Prime Suspect Identified in 2006 Shoreline Murder

With PermissionAs the fifth anniversary of the murder of Kathy Hardy approaches, Branford police have announced they have a prime suspect in her murder and believe other co-conspirators are connected to the crime.  They also say they welcome a cold case review if New Haven State’s Attorney Michael Dearington approves.

Hardy perished in an early-morning fire in her rented home at 27 Little Bay Lane on March 7, 2006. Fire officials later determined that an accelerant had been poured on the stairway leading up to her bedroom. Then someone lit a match. Hardy died of smoke inhalation at the top of the stairs. There were no alerts. Her smoke detector had been disconnected and her dog had gone missing. She was 39. 

Over the last five years, the police department, along with the FBI and the state police, have interviewed and re-interviewed scores of people as they try to solve a mystery:  Who murdered Kathy Hardy? Who wanted her killed and why?

Anticipating the Hardy family’s questions as the fifth year anniversary approached, Branford Police Chief John DeCarlo held a 90-minute meeting at police headquarters recently to discuss the status of the case. He invited three top officers along with Hardy’s mother, Bette Bartlett and Kathy’s youngest sister Dawn Luddy and her husband Tim.

The purpose of the meeting was to listen to the family’s views, bring them up-to-date on the case and try to deal with their frustrations. Despite hundreds of interviews and the involvement of the FBI and the state police and an inquiry by a federal grand jury over the years, no one has been arrested and charged. A $50,000 reward for information leading to an arrest still stands. 

Police had some public answers this year.  Lt. William Carroll, who has led the police investigation for the past five years, announced at the meeting that the police have identified a prime suspect, an East Haven man whom Hardy knew well. Police believe he set the fire that led to Hardy’s death and then fled in a black truck with her silver tea set, a pair of candlesticks and some of her jewelry, including a ring and a watch that wound up in the hands of people tied to her clandestine drug world. 

Lt. Carroll said he has long been aware of the man’s alleged involvement in the crime but this is the first year he has publicly identified the man as a prime suspect.  The suspect is currently serving a ten-year sentence in a New York federal prison for brokering the sale of more than 35 grams of crack cocaine. He was indicted and convicted as part of a federal grand jury investigation into Hardy’s death. The grand jury indicted him but issued no indictments in the Hardy case.  The panel is no longer hearing her case.

Hardy, a devoted mom to her three young children, was an avid gardener, a woman with an entrepreneurial spirit but a woman who could be confrontational.

She was also at a crossroads in her life when she was killed. She was trying to kick a cocaine habit and she was trying to straighten out a complex set of relationships involving three men, two of whom were once close friends. She was, according to her family, an informant for the state police. The state police, along with the prime suspect, were at her house on a Sunday afternoon two days before the fire was set. It is not clear why.  She was also under investigation for extortion by the East Haven police.

In the weeks before her death, according to her family, she had also engaged in a series of confrontational exchanges with the wife and father of a North Branford businessman with whom she was having an affair.  She was with him, his driver, and a close girlfriend on the last night of her life, Monday, March 6, at a Taco Bell in East Haven. She was back at her rented home on Little Bay Lane by about 7 p.m. Police said they know that because she called her ex-husband, Jeff Hardy, around that time. He had their children—then ages 10, 6 and 5—that weekend. 

It was a brief conversation, Jeff Hardy told the Eagle in an interview. She didn’t sound right, he said. “She sounded like she was drugged. She was slurring her words. She sounded out of it.”

As he looks back at the events that followed, he said: “To me what is really strange is that the smoke alarms didn’t go off in the house and that she didn’t jump out of a window to escape the smoke coming up the stairs.  I really believe she was drugged and that is why she virtually slept through it all.”

The toxicology reports say otherwise. No drugs were found in her body. But Jeff Hardy says maybe she was slipped something that just didn’t show up, because her voice spoke volumes. 

As for who might take her life, Jeff Hardy said he thought his former wife “had made someone very angry. She shot her mouth off. She could be very opinionated. She believed she was being cheated out of some money.”

At the time, she did not have a job and she was worried about being thrown out of her house, he said.

He, too, is concerned about the investigation. “It seems like something should have happened by now” he said.

