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Tangled web of murder
An investigation of two brutal killings in Hingham in 2005 exposes a seamy underworld of crime, violence, and hatred stretching across the South Shore
A single cross marks the site near Hingham’s Bare Cove Park where two homeless men were bludgeoned to death in 2005 in an old military bunker. Inset are James Winquist (left) and Eric Snow at their arraignments in Hingham District Court. (Matthew J. Lee / Globe Staff; Inset: AP Photos)
Email|Print| Text size – + By Milton J. Valencia
Globe Staff / January 31, 2008
The scene was undeniably gruesome. Two homeless men had been bludgeoned to death in the old military bunker they shared near Bare Cove Park in Hingham. Blood was everywhere. One victim’s hand had been cut off. The crime, in the spring of 2005, was the worst the comfortable seaside town had seen in recent memory.
more stories like thisAs police have pursued the killers, they have encountered an equally violent local underworld reaching further across the South Shore. It is a world in which players go by nicknames such as “Twisted” and “Mental” and “Killa,” and the stories they have since told police have only helped confuse the prosecution’s case.
So sketchy is the list of witnesses, and so tangled the versions of events, that the confusion could undermine the trial against the two men eventually charged with the crime: James Winquist, 24, of Bridgewater and Eric Snow, 26, of Weymouth. Both have pleaded not guilty.
Defense attorneys have submitted a series of court requests, and one plans to seek dismissal of the case. While court motions are routine in criminal matters, the lawyers say in this case they’re based on questionable evidence and testimony gleaned from witnesses just as shady as the suspects.
“Every person who said they heard anything is being reported by the government as being a liar by everyone else,” said Gerald T. FitzGerald, a New Bedford lawyer who represents Snow.
“The bottom line here is, what is the quality of evidence here?”
Prosecutors would not discuss the case or the witnesses, saying it’s up to the courts to decide what happened.
“The appropriate place to deal with this is before a court of law,” said Bridget Norton Middleton, a spokeswoman for the Plymouth County district attorney’s office. “And that’s where we’ll do it.”
Nevertheless, the list of court requests and testimony is set to expose the backstory of the murders, and what happened that night in the dark woods just off a walking trail at the Back River in Hingham.
Court records show that prosecutors have been faced with contradictory testimony. A witness pointed to one man before blaming another. A man who witnesses said bragged about committing the murders in an apparent celebration of the killings is now himself a star witness.
These witnesses, meanwhile, have sought immunity and lenient sentences for a variety of crimes, some of which are just as shocking as the murders.
Violence and mental illness are very much part of the network of alleged killers, witnesses, and affiliates in the case, court records show. Many in the group are white supremacists. Some brag of earning their “bones,” a reference to taking a life, according to court documents.
As one police official put it, “It’s quite a crew.”
The bodies of William Chrapan, 44, and David Lyon, 46, were found May 9, 2005, in the military bunker closest to the Bare Cove Park trail. Medical examiners said they were killed sometime within 10 days before their bodies were discovered.
Two months after the killings, in July, a witness led police to a hand that was buried near power lines in Bridgewater, near Eric Snow’s home. Tests later showed it belonged to Chrapan.
There, the investigation began. It led detectives from Hingham to Bridgewater to Weymouth, and eventually to Snow, Winquist, and their friends – a group of men who have served time, espouse white supremacy, and call themselves the Brothers of Blood.
Winquist and Snow met in 2003 in jail, where both were introduced to a loose network of local white supremacists. When he returned home, Winquist hung a Nazi flag in the basement of his home in Hingham. Snow has tattoos that promote the white supremacist movement.
Whether the suspects’ white supremacy views are relevant in this case is a matter of dispute. The victims were white, and friends of the suspects and a witness in the case, according to court records, describe Brothers of Blood as “a joke crew” that may advocate white supremacy but did not follow the discipline of established gangs such as the Aryan Brotherhood. Snow had a black friend, for instance.
