Gifts of Love looking for more donations

By: Terry Sutton, Correspondent for Avon Post

07/30/2008

Food and clothing donations to Gifts of Love are up from a year ago, bolstered by donations from the non-profit Foodshare and the many individuals, organizations and churches who continue to send a steady stream of canned and bottled goods and other items. But Executive Director, Diana Goode wants people to keep in mind that nearly any gift could make a difference to the non-profit organization and the 350 families it serves in the Greater Hartford Area. "Travel samples and hotel giveaways that most people throw out can be very useful to our clients," Goode stated. "These include shampoos, toothpaste and soap. Why throw away items when they can go to someone that really needs them?"

Also, not surprisingly, financial contributions to Gifts of Love are substantially lower this year. But Gifts of Love continues to focus on its families in need, including 30 total from towns of Avon, Simsbury, Canton and Farmington.

The families are allowed a monthly appointment where they are allowed to take home a week's worth of non-perishable food, personal hygiene products, napkins, plates and Toiletries. Clothing is also available with sizes ranging from infants to adults. Bed linens, curtains, towels, pots and pans, dishes and a variety of small appliances are given when available to individuals that need them.

Gifts of Love also provides needy families with furniture, such as beds, cribs, tables and dressers, that people have donated. It also helps with Budgetary counseling and helping to arrange for people to take classes at Goodwin College.

The organization's reach has certainly extended greatly since it was originally formed in the basement of a woman's home in Simsbury in 1989. It started off as a woman recycling her children's clothes and storing unused and extra food in hopes of giving these items to people of less financial means. Soon enough, when the woman's neighbors started contributing their extra food and clothes, a larger space was needed and after they eventually ended up in their current location in Old Avon Village just off of Route 44 in Avon.

And the organization is helping more and more people According to its Web site, Gifts of Love delivered 8,651 bags of food and 1,842 bags of clothes in 2007. That was increase of 43 and 42 percent respectively from the prior year. With the increase of mortgage foreclosures, lay offs and rising food and gas prices, those numbers will increase in 2008 and 2009. Already some Hartford area clients have had trouble even making it to their monthly appointment, due to the high price of gasoline.

Goode encourages families that need the extra help to come down. Many of the individuals they service have lost a job, gone through a divorce, had a spouse deployed overseas or even suffered the death of a loved one. Many families will find it harder to put food on the table while they struggle with other bills such as heating oil. According to their website, Gifts of Love is also a designated agent for Operation Fuel and helps with the payment of utility bills. However, not everyone will seek help even if they need it. "Some people want to do everything to avoid coming to a non-profit like ours. Others don't know where to turn and don't know about us," Goode stated. "We 're here to help these people out." Denise Phillips is the program manager of Gifts of Love and is the person that handles all inquiries.

"Individuals and families need to be referred by a case worker, a school social worker or a rabbi/minister. If people don't have access to these types of people then they should contact us," Phillips said. "As far as people concerned about the stigma of coming here, everything is handled here confidentially."

Phillips also stated that the increase in gasoline and heating fuel is hitting many families hard. "We've already had many phone calls concerning winter heating bills. People are worried. We have also had clients struggle to get here because the gasoline prices are so high." Phillips said. Many of the volunteers that assist are glad to help others in need. Gifts of Love prides itself as an organization that provides a helping hand to others so that they can be self sufficient. They rely heavily on volunteers. Many are from high schools and others are retirees and housewives.

"We've had many clients improve their situations. Many of them come back and contribute to us financially or through various services." Goode said. "It's bittersweet when they no longer need to use our services. You're happy to see them improve their lives but at the same time you establish relationships with these people and when they leave, you miss that." Gifts of Love is always looking for clothing, food, furniture, monetary donations, and volunteers. They are located at 35 East Main St. in Avon and have a Web site at www.giftsoflovect.org/. If you or someone needs to inquire about the services of Gifts of Love you can call Denise Phillips at (860) 676-2323 or e-mail her at dphillips@giftsoflovect.org.



