The Murders of Malcolm, Elizabeth and Page Jennings, Part 1 (New Hampshire)

When a fire engulfed the residence of esteemed local innkeepers, reducing it to ashes and laying bare the gruesome aftermath of a double homicide, the tight-knit village of Jackson, New Hampshire found itself grappling with an unimaginable tragedy. As investigators delved into the lives of the victims, they unearthed a tumultuous history marked by the challenges posed by the older man their daughter had fallen in love with.

This story begins in New England, but it ends almost 1500 miles away in Florida with two more deaths. But did it really end? Doubts lingered among some of the original investigators, casting shadows of skepticism over the closure of the case and the true fate of the suspect.

This is Part 1 of 2. The Murders of Malcolm, Elizabeth and Page Jennings, Part 2 will be released on May 9, 2024.

Fire at the Dana Place Inn

It was 5:17 a.m. on January 16, 1985 when a truck driver hauling a load of steel down Route 16 through Jackson, New Hampshire was startled by the sight of bright, leaping flames. They were coming from the keeper’s house behind the popular Dana Place Inn. The trucker continued a bit further down the road until he reached a store with a phone to call the fire department.

Crews from Jackson, Glenn and Bartlett responded to the scene, blasting water onto the burning structure in treacherous 0-degree temperatures with wind gusts near 40 miles per hour. The blaze was almost out when firefighters made a discovery in one of the home’s bedrooms. A body.

Just after 8:00 a.m. Sergeant John Healy of New Hampshire State Police arrived at the Dana Place Inn. By 8:50, the fire was fully extinguished and the scene was turned over to law enforcement. As investigators from local and state police, the Fire Marshal’s Office, and the Carroll County Sheriff’s department walked through what remained of the house, they entered a second bedroom. There on the floor they discovered another body, that of a woman.

Around 10:20 a.m. the mattress upon which the male body was found began to smolder. Because of the high winds still whipping through Jackson that morning, the entire structure was at risk of reigniting, so arrangements were made to remove the bodies for transport to a funeral home. But as investigators began to examine and photograph the scene around the victims, they began to realize the fire might not be the cause of their deaths. The man and woman’s hands were bound and mouths taped, and they had visible wounds near their throats.

Jackson, New Hampshire was a tiny village, less than 700 residents in the 80s. The firefighters tasked with putting out the blaze and law enforcement first at the scene were locals. They knew exactly who the man and woman were, and dental records confirmed their tentative identifications. The victims were the inn’s owners, 47-year old Elizabeth Jennings and her husband 52-year old Malcolm Jennings.

About Malcolm and Elizabeth Jennings

Elizabeth, who went by Betty, and Malcolm, sometimes called Mal, were seasoned innkeepers. Malcolm previously managed the Bethel Inn in Maine and, prior to that, the New England Inn in New Hampshire. They bought the Dana Place Inn during the winter season of 1975, and within a year, their stewardship was earning the praise of travelers from all over.

The Dana Place Inn was a welcome respite in the Valley for outdoor adventurers after long days on the slopes or navigating the endless miles of trails along the Ellis River and beyond. The Inn offered a restaurant and bar for refueling mid-trek or unwinding aprés ski with comfortable accommodations for overnight guests who returned season after season.

Outside their careers in the hospitality industry, the Jenningses also raised two children, a son, Christopher, and daughter, Page. Both were adults and out of the house by 1985, so the small single-family cottage located just behind the Dana Place Inn was plenty of space for just Betty, Malcolm, and their cat.

Malcolm was known as the quieter of the two, and Betty much more social, but both were active with the Chamber of Commerce and other local organizations that supported the tourism industry of the area. After almost a decade with the Dana Place Inn, Malcolm and Betty had earned a reputation as hospitable hosts, well-liked bosses, and respected business owners.

As the investigation into their murders began in full force and news got around Jackson, the entire community was left slack-jawed. Everyone who knew them found the couple to be genuine, hardworking, and respectable people. Not the type you’d ever expect to be the target of a killer. But following the autopsies, there was no denying that’s exactly what happened.

Early Investigation

The autopsies revealed that both Malcolm and Betty had a long slash-like wound on the right side of their throats and they’d been stabbed multiple times in the chest and abdomen. Both Malcolm and Betty’s hands were bound by a length of heavy-duty rope and their mouths were covered with tape. Though their bodies were badly burned in the fire, the medical examiner determined that Malcolm and Betty Jennings died from excessive blood loss.

As for the house where Malcolm and Betty’s bodies were found, it was a total loss by the time the fire was put out. The Fire Marshal’s report indicates that the dining room, bathroom, and kitchens were mostly consumed by the fire except for the flooring. In the living room there was a section of floor right in front of the fireplace that had burned through and investigators believed this was the point of origin. The fire crews found an electric clock that looked like it had fallen from above the fireplace. The hands stopped at 2:45.

