The Murder of Patricia Scoville (Vermont)

On a crisp fall day in October of 1991, Patricia Scoville set out for a bike ride on the scenic Moss Glen Falls trails in Stowe, Vermont. When she hadn’t returned home more than two days later, Patty’s roommate reported her missing, triggering a search and rescue effort that soon morphed into a homicide investigation.

The case that unfolded baffled investigators for almost two decades, but the person responsible for Patricia’s death could only hide for so long. Thanks to efforts by Patty’s parents, police got a new investigative tool that would lead them right to the killer’s doorstep.

Disappearance & Search

Patricia Scoville, Patty to her friends and family, was just 28-years old in 1991, but after a few years of working in the corporate world she was ready for something different. She earned her degree in human ecology and human development from Cornell University in 1986 and moved to Boston after graduating, first landing in human resources at a bank and then a similar position at Reece Corporation, a company that made sewing machines. In 1991, Reece Corporation closed the doors to its Massachusetts location, and Patty took it as an opportunity to find her next adventure, somewhere she could spend time in nature and breathe fresh air and enjoy a slower pace of life away from the pressures and hustle of the city.

To paraphrase the famous quote, the mountains were calling, and Patty told her family and friends that she must go. According to Lisa Scagliotti for the Burlington Free Press, Patty said she wanted to be a “ski bum”, or more specifically, she wanted to teach kids how to ski and spend her winters on the slopes. She had a close friend who lived in Stowe, Vermont at the time – a prime spot for the ski bum life with plenty of mountain air for the outdoor lifestyle she craved.

Vermont stands as the outlier in New England; it’s the only state in the region without an Atlantic coastline. In this absence of saltwater shores though, the landscape of Vermont, and particularly in Stowe, takes on a character uniquely its own. Stowe is like a well-loved flannel – cozy and unfussy. The charming historic village is nestled among the Green Mountains with quintessential New England architecture, but nature truly takes center stage in Stowe. The colors change with every turn of the season, from the fiery tapestry of autumn to the silent descent of sparkling white winter. It was Stowe’s unmatched natural landscape that Patty was so eager to embrace. So in the fall of 1991, she packed up her things and headed north with her cat.

Patty had answered an advertisement for a roommate in the local paper, and officially moved into an apartment in Stowe with a woman named Annette on October 1, 1991. It was only a temporary arrangement until Patty found her own place though. I read that Patty apparently told Annette her cat wasn’t happy there and that’s why she was going to find something else the following month. Honestly, this is so relatable. If I could sense my pets weren’t happy somewhere, I’d probably want to find a new living situation, too.

Anyway, once in Stowe, Patty spent her days looking for a job and taking full advantage of all the outdoor activities Stowe had to offer year round. Early October would’ve been peak foliage season in Vermont, so Patty’s hikes and bike rides were set against the backdrop of vibrant red and orange changing leaves and the steadfast evergreen pines synonymous with New England.

A bike ride through the colorful forest was exactly what Patty was planning on the morning of Monday, October 21, 1991. According to court documents, Patty returned to the apartment she shared with Annette early that day after being away with a friend for the weekend. She baked a batch of cookies, ate some of those cookies, and then decided to head out for a bike ride around Stowe. Patty didn’t tell Annette where she was going, but sightings around town placed her at a local bank at 1:39 p.m. where she cashed a check. From there, Patty hopped on her bike and rode further into town.

After 1:45 p.m. Patty’s exact movements are unclear, but at some point that afternoon she decided to take her bike through the scenic trails of Moss Glen Falls. The area was just outside of Stowe’s downtown village, and she’d visited a couple times in the few weeks since she’d moved to town. Patty liked to sit on the rocks and take in the magnificent waterfall.

Now, Patty and her roommate Annette had basically opposite schedules and they didn’t overlap at home a ton. That week in particular, Annette was extra busy with work and school, plus her parents in town for a visit, so she didn’t think much of it when she didn’t see Patty at all on Tuesday the 22nd – maybe they just kept missing each other at the apartment. But by Wednesday the 23rd, Patty’s absence was starting to seem really weird to Annette.

At first, Annette thought maybe Patty went to stay with a friend while Annette’s family was visiting. But then people started calling the apartment looking for Patty. She hadn’t shown up for plans she’d made and missed appointments. Annette decided to try and contact the friend she thought Patty might be staying with, but Patty wasn’t there. Annette’s next call was to area hospitals, checking to see if Patty had been admitted, but again, Patty wasn’t there. Around 8:30 p.m. that night after more than two days since she last saw Patty, Annette called police to report Patty missing.