Not everyone happy with legend of Green Lady ghost -

Historian says vandalism is the real tragedy By: Terry Sutton, Correspondent10/15/2008

When it comes to hauntings and ghosts, the legend of the "Green Lady" in Burlington is one of the most well known. Throughout the years, people have claimed to see the spirit, which sometimes manifests itself in the form a green mist and figure of a smiling woman. She has been written about in the book by David Philips, "Legendary Connecticut," and even investigated by famous ghost hunters, the Warrens. An Internet query on a search engine of the terms "Green Lady" and Burlington reveals several websites with information about the apparition. It is folkore that the ghost of the Green Lady is that of a woman named Elisabeth Palmiter who died at the age of 30 in the year 1800. However, not all people believe this legend to be true. Town Historian Len Alderman remains a skeptic and firmly believes that the rumors of the ghost have caused much damage to the Seventh Day Baptist cemetery located on Upson Road. "I consider myself to be an open minded person when it comes to ghosts, but I think the legend of the Green Lady is just a ghost story, nothing more," Alderman said. "Sadly, this is a case of a ghost story that has caused harm in a different way." Alderman stated that many of the rumors about the origin of the ghost are untrue. For example, one legend states that Elisabeth Palmiter, the alleged ghost drowned in a swamp that was located near the graveyard while trying to find her husband. According to Alderman, there is no swamp that is nearby where she had lived. There is also a myth that she may have been killed by her husband. Alderman believes that if it were true, there would have been some written documentation about it. Aldreman states that ghost stories similar to the "Green Lady" were told at evening campfire settings through out the world. He believes that the legend may have started at the old New Britain Fresh Air Camp that was located on Upson Road near the cemetery. He believes that some of the children in attendance at these campfire tales could be the ones responsible for the birth of the legend of "Green Lady of Burlington." Still there are some that claim they have evidence that supports the existence of the "Green Lady." Barry A. A. Dillinger is the founder and an investigator of the website CreepyConnecticut.net. According to Dillinger, his group has done investigations of over 50 hauntings in six and a half years. Only once in all of their investigations have they ever recorded electronic voice phenomenon. They have a link to the daytime video at the Seventh Day Baptist Cemetery on their website. "While running video around the [Seventh Day Baptist] cemetery, we inadvertently captured a female voice humming four notes of a song," Dillinger said. "While this normally wouldn't be that big a deal, this site was, in fact, emphatically pronounced to be "not haunted" by the infamous Warrens [ghost hunters] in the 1980s." Dillinger also pointed out that in several of his investigations they have come across areas that they do not consider to have paranormal activity. However, they concluded that the Seventh Day Baptist Cemetery is definitely haunted. When questioned about the death of Palmiter, Dillinger replied, "The true account of Elisabeth's death is really up to interpretation. Because the records are so old and so sparse, we can only make assumptions on much of what is implied and recorded." Dillinger also points out that there are other mysteries involving the cemetery. He cited that after Palmiter's death, several of the church members died from strange accidental deaths. "After nearly 20 years, the Seventh Day Baptists abandoned Burlington for Armenia in upstate New York and never returned. They left behind everything, Dillinger said. "One of the few remaining structures of the Sabbatarians [What the Seventh Day Baptists were called] is the Seventh Day Baptist Cemetery and the mystery of the Green Lady. Alderman disputes this and states that the Sabbatarians left for religious reasons. Regarding the strange noises that Dillinger and other people claim to have heard at the cemetery, "I say the woods have all sorts of sounds anytime, mostly at night." He is far from convinced that the Green Lady haunts the cemetery and feels that the living is actually haunting the dead. "The real tragedy with the ghost of the Green Lady is the amount of damage that has occurred to the Seventh Day Baptist Cemetery," Alderman said. "The real mystery about the cemetery is not the alleged ghost, but what happened to at least 35 gravestones. A few years ago, they were all smashed and or ripped from the ground including one that was 10 feet high!" The only gravestone still standing without any real damage is that of Elisabeth Palmiter and it was one that was refurnished in the 1980s. Her husband's as well as the other stones are either all gone or damaged beyond readability. Alderman wonders what became of many of the gravestones and why people would do this to an old burial ground. "Someone probably took a truck, loaded up the gravestones and dumped them somewhere," Alderman said. "The real horror story regarding the Green Lady and other ghosts like it are that many of these alleged haunted cemeteries are being vandalized and the deceased are not being allowed to rest in peace." The one thing that Dillinger and Alderman do agree on is that graveyard vandalism is a nationwide epidemic. State Police stationed in Burlington have taken notice of this problem and have made it no secret that they will arrest people caught trespassing on the Seventh Day Baptist Cemetery grounds. Sadly, other cemeteries in Burlington have fallen victim to vandalism. On July 13, 2002, there was a serious act of vandalism at the Lamson Corner Cemetery, which is located off Route 69. The cemetery, like the Seventh Day Baptist Cemetery, has a reputation of being haunted. The Burlington Cemetery Association has a $1,000 dollar reward for information leading to the arrests of the persons responsible for the damage. In regards to the vandalism of the towns cemeteries, Alderman refers to the gravestone of one Burlington's founders, Jared Covey. The gravestone had been stolen from its gravesite and eventually returned and is now in the basement of the Burlington library. It reads: "Stop; look at me as you pass by As you are now so once was I As I am now so you will be Prepare for death & follow me" "Maybe the next time someone comes into a cemetery with the intent to vandalize it, they should heed what Covey says." ©Imprint Newspapers 2008




