Justice within reach in Vermont golf pro's 1986 death
MONTPELIER -- Nearly 28 years ago, John Ottaviano was looking forward to playing in a tournament with Sarah Hunter, a well-liked golf pro at the Manchester Country Club. But Hunter, who was always punctual, never showed up to meet him.
No one had seen her since the night before.
Then word spread that her car had been found, parked behind a car wash at a gas station in Manchester. Weeks later, her purse was located in brush along a road in Danby. Two months after she disappeared, a landowner discovered her body in a wooded area next to a cornfield in Pawlet. She had been strangled and sexually assaulted.
"It's not a large community and to have somebody abducted and murdered was certainly out of the ordinary," said Ottaviano, now superintendent of the country club. "It certainly shook everybody up."
Prosecutors seeking to bring charges in Hunter's slaying got a recent break when authorities said DNA evidence had linked a California man to the crime.
Fifty-four-year-old David Allan Morrison pleaded not guilty this past week in Bennington to a charge of first-degree murder in the death of the 36-year-old Hunter.
Morrison, who worked near a gas station and convenience store where Hunter had stopped Sept. 18, 1986, the day she was last seen, was a top suspect immediately, but investigators couldn't find the necessary evidence to bring charges.
He left Vermont in 1988 and was arrested later that year in California. He pleaded guilty to charges of attempted murder, sexual assault and kidnapping in Chula Vista, California, and is serving a sentence of 20 years to life.
In 2009, police in California interviewed Morrison about an unsolved killing in California that was similar to Hunter's. A detective told Vermont authorities Morrison denied killing the victim in that case but did not deny killing Hunter, the affidavit said.
Morrison indicated that the Hunter investigation was something he would deal with when he "felt the time was right" and he did not "think I will take this to my grave," the affidavit said. He told police he had "made peace with it. I know her family hasn't," the affidavit said.
He said if he were going to talk about Hunter, it would have to be with the Vermont State Police detective who interviewed him after her death. Retired Sgt. Tom Truex agreed to travel to California. Bennington County State's Attorney Erica Marthage asked that evidence collected from the Hunter crime scene undergo DNA testing before the interview.
Morrison was charged in 2012 after hair found in his car was compared to DNA from Hunter's sister.
"A lot of people are happy that he was going to be brought back to justice," Ottaviano said.
It took nearly two years to get Morrison transferred to Vermont because of multiple hearings. A lawyer for Morrison didn't return a phone call Friday seeking comment.
This past week, the Manchester Country Club reinstated a youth golfing clinic named after Hunter. Each spring, the club also holds the Sarah Hunter women's invitational tournament.
"She was very outgoing, always had a smile on her face - just happy to be alive, happy to be around people," Ottaviano said. "She was helping people to improve a game that they liked and she loved."
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