Court records indicated that almost immediately, a description of Patty and her bicycle were broadcast on area news stations. That same night, police received a call about a bicycle leaning against a tree in the Moss Glen Falls area and officers confirmed the bike was Patty’s. While in the woods, they also found a pair of gloves, similar to what Patty wore when she biked.

Despite the discovery of her bike and gloves that night, the search for Patty didn’t begin until dawn the next day. Tom Hacker for the Burlington Free Press wrote that more than three dozen searchers from local and state police as well as the Stowe Hazardous Terrain Evacuation Team, New Hampshire based search dogs, and aircraft from the Vermont Army National Guard and the Civil Air Patrol assisted in the effort.

This was a rugged area of densely wooded forest, varying elevations, and rocky terrain. It was a true haven for hikers, mountain bikers, and outdoor enthusiasts, but it was not without its hazards. The environment first led law enforcement to surmise Patty had gotten lost or injured on her bike ride, so those first days were considered a search and rescue or recovery effort.

But four days into the search, there was nothing to show for it. It was beginning to get difficult to ignore the sinking feeling that Patty might have met with danger that had nothing to do with the landscape. Additional detectives were put on the case, because at this point, law enforcement couldn’t rule out the possibility of foul play.

Detectives started calling up every single person in Patty’s phone book to see if anyone had heard from her in the past few days, but no one had. It seemed like Patty just vanished, leaving only her bicycle and gloves behind in the woods and no other trace. Day 5 left searchers just as empty handed as the days before it, but on day 6 of the search, everything changed.

A Norwich University cadet was scanning a wooded area above Moss Glen Falls around 8 in the morning on Tuesday, October 29 when he noticed an odd looking pile of leaves and branches. The placement of it all seemed unnatural to him, like the leaves didn’t just fall that way, so he went to take a closer look. That’s when the realization hit him like a ton of bricks. The pile of leaves and brush that the cadet found were concealing the body of Patricia Scoville.

 Patricia Scoville’s case continues on Dark Downeast. Press play to hear the full story wherever you get your podcasts.