It was a crime that shocked the entire town.

Twelve years later the unsolved brutal double murder of a mother and grown daughter still haunts Windsor, its residents and its police force. Windsor Police Detective Deborah Swanson stated it was one of the most brutal crimes she has investigated in her 23-year career. It is the only unsolved homicide in Windsor in the last 70 years. On March 21, 1996, Windsor Police were called to a home at Massow Lane. The house was on fire. Upon entering, the police found the bodies of 54-year-old Champaben Patel and her 32-year-old daughter Anita Patel. Champaben's body was found in the bedroom of her home. She had been suffocated to death and her body lit on fire. Police theorized that Anita Patel had unknowingly interrupted the attack when she walked into the house with her two children aged 2 and 5. She told the children to leave and was attacked in the kitchen. She was stabbed 14 times and had gasoline poured around her body and lit. The medical examiner determined that despite the stab wounds, smoke inhalation caused her death. For 12 years a cloud of suspicion has hovered over the head of Jatin Patel, the son of Champaben Patel and the older brother of Anita. There were several reasons that caused Windsor Police to look at him as a suspect. There had been ongoing tension between him and the two victims due to their disapproval of Jatin's wife, Seema. At the time of the murders, Jatin was experiencing financial difficulties and had tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt. Most damaging to him was that his alibi during the time of the murder could not be verified by anyone else. However, 12 years later, no arrests have been made. In March of 2006, Gov. M. Jodi Rell authorized a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) responsible for the murders. The case is now being investigated by the Chief State's Attorney's Office Cold Case Unit. The unit was officially formed in 2005 but has actually been working cases since 1998. Supervisory Inspector Jim Rovella is a former Hartford Police Detective and heads the group. The unit consists of several detectives from the towns of Windsor, Wethersfield, Farmington, Bloomfield, East Hampton and Hartford. They also work closely with members of the Department of Corrections. According to Inspector Rovella, the unit provides the detectives from these various towns valuable experience in learning how to investigate violent crimes. For a case to be investigated by the Cold Case Unit, police chiefs from various cities and towns must submit their requests to the state's attorney in their judicial district. Then the state's attorney must give the request to Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane. Members of the unit work on cases throughout the state and have had success in solving several cases. The most notorious of these solved cases is the 1973 stabbing death of 21-year-old Penny Serra in a downtown New Haven parking garage. When the Cold Case Unit took the case they took DNA evidence found at the crime scene and matched it in a criminal database of known felon offenders. The DNA at the scene matched that of a former convict named Edward Grant. Grant was convicted of Serra's murder and is now serving a 20-year to life prison sentence. Rovella does not dwell much on the cases he and his unit have already solved. To him, the most important cases are the ones still open. His office contains a bulletin board that lists all of the cases that his unit is presently investigating. The cases include homicides and sexual assaults that have taken place all over Connecticut. The names are listed on top of each other and he pointed out that his bulletin board was running out of space. At the top and forefront of the board is the double murder of Champaben and Anita Patel. When asked if he had any favorite cases that he solved, Rovella said, "Just the one I haven't solved yet. You're only as good as your next case. Our goal is to find the truth wherever that may lie." In the Patel double murder case, truth has been hard to find. Since the beginning of the initial investigation, Windsor Police had a prime suspect. However, the Cold Case Unit and the Windsor Police Department decided to start back at square one and look at the case with several new sets of eyes. "We have several detectives in the unit look at it and make suggestions," Rovella said. "We rely a lot on timelines. Timelines of what suspects did or said to people. Timelines of police activity. All the evidence is looked at again. Sometimes different sets of eyes can see something that was missed. Sometimes new witnesses come forward." When asked about a possible motive in the Patel