St. JOHNSBURY, Vt. — A man charged with the bizarre killing of a popular prep school teacher lived a hardscrabble though seemingly harmless life with his family, but little was known about the woman he married last year, shocked residents of northeastern Vermont said Thursday.
The body of Melissa Jenkins, a 33-year-old science teacher at St. Johnsbury Academy, was found Monday in the Connecticut River. Authorities say Allen and Patricia Prue lured her from her home with a ruse about a broken-down car and killed her. Jenkins’ 2-year-old son had been found Sunday in her idling SUV.
The couple had been riding around Sunday when Allen Prue got the idea “to get a girl,” a police affidavit said. They have not elaborated, and the trickle of information has the close-knit residents of northeastern Vermont talking and wondering about the motive.
Neighbor Jessica Fontecha said Allen Prue, 30, used to shovel snow and mow the lawn for her elderly parents without being asked. She called him when her lawn mower broke and he fixed it. Last winter, he drove her to her home in a snowstorm when she couldn’t get up the slippery road.
“It’s easy to say ‘these horrible people,’ but they weren’t horrible people,” Fontecha said.
But once Allen married Patricia last year, Fontecha said, “we didn’t see much of him.”
Patricia Prue’s ex-husband said that Prue, whom he met online, had requested a restraining order on him but that they hadn’t talked in a couple of years.
Jeffrey Witkoff, of Littleton, Colo., said she called him once repeatedly and he didn’t answer. When he called her back, she asked why he was calling, he said.
The Vermont court from which Prue, 33, reportedly sought a restraining order would not confirm whether one was in the works. Marc Eagle, a lawyer for Prue, said he hadn’t yet met with her.
The couple pleaded not guilty Wednesday to second-degree murder and unauthorized burial or removal of a dead body. They are being held without bail, and more charges are possible, police said.
Dan Maguire, Allen Prue’s lawyer, called the case a tragedy.
“As with all Vermonters, my heart goes out to Ms. Jenkins’ family and friends,” Maguire said. “We all cherish the peaceful and tranquil life, which we have here in Vermont and are shocked when that peace is broken.”
The Prues live with Allen’s mother, a widow, in the same run-down mobile home in Waterford where he grew up. The town had been working with the Prues to clean up their property, which was littered with metal scrap, a pile of old tires, bags of garbage and a camper.
On Thursday, five state police vehicles were parked in front of the house, which was still adorned with Christmas decorations.
“They’ve had hard times, but they weren’t a family of bad news,” said Waterford Town Clerk Joanne Jurentkuff.
Allen Prue had plowed Jenkins’ driveway and asked her out a couple of times, police said. She told a friend that she felt uncomfortable around him and later had him stop plowing, but that he showed up drunk at her home in autumn 2011 to ask whether he could plow the following year.
Police say Allen and Patricia lured Jenkins from her home, with the wife calling her to say they were broken down on her road. Allen Prue then strangled her, police said.
Jenkins’ young son, Ty Robertson, apparently witnessed at least part of the attack, police said. When an investigator questioned him, he pulled on the back of his neck and indicated that a perpetrator had done the same to “mommy.”
Back at their home, investigators say, Allen Prue put Jenkins’ body on a tarp, removed her clothes and poured bleach on her body. The Prues also removed their clothes and put them on the tarp.
They then drove to a boat access at the Connecticut River, which separates Vermont from New Hampshire, and put Jenkins’ body in the water, weighing it down with cinder blocks and concealing it with brush, court documents said.
Associated Press writer Wilson Ring contributed to this report.