Local citizens rest easier after murder suspect caught

HANCOCK — Hancock, Ripton and East Middlebury residents are breathing easier in wake of the capture, at the Middlebury Snow Bowl, of a man whom authorities have termed a “strong suspect” in the recent murder of Kathleen Smith, 50, of Burlington.
Residents along Route 125 had been on high alert following the discovery of Smith’s abandoned car off Texas Falls Road in Hancock, just a few days before her body was discovered in her home on Burlington’s Park Street on Oct. 18.
Burlington police confirmed on Monday that Jose Pazos, 45, knew Smith, who authorities said died as a result of trauma to her neck and throat. Police added Pazos, who has been a homeless person in the Burlington area for the past decade, had apparently communicated with Smith through “a social networking site” and had dated one of Smith’s best friends. Police found Pazos hiding in an outbuilding at the Snow Bowl on Saturday, Oct. 23, where he was found with “a hatchet, two knives and a replica handgun,” according to area media.
Pazos pled not guilty on Monday in Chittenden County Superior Court to four misdemeanor charges related to the Snow Bowl break-in, and was ordered held on $1 million bail.
Meanwhile, authorities continue to investigate whether Pazos had anything to do with Smith’s murder.
The arrest of Pazos has eased some anxiety among local residents, particularly those in Ripton and Hancock, some of whom had been visited by Burlington and Vermont State Police asking for clues in their investigation of the Smith murder.
Authorities handed out a flyer cautioning residents to “exercise all reasonable personal safety precautions, including locking all doors and ground floor windows. While we do not yet know if the break in at the Snow Bowl is related to the Burlington murder, we encourage citizens to be on the look-out for any person who appears suspicious or ‘out of place’ to your area, to include suspicious activity.”
Hancock selectboard Chairman Jack Ross said one of his friends called Burlington police on Oct. 16 with the license plate number of the car parked off Texas Falls Road.
“We were wondering what took so long to find out who owned the car,” Ross said.
Hancock residents were “highly concerned” about the potential presence of a dangerous criminal in their midst, according to Ross, who added “people who don’t usually lock their doors were locking their doors, and their cars.”
Ripton Town Clerk Sally Hoyler said four police officers stopped cars and passed out flyers until around 2 p.m. this past Saturday in connection with the Smith murder case.
“They were hoping that someone who had spent some time in the woods might have seen something,” Hoyler said. “I wouldn’t say there was undue alarm.”
She said she and other residents were relieved upon hearing that an arrest had been made.
“It felt a little too mysterious before,” Hoyler said.
Vermont State Police Lt. Gary Genova, commander of the force’s New Haven barracks, said folks stopped at the road check were very helpful and had been largely unaware of the potential connection between the abandoned vehicle and the murder case. Officers at the checkpoint forwarded any tips they received to Burlington police, who were lead investigators in the case, according to Genova.
Anyone who may have information about the case or about Pazos’ activities between Oct. 11 and 23 should contact the Burlington police tip line at (802) 540-2222.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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