homicides, Rovella stated that oftentimes motive is not known until the arrest and conviction of a perpetrator. "Speculation can be a dangerous thing, as well as oversight," he said. "In a criminal investigation, details are the most important thing." According to Swanson, new DNA evidence in the last few years has forced the Patel investigation into a different direction than when the murders first took place. Shortly after the murders, several letters were sent to area newspapers, the Windsor Police Department and family members of the victims. The letters contained intimate details of the murders that only a participant or someone who had second- or third-hand knowledge would know. The letter indicated that a cousin of the Patel family named Neela had hired someone to commit the crime. Windsor Police initially believed that Jatin Patel had written the letter to throw the police off his trail. "DNA came off of one of the letters," Rovella stated. "We eventually got a match to another crime. This crime was an assault and robbery of a woman in the New Haven area. We're chasing the DNA lead and it's taken us to several cities and towns. The DNA was not from a Patel family member and has not matched any known offender in the state or federal DNA database." A few years after the murders occurred, Jatin Patel and his family settled in the southeastern part of the country. When reached for comment about the new DNA evidence, Patel was excited. Talking about his situation as a suspect, he made reference to the Jon Benet Ramsey murder case. The Ramsey family had been under a cloud of suspicion soon after the six-year-old beauty queen was found murdered in her Boulder, Colo. home on Dec. 26, 1996. A DNA sample taken from the crime scene 12 years later cleared the murdered girl's parents and brother from being persons of interest in her homicide. "I am glad that a new team is looking at this case with an unbiased point of view and they are looking at this by looking at the evidence and not personal theories or opinions," Patel said. "I hope this helps solve the murders and help my whole family finally get some peace and clear my name from these false accusations." When asked if he had any idea who would target and kill his mother, Patel said, "I have no idea. I hope this will help people think with an open mind and someone will come forward with some information." Physical evidence is once again being retested. Windsor Detective Swanson and Rovella both emphasized that they are not like the television show "CSI." "It would be great if I could get a DNA sample back in the length of time that it takes for a show to go on a commercial break," Rovella stated. "But it doesn't work like that in reality. The results from DNA testing in the hands of trained and experienced investigators is a powerful tool in solving any crime including cold cases. But it doesn't stand alone. You need people that can cover all angles of an investigation. That includes dealing with witnesses and finding other physical evidence." The Cold Case Unit has a web page showing the various cold cases that they have solved. They include convictions of Jeanette Poulin for killing her then six-week-old son, Omar Ali for killing 44-year-old Darrell Ashton in the victim's Burlington house in 1980 and Hartford serial killer Matthew Johnson. The Cold Case Unit has helped put dangerous predators such as Alfred Swinton and Edwin Snelgrove behind bars for the rest of their lives. Swinton is still considered a suspect in other homicides and Snelgrove had previously served time in New Jersey for another homicide prior to his conviction for murder in Connecticut. Rovella has stated that he has a good team and that they put in extra hours to solve these cases. In the Patel case, the squad and the Windsor Police Department have been working hard to see a successful resolution. "They come in early and they leave late," Rovella said. "They're oftentimes not charging for overtime because they want to see these cases solved." "We think about these cases 24/7," Swanson said. "Even the solved ones. You get to know the families of the victims and you feel for what they are going through." The families of victims of violent crimes can feel more confident that there can be closure in their loved one's cold cases. With 20 convictions so far, the Cold Case Unit will continue to press for justice and to arrest and incarcerate violent criminals. To them, a cold case is an active one. If you have any information about the double murder of Champaben Patel and Anita Patel call the Cold Case Unit at 860-548-0606 or the unit's tip line at 866-623-8058. You can also e-mail them at cold.case@po.state.ct.us.

©Windsor Journal 2008