The story of the abduction and subsequent death of Sarah Hunter, then 36, and a golf pro at the Manchester Country Club, returned to the front pages earlier this summer, when a man incarcerated in a California prison for other, unrelated crimes, was linked to the homicide through forensic DNA evidence. The convict, David A. Morrison, 52, is still in California, awaiting extradition to Vermont.
On Sept. 19, 1986, Hunter was reported missing and her car found at a local gas station in Manchester.
It was not until more than two months later - on Thanksgiving Day - that her body was found in Pawlet. But until now, no arrests were made, and the perpetrator remained
Now a documentary film about the crime is about to be screened in Manchester, the product of years of work by an amateur filmmaker, who promises new information about the case, as well as offering insights into the effect of the crime on the people who knew Hunter.
Duane Carleton, a musician and a fifth generation Vermonter from Chippenhook, a small town located near West Rutland, first got interested in the case when performing at the former Maxwell's, a bar and restaurant on Depot Street, about five years ago.
The result of that is "Overtaken by Darkness," a one hour and 25
"I didn't find anything that wasn't in the public domain," Carleton said. "You are going to see information in the film that has never, ever been available to the public."
The origin of the movie grew out of a conversation he had with some of the patrons at Maxwell's one evening when he arrived for his engagement a little early. In the course of asking about the hotel and bar known as Grabbers that used to be across the street, and is now an empty lot with only a foundation, he heard about the Hunter case and how the grisly murder had never been solved.
There it might have ended, but a year or so later, he heard another story about a previously unsolved cold case in Barre from 1978 that had finally been cracked, he said.
"For some reason, when I heard that story, the Sarah Hunter story popped back into my head," he said. "I had always had an interest in video ... I decided I would try to make a film."
So began a long journey of first learning about the documentary art form, starting with buying a book. Then came time at the cable access television channel in Rutland, PEG-TV, when he learned more about camera work and was able to use some of their equipment in his early interviews, before buying his own camera, he said.
Working together with an initial partner on the project, the pair waded into a world of research, interviewing and editing. Then more research. "The very first thing we did was to go to the town offices of Manchester and talked to the town clerk; we looked for the death certificate which we assumed would be here, because Hunter was a resident of Manchester," he said.
Only it wasn't. It was eventually found in Pawlet, the site of her death. The certificate gave them some clues and a starting point, which led them through the archives of several newspapers, including the Rutland Herald and the Manchester Journal, where Carleton spent several hours going through old back issues in 2009.
As he progressed through the research and subsequent interviews of people who remembered Hunter, the project underwent a subtle shift - becoming less about the mystery of the still-unsolved case and more about remembering the person Hunter was, Carleton said.
"This was a well-liked person who was doing positive things for herself and the community," he said. "She was skilled at her job. To be hired as a head golf pro as a woman at that time was pretty major."
Among the issues he had to confront were both the visceral, emotional reactions he got from some of the people he interviewed, as well as a curiosity about what this long-haired musician and amateur filmmaker was really up to.
"The hardest part was that people still feel intensely emotional about this story. And to me, that was part of the story," he said. "I was viewed as a journalist and because I was a stranger with a camera nobody was sure what my motivations were. As I started to talk to more people who were more closely associated with it, that became more difficult."
Some were reluctant to talk about the case because the murderer was still at-large, and they didn't want to risk retribution if and when the film was publicly released, Carleton said.
Then, in a remarkable coincidence of timing, five days after he had finished editing the film, and was waiting to get a mug shot of David Morrison, came word of his arrest in the case.
"It stunned me," he said. "I played in Killington that Sunday and got home at 3 a.m. and at 6 a.m. my wife woke me up and said there was going to be an announcement about Sarah Hunter that morning. I never had to do the public request for the mug shot because it was everywhere."
The showing in Manchester may be one of the last times the movie may ever be seen. It premiered in West Rutland on Sept. 18, the anniversary of Hunter's death, and Carleton was initially reluctant to even have it screened in Manchester, he said.
"To be honest, I've been a little nervous about showing it here," he said. "I wasn't sure and I'm still not, how Manchester would accept it."
It's not a salacious film, he said, and there are no gory crime scene photos. It's not a tabloid documentary, and he tried to be as careful and tasteful as possible, he said.
It was the kind of crime that wasn't supposed to happen in a rural, bucolic state like Vermont, and certainly not in a small town like Manchester, where everybody supposedly knew everybody else and the notion that someone evil enough to commit such a kidnapping and murder might still be in their midst was scary and eye-opening, he said.
"One of my main concerns throughout the entire thing was I have no interest in causing any kind of harm to her family, friends - I've tried to be fair and careful in the film," he said. "I just felt that by removing the mystery from the story they could draw their own conclusions. It takes that out of the picture and you're left with her memory."
Thousands of hours of filming and editing later, will there be a second film after this one then? Maybe. Or maybe not, he said.
"It was a rough emotional ride," he said. "This shouldn't have been my first film. Will my next film be about an unsolved homicide? Probably not." "Overtaken by Darkness" will be shown at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 23 at the Village Picture Show theater, on Depot Street. Tickets are $10 and available at the box office.
For more information, visit villagepictureshows.com online.