PUBLISHING INFO: Berkley, 7/1986
ORIGINAL PUB: Putnam, 4/1985
GENRE: Nonfiction/True Crime/Rape/Murder
SETTING: Vermont, 1981
MY GRADE: A
FROM PUBLISHER: One early spring day, two young girls took a short-cut home from school through the woods. Then in a few horrifying moments, the tranquility of the day was shattered by rape, torture and murder. A small Vermont town and the entire nation was stunned – these gruesome crimes had been committed not by hardened criminals but by two young boys, fifteen and sixteen years old.
One of America’s finest investigative journalists, Peter Meyer, recounts this provocative true story of terror in the small Vermont town of Essex Junction. He powerfully recreates this tragic case and its complex emotional aftermath – the statewide manhunt, the trial, and the chilling results that sent one teenage killer to prison for life and set the other free after two and a half years. Here is the shocking story.
BOOK SUMMARY: On Friday May 15, 1981, twelve-year old friends Melissa Walbridge and Meghan O’Rourke, almost nine months apart in age, were raped, and one was murdered, by teenage friends, fifteen-year old Jamie Savage, and sixteen-year old Louis ‘Louie’ Hamlin. Both girls were very thin and under 5′ tall.
Both girls were raped, sodomized, shot multiple times with a BB gun (Melissa was shot through the eye), strangled, and stabbed multiple times. A stab through the heart is what killed Melissa, the older of the two, born 7/17/68. Meghan survived because she’s passed out and Jamie and Louie though she was dead, so they left her and put an old mattress over her and Melissa’s bodies. Meghan came to, and walked out of the woods, naked and bleeding badly. A flagman working a few yards away at the railroad tracks, Alton Bruso, saw her, ran over to her, she asked for help, and he and a few coworkers, Howard Constantine and Alfred Laidman, called the police. From a distance Alton thought Meghan was wearing a red bathing suit, she was that bloody.
It took just over a week to find Jamie and Louie. Neither showed any remorse and neither seems to have a conscience.
After they were arrested and Louie’s house was searched, officers found in the basement a lot of pornographic photos of Louie’s fifteen-year old sister, Lisa, that her father had taken. She said he’d been molesting her since she was four and told her she’d only have to ‘do it’ until she was eighteen. Louie and his older brother said they’d been molested by their father too. The father, Butch, got a prison sentence of only 6-15 years for molesting Lisa, so he’s been out a really long time. I don’t know if he was questioned about molesting his other children.
Louis- Born 10/29/64. He’s 5’7″, stocky, very dark hair with thick eyebrows and a unibrow. He’s been violent his whole life. He didn’t say how long he’d been molested by his father. He came from a poor family. There was no mention of what his IQ was. He’s the second oldest of five children, and was born to teenage parents. At the time of his arrest he was on probation for assaulting a college girl, Candy Hackett, four months before. She was walking along one day when Louie showed up beside her. She got scared so engaged him in conversation in hopes he wouldn’t hurt her and it worked for awhile. He later confessed to the author via telephone from prison that he’d intended to rape Candy.
Almost two years before killing Melissa, days before his fifteenth birthday, he’d been arrested for attempting to rape his thirteen-year old sister, Lisa. One day at home he forced her to get naked, he got naked too and laid on top of her but didn’t penetrate her. She told their mother and the mother called the police. I don’t understand why Lisa told on him yet didn’t tell on her father for molesting her for years.
He was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole after 45 years, which was the maximum sentence he could have been given. He was imprisoned in Missouri, then Wisconsin though I don’t know where he’s currently incarcerated nor can I find an inmate photo. He’ll be 51 this October.
Jamie- Born 9/20/65. He’s blond, 6′ tall, lanky with acne pitting on his face. He has a low IQ of only 78, which is ‘borderline impaired to delayed’. He reads at the first grade level. There was no mention of physical or sexual abuse in his past. He’s violent too, at least with his siblings, but there was never any attempted rape. I don’t think he actually raped Meghan though he tried but said his penis wouldn’t fit. I wish who did what had been made a bit more clear.
He was released from a juvenile facility when he turned eighteen in 1983. He has no prison record and his crimes have been erased from the records since he was under the age of sixteen when the crimes were commited.
An Arizona newspaper headline from May 1984 read ‘You can rape, and you can kill, and then you can move to Arizona and change your name’. That’s the first time anyone knew where Jamie was located since he was arrested. It was rumored that after his arrest he was sent to Pennsylvania to serve his measly two year sentence. Maricopa County Superior Courts (Arizona) records showed that in December 1983, shortly after his release, he’d applied to have his name legally changed and his wish was granted the following month. His name was changed to John W. Barber. He’d lived with someone for a short time in an apartment in Arizona and after moving, left a forwarding address in Vermont. He’ll be 50 this September.
In 1984 Jamie’s twenty-year old brother was murdered. You can read about that here.
MY THOUGHTS: This was a really well written book. I learned of it by searching older true crime books at Amazon very recently. Jamie and Louis’s backgrounds were explored, as were the backgrounds of the parents.
Unfortunately there aren’t any photos of Jamie, Louie, or Melissa in it but there are online newspaper articles with Jamie and Louie in them, but they’re hard to make out. I wish the author had interviewed the parents of Jamie and Louie.
You can see Melissa’s grave here. This story was done on Killer Kids in 2011. It’s season 1, episode 3. 7:30 into the episode this story starts. You can watch it here. The author is interviewed for it.
You can read the case summary at Valley News. In 2007 Melissa’s younger brother, Judd, was arrested for sexual assault. You can see his photo here. I found a Vermont television station’s post on Facebook from 2012 advertising a ‘where are they now’ update on the case but couldn’t find the actual update video so I have no idea what’s going on with anyone involved with the case.
EDIT: I did find a story from 2013 that the station did. It says that Meghan is living a ‘full rich life’. It says too that Louie has been in a Colorado prison since 2000 but I can’t find him listed on the Colorado Department of Corrections site.