A defense attorney says prosecutors’ mention of white supremacy is a ploy. But police say the white supremacy network the two young men discovered while behind bars eventually drew them to a dark world that celebrates murder.
Winquist, known as “Twisted,” had a history of breaking into cars, homes, and boats on the Hingham and Weymouth waterfront. In 2003, the year he met Snow in jail, Winquist was charged with stabbing a man in Harvard Square. He was later acquitted in that attack.
Snow, who has “Killa” tattooed on his neck, has been charged with such crimes as assault with a hand gun, and assault and battery. In one case, after the murders, authorities say he took part in a home invasion, and was armed. He served two years in jail for home invasion and armed assault with a gun.
William Sylvestre, a 28-year-old who dated Snow’s sister, served two years in jail for his role in that home invasion. According to court records, Sylvestre had earlier told police that Snow had told him that he and Winquist killed people.
Mike Alfano, 27, known as “Mental,” spent time in jail for nearly killing a man with a sledgehammer in 2003. He then cooperated with the FBI as an informant in hopes of getting a favorable sentence, according to records.
Alfano, described in court records as the leader of the Brotherhood of Blood, is a key witness against Snow and Winquist, according to court records. He sought leniency from prosecutors for his testimony in this case, and a detective said “we would assist him in any way we could if the information he provided to us was beneficial,” according to a defense attorney in the case, citing police reports.
Alfano originally told police that another member of their network, David Courage, claimed he committed the killings, according to court records. Now, Alfano says Snow and Winquist did it.
Courage, 18, of Hingham, bragged about the killings, according to court records that cite witness testimony. He was initially at the center of the murder investigation, according to investigators. He later testified against Snow and Winquist with the promise that he would not be prosecuted for what he said, and he is now a key witness, court records show.
Courage could not be reached for comment, but a prosecutor said in court that he denies testimony by defense witnesses that he waved the severed hand around at a party.
Ryan Bois, 20, of Weymouth, was arrested in August on charges he kidnapped, raped, and murdered his 6-year-old cousin. Just before he was arrested, Bois called Winquist eight times on his cellphone, according to prosecutors. Prosecutors never explained why the calls were made, and friends of Winquist said he did not answer the calls.
But within days after Bois was arrested, police started knocking on Winquist’s door, asking about the calls. A month later, Winquist and Snow were arrested and charged with the Hingham murders.
They were indicted in October. Bois, in a mental institution pending his murder case, is now a witness against Snow and Winquist.
Court records describe testimony from witnesses who name Winquist and Snow as the killers. One witness told police she was passed out on a couch in the basement of Winquist’s home and let the two men borrow her car. An hour later, Snow and Winquist came back laughing, saying they “beat up some bums up the street.” The witness said Winquist and Snow took off their clothes and put them and bats into a black trash bag.
The same witness said she drove Snow to his home in Bridgewater that night and watched him bury a bag near the power lines behind his home. The witness told police she used her car to light the scene for Snow.
Police also describe a visit they made to that same scene in July 2005, based on a tip by a confidential witness. There, they found Chrapan’s hand, apparently slit at the wrist. Another witness describes a party at Winquist’s home, located a half-mile from the military bunker where the murders occurred. The witness told police that Snow and Winquist had kept the hand in a plastic bag and cooler, and passed it around while they ridiculed the victims.
The two imitated the homeless men’s pleas for mercy, and the gurgling sound they made as they died, witness later told police.
It was after that, according to court records, that Snow and Winquist told their friends they “made their bones.”
All that remains at the murder site now is a mound of dirt, with a cross that somebody placed on top. Hingham officials demolished the military bunker after the bodies were discovered.
Two and a half years later, the court case is inching forward. Winquist is due in court next week. Both men are being held without bail – Snow in Plymouth County and Winquist in Norfolk County.
Winquist’s lawyer has requested more information from prosecutors about the investigation. Snow’s lawyer plans a motion to have the case dismissed, and has sought the criminal histories of witnesses in the case, seeking information that “might be used to impeach a witness.”