Family reacts to killer's death

September 23, 1997


Staff Writer

From muffled tears to shouts of joy, news of Charles Carpenter's death drew opposite reactions from a family torn apart by the 1982 murder of Vada Viola Carpenter.

"I really loved my boy," said Mabel Shipley, who burst into tears upon learning that her son had been killed in a shootout with a sheriff's deputy near Landusky, Mont. "I had a funny feeling that something happened to him."

But other members of the family said they have lived in fear in the six weeks since Carpenter failed to return to prison from an unsupervised weekend pass.


"Hooray! Our life can go on now. He deserved it," said Leitersburg resident Betty Saunders, Carpenter's aunt.

Saunders said she has gotten little sleep since relatives found out Carpenter was free.

"Our life consisted of looking over our back, letting the porch lights burn so we could see our cars and locking the car doors - which we never had to do," she said.

Relatives and angry residents also took aim at the Patuxent Institution, which gave Carpenter work-release privileges and unsupervised passes that allowed him to visit designated addresses on weekends.

When Carpenter failed to return on Aug. 10, officials from the facility assured the public that Carpenter posed no threat. Dr. Henry J. Richards, the prison's associate director, noted at the time that Carpenter had no criminal record other than the murder.

"This is not somebody I would worry about doing something to anybody," he said at the time.

Richards declined to comment on Monday, referring questions to the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. Leonard A. Sipes Jr., a spokesman for the agency, said he was awaiting official confirmation of the incident and could not comment.

Members of the family said they tried to warn officials that Carpenter was dangerous.

"I knew it was going to happen. We tried to tell everyone," Saunders said. "We knew the boy from little up. We knew what was in his head. We tried telling the psychologists, but they wouldn't listen."

Clear Spring resident Betty Middlekauff wistfully noted the irony of Carpenter's death.

"He died the same way my mother did," she said. "He was stupid for walking away and they were stupid for letting him out."

Roy Saunders, 69, said Carpenter made threats against family members before and after he shot Vada Carpenter at close range with a shotgun. He said he has worried for his children for weeks.

"It's a big relief for my family," he said. "I knew he was going to do the same thing he did to my mother."

But Carpenter's mother painted a picture of a troubled young man who committed murder at age 17 after years of abuse. Shipley, 59, said Vada Carpenter, who raised the boy, abused him sexually. She said other family members lied to him and told him his mother was dead.

Other relatives vigorously deny those accusations. They said the woman never harmed Carpenter and that he knew his mother was alive.

Shipley, who lives in Artemas, Pa., said her son grew increasingly depressed in recent months. She said he was distraught because a woman who was pregnant with his child had an abortion.

When she last talked with Carpenter about three months ago, Shipley said he sounded down - a depression that deepened when he learned Shipley had cancer.

"He didn't sound too good. He sounded like he was upset," she said. "He told me he couldn't take it no more. He said he's worth more dead than alive."

Victims' rights advocates again blasted state officials for allowing a convicted first-degree murderer such broad freedoms. In the wake of Carpenter's escape, officials at the Patuxent Institution said they had not changed any policies.

Hagerstown resident Jewel Ruthrauff, a member of the Stephanie Roper Committee and Foundation, said she hoped the Montana shootout would prompt Maryland officials to toughen their policies. But Ruthrauff, whose own mother was murdered, added that she is pessimistic.

"I would like to know how they could possibly come up with the idea that he wasn't dangerous. Why should they take a chance?" she said. "His grandmother didn't get a pass to come back for awhile.

"I don't think this tragedy will change anything."

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