Victim identified in suicide-murder:
Successful chemist slays girlfriend, puts severed head on front seat as he leads police on chase through R.I. towns
The Providence Journal
03:25 PM EST on Thursday, March 25, 2004
BY TOM MOONEY, MICHAEL CORKERY, JENNIFER LEVITZ and SETH McLAUGHLIN
Journal Staff Writers
A doctoral candidate in chemistry led the police on a 25-mile chase yesterday with the severed head of his girlfriend on the front seat before crashing in Cranston and killing himself as officers smashed his windows with batons, the police and a witness say.
Michael Shechtman, 33, who grew up in North Kingstown and was considered a rising star at the chemical-plating company where he worked, had hours earlier, the police say, killed his 20-year-old girlfriend in the house they shared off a wooded lane in Plainfield, Conn.
This afternoon, the Connecticut State Police identified Shechtman's girlfriend as Heather Mullins-Keltz.
The cause of her death was also released by the state medical examiner's office in Connecticut, which had performed an autopsy. She died from asphyxiation due to neck compression, according to the medical examiner, and not from decapitation.
Yesterday, police had no immediate explanation for the crime.
Rhode Island state and local police had been chasing Shechtman through the northwestern corner of the state when Connecticut tactical police officers, toting rifles, surrounded and then burst into Shechtman's pale-blue, two-story house at 84 Kate Downing Rd.
They found the decapitated body of a woman on the second floor.
"It was an extremely gruesome crime scene," said Connecticut State Police Sgt. J. Paul Vance.
According to Rhode Island State Police Maj. Brendan P. Doherty, the morning's macabre events unfolded this way:
About 8 a.m., a distraught Chepachet woman raced into Rhode Island State Police headquarters in Scituate, concerned about the welfare of Shechtman and his girlfriend.
Doherty wouldn't identify the Chepachet woman, but according to Shechtman's employer, the woman worked with him at Technic Inc., in Cranston.
The Chepachet woman told state police investigators she had just spoken to Shechtman and that he had admitted to hurting his girlfriend and spoke of killing himself.
When the woman asked to speak to Shechtman's girlfriend, he refused.
While at state police headquarters, the Chepachet woman received a call from Shechtman on her cell phone. He wanted to meet her. Shechtman assured her he wouldn't hurt her -- he "just wanted to give her something."
Shechtman was adamant.
A meeting spot was agreed to: a parking lot on Route 6 at Cucumber Hill Road in Foster, near the state line.
Unbeknown to Shechtman, state police troopers were on the way there.
When Shechtman saw the cruisers, he took off, heading east on Route 6, pursued by three state police cruisers.
In the area of Route 6 and 295 in Johnston, troopers lost Shechtman's black, 2002 Mercury -- a company car.
State police cruisers sped onto Route 295, both north and south, searching for the car. Moments later, Johnston police saw Shechtman's car on Route 6 east and took up the chase.
One Johnston police officer received minor injuries when he turned around in an intersection to join the chase and was struck by car driven by an 81-year-old woman. Both the officer and the woman were taken to area hospitals and later released.
On Route 10 south in Cranston, at the Cranston Street exit, Shechtman drove into the Jersey barrier and struck two vehicles, ending the chase.
As many as three police officers rushed his car, wielding batons. One officer smashed at the passenger's side window.
Suddenly, all of them stopped swinging and backed away from the car, said Bob Maymon, a Warwick truck driver who watched the scene from the parking lot of nearby May Food Service and Design.
The police opened the driver's side door and peered inside.
Shechtman had shot himself -- once in the head, the state medical examiner would later confirm, with a 9mm pistol.
The police recovered the woman's head in a trash bag, along with a fully loaded Glock, an extra magazine clip and two knives.
The police took pictures of the car's interior and inside the trunk.
As rush-hour traffic crawled past this congested stretch of highway, which is under construction, the police held up a sheet, shielding the contents of the car from view.
LESS THAN a mile from where he killed himself, Michael Shechtman had built his career at a chemical company, where he enjoyed nothing but success.
"He was a star," said David Weisberg, vice president of Technic Inc.
Shechtman, who had completed his doctoral casework at the University of Rhode Island and was working on his dissertation, commuted 36 miles each day from Plainfield to Spectacle Street in Cranston, where Technic's office overlooks Route 10. He had been working there since shortly after graduating from Providence College.
Technic develops and manufactures chemicals used in electroplating electronics. Shechtman rose steadily from a lab assistant to marketing manager and was tapped to travel on company trips to Asia and Europe.
"He was an excellent employee -- reliable, hard-working, smart, pleasant. There really are no qualifiers," Weisberg said yesterday.
"He's a kid from Rhode Island and we sent him to Asia, and he was going to Europe for us. There was nothing bad going on in his life, professionally. He was getting big pay increases. As a young single guy, he was doing well."
Weisberg believed that last year Shechtman broke up with his longtime girlfriend, whom he had planned to marry.
"I spoke to him a few months after [the breakup] and he seemed perfectly all right," Weisberg said.
Shechtman began dating his most recent girlfriend only recently, and many people at the office did not know her well.
On Monday, Shechtman called Weisberg and asked if he could work from home that day.
