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Coolidge v. New Hampshire

The Investigation Of A "particularly Brutal Murder" And The Trial That Followed

On the evening of 13 January 1964, 14-year-old Pamela Mason left her home in Manchester, New Hampshire. It was snowing heavily that night and she had received a call from a man in need of a babysitter. Eight days later, her body was found many miles away by the side of a north-south highway. The police immediately began a large-scale investigation into the murder.

Police inquiries led to the questioning of Edward Coolidge. He was cooperative throughout the entire process. When asked if he owned any guns he responded that he did and produced three--a rifle and two shotguns. He agreed to participate in a polygraph test the following Sunday, his day off from work. Coolidge's wife was present for the entire interview.

Police contacted Coolidge the following Sunday and asked him to come to the police station where he would be taken to Concord, New Hampshire for the lie-detector test. That evening, as Mrs. Coolidge waited with her mother-in-law for her husband to return, two plainclothes policemen called on the Coolidge residence. It is important to note that these were not the same officers who had questioned Coolidge in front of his wife earlier in the week; indeed these officers were not even aware that Coolidge had readily provided three guns for inspection to the previous officers. The plainclothes policemen stated that her husband was in "serious trouble" and would not be returning home that night. Coolidge was being held in jail overnight for an unrelated charge; during the polygraph test he had confessed to stealing money from his employer. They then asked the mother-in-law to leave and began questioning Mrs. Coolidge. At one point during the questioning they asked to see Coolidge's guns and the clothes that Mrs. Coolidge believed her husband had been wearing on the night of Pamela Mason's disappearance. Mrs. Coolidge produced four guns (not three) and the clothing in question.

The state used the next two-and-a-half weeks to gather evidence supporting the theory that Coolidge had murdered Pamela Mason. On 19 February 1964 the results of the investigation were exhibited to the state attorney general--who had not only taken charge of the case, but would later also act as chief prosecutor at the trial. It was decided that the murder charge, along with a search of his residence and two cars, would provide enough evidence to support the arrest of Coolidge. The chief of the Manchester police applied, under oath, for arrest and search warrants, which were subsequently signed and issued by the attorney general himself--in the role of acting justice of the peace. The procedure allowing a justice of the peace to authorize and issue search warrants was allowed under New Hampshire law at the time of this case.

The police wasted no time in arresting Coolidge on the same day that the warrant was issued. Mrs. Coolidge was told that she could not stay in the house and that the police would provide transportation for her as they were impounding both of Coolidge's vehicles. It is extremely important to note that the vehicles were parked in Coolidge's driveway in plain sight from both the street and the inside of the house.

Several items of evidence were presented in Coolidge's murder trial to indicate that he was guilty. The New Hampshire Supreme Court turned down motions to suppress all evidence. Vacuum sweepings from one of his vehicles included particles of gunpowder. The gun, not presented by Coolidge during the initial police interview, was a .22-caliber Mossberg rifle--claimed by the prosecution to be the murder weapon (although ballistics tests were conflicting). The prosecution then attempted to show via microscopic analysis that there was a strong chance that the clothes obtained at Coolidge's residence had been in contact with the body of Pamela Mason. The jury found Coolidge guilty and sentenced him to life imprisonment. The New Hampshire Supreme Court confirmed the judgement.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1963 to 1972Coolidge v. New Hampshire - The Investigation Of A "particularly Brutal Murder" And The Trial That Followed, The Improper Use Of A Warrant