Missing Barre man was beaten to death
By JOHN CURRAN The Associated Press | September 28,2006
BARRE — Five people — including three Barre teenagers — have been charged following the beating death of a Barre man police described as a cocaine dealer. Police said the victim was attacked after he allegedly stole drugs from another man.
Leodor Rousseau, 33, and Joshua Darling, 21, both of Troy, N.C., and formerly of Vershire, have been charged with murder, kidnapping and attempted assault and robbery in the death of 33-year-old James Saunders.
Saunders' body was found Tuesday in a shallow grave behind a house in Vershire, more than four months after he was reported missing by his girlfriend in Barre.
"It's a tragic case, without any question," said police Detective Brent Curtis. "The involvement of young people is very unfortunate."
Vermont State Police say that on May 10, Rousseau recruited 17-year-old Melinda Pike, Nathaniel Masi, 15, and Shawn Fordham, 14, to find Saunders and deliver him to Rousseau, and that once they did, Saunders was beaten to death. The Barre teenagers are charged with aiding in the commission of kidnapping.
Pike and the other teenagers split $500 for their work, according to a 14-page affidavit by State Police Detective Sgt. Russell F. Robinson.
All five were arrested Tuesday after a tip from a "cooperating individual" led to the discovery of the body. No cause of death has been established, according to Capt. Thomas L'Esperance.
L'Esperance described Saunders as a known cocaine dealer and said he allegedly stole drugs from Rousseau. Police declined to identify the drugs. According to the state Department of Corrections, Saunders served two months in prison for a 2003 drug arrest after pleading guilty to felony possession of heroin.
Rousseau, known by the nickname "Kahoona," offered two of the teenagers money to help him locate Saunders, L'Esperance said. Those two enlisted a third teenager and the three of them lured Saunders to Rousseau's car, where he was beaten to death, according to L'Esperance.
The teenagers told Saunders someone in the car wanted to buy drugs from him, police said.
"There was a plan in place that all parties involved understood what their roles were and why, in fact, Mr. Saunders was asked to get into that vehicle," said L'Esperance.
The affidavit identified the "cooperating individual" as Jonathan Whalley, whom Rousseau previously recruited to sell cocaine.
Whalley told police he saw the three teenagers get out of Rousseau's blood-spattered car while Saunders was still inside, and that the girl, Melinda Pike, had blood on her shirt. He also told police that Darling, one of the men police have charged with murder, was holding Saunders by the throat while another person duct-taped Saunders' feet.
Whalley told police he followed the car to Vershire and watched as Saunders was buried.
Whalley said he kept quiet for months because Rousseau threatened to kill him if he told anyone about Saunders' death. One of the reasons he changed his mind and talked to authorities, police said, is that he is dying of cancer.
Cadaver-sniffing dogs from the Connecticut State Police department helped find Saunders' body, which was identified by tattoos.
Rousseau and Darling had been living in Vershire and moved away over the summer. They were arrested late Tuesday during a highway stop in North Carolina. They were awaiting hearings Wednesday seeking their extradition to Vermont.
Police said Rousseau had firearms with him when he was arrested, and that a search of his home revealed drugs and guns.
Melinda Pike pleaded innocent and was ordered held on $25,000 bail. The two other teenagers were released to their parents.
Saunders' girlfriend, who originally reported him missing five days after he was last seen, now lives in California, according to Capt. Timothy Bombardier, of the Vermont State Police.
"The fact that this crime can go undetected for an entire summer is troubling to police and should be shocking to the community," said L'Esperance. "The culture that has developed within the drug underworld may have far-reaching consequences which has the potential to impact society as a whole."