REDBURN, VT—Next week, Thomas Holwell will be released from prison, having served a six-year sentence for disinterring and sexually assaulting 17 corpses. He will move back to Redburn—and the news is not sitting well with the town's substantial dead population.
"The people I've dealt with here seem really tense," said Henry Phelps, chief mortician at Redburn's Shady Grove Cemetery, the final resting place for many one-time residents of this sleepy New England community. "A lot of them were alive six years ago, when all that horrible stuff went on. I sense a nervous edge in them that goes way beyond rigor mortis."
"Until now, when people died, they felt that their corpses would be safe because Holwell would always be behind bars," said John Cullums, owner of Cullums Family Funeral Home. "But they were wrong. Dead wrong."
Shady Grove Cemetery officials have already hired extra security guards to protect the dead, and pledge that all future graves will be dug 10 feet deep, rather than the traditional six.
Shady Grove officials are not the only ones in Redburn taking extra precautions: Workers at the city morgue—the site of some of Holwell's most gruesome escapades in 1990—have been ordered by Redburn mayor Phil Ketcham to fill the orifices of all John and Jane Does with concrete.
"We can't afford to take any chances," Ketcham explained.
Holwell, 32, is the first necrophiliac to be released in the U.S. since the passage of a federal law requiring state authorities to notify communities to which necrophiliacs plan to relocate. The law was passed by Congress last month in the wake of a March 1996 incident in which Warren Pachenko, 55, a convict who had been released 48 hours earlier, brutally sodomized the ashes of seven people at a Flagstaff, AZ, crematorium.
"The ashes were barely recognizable after he got through with them," said Burn 'n' Urn assistant manager Geoff Linden. "It was horrible."
In response to the outrage he has sparked, Holwell is assuring Redburn residents that he became a born-again Christian while in jail and is no longer a threat to the town's deceased. "I have mended my ways," Holwell said. "No one need worry. The dead can rest assured that they will rest forevermore in penetration-free peace."
But despite his promises, Holwell's release torments such Redburn citizens as Fannie Bulger, 84. "This ought to be a time of serenity for me," said Bulger, who is dying of cancer and has been given one month to live. "Frankly, this is about the last thing I need to worry about right now."
Even young, healthy residents like Sharon Mitchell, 27, are concerned about the Holwell situation. "I have three young children," said Mitchell, who lives just a block away from the home to which Holwell will be returning. "I would like them to feel safe walking around the neighborhood without worrying about what would happen to their bodies if they got run over by a truck in front of his house."