NEWPORT, N.H. (AP) – Police are still chasing leads in the disappearance of a killer who escaped from the state hospital nearly 34 years ago.

Monday marks 46 years since John William McGrath, then 17, murdered his two younger brothers and parents at their Newport home. A grand jury found him insane, and he was sentenced to life in the state hospital, but he escaped in August 1974 and hasn’t been seen since.

Police remain hopeful that McGrath, who would be nearly 64, will be found, or at least confirmed dead. Among those still hoping is Barry Hunter, the state police detective who inherited the case in 1984 and continues to pursue it even though he retired last year.

“I’ll be interested in this case as I always have been, as long as I’m around here,” said Hunter, a lieutenant with the Sullivan County Sheriff’s office.

He and state Trooper Richard Spaulding are investigating a lead that surfaced in the last year and have tracked other tips to California and Rhode Island. Each year, he visits the victims’ graves in Newport around the anniversary of the murders in case McGrath has visited and left a clue.

“It all comes back to the fact that this was just tragedy beyond belief,” Hunter said. “These were just horrendous, outrageous murders. This is certainly not a forgotten case.”

News accounts of the murders described McGrath as smiling, nonchalant and debonair. He had studied at St. Paul’s School in Concord and had applied to Dartmouth College. But he also had been seeing a doctor at the state hospital for two years, and in writings found after the murders, he made repeated references to death, an executioner and darkness.

“There was no question that there were two sides to John McGrath,” Hunter said.

According to the newspaper articles, McGrath was upset about his parents’ frequent arguing and at having to cancel a date to baby-sit his brothers that night. He used a hunting rifle to kill his brothers, Peter, 14, and Charles, 5, and then his parents when they returned home.

McGrath then drove 40 miles to the state hospital and asked to see the doctor who had been treating him. Told it was too late to see the doctor, McGrath threw four rifle cartridges on the counter and blurted out a confession. A hospital security guard took him to the police station, where McGrath told authorities that he had contemplated the murders all day.

At the hospital, McGrath took correspondence classes, painted murals and joined a leadership program. His good behavior earned him the right to take classes at the technical college, yet a year later he was transferred to the state prison for stealing drugs from the hospital pharmacy and selling them to other patients. In 1972, he returned to the hospital and in short order earned back the right to walk the grounds unescorted.

On Aug. 13, 1974, he walked away and never returned.

Hunter and Spaulding continue to follow up every tip.

“He could be a successful businessman in some part of the country or in a pauper’s grave in Cleveland, Ohio,” Hunter said. “We may never know.”


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