December 30, 2008
Thibeault murder among year’s biggest crimes
Missing Killawog woman, high speed chase, arsons keep investigators busy throughout year
The first homicide case in Cortland County since 2002, a Killawog woman’s mysterious and still unsolved dissappearance, several people convicted of sex offenses and an arson were among the most significant cases that kept police and firefighters busy this year.
Investigators ruled the death of Wendy Thibeault of Cortlandville a homicide after an investigation revealed she had been strangled in her Tower Road home in May.
Wendy’s husband, Charles “Randy” Thibeault Sr., 60, was indicted for murder about two months later. Thibeault faces additional charges from threats police say he made to his wife, 52 days before her murder.
Thibeault was indicted on felony counts of second-degree murder, first-degree burglary, third-degree criminal possession of a weapon and first-degree criminal contempt.
County Judge Julie Campbell upheld the murder indictment in October, and the case will go to trial in February.
Broome County Sheriff’s deputies and search teams are still looking for signs of a Killawog woman who disappeared in April.
Bethanie Dougherty, 40, was last seen at her 554 Jennings Creek Road in Killawog on April 1. Police have been unable to turn up any leads in the investigation.
Dougherty was reported missing after she did not show up to her 6 a.m. shift at the Freeville Xtra-Mart. A lengthy search has been conducted by the Broome County Sheriff’s Department and Eagle Valley Search Dogs. Police said Dougherty is presumed dead.
In May 2007, a Homer man led police on a lengthy car chase across much of the county, resulting in a city police officer being the first to fire his gun at a suspect in over 30 years.
Erik W. Vandenburg, 23, of 2330 Route 13 in Homer, pleaded guilty in July to felony counts of criminal posession of a weapon, two counts of first degree reckless endangerment, and four counts of third-degree criminal mischief.
A county grand jury handed up a 99-count indictment against Vandenburg, which included 27 misdemeanor charges.
The chase began when Vandenburg sped away after being pulled over by a Homer police officer on Route 281. He told police after his arrest that he was trying to avoid a third drunken driving charge.
During the chase, city police tried to trap Vandenburg on Arthur Avenue, but Vandenburg rammed into them and kept driving. City police officer Jesse Abbott fired four shots into the rear of Vandenburg’s truck, but did not hit him. Abbott said in court that he was the first city officer in 30 years to fire his weapon at a suspect, and admitted it was something he was not proud of.
A Dryden woman was convicted in Tompkins County Court in March for drowning and sexually abusing her 2-year-old neice.
After a trial, Marie Manos, 34, was sentenced to 25 years to life in state prison, the maximum term she could receive.
Manos was babysitting her neice Grace Manos on May 15 at her Ringwood Road apartment, when Grace was hospitalized after ingesting water while in the bathtub. Grace was put on life support.
Police investigated and learned Manos had intentionally caused the death and had sexually abused her.
Despite Manos’ expressions of remorse in court, Tompkins County Judge John Sherman said at sentencing that he had never seen as senseless an act as this one.
There were several noteworthy sexual assault cases heard in court this year, one of which involved a former city high school teacher accused of having a sexual relationship with a student.
Nicholas Thomas, 26, of Cortland was sentenced Nov. 25 in City Court to 60 days in County Jail and 6 years of probation.
Thomas pleaded guilty on Sept. 11 to one count of third-degree attempted rape, forcible touching, and three counts of endangering the welfare of a child, all misdemeanors.
Police said Thomas had sexual contact with a 15-year-old female student on at least two occasions in May in a Junior High School classroom. Four other girls came forward and said Thomas had made sexual advances or inappropriate comments toward them.
“Your behavior is a betrayal of the trust given to you by the school and this community,” City Judge Thomas Meldrim said at sentencing.
Thomas was fired by the city Board of Education in July after his first City Court appearance.
A fire at Crown Cleaning Center at 21 Clinton Ave. on June 27 was linked to an Ithaca man the day after the fire and also caused heavy damage to a neighboring Army-Navy Surplus store.
Justin J. Chaffee, 20, of 1215 Lansing St., was charged with third-degree arson, a felony, and second-degree reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor.
Laundromat surveillance footage showed Chaffee inside the building at the time of the fire, which started at about 8:44 p.m.
Chaffee told police after his arrest that he went into the laundromat with a break-up note from his girlfriend and lit it on fire with a match. He only meant to burn the note, he told police. Chaffee’s case is still pending in Cortland County Court.
To read this article and more, pick up today's Cortland Standard
Click here to subscribe