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Carl C. DREGA

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

   
 
 
Classification: Spree killer
Characteristics: Revenge - Drega had long battled with government officials, starting with a fight in the 1970s over whether he could use tarpaper to side his house
Number of victims: 4
Date of murders: August 19, 1997
Date of birth: January 19, 1935
Victims profile: Scott Phillips and Les Lord (New Hampshire State Troopers) / Vickie Bunnell (the town selectman) / Dennis Joos (editor of the local Colebrook News and Sentinel)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Colebrook, New Hampshire, USA
Status: Shot to death in a firefight with police the same day
 
 
 
 
 
 

August 19, 1997 - Carl Drega - An army veteran and local troubemaker snapped over a routine traffic stop leaving a judge, two state troopers and a newspaper editor dead in his wake before being shot to death by a swarm of officers in a 45-minute firefight.
 

 
 

Carl Drega (January 19, 1935ľAugust 19, 1997) was a man from Columbia, New Hampshire, who killed 2 state troopers, a judge and a newspaper editor and wounded three other law enforcement officers before being shot to death in a firefight with police. The book The Ballad of Carl Drega by Vin Suprynowicz is named for him.

Drega had long battled with government officials, starting with a fight in the 1970s over whether he could use tarpaper to side his house. He claimed that in 1981, 80 feet of the riverbank along his property collapsed during a rainstorm. Drega decided to dump and pack enough dirt to repair the erosion damage, saying this would restore his lot along the Connecticut River to its original size. State officials, on the other hand, accused Drega of trying to change the course of the river.

In 1995, the town selectman Vickie Bunnell, accompanied a town tax assessor to Drega's property in a dispute over an assessment. Drega fired shots into the air to drive them away. Drega bought an AR-15 rifle and armour vest, and began equipping his property with early-warning electronic noise and motion detectors.

On August 19, 1997, at about 2:30, two New Hampshire State Troopers, Scott Phillips and Les Lord, stopped Drega in the parking lot of LaPerle's IGA supermarket in neighboring Colebrook, New Hampshire, for a "perception of defects" in his pickup truck. Drega shot and killed both troopers.

Drega then commandeered their vehicle and drove to the office of former selectman, now lawyer and part-time judge, Vickie Bunnell. Bunnell reportedly carried a handgun in her purse out of fear of Drega. She warned the staffers in the building to get out and before she herself left by the back door. Drega walked to the rear of the building and shot her in the back from a range of about 30 feet. Bunnell died. Dennis Joos, editor of the local Colebrook News and Sentinel, worked in the office next door. Unarmed, he ran out and tackled Drega. Drega walked about 15 feet with Joos still clutching him around the legs, then shot Joos in the back, killing him.

Drega then drove across the state line to Bloomfield, Vermont, where he fired at New Hampshire Fish and Game Warden Wayne Saunders, sending his car off the road. Saunders was struck on the badge and in the arm, but his injuries were not considered life-threatening. Police from various agencies soon spotted the abandoned police cruiser Drega had been driving. As they approached the vehicle, they began taking fire from a nearby hilltop where Drega had positioned himself, apparently still armed with the AR-15 and about 150 rounds of ammunition. He managed to wound two more New Hampshire state troopers and a U.S. Border Patrol agent before he himself was killed by police gunfire.

Wikipedia.org

 
 

Carl Drega

A local troublemaker and former soldier, Carl Drega blasted his way to infamy on August 19, 1997 when he killed a New Hampshire judge, two state troopers, a newspaper editor and wounded four officers in a three-hour rampage.

The carnage began at about 2:45 p.m. outside a grocery store in Colebrook, a tiny town just south of the Canadian border, when Drega killed two New Hampshire state troopers.

He shot the first trooper, Scott Phillips, with an assault rifle after he was pulled over for having excessive rust on the back of his red pickup truck. Unaware of shots being fired, the second trooper arrived and was immediately shot dead. Then Drega finished off the wounded Phillips with four pistol shots at point-blank range. Drega then took a bullet-proof vest and fled the crime scene in one of the officer's patrol car.

Drega, 62, drove to a building housing both the offices of part-time Judge Vickie Bunnell -- a former Columbia selectwoman who he had tangled with repeatedly over property disputes -- and the weekly News and Sentinel newspapers. Before being shot in the back in the building's parking lot, Judge Bunnell ran through the offices of the newspaper shouting: "It's Drega. He's got a gun!" Next Drega shot Dennis Joos, paper's editor, eight times as they struggled for the gun. Everyone else in the building fled out the back door.