Credit Card

Twelve hours after their final conversation, Kathy Hardy’s house was on fire. It was Tuesday morning.  Within hours the woman with her at the Taco Bell used her credit card in New Haven. Police later arrested her for the credit card use. The woman said Kathy had given her the card before the fire and had done so on several other occasions. Police said they believe this to be true.

Lt. Carroll also tracked down the (now jailed) prime suspect and another man police believe is connected the case. Police believe that two or three men were directly involved in a plot to kill her.

Police found the silver tea set, the candlesticks, and the jewelry in the prime suspect’s truck.  Bu the suspect said they were gifts from Kathy. And Lt Carroll said the police could not prove otherwise. Kathy’s family says these were precious objects and Kathy would never have given them away. The suspect was not charged with theft.

With PermissionIllegal drugs, primarily cocaine, were a large part of Kathy’s life. She had gone into rehab when she was younger, before she was married, but had never quite kicked the habit.  Her parents and siblings and former husband disapproved of her new friends but tried to remain close. She was divorced in 2003; Jeff Hardy remarried three years later.  Her contact with her family was sporadic.  Her mother, a social worker, told the Eagle she was trying to get Kathy into rehab near the time of her death. She came close. An appointment had been made for Kathy at a place in Hartford and Kathy indicated she wanted to go. But she didn’t show up. 

In the months before her death Kathy was romantically involved with three men, two who live in Branford and one who lived in Florida.

The two Branford men were old friends.  One was Hardy’s boyfriend after she divorced. They lived together for a time, but she left him. Although she later told family members she might want to marry him, she also called police the night before she died saying she wanted to obtain a restraining order against him. He was “evil” she reportedly told Jeff Hardy, who said does not think she wanted to marry the old boyfriend because “he was too controlling.”

The police have a record of her call. They did not speak to her about her fears; she died before they could do so. He became a suspect at the outset but only for awhile. 
Her other boyfriend, the North Branford businessman, and a person the police want to talk to, was someone she spent a good deal of time with, often staying for days at nearby casinos. He gave her a lifestyle she liked, her former husband said. 

It has been more than five years since police first tried to talk to the North Branford businessman. They still want to talk to him. Lt. Carroll said in an interview that days after the murder he called the man and they set a time for the two to meet the following week.  But the meeting did not take place. Instead the businessman asked his brother, a local attorney, to represent him.

Lt. Carroll said his attorney told him “I represent my brother and any questions you have for him you have to go through me.”  In the end, the businessman did not come down to headquarters to talk to police. “And that was that,” Carroll said. Neither the businessman nor his lawyer responded to messages from the Eagle seeking comment.

An In-Person Update

The Hardy family has had a hard time reconciling how the law works.  At the recent meeting with police Dawn Luddy asked Lt. Carroll why he hadn’t contacted the businessman’s attorney to ask him some questions.

“Because I did not think it would be of any value,” Carroll responded.

“So because you don’t think so, you don’t investigate it?” she pressed.
“We investigated it.,” Lt. Carroll replied. “Believe me when I tell you we investigated it.”

At this point, Chief DeCarlo interjected.

“There are different ways to investigate,” he said. “If you know I am going to lie to you chances are that line of questioning is not going to bear much fruit.  What we did is pursue other avenues to corroborate other information we had.  Also, once someone is represented by an attorney they have the right not to incriminate themselves.”

Luddy asked DeCarlo if the department would agree to a national television show reporting on Kathy’s murder. DeCarlo and Lt. Carroll declined to participate, saying they had narrowed the case to the probable suspects, all of whom are local. National publicity would provide endless leads that would have to be investigated and will go nowhere, they said. 

“When a story goes national,” DeCarlo said, “we become inundated with stuff that is meaningless. People call just to call. If I give our detective a jar of 1,000 black marbles and tell him to look for the grey one, it will take him a lot longer to investigate.”

Cold Case

During the meeting Bartlett asked the chief if her daughter’s case might be sent to the state’s cold case squad. At first the chief said it was an open case. But as he thought about it he said he would not mind if another set of eyes looks at the case. Lt. Carroll concurred. 

