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Sunday, February 26, 2006

Psych. Ward Escapee Questioned in Unsolved Local Murders

Demagall hunt was too slow
Murder suspect to be questioned in two unsolved county stabbings
By Jack Dew, Berkshire Eagle Staff

Though William S. Demagall was considered a serious threat to himself and others when he escaped Feb. 9 from a locked psychiatric unit at Berkshire Medical Center, police did not launch a broad search for him and didn't identify him as missing for two days, according to an Eagle analysis of police records and interviews with officials involved in the case.
Between Feb. 9 and Feb. 11, when Demagall allegedly murdered George Mancini in Hillsdale, N.Y., it appears there was no widespread hunt for Demagall. The first time he popped onto a police radar screen was on Feb. 10, when his father asked the Pittsfield Police Department to check his old apartment. While police did make that check, they did not enter Demagall into the database for missing persons until Saturday, Feb. 11, according to records kept of police activity during those days.

Now, while Demagall is being held without bail in a New York state jail, Berkshire County investigators apparently are asking whether he could have been involved in the unsolved murders of Jan Stackhouse in Stockbridge and Anthony Colucci in Washington.

Demagall's cousin, John Hobart, 21, of Westfield, has been charged with robbery, and police say he drove Demagall to Mancini's house expecting to rob the man of drugs.

Early report issued

Demagall, a slight 22-year-old with close-cropped hair and a tattoo of a pitchfork on his forehead and arms, allegedly slipped between the bars of a secure courtyard at Berkshire Medical Center's Jones 3 unit on Feb. 9, according to a report provided to The Eagle by a person familiar with the investigation.

The source, who was granted anonymity because he was not authorized to release the report, said the two-page statement was faxed to the Pittsfield Police Department shortly after 1 a.m. on Feb. 10, after hospital personnel had called the department to notify it of Demagall's escape.

"Demegall (sic) is at risk of serious harm to himself or others by virtue of his mental illness," the report said. "As of (Feb. 10), he is paranoid and has stated on 2/3/06 that he would 'hurt anyone who tries to keep him from his freedom.' "

The report said Demagall had stockpiled knives and guns in two caves in the Stockbridge woods over the past two months and had "placed a large shard of glass above a barn door in his grandmother's barn, essentially booby trapping the door."

The report listed six places where Demagall might be found, including his father's former apartment, his grandmother's house and the caves in Stockbridge. It said he might also be hiding in the hospital, though he had last been seen heading north on North Street and had not been seen circling back.

But there is no record in the Pittsfield Police Department's log of either the phone call or the faxed report, and there is no indication that police began looking for Demagall until the next day. Chief Anthony J. Riello said he will conduct a review tomorrow of incoming calls to determine when the hospital first contacted his department.

Riello said he believes his department first became aware Demagall might be in trouble on Feb. 10, when Demagall's father called from New York and asked police to check the father's old apartment on North Pearl Street in Pittsfield, saying his son might stay there. Riello said officers did, but saw no sign of him.

Demagall was not treated as a missing person until Feb. 11 — two days after his escape and the same day he allegedly stabbed and beat George Mancini to death. Again, it was Demagall's father who contacted police, and officers entered Demagall into a national database. When Demagall was picked up the next day in Schodack, N.Y., authorities found his name in the computer and notified Pittsfield he had been found, according to the police log and Riello.

Hospital spokesman Michael Leary could not be reached for comment about the report to police or its timing. In an earlier interview, he said it is hospital policy to alert authorities immediately if someone leaves the locked Jones 3 psychiatric ward without authorization.

Jones 3 is a 15-bed facility that treats people suffering from major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. It is designed to offer patients who might

be suicidal, violent or incapable of caring for themselves an environment where they can be stabilized and treated; it is not a prison or jail, and while there are bars on the windows, there are no armed guards. Every effort is made to avoid using restraints on patients, and they are allowed a great deal of movement within the unit.

Dr. Alex Sabo, chairman of Berkshire Medical Center's Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, said Jones 3 has treated 2,500 patients over the past five years. In that span, only four have escaped. Neither Sabo nor Leary would talk about Demagall or even acknowledge that he had been a patient at Jones 3.

Sometime before 8:58 a.m. on Feb. 11, Demagall entered Mancini's first floor apartment on Breezy Hill Road and stabbed the 56-year-old repeatedly, according to an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Albany. Demagall told police that when Mancini didn't die quickly enough he beat him with a paperweight wrapped in a sock, the affidavit states.

Demagall then searched the apartment for drugs, according to the affidavit, and material he could use to build a fire, which he piled on top of Mancini's corpse. When firefighters arrived at 8:58 a.m., they found Mancini's body.

Mancini had only recently moved to Hillsdale. He retired from the Career Institute of Technology in Forks Township, Pa., in 2004, after teaching math for 24 years at the vocational school.

Ronald Roth, the school's director, described Mancini as a gifted teacher who taught all levels and all students.

Asked whether he could envision Mancini being involved with drugs, Roth said, "No. I can't imagine that."

He said everyone who knew Mancini was "shocked and surprised" at his death.

Demagall has been described by officials and acquaintances as a skilled survivalist who had taken to living in the woods on Monument Mountain in Stockbridge. He slept in caves and only sought other shelter when winter temperatures became intolerable.

A former classmate, who asked that her name be withheld because she doesn't want to be associated with Demagall, recalled seeing him in the bar at Pearl's, an upscale Great Barrington steak house. She said he was carrying a large, sheathed hunting knife and trying to bum drinks off friends.

Demagall's caves are located about a mile from the rural Stockbridge road where Jan Stackhouse was found dead on May 1, 2005.

According to an autopsy on Stackhouse, the 52-year-old New York City resident bled to death after a stab wound to the neck. While investigators have said repeatedly that they have made progress in the case, there have been no visible leads.

A person familiar with the Stackhouse investigation said authorities have been struck by Demagall's profile and are interested in talking to him about the case. Though at this point they have not named Demagall a suspect, there are some obvious parallels between his alleged behavior and the place and manner in which Stackhouse died.

Similarly, they want to speak with Demagall about the death of Anthony Colucci, 20, who died from multiple stab wounds on July 4, 2005. Authorities believe he was killed in the Washington section of October Mountain State Forest, about five miles from the spot where Stackhouse's body was found.

District Attorney David Capeless declined comment.

"I will not comment on whether or not we are looking at any specific individual as a suspect or witness in any case. But I would say that, when we become aware of information in the course of investigations such as these, we look into it and pursue it accordingly," Capeless said.