DANBURY — The chief state medical examiner who performed an autopsy on the skeletal remains of Elizabeth Heath testified in court on October 2 that her injuries indicated she had attempted to defend herself from her attacker before she was beaten to death by blunt-force traumatic head blows.
H. Wayne Carver, MD, who recently retired from his state post, testified in Danbury Superior Court as a prosecution witness in the murder trial of John Heath, 70, of Bridgewater. Newtown police arrested Mr Heath on a murder charge in April 2012, in connection with the April 1984, death of his wife Elizabeth, who was then 32.
Police allege that Mr Heath beat his wife to death and then stuffed her remains into a drywell located beneath the floor of a barn on their property at 89 Poverty Hollow Road in Newtown. Mr Heath is being held on bail.
Mr Heath reported Ms Heath as missing to Newtown police several days after her April 1, 1984, disappearance. Mr Heath had filed for divorce against his wife about two months earlier.
Dr Carver testified in court that dental records indicated that the skeletal remains found in the barn by the property’s current owners in April 2010 were those of Ms Heath.
The prosecution projected a sequence of slides that showed the skeletal evidence.
One photo depicted a thoroughly shattered skull “that has obviously been broken into a lot of pieces,” Dr Carver said.
Also, a shattered shoulder blade, considered to be “a very unusual injury,” could have been caused by Ms Heath having been forcefully, directly struck by someone wielding some type of long, thin object, he said.
Dr Carver said it took much energy to break off Ms Heath’s upper jaw, possibly a strong blow across the bottom of her nose.
Most of the injuries occurred to the front of her skull, he said, adding that there were at least four blows to the top of her head.
Ms Heath’s broken left forearm indicated that she attempted to defend herself against her attacker, Dr Carver said.
Supervising Assistant State’s Attorney Warren Murray is the prosecutor, and attorney Francis O’Reilly is Mr Heath’s special public defender. Judge Robin Pavia is presiding.
Under cross-examination by Mr O’Reilly, Dr Carver said that while the forearm injury occurred before Ms Heath died, it is possible that some of the other injuries occurred after she had died.
In court on October 1, a half-sister of John Heath, who had worked with him as a commercial painter, testified that she told him that she smelled “something that was dead” in the barn on his property at some point not long after Ms Heath had been reported as missing.
Louann Chevalier testified that Mr Heath responded that maybe there was something dead in the barn, perhaps wildlife, such as a bat. Ms Chevalier was subpoenaed as a witness by the state.
Ms Chevalier testified that Ms Heath was a good mother to her young daughter, Meaghann.
Ms Chevalier said that Mr Heath’s current wife, Raquel, sometimes served as a babysitter for Meaghann when the Heaths went out to socialize.
Both Raquel Heath and Meaghann were present as spectators in the courtroom. Meaghann is now in her 30s.
Ms Chevalier said that after Ms Heath went missing, Mr Heath approached her and said he wanted to marry Raquel, but Ms Chevalier responded that Mr Heath should wait because the missing Elizabeth might return home to 89 Poverty Hollow Road.
Defense Points To Another Suspect
Also subpoenaed by the state as a witness was Patricia Heath, another half-sister of Mr Heath.
Under cross-examination by Mr O’Reilly, Patricia Heath said that the reason that John Heath’s mother divorced his father, Chester, was because Chester was a child molester. Chester Heath is deceased.
Ms Chevalier said that Chester Heath had served a prison sentence stemming from a child molestation charge.
Mr O’Reilly said that Ms Chevalier told Newtown police during an interview that she believed that Chester Heath had killed Elizabeth Heath.
Mr Murray objected to that claim, which Judge Pavia sustained, ordering the 12-member jury to ignore that allegation.
Detective Raymond Insalaco of the state police, who was a witness for the prosecution, explained that after Ms Heath’s skeletal remains were found in April 2010, police sought and received three search/seizure warrants for 5 Keeler Road in Bridgewater, where John and Raquel Heath then lived.
Newtown police had called in state police for aid in the investigation after the skeletal remains were found.
Newtown police Detective Joseph Joudy explained that Newtown police included as evidence in their investigation a Heath family photo that incidentally pictured bedding that was similar to the bedding in which Ms Heath’s skeletal remains were wrapped when they were discovered. Det Insalaco had provided that photo to Newtown police after receiving it from a Heath family friend.
On October 1, state police Detective Daniel Jewiss provided secret audio recordings of interviews which he and Det Joudy had conducted with John Heath and Raquel Heath at the Heath’s Bridgewater residence shortly after Ms Heath’s remains were found.
In explaining their sudden appearance at the Heath home, the detectives told the Heaths that they were following up on the long-running missing person investigation, and did not initially inform them that the skeletal remains had been uncovered in the Poverty Hollow Road barn. The surreptitious recordings have poor sound quality.
In recordings played in court on October 2, the detectives inform the Heaths that a skeleton had been found in the barn, after which the Heaths expressed surprise at the news.
According to the recordings, Mr Heath told the police that Elizabeth Heath had a history of running away.
In the recordings, Mr Heath told police that he woke up one morning in April 1984, and his wife was missing, having left their property. She had not taken her auto, he said. He told police that he assumed that she had run off with another man who had driven her away.
“She wasn’t there and I didn’t understand why she wasn’t there,” Mr Heath told police. He added that he made a number of phone calls in seeking to locate her before reporting her as missing to police.
While cleaning out a decayed efficiency apartment in the barn in April 2010, Jordan Wright of Redding made the grisly discovery of Ms Heath’s remains.
Mr Wright, who owns the 89 Poverty Hollow Road property with his parents, told the jury on September 27 that to be certain his suspicions were correct, he contacted his father, Kenneth, who is a physician, who then confirmed that a large bone that had been uncovered was a human femur or thighbone. Dr Wright then called police to the scene and gave them permission to search the property.
In testimony, Robert Tvardzik, a former Newtown police detective, told Mr Murray that on April 6, 1984, Mr Heath came to the Newtown police station to report that Ms Heath had disappeared.
“He told me that his wife had not been seen since April 1,” Mr Tvardzik said. Mr Heath provided police with a description of his wife and said that she had taken $600 with her, but had not taken any additional clothing or her vehicle, Mr Tvardzik said.
Mr Heath told police that his wife had left home voluntarily and that he wanted police to locate her, Mr Tvardzik said.
The former police detective explained the steps that police took in seeking to find Ms Heath.
Richard Stook, a former Newtown police detective, testified that in 1990, he resumed the police probe into Ms Heath’s disappearance, which was then considered a “cold case.”
Mr Stook told the prosecutor that he called Mr Heath as part of his review of the investigation, and Mr Heath was not helpful.
“Mr Heath was less than cooperative,” Mr Stook said, adding that the defendant asked him why he was resuming the police probe.
“He showed no concern, whatsoever,” Mr Stook explained.
State police Detective Karoline Keith testified that state police investigated at 89 Poverty Hollow Road on April 14, 15, and 16, 2010, documenting the scene and collecting evidence after the skeletal remains had been found.
Police uncovered the decomposing skeletal remains of Ms Heath wrapped in bedding that had been placed in garbage bags and positioned inside the drywell, Det Keith said. Also found were Ms Heath’s personal effects including clothing and jewelry.
In questioning Det Keith, Mr O’Reilly, observed that it likely would have taken much force to jam the corpse of Ms Heath into the compact drywell, considering the drywell’s small dimensions.
Det Keith responded that she has seen corpses jammed into smaller spaces.