It’s been just more than 30 years since a well-known and beloved golf pro in Manchester, Vermont was sexually assaulted and murdered. To this day, no one has answered for Sarah Hunter’s death.
“She was the person, the female that everybody would’ve hoped would’ve been their sister,” says Hunter’s best friend, Todd McIntosh.
The last time McIntosh saw Hunter was September 18, 1986. 30 years later, he says seldom a day goes by when he doesn’t think of her.
“She was very, very athletic and funny.”
McIntosh has since moved to Maine, but he and Hunter worked together for years at the Manchester Country Club. She was the Head Pro. He was the Assistant Pro.
“She was a very talented golfer and teacher,” says McIntosh. “She mentored an awful lot of kids, as did I, that was important to both of us, and everybody loved her.”
On September 19, 1986, the lesson Hunter was supposed to teach that morning never happened. She never showed up.
“By quarter past eight, 15 minutes after she hadn’t showed up, I knew something was wrong and I immediately called Manchester Police,” says McIntosh.
Former Manchester Police Criminal Investigator Russ Taxter says he vividly remembers the day he got the call about a strangely parked car, abandoned behind Manchester’s old Citgo gas station. Investigation revealed it was registered to Sarah Hunter.
You couldn’t open the doors, so someone had to get out and push the car in there,” says Taxter. “For one, why would she put her car there and push it into an alley when she could’ve left it at home?”
Taxter says it was then that his department began treating Hunter as a missing person. In the next couple of months, a handful of suspects would be questioned, to no avail, including Todd McIntosh.
“I don’t remember the name of the big grocery store in Manchester, but I was in the parking lot to get a gallon of milk and a police cruiser pulled up on either side of me, so close to me that I couldn’t get out of my car,” says McIntosh. “They rolled their windows down and just sat in their cruisers staring at me.”
On Thanksgiving day, 1986, a landowner found Sarah Hunter’s body on his property on Route 133 in Pawlet and alerted officials. She was 32 years old.
“And her pocketbook was found on the side of the road in Danby by some young kids,” says Taxter. “I think everyone was concerned and frightened that this wouldn’t happen in a small town.”
“I saw it on TV, that’s how I found out, it was on the news that they had found her body,” says McIntosh. “Upstate New York, Vermont, Maine; it’s not supposed to happen and it can and it does happen.”
“It was exhaustive when I read through all of what happened,” says Bennington County State’s Attorney Erica Marthage. “They did all the vacuumings, they did all the dusting for fingerprints, they used tracking dogs, they were following up with search warrants and interviews.”
“He had always been a person of interest in the investigation even back in the 80’s immediately following the abduction,” says Marthage.
After two interviews with local and state police in 1986 and 1987, which did not amount to charges against him, Morrison left Vermont in 1988 for California. He is now serving a 20-year to life sentence there for kidnapping, sexual assault, and attempted murder of two other women.
“I would consider those cases consistent with the Sarah Hunter abduction and ultimate murder,” says Hunter.
Marthage, a Manchester native, was a 16-year-old in high school when Hunter was murdered.
“It spans so much of my life.”
After two years of analyzing evidence, Morrison was charged with Hunter’s murder in 2014. Relief, however, would be short-lived.
“The FBI was able to analyze nine hairs and that’s where the fatal flaw occurred in this case is the nine hairs were vacuumings taken from Sarah Hunter’s car, not David Morrison’s car,” says Marthage.
Hair belonging to Hunter was thought to have come from Morrison’s car. The FBI lab found it, in fact, was removed from Hunter’s own vehicle. Marthage says this mishandling of evidence on the part of Vermont State Police forced her to drop charges against Morrison in February of 2015.
“I would never foreclose the possibility of this case being charged again, but there is a significant hurdle with the physical evidence and how we would be able to use that in the future,” says Marthage. “Once that mistake happened, regardless of what the other evidence is, the entire case is going to become about that mistake.”
To this day, Hunter’s murder remains unanswered for.
“It does affect you, at the time, you put that aside, you’re thinking more about what’s going on and what you have to do, but thinking back on it, it makes you wonder,” says Taxter. “It makes you wonder why people do the things they do.”
Those closest to Hunter are hesitant to believe justice will ever be done.
“What if it was your sister, or your mother, or your best friend?” says McIntosh. “You’d want whoever did it to be held accountable for it and that won’t happen here.”
The Vermont State Police Major Crime Unit was formed in 2015, the month after Morrison’s charges were dropped due to evidence mishandling. The Major Crime Unit is a dedicated homicide investigation team. Detective Lieutenant Scott Dunlap is now leading the investigation into Hunter’s murder. He says he’s currently determining what evidence can be tested with the latest technology, including DNA testing.
Golfers remember Hunter each year at Manchester Country Club’s Sarah Hunter Spring Classic. The 30th tournament will be held this coming May.