ELIZABETHTOWN - A 30-year-old missing persons case may be on the verge of being solved as a former Minerva resident has been charged with second degree murder.
Thomas Anthony Collard, 62, was in Elizabethtown Town Court for a preliminary hearing July 26, after his recent confession led to his arrest for the murder of his first wife, June Collard, who he reported missing in November 1980.
Formerly a resident of Olmsteadville in Minerva, Collard had moved to Samson, Ala., in 1994. Investigators from New York State Police Troop B recently traveled to Alabama to meet with Collard as part of their ongoing work on the case.
It was there, police said, Collard ultimately confessed to causing the death of his former wife and described in detail how he had disposed of her body.
Collard was immediately arrested, waived extradition hearings, and was flown to the area July 21. Arraigned in Elizabethtown, he was remanded to Essex County Jail and held without bail.
The courtroom was packed with many of his family members as Collard entered in prison garb and chains. Represented by public defender Brandon Boutelle, he entered a plea of not guilty.
On the witness stand, investigator Karen DuFour from the Troop B Violent Crimes Investigation Team explained how, when they're not busy investigating more recent crimes, her team continues work on "so-called cold cases," like that of June Collard's.
DuFour said she and another investigator had arranged with the Geneva County, Ala., sheriff's office to meet with Collard there.
"I think his exact words were, 'I know why you're here,'" she said.
Collard had been questioned about the case numerous times by police during the past 30 years.
Collard was read his Miranda rights prior to being questioned, DuFour said, but declined an attorney.
DuFour said Collard gave conflicting stories when asked about the time leading up to June's disappearance, giving investigators the impression he wasn't being truthful. "He then told us that she went to his residence," said DuFour, noting how the two were separated at the time. "They got into an argument."
DuFour read from Collard's signed confession in which he allegedly claimed that, at one point during the argument, June picked up a knife. It was then, according to his written statement, he finally "let her have it."
"I punched her with my right hand," he wrote, claiming she then fell through a door and against a hot water tank, breaking it. "I think she was dead when I hit her."
In his statement, Collard said he checked for signs of life, but found no pulse or breathing.
"I was mad at myself for letting it happen," he wrote, noting how he had become agitated by June "sleeping around." "A person can only take so much."
Collard explained how he then dumped June's body out a window into a hole that had been dug for a septic system. He covered the hole until spring when, his statement said, he burned brush in the hole, dumped some lime over the remains, bulldozed the hole, and built an addition to his house over it to conceal it.
"At no point had I ever planned to cause harm to my wife," Collard added to the statement in his own handwriting.
Collard remained silent during the hearing, though appeared visibly frustrated at times. At one point, he mouthed the words, "I didn't do it," to family members in the gallery.
Justice William Garrison ordered the case to trial and for Collard to continue to be held without bail.
According to Essex County District Attorney Kristy Sprague, initial hearings for the trial will take place within the next 45 days.
Sprague acknowledged some difficulty in prosecuting such an old case, as some witnesses and evidence are no longer available, but she commended state police for keeping track of important leads.
Police are planning efforts to recover June's remains sometime soon, said Sprague, and that Collard's children especially are hoping those efforts can be successful.
"They want to give their mother a proper burial," Sprague said, "and I think that's the least they deserve at this point."