Police detail evidence in N.H. murder case

Tuesday July 9, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- James Robarge had been married for nearly a quarter-century.

But police say the 43-year-old New Hampshire man recently had been verbally and physically abusive to his wife, Kelly Robarge, and had "threatened to kill her by putting her in a wood splitter if they separated and she filed for divorce."

Those and other details emerged Monday as Robarge was charged with murdering his wife on June 27 in Charlestown, N.H. -- just hours after she had filed for divorce.

During an afternoon appearance in a Brattleboro courtroom, authorities learned that Robarge -- who has Vermont ties and was arrested last week in Bellows Falls -- will fight his extradition to New Hampshire to face that charge. He was ordered held without bail at Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield. New Hampshire officials have 30 days to formally request Robarge's extradition through issuance of a governor's warrant.

"The process has begun to have you returned to New Hampshire at their request," Judge David Suntag said.

Robarge faces one count of reckless second-degree murder in the death of his 42-year-old wife. Investigators said Kelly Robarge died of "homicidal violence by undetermined means," and her body was found Saturday in the woods off Britton Road in Unity, N.H., by that state's Fish and Game Department.

Susan G. Morrell, a New Hampshire senior assistant attorney general, attended Monday's hearing in Brattleboro. Afterward, Morrell said Robarge "inflicted physical trauma" on his wife but could not elaborate.

"We're still looking into all aspects of this case," Morrell said.

But a new court affidavit reveals details of the investigation into Kelly Robarge's disappearance, including alleged evidence -- such as bloody towels -- found in James Robarge's car.

Authorities received the first word that Kelly Robarge was missing at 4:34 p.m. June 27, when Robarge's friend called Charlestown police.

"She reported that she had received a phone call from Kelly's daughter, Ciera Robarge, stating that her mother was missing and that Kelly's grandson was in the home alone, crying," New Hampshire State Police Sgt. John R. Sonia wrote in a court affidavit. The friend "reported Kelly's purse and car were still on the property, but her cell phone was missing."

Charlestown police responded to the Robarge home, at 124 Happy Acres Road. Robarge's daughter told them "she received text messages from her father, James Robarge, while she was working on June 27 at approximately 2:40 p.m. The messages asked where her mother was and when Ciera was coming home."

Ciera Robarge returned to the home and found her father sitting outside, wearing jean shorts, sneakers and no shirt, with the 18-month-old grandson "crying with no sign of Kelly, who was supposed to be babysitting."

James Robarge then departed, saying he was "going to look for Kelly," the affidavit says.

Inside the home, Ciera Robarge "noted that there was blood in the bathroom around the toilet, part of the staircase was broken, and part of the front door was damaged."

Court documents also say blood was found on the wall near the front door around a broken light switch. An analysis by a Major Crime Unit search team also found blood determined to be from a physical altercation "on the inside of the front door, the floor in the entryway of the home, some of the furniture in the entry area of the home and on the lower end of the support beam in the entryway," the affidavit says.

The search team also documented "large amounts of clean-up" of blood, officials said.

Outside, investigators noted drag marks in the driveway.

Around 6 p.m. on the day of Kelly Robarge's disappearance, a Claremont, N.H., police officer -- having heard that Charlestown police were searching for James Robarge and that his black Volkswagen Jetta had broken down -- found the suspect walking along a road.

Robarge claimed he was looking for his wife, but police observed that he "had injuries to his thumbs and index fingers, two to three parallel abrasions down his neck in a downward motion and an abrasion on his left chest," court documents say. "On one side of his torso, he had two parallel scratch marks, which he said were from his dogs."

A New Hampshire state trooper saw blood on Robarge's right shoe and on his shorts.

"When asked how he got the blood on his sneaker, Robarge didn't respond," the affidavit says. "When asked about his shirt, Robarge said he didn't wear a shirt this day."

Inside the Jetta, investigators found two towels "stained with what appeared to be blood.

"The towels were in a pile, and sandwiched in between them was an orange plastic-coated cord, knotted in several places with apparent blood stains," the affidavit says. "A few feet away from the towels, they also located a car trunk floor mat that is consistent with the trunk of the Jetta, which is missing a trunk floor mat. On the bottom of the mat, there is one large blood stain."

Under questioning by state troopers at the Claremont Police Department, Robarge said he last saw his wife at about 5:30 p.m. June 26 at her house. He claimed that he returned the following day "and found the baby was in the home alone along with the dogs that were fighting."

While Robarge was outside smoking a cigarette, he "indicated that he didn't want to stay at the police department much longer," the affidavit says. When police told Robarge he was "being detained pending the investigation into his wife's disappearance," he fled and ran about a half-mile before a trooper caught him.

Police obtained and executed a search warrant for Robarge's "person and effects" on the afternoon of June 28. He then left the Claremont police station without incident.

Police say Robarge was no stranger to Vermont: He had been estranged from his wife and had been living for several months with his stepfather in Saxtons River, and court documents say he briefly stopped there on the afternoon of June 27.

On July 2, Robarge called Rockingham Medical Group and made an appointment to see a mental-health worker later that day.

He "indicated that he was likely to become violent and hurt himself or others," police wrote in the affidavit. "Robarge also indicated that he was involved with a missing-person investigation in Charlestown, N.H."

That call was reported to authorities, and Bellows Falls officers and Vermont state troopers found Robarge driving on Route 121 toward Bellows Falls. He stopped and then pulled away, and a pursuit ensued.

Speeds reached 50 mph in a 25 mph zone, police said. When Robarge pulled into the parking lot of the Urgent Care facility, there were pedestrians in his path.

"One woman and her two children had to retreat to avoid being hit by Robarge," investigators wrote.

The suspect parked and fled into the building, where police took him into custody. Robarge's father-in-law, who owns the vehicle Robarge had been driving that day, gave consent to search that vehicle.

Inside, "police found a letter on the driver's-side visor that appeared to be written by Kelly Robarge regarding their divorce," court papers say.

Those documents include additional evidence that things were not going well between the Robarges before that divorce filing, including:

-- A friend of the victim told police that Kelly and James Robarge had been married for about 24 years but she had been unhappy.

"For the last eight years, Kelly had worked two jobs to support the family, while James did not work," court papers say. "Kelly and James separated in February of this year, and James was living with his stepfather in Vermont."

-- The friend also said "James had recently been verbally abusive, had pushed her and put his hands around her throat." Kelly Robarge told her friend that, "in the past, James had threatened to kill her by putting her in a wood splitter if they separated and she filed for divorce."

-- Kelly Robarge's daughter said James Robarge had told her "that her mother is having an affair, and that her mother is planning to take the house and truck in the divorce."

-- Police also spoke with neighbors who said they overheard "a man and woman arguing in the afternoon of June 27, at approximately 1:30 to 2:30 p.m., coming from the direction of 124 Happy Acres Road." A witness said "the man was doing most of the yelling," according to the affidavit.

Police also detailed one more bit of evidence against Robarge.

The spot where Kelly Robarge's remains were found could be accessed by a grassy road, and police said they found "a trail of oil in the center and several rocks with transfer from metal or aluminum which could be consistent with the oil pan of a motor vehicle."

Police noted that, when they had searched the Jetta Robarge had been driving on June 27, there was no oil on the dip stick and there was damage to the car's undercarriage.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.


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