrying clipboards talked to detectives and worked their way around the darkened property as a misting rain fell amongst the towering trees on either side.
The technicians were seen photographing several sections of the driveway leading up to the older style white- and-yellow trailer and then taking a slow walk around it with flashlights looking at the sides of the structure and checking around a pair of clotheslines which still had laundry hanging on them.
Woodstock Police Chief Byron Kelly was on the scene that Wednesday night, along with several members of his department, while a half-dozen Vermont State Police investigators set up shop in the Bridgewater Volunteer Fire Department’s station on Route 4 and began bringing in local residents for interviews.
Neighbors said Woodward was frequently seen walking along Curtis Hollow Road. “She wouldn’t take rides from anybody,” said one young man who lived nearby, adding that he had seen her out for a walk just the day before near the “deaf person” warning sign that had been posted for her on her road.
Detective Trooper Julie Scribner later wrote in an affidavit filed with the court that spots consistent with a blood stain were also found at the rear of the residence and a police canine which was brought in started tracking from that point and led troopers uphill on a circular loop through a section of the thick woods nearby before coming back out onto Curtis Hollow Road.
Haynes quickly emerged as a “person of interest” in Woodward’s death, according to Scribner, who wrote that “Punky” was already a suspect in “a large number of burglaries in the area in recent weeks.”
“Sgt. (Craig) Gardner advised that troopers had recently been trying to locate Haynes but were unable to (because) Haynes was suspected to be living in the woods or perhaps staying in unoccupied camps in the area,” Scribner wrote.
Just after 8 p.m. that evening, Bridgewater Constable Ed Earle got a message relayed by several local residents saying that Haynes had called a friend asking for “a ride to get out of here” and that Caller ID indicated Haynes was calling from a chalet-style seasonal residence further down Curtis Hollow Road, within sight of the Mill Mall, that was supposed to be unoccupied.
After confirming that the John DeNeufville residence was supposed to be empty, Detective Sgts. Smith and Cushing contacted a caretaker and got a key from her, arriving at the chalet at 11:30 p.m. with Trooper Kevin Hughes and his police dog.
“While checking the perimeter, Hughes heard crashing in the woods just behind the residence,” Scribner wrote, “The noise stopped and the troopers noticed a rear exterior door that was ajar at the residence. Hughes knocked and announced that the dog was going to search the building.”After the house was found to be empty, “They went back outside and, as Trooper Hughes was walking toward a field, he observed Detective Sgt. Merrigan taking someone into custody, later determined to be Haynes,” Scribner continued,
“Hughes noted that the direction of travel from where he heard the crashing noises to Detective Sgt. Merrigan was a straight line of less than 30 yards.”
By Eric Francis