The Murders of Malcolm, Elizabeth, and Page Jennings, Part 2 (New Hampshire)

When investigators in Alachua County, Florida discovered the remains of two people among the charred ruins of a burned down shack and a letter in a nearby car that seemed to explain the entire scene, police in two states thought they were on the brink of closing a multiple murder case that started all the way north in New Hampshire. But as experts attempted to identify the two people found in that shack, doubt started to poke glaring holes in the case.

If you haven’t already, go back one episode and listen to Part 1 of this series. You’ll want to hear where this case all began in Jackson, New Hampshire.

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Discovery in Florida

It was January 28, 1985 and the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office had just received another phone call about a suspicious car in a field off State Roads 236 and 93 in High Springs. Even though the first searches for the vehicle in previous days turned up nothing, Deputy Sergeant Danny Brown was dispatched to the area for another look around. And this time, he was able to locate the car in question.

According to a report by Deputy Sergeant Brown contained in the New Hampshire State Police case file, an abandoned blue Fiat was parked in the middle of a field. As the officer peered through the windows he could see that the keys were in the ignition and there were two sets of clothing, men’s and women’s, neatly folded and stacked behind the seat. He also noticed an envelope sitting on the dashboard in front of the steering wheel. It was addressed to the Gainesville Police Department Bureau of Homicide.

Brown checked the car and found the back left door unlocked, so he reached in and grabbed the envelope. His report states that when he opened the envelope he discovered a several pages long hand-written letter inside dated January 18, 1985. He only briefly scanned it, but that quick glance was enough. The letter said that just beyond the spot where the car sat was the charred rubble of a shack and inside were the remains of two people. The person who wrote the letter claimed responsibility for the deaths of the two individuals.

Across the field about 100 feet away Deputy Sergeant Brown could see a clearing in the treeline with evidence of a fire that had long since burned out. Numerous trees surrounding the area were burnt nearly 40 feet up from the ground. When it was fully engulfed, this was a massive, hot fire.

Upon closer inspection, the deputy found two human skeletons, one larger and one smaller, burned so completely they were reduced to fragments and dust. What remained was on top of and beneath some sort of metal wire structure, perhaps the remnants of a couch or mattress or maybe an old gate, with both of their skulls positioned on the same end like they were laying down next to each other. Also below the metal structure were charcoal briquets. Scattered around the bodies were two one gallon fuel cans, a melted but still recognizable shotgun, a sprayer of some kind, and another set of badly burned bones, possibly a small animal.

It wasn’t at all what the officer expected to find when he responded to the report of a suspicious car. He called for additional support at the scene and soon the area was teeming with investigators.

Dr. William Maples from the University of Florida assessed the scene for the Medical Examiner’s Office. Only small pieces of bone remained, and those bone fragments sustained severe damage from the fire. It was impossible to identify who the bones belonged to by just looking at them. Determining whose remains they were was going to be a delicate process, but investigators believed the car and the letter found inside gave them a place to start.

The Letter

The license plate on the blue Fiat came back as registered to Daniel Mikel Daniels of Gainesville, Florida. Several receipts and ID cards inside the car also belonged to Daniel Mikel Daniels, and that was one of the names signed at the end of the strange letter. The other was Page Jennings Daniels.

The letter reads as part confession, part suicide note, and it is among the most disturbing pieces of evidence I’ve ever personally reviewed for a case. In it, the author, Mike Daniels, describes the plan he supposedly made with his fiance, Page Jennings. Page’s parents didn’t approve of their relationship, so they decided that the only way they could be together forever was to be cremated beside one another so their remains couldn’t be separated. But first, he would go to New Hampshire to kill Page’s parents and then return to Florida to kill Page before setting fire to the shack. Then he would kill Page’s dog and finally, himself. Mike claims that the whole thing was Page’s decision and he followed her wishes because he loved her.

The letter claimed that they first discussed murdering Malcolm and Betty Jennings together, but ultimately decided that Page was going to wait for him in Florida while he traveled to New Hampshire alone, staying at motels along the route, selling their belongings as he went, before finally arriving in New Hampshire to carry out the killings on his own. Mike wrote that he was worried he’d be caught, with the Inn on a main road and the fire drawing attention to the scene, but he managed to get back to Florida with Page’s dog Chelsea to carry out the rest of the plan.

The next part of the letter seems like it was written in real time. The penmanship is more hurried and slanted than the lines before it. “She is waiting now and I must do what I can’t believe I’m going to do but I must do for us and her.” The handwritten text skips a line and when it picks up again, the cursive script is more tidy, like it was on the first few pages.

Mike goes on to explain how he killed Page, first attempting asphyxiation with his own hands, twice, but then used a large stone to hit her in the right side of the head. He describes how he readied the wood under the platform where Page’s body lay and decided to tie his own hands up so he wouldn’t fall from that same platform once he, too, was deceased. “This is the only reason why there may be rope marks on me if they don’t burn off or something.”

He explains that whoever investigated the scene would also discover the ashes of two dogs around them. One was Page’s first puppy that died a year earlier, and the other would be her dog, Chelsea. He concludes the letter saying it’s time for him to finish the plan.

He writes, “Page was the most beautiful lady in the world but at times a devil. I feel that just because she had so many things working against her – pressure – that finally made us do this last step.” The letter is signed: Goodbye, D. Mike Daniels for Page Jennings Daniels. Below the signature is one final line. It reads, “I am going to start the fire with 21 100 dollar bills for she is just 21 + 16 days.”

Ongoing Investigation

With the letter’s reference to a double-homicide in another state, Florida authorities contacted New Hampshire State Police to inform them they believed they found the remains of Page Jennings and Daniel Mikel Daniels, and further analysis by a forensic anthropologist was underway to confirm that tentative identification.

Two New Hampshire investigators and Chris Jennings all flew to Florida at that point. On January 29, 1985, Chris walked back into his apartment in Gainesville for the first time in more than a week. And when he did, he found a bizarre collection of items sitting on his table.

According to case file documents, there was a typed note apparently from Mike. There was also a United States Atlas opened to the page with a map of New Hampshire and a route from Florida to Jackson, New Hampshire clearly marked on the pages. Next to the atlas and letter were two newspapers – an irregular copy of the January 8th, 1985 edition of a weekly newspaper published in Conway, New Hampshire and an issue of the Gainesville Sun dated January 18, 1985. Finally, Chris found two polaroid photos of Page’s dog, Chelsea. They were taken inside his apartment.

The letter from Mike was also dated January 18, 1985, the same as the letter found at the scene. It was short, just one paragraph with several disjointed and poorly punctuated sentences, but the message seemed to be that Chris telling Page and Mike to move out of his apartment was the final straw that pushed them to carry out their plan. “Page is so bitter that this is the only way she can see how we can be together forever. Cremation. Call the police. They have some letters and information for you or whatever.”

Both of the notes believed to be written by Mike were apparent confessions to the murders of Malcolm, Betty, and Page Jennings. But was it that simple? The letters, the clues, everything seemed laid out a little too perfect. So, both New Hampshire and Florida investigators started piecing together a timeline of Daniel Mikel Daniels’ movements and analyzing the evidence he left behind.

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