HOOKSETT, N.H. (AP) – When Hooksett Police arrested a local man in the 20-year-old murder of Danny Paquette, it revived memories of another suspicious, unsolved death in the victim’s family.

Danny Paquette was 15 when he and his uncle, an off-duty Manchester police officer, discovered his mother’s burned body in an abandoned pigsty on Paquette property near the family’s Londonderry farm.

No one has ever been arrested in the Feb. 3, 1964, death of 52-year-old Rena Paquette. The state attorney general at the time, William Maynard, ruled she had died from “cremation by suicide,” but her family believed she had been murdered.

Her body was exhumed in 1991 and re-examined, and the cause of death was revised to “undetermined.” The medical examiner said homicide was a good possibility.

Twenty-one years later, Danny Paquette was shot and killed while driving a bulldozer outside his home in Hooksett. At first, police theorized his death was due to a hunting accident, but last week they arrested Eric Windhurst, 37, of Hopkinton, and charged him with first-degree murder.

Windhurst was 17 years old at the time of the Nov. 9, 1985, shooting, and had dated Paquette’s stepdaughter, Melanie.

Danny Paquette’s older brother, Victor, and family friends said they had suspected Windhurst since getting an anonymous phone call and two unsigned letters in 1992. Last week, they said they did not know why Hooksett police finally were able to make an arrest, but they were pleased.

In the years after both deaths, however, family members felt they had to fight with authorities to get justice, Victor Paquette said.

“It totally destroyed any confidence we had in the legal system,” he said.

At the time of his mother’s death, victims’ families were kept in the dark while politicians made decisions and investigators obeyed, he said.

David Lord, a retired Manchester police officer who helped investigate Rena Paquette’s death in 1964, told the New Hampshire Union Leader in 1991 that detectives never believed she had committed suicide.

He said officers were ordered to “forget” their suspicions of murder, however. Lord said he thought the order came from Maynard, but the former attorney general denied it.

After Rena Paquette’s body was exhumed in 1991, an employee in the Medical Examiner’s office found the original autopsy report, which said semen was found on her body and there was evidence her arms had been bound. Also, someone had placed two logs outside the door of the pigsty so it could not be opened from inside.

Victor Paquette believes his mother was killed by Edward H. Coolidge Jr., who was later convicted in the Jan. 13, 1964 murder of Pamela Mason, a 14-year-old Manchester girl, whose body was found near the Londonderry town line.

Rena Paquette had told friends and police she had information that led her to suspect Coolidge, he said. News accounts from that period said she had gotten phone calls from a woman who told her to check the pigsty because Mason had been murdered there.

In 1992, Matthias Reynolds, who defended Coolidge in Mason’s murder, said there was no way his client could have killed Rena Paquette. Reynolds said on the day Rena Paquette died, police questioned Coolidge until 2:30 a.m. about Mason’s death and that later, he appeared in Manchester District Court on an unrelated charge.

Coolidge was convicted of murdering Mason. He was released from prison in March 1991.

Information from: New Hampshire Union Leader, http://www.theunionleader.com

AP-ES-12-18-05 1354EST

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