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Authorities Doubt Fiery 'Suicide' Was End of Double Murderer

August 31, 1986|LAURA A. KIERNAN | Special to The Washington Post

PINKHAM NOTCH, N. H. — A bitter wind was howling through Mt. Washington Valley on the night innkeepers Malcolm and Elizabeth Jennings were murdered in their cottage at the Dana Place Inn.

They were bound and gagged, their throats were slashed and they were stabbed repeatedly. A passing truck driver saw the snowbound cottage in flames and called firefighters, who found the bodies in separate bedrooms.

"It was stark . . . stark," said attorney William D. Paine, a close friend of the Jenningses. "I really remember having a feeling of it being black and gray and white," he said of the scene that dawn last January.

Villagers in nearby Jackson feared that a vicious intruder had come to this peaceful community in the White Mountains, which caters to cross-country skiers and hikers. But soon emerged a tale of a family in torment, of a troubled young daughter and the middle-age lover she met in Alaska.

'May Remain Whodunit'

Fresh grass now covers the place where the Jennings cottage stood, and the only sign of the fire is a scorched tree trunk.

The couple's son has sold the inn, a century-old farmhouse, to the builders of a resort across the highway. The developers say they will preserve its country charm.

"It happened, and you can't hide it," new owner E. C. Low said of the murders and fire. Guests still ask about it, and to the townspeople the story is as perplexing today as it was on that frigid winter morning.

"It's a definite whodunit more than anything--and might very well, forever and ever amen, remain a whodunit," said Spencer Mann of the sheriff's office in Alachua County, Fla., where the second stage of this murder mystery unfolded.

Twelve days after the Dana Place deaths, the charred remains of a young woman and a middle-aged man were found in a burned-down shack on the edge of a cornfield in High Springs, Fla., north of Gainesville.

A seven-page, murder-suicide letter, mentioning the Jennings killings up north, was found in a blue Fiat not far from the shack. It was written and signed by Glyde Earl Meek, 49, a drifter who had caused a deep rift between Mal and Betty Jennings and their 21-year-old daughter, Page.

More than 10,000 bone fragments recovered from the cornfield still lie in metal trays in a Florida laboratory, where Dr. William Maples, a forensic anthropologist, is trying to put the pieces together.

Killer Feared at Large

Meanwhile, it is uncertain whether Meek is dead, whether he killed Page and whether she died with him or is, perhaps, alive somewhere. The only certainty is that nobody knows.

Florida investigators, relying on the letter's contents and other evidence they say has not been made public, insist that both Page and Meek died at High Springs.

But New Hampshire authorities, who have issued a warrant for Meek's arrest in connection with the Dana Place murders, theorize that Meek murdered the Jenningses, killed Page, faked the suicide scene and fled, probably to the Northwest.

That leaves Christopher Jennings, 25, wondering what became of his sister and of Meek, wondering "if they're still out there," said Betsy Paine, 21, Chris' friend since childhood.

Page Jennings was a tall, handsome young woman with auburn hair. She was a champion javelin thrower and a high-school honor student who dropped out of Simmons College in Boston and headed for Alaska.

Couple Met in Alaska

She met Meek at a lodge near Anchorage, where she worked in the kitchen--a job she had known as an innkeeper's daughter. Meek was working there as a handyman.

"She went up there to find herself, and she was very, very vulnerable," Betsy Paine said. "This guy gave her something she couldn't get from anybody else."

Page apparently had no idea that the balding, muscular man had used at least eight aliases and had served three prison terms for burglary and car theft.

He had been the star football player on the Walla Walla State Penitentiary team in Washington, and has been described as physically strong and roguishly charming.

Chris Jennings described Meek as "quiet and low-key." Mal and Betty Jennings were horrified over the relationship between him and their daughter.

"They hated him," said Bill Paine, the Jenningses' lawyer.

In the fall of 1984, after a year's on-and-off romance between Page and Meek in Texas and Alaska, Betsy Paine says the Jenningses told Page, "It's him or us."

Daughter Sought Therapy

Page said that Meek beat her but, Betsy Paine recalled, "She begged me to understand her and not to judge her.

"She had no more sense of her own persona. There was no Page left. It was what Betty and Mal wanted. It was what (Meek) wanted," Betsy Paine said.

Page saw a therapist, bought herself a puppy and went to live with her brother in Gainesville, where he worked in a newspaper advertising office. Meek, whom Page had left in Seattle, showed up in December and moved in with them.

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