Weisberg readily agreed; Shechtman often worked weekends and late at night. Shechtman did not show up to work on Tuesday either. Weisberg figured Shechtman would be working from home for most of the week.
Yesterday, state police interviewed Technic employees about Shechtman. But Weisberg said none of the employees he spoke to could explain the reasons for such a horrific crime.
"No one saw the slightest hint of aggressive or violent behavior from Michael," Weisberg said.
Technic Inc., which employs about 120 people in Cranston, stayed open throughout the day. Two of the people Shechtman worked with directly went home early, Weisberg said.
MICHAEL SHECHTMAN grew up in the north end of North Kingstown, where busy Post
Road and the clutter of the old military base give way to peaceful thoroughfares
lined with shade trees and stone walls. Rustic wooden signs designate neighborhoods.
Kent and Melody Shechtman and their only child, Michael, lived in Signal Rock Estates, at 15 Arcadia Drive, in a split-level with a swimming pool out back.
Michael Shechtman graduated from North Kingstown High School in 1989, the year the senior class voted Demi Moore as its favorite actress, and Die Hard as its favorite movie. In his yearbook photo, above his full name, Shechtman looks like any other teenager, smiling awkwardly for the camera. His straight, dark hair is parted neatly in the middle. His name is not listed in any activities at the school.
The following fall, he was enrolled at Providence College. He earned a bachelor of science degree from the university in 1993.
But he also soon found himself in trouble.
That same year Shechtman was arrested for a felony. Then 21, he was living at his parents' home when the police were called to the house because the security alarm had been tripped.
Police officers went inside through an open door and searched for an intruder. According to a police report, they didn't find anyone, but they discovered a cache of fireworks, guns, syringes, and a nearly completed pipe bomb in Shechtman's bedroom.
Shechtman told the police the 93 syringes were for a science project and the fireworks were from a friend. He told them he did not plan to complete the pipe bomb. The police report did not explain why he had a sawed-off shotgun and several loaded guns.
Shechtman was described in the report as 5 feet 4 inches tall, 124 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes.
He was charged with possession of a sawed-off shotgun and possession of a needle and syringe.
The legal weapons that Shechtman owned, according to the police report, included: an AK-47 rifle, two .22-caliber rifles, a .44-magnum semi-automatic pistol, a bow and arrow, knives and kung fu weapons.
An aunt helped him find a lawyer, Kurt M. Hayes, of Attleboro.
Contacted last night, Hayes was shocked to hear about his former client: "He was a nice guy, a normal kid. . . . God, you hear about these things and never think you're going to know someone. He was always a nice young man."
Hayes characterized the syringe and weapons charge as "a stupid thing."
The illegal shotgun he was charged with possessing "wasn't even his," Hayes said. "It happened to be in his room."
"I've got to call his aunt," he added, still reeling from the news. "He was a very nice young man. I would never . . . it's just terrible."
Shechtman pleaded no contest to possession of the shotgun and syringes, and was sentenced to five years of probation.
It appears that the possession of fireworks charges were expunged last May.
CHESTER ALLEN has lived on Kate Downing Road in Plainfield for 25 years and knows just about everyone on the country lane, where new homes are springing up in the oaks and old farm fields.
Allen said Shectman moved there about two years ago and seemed friendly enough, always waving when they passed each other on the road.
"Last weekend it looked like they were having a yard sale down there," he said yesterday as he walked his dog. "This is just unbelievable."
Across the street, Melissa A. Hall, 33, of 73 Kate Downing Rd., said she had sold Shechtman the two-story home in August 2002 and that the alleged victim had been a new face in the neighborhood.
"They weren't together too long, maybe only a couple of weeks," Hall said from the front entrance of her home.
Another woman had lived with Shechtman before, but had moved out, she said.
"He bought the house with another girl," Hall said.
She said there weren't any signs of trouble.
"We drove by there last night on the way from my sister's house and we didn't see anything fishy."
She said Shechtman would wave to her on the street. She was shocked by the news.
"For an area like this, it is a big deal," she said.
Yesterday afternoon, yellow police tape circled Shechtman's property as state police crime scene detectives, wearing white shirts and blue plastic gloves, searched the piles of trash left at the end of the driveway and the cluttered two-car garage.
"It's a difficult scene for all the investigators," said Vance, the Connecticut State Police spokesman.
Vance said he didn't know where on the second floor the woman's headless body was found.
No suicide note was found in the house.
Vance said Shechtman and the murdered woman were known to the local police department. The police had "provided some guidance into concerns that they had."
But Vance said the police interaction wasn't related to domestic violence; there were no 911 calls ever made from the house.
Vance wouldn't elaborate.
Shechtman's house sits on a large wooded lot, with a wooden shed that backs up to a stone wall, separating his property from a neighbor who runs a dog-grooming business.
Kathy, who wouldn't give her last name, said she often saw Shechtman and a young woman outside working in the yard. They would wave to her from the other side of the stone wall.
"He would ride a tractor and she would be in the back [of the tractor]. They seemed happy. In fact, I would joke with my husband and say, why don't you give me a tractor ride."
She shook her head: "This is creepy."