The slain judge had once obtained a restraining order against Drega, whom she called a "time bomb." Her troubles with him dated back to 1991, when she had him removed in handcuffs from the town hall over a zoning dispute. Not satisfied with the carnage, Drega jumped back into the stolen cruiser and raced across the Connecticut River and went looking for another town official, Kenenth Parkhurst, who was also involved in his zoning dispute. Fortunately Mr. Parkhurst was not home. He was at a dentist appointment and his wife was visiting a relative. In a tailspin Drega decided return to his own clapboard house in Columbia -- the property involved in the alleged planning violations -- and burn it to the ground.

Next he drove to Bloomfield, Vermont, where he shot at a fish and game officer. The injured deputy apparently slumped against the accelerator, and his patrol car swerved into some trees. Drega then abandoned the stolen police cruiser and waited for more officers to show up. The rampager positioned himself to ambush anyone who approached the cruiser. Fortunately a police dog sensed the danger and snapped to a position signaling, "alert." In all, three officers were wounded in the 45-minute ensuing firefight that ended with Drega's death.

Officers searching through the burnt hulk of his house discovered a cache of explosives and a series of booby-traps in an "elaborate system of tunnels" surrounding the property. It included 600lb of ammonium nitrate and 60 gallons of diesel fuel, the lethal cocktail used by McVeigh & Co. in the Oklahoma City bombing. State police also found bomb-making books and a weapons manual in the smoldering ruins of his home.

As a precaution ATF agents decided to torch Drega's barn -- called by one official a booby-trapped "bomb-making factory" -- to avoid any further injuries to investigating law officers at the site. Witnesses to the fire counted up to 40 small explosions inside the structure as it burned. The New Hamshire Attorney General Philip McLaughlin said it was not clear whether Drega had planned his deadly rampage or was improvising as he went along.

Neighbors said Drega was a rampage waiting to happen. For the last three days they kept hearing him shooting his gun. One neighbor thought he was: "Weirder than a three-dollar bill." Another described him as: "Somebody that you should be goddammned afraid of. He had bad blood for everybody. He was a psycho, a terror." Kenneth Parkhurst -- the man saved by his dentist appointment -- said: "He was extremely clever, but as nutty a man as you'd ever meet. He was one you were afraid to be around because you never knew what he was going to do next."

 
 

Rampage in New Hampshire Kills 4 Before Gunman Dies

By Carey Goldberg - The New York Times

Wednesday, August 20, 1997

A 67-year-old gunman apparently intent on settling a grudge killed four people in a remote northern New Hampshire town today and wounded four law-enforcement officials, the authorities said. He then led the police on a chase that ended when he was killed in a shootout with about 20 officers.

Witnesses said the man, Carl Drega, began the violence this afternoon at a supermarket in Colebrook, N.H., a town of about 2,000 that is on the Vermont border and near Canada. Colebrook residents described Mr. Drega as militantly anti-government.

Armed with a semiautomatic weapon, Mr. Drega shot a state trooper at the supermarket, the authorities said, then killed a highway inspector in a nearby field and set off in a stolen police cruiser to the office of the local newspaper, The News and Sentinel.

The newspaper shared its building with Vickie Bunnel, a lawyer, associate judge and selectman who had angered Mr. Drega with a property tax ruling several years ago. Ms. Bunnel had feared Mr. Drega so much since then that she had carried a handgun and kept her dog with her at the office, acquaintances said.

''Vickie's office has huge windows that overlook the town park,'' and she saw Mr. Drega coming, said Charlie Jordan, a reporter at The News and Sentinel and a friend of Ms. Bunnel. ''She ran into our offices. She screamed, 'It's Carl! He's got a gun! Get out!' ''

But she was not fast enough to save herself. Witnesses said that even though she and others had run out the back door, Mr. Drega had shot her in the back from about 30 feet away. When a senior editor at the paper, Dennis Joos, tried to tackle Mr. Drega and pin him against a car, he was killed as well.

Mr. Drega fled in the police car, which had its windows blown out, driving into Vermont, the authorities said. At one point, he shot a state fish and game officer in the arm, apparently while breaking through a police checkpoint.

He was chased back into New Hampshire and disappeared into the woods at Stratford, the authorities said. Heavily armed officers from the Vermont and New Hampshire state police and from the Vermont fish and game agency followed him, and shortly after 7 P.M., he died in a shootout on the Vermont side of the Connecticut River.

A United States Border Patrol agent and two New Hampshire state troopers were also wounded in the chase. The Border Patrol agent and one of the troopers were hospitalized, but their conditions were not immediately available. The other trooper was only slightly hurt, authorities said.

