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Murdered golf pro Sarah Hunter’s case deserves closure

Golf

Murdered golf pro Sarah Hunter’s case deserves closure

In 2016 I attended my first Sarah Hunter Spring Classic golf tournament in Manchester, Vt.

“Everybody loved Sarah,” was often repeated in interviews I had with those who knew her.

In 1986, Hunter was in her first year as a head golf professional of a semi-private club just off Vermont’s Historic State Route 7A. Hunter, 32, embraced her career at Manchester Country Club, a beautiful, challenging course halfway between Bennington and Rutland.

She went missing in the waning days of summer in September of that year, failing to show up to give a lesson at the course. Her body was found on Thanksgiving Day in a field in nearby Pawlet.

The more I learned about her, the more I realized she was a true pioneer for the sport. She made a name for herself by starting a thriving youth golf program. More of a public gathering place than a pretentious private club, she was the face of Manchester Country Club golf. She sported a smile and a welcoming presence when players arrived at the pro shop. She loved teaching the game of golf. The club rewarded her with head pro status after several years working as an assistant.

In 1987 I contacted the LPGA to take the first steps in nominating Hunter posthumously for consideration in the LPGA Teaching Hall of Fame. She was an LPGA certified professional. The night before she died, she left her boyfriend’s place to go home to study for an LPGA test to advance her certification. She was never seen alive again.

I never received a reply to that email.

I also wrote a letter during the pandemic to a prison inmate who authorities believe murdered her. He left Vermont in 1988 and was arrested later that year in a separate case on charges of attempted murder, sexual assault and kidnapping in Chula Vista, Calif. He pleaded guilty in that case and still is serving a sentence of 20 years to life. He was extradited to Vermont in 2015 to face a first degree murder charge in Hunter’s killing using DNA evidence. But the charge was dropped because police botched the handling of evidence, according to news reports quoting the Bennington State’s Attorney.

I received a letter back from the inmate. David Allen Morrison’s reply led me to realize there is a pathway working with investigators and prosecutors that could lead him to confess.

Why is a confession or prosecution so important to me?

Because the life and legacy of Sarah Hunter matters.

The tournament in her honor was established by an Albany woman, Ann Waters, who grew up in Bennington and was a close friend to Hunter. Waters started the tournament the year after her pal’s horrific death.

I reached out to Waters’ nephew in 1986. Steven Senecal of Mendon, Vt., Near Rutland, was a member of Manchester Country Club in the late 1980s and remembers his Aunt Annie and Sarah Hunter as good friends who shared a passion for golf.

“Annie just wanted Sarah’s legacy to live on,” he told me. “Sarah was a really, really good woman and so was Annie. They were incredible athletes.”


Waters died in January of 2015. Senecal said it was a blessing: one month after Ann Waters’ death, the Vermont state’s attorney dropped charges against Morrison.

“I thank the Good Lord he took her before the bad news,” Senecal said. “She died thinking she had closure for her friend.”

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This column is sponsored by Times Union Women @ Work, the Capital Region’s network of business and professional women. Join today at: https://womenatworkny.com


Capital Region golfers this year once again formed a significant portion of the 50-team field at the 34th annual tournament. Head Golf Professional Peter Weatherby awarded the coveted championship trophy to Pinehaven’s Nan Lanahan and Mary Scatena, who carded a final round of 4-under to finish at even par (76-68,144) in the better ball of partners event. Second place went to the Ballston Spa duo of Heidi Harkins and Susan Kahler, who combined for 2-over each day (74-74,148).

Driving to and from the course, I found myself ruminating about my days spent on day trips in the summer of 2016, researching articles in the local library, conducting interviews at the course and driving by significant locations in the murder investigation detailed in news reports.

Across the road from my hotel this year was a bleak reminder of the horrific events that frightened a small town. A Manchester Center gas station and car wash – which now includes a Dunkin ‘Donuts – was the site where investigators say Morrison worked, where Hunter was most likely abducted and where her car was found. The site was a mere 135 yards from the window of my hotel – I know because I used my golf rangefinder – a distance measuring tool. I did not sleep well that night.

Having a peaceful night’s rest at that tournament will require Sarah Hunter’s murderer to be brought to justice. My job writing about her is unfinished business. I’m sure police detectives and prosecutors feel their work also is unfinished. The murder of Sarah Hunter remains an open case. It’s never too late for a reckoning.

Joyceb10bassett@gmail.com • @ joyceb10bassett • timesunion.com/author/joyce-bassett

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