Fire investigators collected samples of the rug, rug padding, and flooring under the carpeting immediately beneath the area where Betty’s body was found and later removed wood from the frame and flooring in the living room for analysis. Based on what those samples showed, the Fire Marshal’s Office suspected this was an incendiary fire. An arson.

As police further processed the house, they found a roll of medical-type tape on a small table in the corner in the bedroom where Malcom’s body was recovered. In the same room, they also found the remains of a cat on the floor near the foot of the bed. In the second bedroom where Betty was found, they discovered a knife that was either stuck to a mattress, or possibly frozen there. It’s unclear from the case file if that knife was found to be connected to the homicide though.

There was nothing glaringly obvious at the scene to help point police in the direction of a motive. Though there’s mention of receipts missing from the Inn, those could’ve been destroyed in the fire, and there didn’t seem to be any actual money or valuables missing from the Jennings home, so a burglary didn’t seem likely. Investigators hoped that interviews would be more revealing – maybe the Jennings did have enemies that no one knew about, or maybe an Inn guest or employee had a violent history – and so they started talking to witnesses who may have seen suspicious activity on the night of the fire, as well as those who knew Malcolm, Betty, and the Dana Place Inn best.

Witness Interviews

According to transcripts of witness interviews in the case file, Malcolm Jennings was last seen alive late on January 15, the night before the fire was reported. He and his friend Raymond had both attended a meeting that night for a ski touring organization they were members of, and though Raymond left first, he told police that soon after he pulled into his own driveway a little before 10 p.m., a car drove by and honked as it passed. He assumed it was Malcolm, because that’s usually what Malcolm did if he saw Raymond outside his house, which was about three miles away from the Inn. Betty was also last known to be alive around 10 o’clock that night following a phone call with a friend.

A witness told police they saw a small red vehicle speeding up Route 16 away from the area of the Dana Place Inn around 12:30 a.m. on the night of the fire. About two hours later, around 2:30 a.m. a trucker traveling northbound on Route 16 told police that he saw a small salt-covered vehicle parked on the side of the road, right beside and pointing towards the Dana Place Inn. The car had its parking lights on and the motor might have been running, but there was no one in or around the vehicle. The trucker described the car as possibly a dark-colored Datsun or Toyota, but unfortunately couldn’t recall a more specific make and model.

Police also spoke with guests at the Inn that night. A couple traveling with their infant son said they saw a few people in the lounge when they checked in around 5 p.m. on the 15th. Malcolm was at the desk when they arrived and informed the couple that the kitchen was already closed for the night, so they had to get their dinner elsewhere. The couple said that the heat in their room stopped working sometime around 2 a.m. and then they woke up to the sight of a raging fire outside their window around 5 a.m. and fled their room as crews were arriving at the scene.

The couple had also told police that they tried to reach an Inn employee earlier in the night to see if they could use the hot tub but no one was at the desk and they could hear the phone ringing and ringing in the office with no one there to answer. Other than the people in the lounge having drinks around the time they checked in, it didn’t seem like anyone else was milling around the Inn at the time, neither employees nor guests.

Suspects and Persons of Interest

When police spoke with current staff as part of the investigation, asking about disgruntled past employees or someone with a grudge against the Inn’s owners, there really wasn’t much dirt to dig up. But there was a little. According to statements by the Inn’s day manager at the time, Malcolm fired one person in the previous year. A man I’ll only refer to by his first name, John.

Now, many of the employees at the Inn were locals, some of them teenagers who waited tables and washed dishes and helped clean the rooms. Occasionally, as is pretty common in the New England hospitality industry, Malcolm and Betty hired out-of-towners to support operations during a busy season. John was one of those out of towners.

John was in his late 30s and reportedly from Massachusetts. He’d been hitchhiking through town when a Dana Place Inn employee passed him and decided to pick him up. John explained he had a family but his wife wouldn’t let him see the kids anymore, and so he’d been living between his mother’s house and camping in the woods while he tried to find work. At the time, Malcolm happened to be offering a bonus to any of the Inn staff who found a new dishwasher for the restaurant, so the employee brought John in to meet Malcolm and he was hired a few days later.

Malcolm also helped John find a stable place to live, setting him up with an apartment at a nearby complex. However, John got himself kicked out of that place for throwing a big party so Malcolm then moved John into the basement of a condo that he managed. Soon after that though, things started to go south and John wasn’t doing his job, so Malcolm fired him sometime around the end of the season in October of 1984.

The employee who initially introduced John to Malcolm and Betty described him as intelligent and well-read, but, “a little weird.” He said that John would jump around the kitchen and wave his arms and legs like he was doing Karate. Police later learned that John had a criminal record, and he drove a car the same color as one seen speeding away from the Dana Place Inn in the wee hours of the morning before the fire was reported, so he was definitely on their radar as someone who deserved a closer look. However, as the background investigation on the former Inn dishwasher continued, interviews with Malcom and Betty’s friends and family began to raise suspicions in a different direction.