By the end of the meeting, DeCarlo indicated he was prepared to give the case to the cold case unit. It later turned out that the state’s attorney’s office is required to evaluate a case before sending it on. The state’s attorney may say yes or he may decide to have state investigators take another look.  The case has now been sent to Dearington’s office. (He is out of town and unavailable for comment.) 

It may seem like a contradiction in terms to say that the police now have a prime suspect whom they can identify and at the same time say the case is cold. But Chief DeCarlo said that knowing those involved in committing a crime and obtaining the evidence to prove it are two different issues. Probable cause must be found and while generally that standard is low, in Connecticut police departments are typically held to a standard of review expected at trial, that is, that the accused committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.  So the eventual police warrant that triggers the case typically takes longer to obtain than it does in other states. 

Moreover, this case may well have been a murder-for-hire, police said.  Detectives know there are other co-conspirators, Lt. Carroll said, people who might know why the smoke detectors were disconnected and why Kathy Hardy’s answering machine was tampered with.   

Bartlett and Luddy are actively involved in homicide victim advocacy groups, groups that help them cope with their loss.  They read a lot. They check out changes in the lives of those who surrounded Kathy and they learn a lot, especially about a world so foreign to them. 

At one point Bartlett said at the meeting: “We heard a story that three people sat down to plan her murder. We heard it twice. They actually sat down and planned the murder.”

DeCarlo acknowledged that the lead detective Paul Perrotti heard the same story.  “But hearing a story and building the probable cause case for a prosecution are two entirely different things,” he explained.

Marcia ChambersSeated at a long table in the police department’s conference room, the family listened to DeCarlo’s explanations. They nodded. They said nothing.They are tired of waiting.Their lives have been redirected by this murder. Their presence at the table said that. They spend many of their days tracking down leads, calling the police and expecting answers right away. They have become Kathy’s voice and her advocate.


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posted by: wondering on March 4, 2011  12:42pm

Was she killed because the bad guys figured out she was an informant?

posted by: Inspector Clouseau on March 4, 2011  1:00pm

Let me get this straight.  She was:

1) Involved with drug dealers
2) Fooling around with 3 guys at the same time
3) A snitch for the cops
4) Extorting money from someone in East Haven

Oy vey, all the cops could come up with was one suspect?  Seems like hundreds, perhaps thousands of people would have a motive…

posted by: Noteworthy on March 4, 2011  1:45pm

You say the police have identified a prime suspect as well as co-conspirators. You don’t list a single name. Why?

[Note: Our policy is not to list the names of suspects in crimes. And especially not to name alleged co-conspirators who haven’t even been charged with crimes.]

posted by: bette barett on March 4, 2011  2:24pm

My name is Bette Barrett mother of Kathy Hardy, the murder victim in the above story.
while marcia did an excellent job of reporting the facts and showed a great deal of interest and empathy with this story,I would like to say the following: I don’t have my head in the sand. I know that Kathy had been involved with drugs in the past and some unsavory characters. Mentioned in this story was that kathy had been in rehab many years ago and continued to fight her drug problem. This is not true, kathy had been clean and sober for many years until the time of her divorce. At that time she made a poor choice of friends and unfortunately chose the wrong path.Despite being on the wrong path she was a wonderful mother to her three children. She struggled on a daily basis to make life better not only for herself but the children as well.One last fact: toxicology reports do not lie… her tests was repeated twice with negative results each time. It’s unfortunate that the Branford police dept defines my daughters worth as a jar of black marbles with the one grey marble that might solve her murder and then admit they dont have the staff or the time to search for the grey marble.

posted by: roger on March 4, 2011  3:00pm

Too bad for the family.Someday maybe somebody will catch on what best person for the job really means.

posted by: Bette barrett on March 4, 2011  5:38pm

Inspector cclousea
I wondered how long it would be before her name would start to be dragged thru the mud. Do you think any of the things she did warrant murder. Are you a parent? Are you perfect or perhaps your one of her so called friends and that’s why you haven’t used your name. And trust me there is more then one suspect.

posted by: Bette on March 4, 2011  6:00pm

Dear wondering, the Branford police state that her murder had nothing to do with her being an informant. I don’t know if that’s true. They tell us she was pulled over with a very small amount of marijuana and I’m sure she was afraid never having been arrested so she agreed to be an informer an informer who obviously was not protected.