In one more piece of the day's puzzle, neighbors said that Mr. Drega's house in Columbia, N.H., southwest of Colebrook, had burned to the ground. Some in Colebrook speculated that he had set the fire to distract the authorities.

A reporter for The News and Sentinel, Claire Knapper, told The Associated Press that the violence had begun with a robbery attempt at the supermarket, LaPerle's IGA. The first two victims were identified as Scott Phillips, a state trooper, and Leslie Lord, a highway inspector.

Until today's incident, The News and Sentinel had been known mainly as New Hampshire's northernmost newspaper.

Its World Wide Web site describes the population it serves, a mix of French- and English-speaking rural residents, as ''fiercely independent, resourceful people.'' And it says the area is a place where doors are left unlocked and car thefts are so rare that they make the front page -- ''and the culprits always get caught.''

 
 

Authorities say gunman had buried explosives

The Joplin Globe

Thursday, August 21, 1997

COLUMBIA, N.H. -- An eccentric troublemaker who coolly gunned down four people in a wild rampage before being killed by police hid hundreds of pounds of explosives throughout his rural property.

Authorities found at least 600 pounds of ammonium nitrate "in a fairly elaborate system of tunnels" built beneath and adjacent to Carl Drega's home, Associate Attorney General Michael Ramsdell said Wednesday.

Drega, 67, who had a long-running feud with local officials over zoning and other property issues, also bought 61 1/2 gallons of diesel fuel Tuesday. Ramsdell said Drega used some of the fuel to burn down his house in the middle of his killing spree.

Ammonium nitrate is used in some explosives, as a fertilizer and in rocket fuel. Diesel fuel mixed with ammonium nitrate was the explosive mixture used in both the World Trade Center and the Oklahoma City bombings.

Authorities were considering doing a controlled burn of the property to get rid of the explosives, Ramsdell said.

State police also found bomb-making books and a weapons manual Wednesday in the smoldering ruins of Drega's house in northwestern New Hampshire, but investigators could not find any connections with militia groups.

Drega gunned down a judge that he had a grudge against, a newspaper editor and two state troopers before being shot to death after a 45-minute gun battle with police, authorities said. Four people were wounded.

His sister, Jane Drega, Connecticut, said Wednesday that her brother told her police and other officials in New Hampshire had been harassing him. She said she thought he "got to the point where he couldn't take it anymore."

Ms. Drega said she last talked to her brother on Saturday. He returned to New Hampshire this summer after spending the winter doing carpentry work in Massachusetts, New York, and Ohio, she said.

Authorities gave this account of Tuesday's violence:

Tuesday afternoon, Trooper Scott Phillips followed Drega into the parking lot of a grocery store, planning to cite him for having rust holes in the bed of his red pickup truck. Drega quickly shot Phillips with an assault rifle, but did not kill him.

Not aware shots had been fired, Trooper Leslie Lord arrived and was shot and killed.

Drega then returned to the wounded Phillips and shot him four times with a pistol. He then stole the trooper's cruiser and his bulletproof vest.

Drega then drove to the weekly News and Sentinel newspaper building, which also housed the law office of part-time Judge Vickie Bunnell, a former Columbia selectwoman who had tangled with Drega over property disputes. Drega shot Bunnell five times in the parking lot.

Editor Dennis Joos, 51, tried to help, but Drega wrestled free and shot him eight times. Drega drove off, set fire to his home and went searching for another former selectman, who was not home.

He then drove across the Connecticut River into Vermont, shooting New Hampshire Fish and Game Officer Wayne Saunders, who escaped serious injury. Continuing south, he parked the stolen police cruiser on a logging road.

James Walton, Vermont's commissioner of public safety, said Drega carefully planned his ambush.

A pair of Vermont troopers with a police dog were the first officers to approach the cruiser. Walton said when the dog signaled that something was up a hill, one of the troopers yelled, "Ambush! Hit the dirt."

In the gunfire that followed, U.S. Border Patrol officer John Pfeifer, 33, was critically wounded, shot in the chest; New Hampshire Trooper Jeffrey Caulder, 32, was shot in the pelvis; and New Hampshire trooper Robert Haase, 38, was cut on one foot by shrapnel.

Officials said Drega, who neighbors claimed never went anywhere without a shotgun, had a long-running feud with Columbia officials over zoning and other property issues. He threatened and sued people, including Bunnell and former selectman Kenneth Parkhurst.

Tuesday afternoon, Drega drove up to Parkhurst's home in the police cruiser, kicked in the door, then left when he found no one home.

Parkhurst was at a dentist's appointment. His wife was visiting a relative.

