Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Wood Chipper Murder Case


Connecticut map with Newtown marked
Connecticut map with Newtown marked

On the night of November 18, 1986, an unusually severe winter storm hit central Connecticut. Driving conditions were difficult throughout the late evening and grew worse as the storm lingered over the Newtown area. Snow and sleet blanketed the countryside while gusty winds knocked down trees and utility lines. Electricity went out in the area for several hours during the night. In the nearby town of Southbury, public highway employees were called in to plow snow and lay salt down on the icy roads. For the next few days and nights, snowplows and sanders worked continuously to keep the roads clean.

U-Haul similar to one seen by Joseph Hine
U-Haul similar to one seen by Joseph

One of the town's utility men, Joseph Hine, 37, arrived at the municipal garage at 11:30 p.m. on November 20. He took the sander out and began to drop sand on Route 172, one of the major roads in the town. At about 12:30 a.m., he returned to the garage and picked up a snowplow. He began his route along Southbury's Main Street and continued for several hours plowing snow and avoiding the many branches that blocked the roadways. At about 3:30 a.m., Hine plowed along the length of River Road until he came to the intersection of South Flat Hill Road.

The snow and sleet were still falling and conditions were more like mid-winter than late November. As soon as he passed the intersection, Hine saw a truck parked off the side of the road. "I would describe the vehicle as a U-Haul van, box van, 1 to 1 ton with dual wheels," he later told detectives, "the box of the van was an off-white or dirty white, square typethe cab was orange colored."

Wood chipper similar to the one Joseph Hine saw
Wood chipper similar to the one Joseph
Hine saw

Its lights were off and the roll up back was closed. As he got closer, Hine saw that the truck had a large woodchipper attached to its back. The chipper seemed old and well used. Just as he passed the U-Haul, he saw a man standing near the driver's door who suddenly began to walk to the rear of the truck. The man motioned for Hine to pass him, which he did. Hine continued to plow down River Road.

Two hours later, at 5:30 a.m., Hine plowed River Road from the opposite direction. As he passed the Glen Road area, he saw the same U Haul with the attached woodchipper once again. "I didn't see anyone in or around the truck or chipper," he told investigators. But as he passed it, Hine noticed something different. "The back of the box was open," he said later, "and I could see some wood chips inside." He also saw wood chips on the shoulder of the road. Hine continued to plow as he watched the U-Haul slowly disappear in his rear view mirror.

"That was strange," he thought to himself, "that a person would be out so early in the morning, in the middle of a storm, chipping wood."

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