posted by: Dawn Luddy on March 4, 2011  8:12pm

when I asked Lt. Carroll why he hadn’t contacted the businessman’s attorney to ask him some questions, he stated
“Because I did not think it would be of any value,”
Chief DeCarlo interjected.
“There are different ways to investigate,” he said. “If you know I am going to lie to you chances are that line of questioning is not going to bear much fruit.” I have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that the Branford Police have publicly stated that this “businessman” is a man of interest but they haven’t questioned him because he might lie to them. How in the world are murders ever solved?

posted by: Bob Barrett on March 4, 2011  11:56pm

Thank you for your article, and for finally bringing some of the facts of this case to light.
My sister was not perfect by any means.  She struggled with addiction, as do many decent people from many decent families.  Do any of us know of a single family that has not been touched in some way by this plague?  Kathy was a mother, a daughter, a sister, a wife, a friend; yes, she made some bad choices, but she did not deserve to die.

There is a great deal of evidence that my sister was trying to put her life back in order.  She was exploring rehab, she had made several calls to her NA sponsor in the days leading up to her death, and her toxicology reports did not show any drug use.

This case is much bigger than a simple drug killing.  Marcia, you know some of the facts which you cannot divulge, but what I am saying is true.  I just ask that people withhold judgment until all the facts are known.

The police know who ordered the murder and why, who paid for the murder, who planned the murder, and who carried it out.  I believe they have known almost from day one, but for reasons that cannot be divulged presently; they have waited to make the arrests.  I believe that day is quickly approaching however, and we will see justice.

posted by: Someone who loved Kathy on March 5, 2011  12:24am

Just wondering why police haven’t even attempted to talk to one of the last people to see Kathy alive.  “Because he’s just going to lie to us,” is an almost laughable excuse.  At least it would be were the circumstances not so serious. How many suspects tell the truth when first questioned in a murder investigation? This person is all the more suspicious because he is hiding behind his attorney.  What does he have to hide.  If police had questioned him 5 years ago, and every so often since, perhaps he would have tripped himself up.  But we will never know, will we.  I won’t mention the “businessman” by name, but you know who you are.  If you have nothing to hide, talk to the police…  Or talk to a reporter.  Talk to someone.  Your silence already speaks volumes.

posted by: Ko on March 5, 2011  12:29am

Suspect found with victims items in his truck and no arrest made? something seems wrong here. Business man lawyers up and no one talks to his atty sounds sloppy to me. How many unsolved murder cases does Branford have. Seems I remember another arson years ago where a female attorney died, was that ever solved?

posted by: I'm wondering also on March 5, 2011  2:55pm

(Seems I remember another arson years ago where a female attorney died, was that ever solved?)
KO:  Yes….I’ve been wondering about THAT case for years also.  There was never a follow-up story on that case either.  Was that ever solved?

posted by: Jusice on March 6, 2011  11:39am

Murder for hire. Why? What did Kathy know ? What was so threatning to someone that someone he would hire someone to kill a mother of three.

posted by: a friend on March 7, 2011  8:12am

This is a wonderful article.Thank you Marcia. Also there is an article in Sun. NH Register…what I find most intriguing about that article are a couple of reader comments…..they have solved the case!!!

posted by: roger huzendubel on March 7, 2011  11:05am

i think the fact she was a police informant was her downfall. people will go to great lengths to protect what can take away their freedom. The cops might have said that it had nothing to do with her being an informant, but i belive they are saying that to cover up the fact they may have put her in this situation. There is just so many whodunits and twists. The cops are dragging on this one or got something to hide, why dont they just put the pieces together to give the poor parents sanity.

posted by: Bette on March 7, 2011  12:20pm

Today is the 5th anniversary of my daughters murder. I wish I could see her smile one more time, hear her laughter, hug her tight, take her hand and take her way from the violence that was to come. I wish I could go back to March 6th 2006, but we can’t go back, we can only be the voice for Kathy and we will never stop speaking or praying for justice.

posted by: Branford Citizen on March 9, 2011  7:07am

Dawn - I can’t understand either why the police don’t interview the North Branford businessman.  ... And I thought about this as I read this article - if the North Branford business man dies, there would never be another chance to interview him.