"It's very scary to think that we sat in the house last night and to think a killer being in the house," Parkhurst said. "It gives you the shudders."

 
 

Carl Drega

August 22, 1997

Officials at the Vermont Yankee plant in Vernon said rampager Carl Drega had twice worked at their nuclear power plant where he passed a background check and psychological screening. In 1992 Drega worked for a contractor as a millwright in the turbine building for a month and again in 1995 for a three-month stint. "It was not sensitive work," an official said.

"The plant was shut down at the time. There was supervision and oversight by the radiological controls department."

 
 

A Time Bomb Explodes

By Steve Wulf/Colebrook - Time.com

Monday, Sep. 01, 1997

The Aug. 20, 1997, edition of the Colebrook, N.H., weekly newspaper, the News and Sentinel ("Independent but Not Neutral"), is filled with the details and delights of North Country life and small-town journalism. A piece on the upcoming Moose Festival invites "moose-minded people" to come forward for the Mock Moose Parade on Friday night. There is a captivating photograph of a boy who won the Kids Fishing Derby. Among the many stories written by Dennis Joos is a feature on the discovery of a vintage sign that puts neighboring Clarksville on the 45th parallel, halfway between the North Pole and the equator.

But the charms of Colebrook are made excruciatingly painful by the main story in the News and Sentinel, an account written on deadline under the most difficult circumstances imaginable. FOUR GUNNED DOWN IN COLEBROOK; EDITOR, LAWYER, TWO OFFICERS DEAD reads the banner headline over this lead by John Harrigan: "It was a crime of unbelievable proportions that left at least five people dead, a newspaper and a police fraternity in shock and a community stunned to its core." On the afternoon of Aug. 19, Carl Drega, a loner with a murderous grudge and an AR-15 assault rifle, gunned down New Hampshire state troopers Scott Phillips and Les Lord, stole Phillips' police cruiser, then drove to the newspaper building at 1 Bridge Street, where he shot and killed Vickie Bunnell, an attorney and part-time judge whose office was in the building, and Joos, the co-editor of the paper. Before the terror ended with the death of Drega four hours later, he had burned down his home in Columbia, N.H.--on property later found to contain a bomb factory--and wounded four other police officers.

His is the story of a madman who snuffed out the lives of four treasured members of a peaceful community. "God love these people as their families and their towns did," Harrigan, publisher of the News and Sentinel, wrote in an editorial that night. "And God help us all deal with what has happened, and remember those fine and cherished faces, and their smiles." But it is also the story of a small world of heroes. Drega, at every turn in his rampage, encountered ordinary people--and even a dog--who tried to stop him and save lives. As the sound of gunfire dies out, their courage will linger.

Colebrook, just 10 miles south of the Canadian border, is a town of 2,500 people, almost all of whom are friendly, almost all of whom are reserved. It is a town that pops up periodically in the national news: this is where Harry K. Thaw was captured after murdering Stanford White in 1906; this is where millionaire murderer Christopher Wilder killed himself in 1984 after being cornered by police; east of town in Dixville Notch is where the nation's first votes are cast every four years. Ordinarily, though, the biggest events in town are the Blessing of the Bikes in the spring and the Moose Festival at the end of August.

The News and Sentinel has been chronicling Colebrook since the paper was established in 1870. Fred and Esther Harrigan, John's parents, ran the paper for many years. For several years after John bought the Coos County Democrat in Lancaster, 30 miles south of Colebrook, he competed with his father. When Fred, who was also a lawyer and judge, died in 1992, John took over the News and Sentinel, and Bunnell, a local girl who had returned to Colebrook after becoming an attorney, moved into Fred's old law office.

In Colebrook everybody knows everybody. Because the town hall is across the street from the newspaper office, rare was the day that Bunnell or Joos would not wave to troopers Phillips or Lord, whose work often intersected theirs. John Harrigan and Bunnell dated for many years. John was, in fact, supposed to go fishing with Vickie's father last Tuesday afternoon.

Everybody knew Carl Drega as well--and knew enough to avoid him. A carpenter who did occasional work at the nearby Vermont Yankee nuclear-power facility, Drega, 62, had been making trouble for years, usually over his property rights. Bunnell ran afoul of Drega a few years ago when she was serving as one of Columbia's three selectmen. He once warned her off his homestead by firing a gun over her head. Bunnell became so concerned over his open threats that she started carrying a handgun in her purse--something she hated herself for doing despite her love of hunting.