Betty talked to her friend Betsy on the phone around 8:45 p.m. the night before she died. Their conversation weaved between topics of Betsy’s love life, of a friend who was in the hospital, and then landed on a frequent subject of their talks: Betty’s daughter, Page.

For the last two-plus years, Page had been dating an older man named Daniel Mikel Daniels, who went by Mike. And for those two-plus years, Mike was a constant source of conflict in the Jennings family. Betty told Betsy she just found out that Page and Mike were on a trip to Miami and they’d probably come back married. Betty didn’t know how she was going to tell Malcolm; it was going to break his heart. Betsy sensed that Betty was angry about it, too, but after what they’d been through trying to get Page away from this Mike guy, she seemed resigned to let Page figure it out herself now. She told Betsy, “It’s her life, she’s got to live with it.”

Betty often described the last few years between Page and Mike as a dramatic soap opera, but the more police learned about Mike and the dynamics of his relationship with Page and the rest of the Jennings family, a much darker narrative unfolded.

Part 1 of the Malcolm, Elizabeth and Page Jennings story continues on Dark Downeast. Press play wherever you get your podcast and stay tuned for Part 2, out on May 9, 2024.

Episode Source Material

  • Case file for Malcolm and Elizabeth Jennings Homicide, New Hampshire State Police Case No. I-85-004
  • Dead men do tell tales by Maples, William R, Internet Archive
  • Jail term is given student, Spokesman-Review, 20 Nov 1958
  • Lynnwood police capture fleeing felony suspect, Everett Daily Herald, 19 Oct 1961
  • Owners of inn killed, house burned, AP via Concord Monitor, 17 Jan 1985
  • Officials investigate deaths, UPI via Miami Herald, 30 Jan 1985
  • Police find second suicide note in apartment, AP via Concord Monitor, 30 Jan 1985
  • N.H. dental records may help identify charred skeleton, AP via Evening Express, 31 Jan 1985
  • Florida bodies not positively identified, AP via Concord Monitor, 01 Feb 1985
  • Possible link found in deaths, AP via Tampa Tribune, 03 Feb 1985
  • Records sent to Florida, UPI via Naples Daily News, 05 Feb 1985
  • Four burned bodies 1,400 miles apart add up to mystery by David Newton, St. Petersburg Times, 08 Feb 1985
  • Burned body is identified as daughter of murder victims, UPI via Tampa Bay Times, 07 Feb 1985
  • Florida body is Page Jennings, AP via Valley News, 07 Feb 1985
  • Tracing drifter in Jennings case by Brad Pokorny, Boston Globe, 09 Feb 1985
  • Man denies sister wrote suicide note, UPI via Tampa Bay Times, 09 Feb 1985
  • Suspect in Jennings double murder recalled as ‘clever and calculating’, AP via Sunday Sun-Journal, 10 Feb 1985
  • Police say little about Jennings case, AP via Valley News, 11 Feb 1985
  • N.H. official says remains not Jennings’ by John Milne and Brad Pokorny, Boston Globe, 13 Jul 1985
  • Murder tale takes new twist: ‘Dead’ man now sought, AP via Valley News, 15 Jul 1985
  • Prosecutor describes Meek as a likable crook, AP via Concord Monitor, 17 Jul 1985
  • Skeletal remains puzzle Alachua investigators, UPI via Tampa Tribune, 18 Jul 1985
  • FBI joins search for killer, Miami Herald, 04 Aug 1985
  • Slaying of innkeepers remains a mystery by Martha Englert, Daily Breeze, 21 Oct 1985
  • 2 bodies were key to murder, AP via Naples Daily News, 27 Oct 1985
  • Victims’ son’s letter renews murder probe, AP via Naples Daily News, 24 Mar 1986
  • Charred body identified as wanted ‘con artist’, AP via San Jose Mercury News, 20 May 1986
  • Florida mystery began in New Hampshire by Laura A. Kiernan, Tallahassee Democrat, 30 Aug 1986
  • Murder trail leads to 4 bodies, many unanswered questions by Laura A. Kiernan, Tampa Bay Times, 10 Sep 1986
  • Identification of bodies may solve mysteries, AP via Tallahassee Democrat, 18 Oct 1986
  • Death certificates conclude saga of murder, UPI via Tampa Tribune, 18 Oct 1986
  • States disagree on fate of suspect by Marty Marth, Tampa Tribune, 28 Sep 1987
  • Purported letter details how Jennings’s lover killed her, AP via Concord Monitor, 14 Jan 1987
  • Jennings case remains open, AP via Concord Monitor, 04 Nov 1988
  • Merrill leaves, haunted by one case, AP via Valley News, 04 Feb 1989
  • Jennings slay case end near by Nancy West, New Hampshire Union Leader, 15 Jan 1990
  • Honor for Innkeepers, New Hampshire Union Leader, 18 Jul 1990