Episode Source Material

  • Police are still hunting for woman missing from Stowe since Monday, AP/St. Albans Daily Messenger, 25 Oct 1991
  • Police suspect foul play in missing woman case, AP/St. Albans Daily Messenger, 28 Oct 1991
  • Body of Stowe woman found, AP/St. Albans Daily Messenger, 29 Oct 1991
  • Autopsy issued in Stowe death, AP/St. Albans Daily Messenger, 31 Oct 1991
  • A grisly record: Rash of homicides keeping investigators busy by Michael Maynard, St. Albans Messenger, 02 Nov 1991
  • Four suspects in Scoville murder; 14 detectives are working on case, AP/St. Albans Messenger, 07 Nov 1991
  • Investigation continues in Scoville case, AP/St. Albans Daily Messenger, 26 May 1992
  • Police have suspect in Scoville killing by Bernie Daignais, St. Albans Daily Messenger, 17 Oct 1992
  • Murder victim Patricia Scoville remembered, AP/St. Albans Messenger, 24 Oct 1994
  • Police, lawmakers renew push for DNA data bank by Anne Wallace Allen, St. Albans Messenger, 24 Dec 1996
  • Vermont one of only two states without DNA data bank legislation by Anne Wallace Allen, St. Albans Messenger, 02 Oct 1997
  • Ontario County couple still searching for daughter’s killer, 7 ½ years later, AP/Watertown Daily Times, 07 Feb 1999
  • Possible suspect in 1991 homicide fighting order to give DNA sample, AP/St. Albans Messenger, 03 Nov 1999
  • Justices hear DNA arguments for Scoville suspect, AP/St. Albans Messenger, 09 Nov 1999
  • Parents of murdered woman to be honored in Washington by Anne Wallace Allen, St. Albans Messenger, 10 Apr 2002
  • Man enters not guilty plea in 1991 murder in Stowe by Wilson Ring, St. Albans Messenger, 01 Apr 1995
  • Big backlogs at nation’s forensic labs undercut DNA’s value by Wilson Ring, St. Albans Messenger, 28 Apr 2005
  • Stowe police hunt for cyclist by Tom Hacker, Burlington Free Press, 25 Oct 1991
  • Woman’s move to Stowe was ‘adventure’ by Lisa Scagliotti, Burlington Free Press, 26 Oct 1991
  • Police expand forest hunt for Stowe woman by Lisa Scagliotti, Burlington Free Press, 26 Oct 1991, page 2
  • Foul play suspected in Stowe by Anne Geggis, Burlington Free Press, 27 Oct 1991
  • Searchers find woman’s body by Stephanie Carter, Burlington Free Press, 30 Oct 1991
  • Police suspect homicide along Stowe hiking trail by Mike Donoghue, Burlington Free Press, 30 Oct 1991, page 2
  • Homicide victim is remembered by Staff Writer, Burlington Free Press, 30 Oct 1991
  • Why a long search? Effectiveness is questioned by Mike Donoghue and Stephanie Carter, Burlington Free Press, 30 Oct 1991
  • Victim sought peace in Vermont by Ellen Rosen, Burlington Free Press, 31 Oct 1991
  • Autopsy reveals woman strangled by Bernie Dagenais, Rutland Daily Herald, 31 Oct 1991, page 2
  • Police probe leads in Scoville murder by Bernie Dagenais, Rutland Daily Herald, 01 Nov 1991
  • $1000 offered in search for killer, Democrat and Chronicle, 02 Nov 1991
  • 4 or 5 linked to killing by Mike Donoghue, Burlington Free Press, 07 Nov 1991
  • Drivers sought in inquiry about Stowe killing by Mike Donoghue, Burlington Free Press, 06 Dec 1991
  • Police say woman held captive, beaten, Burlington Free Press, 10 Feb 1992
  • Police narrow leads in Scoville homicide by Paul Teetor, Burlington Free Press, 24 May 1992, page 2
  • Vt. man arrested in woman’s death, Democrat and Chronicle, 02 Jun 1992
  • Fugitive from Texas is suspect in Stowe killing by Mike Donoghue, Burlington Free Press, 02 Jun 1992, page 2
  • Jurors express doubts after convicting man, AP/Times Record News, 07 Feb 1993
  • Scoville death remains mystery by Mike Donoghue, Burlington Free Press, 21 Oct 1993, page 2
  • Scoville sought escape from urban life by Mike Donoghue, Burlington Free Press, 21 Oct 1993
  • Probe is renewed in Scoville murder, AP/Rutland Daily Herald, 22 Oct 1993
  • Attack blamed on failed relationships by Mike Donoghue, Burlington Free Press, 21 Aug 1996
  • Godfrey gives himself up by Amy Kolb Noyes, News and Citizen, 22 Aug 1996, page 2
  • Patty Scoville Remembrance Day by J.B. McKinley, News and Citizen, 03 Oct 1996
  • Couple push for DNA database by Mike Donoghue, Burlington Free Press, 13 Oct 1996
  • Police: Victim was raped, AP/Brattleboro Reformer, 22 Oct 1996
  • Scoville murder at Moss Glen assigned full-time men again by J.B. McKinley, News and Citizen, 24 Oct 1996, page 2
  • Court Report – Howard G. Godfrey, News and Citizen, 30 Jan 1997
  • Parents of Stowe murder victim urge passage of DNA bill by Anne Wallace Allen, Rutland Daily Herald, 31 Jan 1997
  • House backs DNA data bank by Nancy Remsen, Burlington Free Free, 23 Apr 1997
  • Genetic bank’s purpose clear by Nancy Remsen, Burlington Free Press, 12 May 1998, page 2
  • Timeline: 17 years of the Patricia Scoville case, The Stowe Reporter, 29 May 2003
  • DNA ties suspect to 1991 homicide by Andy Netzel, Burlington Free Press, 01 Apr 2005, page 2
  • Suspect had built new life by Andy Netzel, Burlington Free Press, 04 Apr 2005, page 2
  • Godfrey held for 1991 murder by Alicia Morissette, News and Citizen, 07 Apr 2005, page 2
  • Things look this way to me: Staggered by J.B. McKinley, News and Citizen, 07 Apr 2005
  • Godfrey guilty by Adam Silverman, Burlington Free Press, 18 Jan 2008
  • DNA lab that led to killer dedicated in memory of victim, AP/Bennington Banner, May 23, 2008
  • Court upholds ’91 murder conviction, Burlington Free Press, 10 Apr 2010, page 2
  • Murder 20 years ago led to creation of DNA databank by Keith Vance, Rutland Daily Herald, 16 Oct 2011, page 2
  • Debate swirls over DNA law by Matt Ryan, Burlington Free Press, 26 Dec 2011, page 2
  • Killer Godfrey dies in prison by Wilson Ring, Rutland Daily Herald, 26 Dec 2013, page 2
  • Godfrey dies in jail, News and Citizen, 31 Dec 2013
  • STATE of Vermont v. Howard GODFREY. No. 2008-217. Decided: April 09, 2010