Her worst fears were realized on Aug. 19. At about 2:45 p.m., Phillips decided to cite Drega for the large rust holes in his red truck, parked at LaPerle's IGA Supermarket north of town. Drega got out of the pickup truck and shot Phillips with the AR-15. Lord, who had followed Phillips into the lot, was shot getting out of his cruiser, first from a distance, then at closer range. Phillips, who was wounded, tried to climb an embankment, but Drega returned and shot him several more times with a 9-mm pistol.

After taking Phillips' bulletproof vest and car, Drega drove downtown and slammed on the brakes in front of the building at 1 Bridge Street. When Bunnell spotted Drega's familiar checked shirt and the rifle at the foyer door, she pushed her secretary out the back and ran through the adjacent newspaper office, shouting, "It's Drega! He's got a gun!" The precious seconds Bunnell expended warning others may have cost her her life. Drega had gone around to the back door, and he shot her in the back as she was fleeing.

Joos, a man who would carry a spider outside rather than kill it, tried to tackle the 6-ft. 3-in., 240-lb. Drega. But the gunman shook him off as they struggled on the hood of a car, then shot him several times. Drega got back into the cruiser and sat parked in front of the police station for several minutes. The police officers were all up at the supermarket, responding to the first shootings. Next on Drega's hit list was another Columbia selectman, Kenneth Parkhurst; Drega kicked down the door to Parkhurst's house and found nobody home. He returned to his own home and set it afire with diesel fuel he had purchased that day. Next Drega drove across the Connecticut River into Vermont, where he shot at a New Hampshire fish-and-game officer, Wayne Saunders. Fortunately, the bullet hit Saunders' badge.

Drega pulled the cruiser off the road near Dennis Pond in Brunswick, Vt. The cruiser was spotted by a farmer, who alerted police. As several officers approached the car at around 6 p.m., one of their police dogs sensed something up in the hills, and the dog's handler yelled, "Ambush! Hit the dirt!" Just then Drega began firing, wounding a New Hampshire state trooper in the thigh. The area was so isolated and wooded that the officers could not radio for help right away. Before backup could arrive, Drega shot a Border Patrol agent and a Vermont state trooper. Finally, at about 6:50, during a fire fight with more than 20 police officers, Drega was killed by a police bullet through his mouth. Two days later, police discovered an arsenal of 86 pipe bombs, half a dozen rifles, and explosives and projectile casings for a grenade launcher in the ashes of his home.

When the shooting began, staff members at the News and Sentinel were putting their latest issue to bed, and Harrigan was on his way back from Lancaster, where he had been filling in on that paper for a staff member whose mother had died. "I heard the whole thing unfolding on my police radio," recalls Harrigan. "At one point I was on the car phone to the office manager, and I said, 'I fear the worst.' And he said, 'It is the worst.'" When Harrigan arrived back at 1 Bridge Street, he tried to restore order to chaos, at the same time comforting a staff in shock and blanketing his own feelings. "That despicable man--I cannot even say his name--killed four of my friends, including the heart and soul of my newspaper. But I was not going to let him stop us from publishing. And with help from some other friends--the local photo shop, the boyfriend of one of my reporters, a former staffer who offered his help--we somehow put out a paper."

In an editorial Harrigan wrote that evening, he apologized to his readers: "We'll do a better job with the loss and what this has all meant in next week's paper. Right now it's just too much, and getting the paper out is all we can manage." They managed beautifully. Phillips, who leaves a wife and two young children, was remembered as "one of our all-time favorite troopers, cowlick and all." Lord, who leaves a wife and two boys, was "a great guy with a landmark laugh who was about the most likable guy around." Joos, a husband and father who once studied for the priesthood and had just sold a novel, was a "newspaperman's newspaperman who loved rural and small-town life." And in the last line of the main story: Bunnell "leaves a wide extended family of people who simply thought she was the best." After all that had happened that day, the News and Sentinel went to press half an hour late.

In the days that followed the tragedy, there were signs that Colebrook was trying to cope. Black ribbons were hung from the banners in town that say COLEBROOK WELCOMES YOU. Up at the Balsams, the resort in Dixville Notch, guests were graciously asked for their patience as the staff tried to deal with the "terrible tragedy." And almost by way of apology, a sign on Route 3 read THE MOOSE FESTIVAL HAS BEEN CANCELED.

There is no way for Colebrook to replace quickly four such important people. But as the local paper showed by carrying on that night, there is a way to honor them.

 
 


After a gun battle with Carl Drega, wounded State Trooper Jeffrey Caulder is carried out of the woods in Brunswick, Vt., Aug. 19, 1997. (AP)

 

Today, a memorial to the victims stands outside the News and Sentinel in Colebrook, where Bunnell and Joos had offices and died.
(Lorna Colquhoun)

 

 

 
 
 
 
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