As 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.
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.
Illegal 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.”
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.
Seated 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.