WEST DANVILLE, Vt. — Some residents of the small Vermont hometown of a man charged with stabbing a 70-year-old woman to death at a New Hampshire hotel said Wednesday that the suspect was known for having a short fuse.
Prosecutors say 37-year-old Rodney Hill, of West Danville, repeatedly stabbed the woman Monday night in the lobby of the Hampton Inn in Littleton in what officials call a random attack.
Catherine Houghton, of Novato, Calif., died at a hospital shortly after the attack. She was a 1960 graduate of the White Mountain School in nearby Bethlehem and a member of the school's board of trustees. School officials said she was in town for board meetings Sunday and Monday and remained an extra day to rehearse with the school's a cappella choir.
What motivated the attack on Houghton is unknown. Prosecutors say Hill and Houghton were strangers who happened to be registered at the same hotel Monday night.
Jeff Downs, owner of Joe's Pond Country Store, said Wednesday that Hill was a frequent customer of the store and its small cafe counter and that it didn't take much to set him off.
Downs said Hill was in early Sunday — the day before Houghton was killed — and was making such a ruckus that Downs came downstairs from his office to see what was going on. He said waitress Evelyn Daly told him, "Oh, it's just Rodney going off."
But Downs said that same waitress was so distraught Wednesday that she had to go home. Downs said she told him before leaving, "It could have happened to any of us."
Downs said Hill was often very loud and opinionated, but he never felt threatened by him. But Downs also said he was always happy to see him leave.
Katharine Pastula, who also works at the country store, said Hill had been in the store Saturday, two days before the stabbing, and was always friendly to her. Hill did welding on equipment at her family's farm and they were shocked to learn of the charges against him, she said.
Hill graduated from Danville High School in 1993 and lives with his wife, Amy, and three children. Amy Hill has not returned a message seeking comment. The driveway at the end of the family's home is posted with a "No Trespassing" sign.
Hill was arraigned on two second-degree murder charges Tuesday and is being held without bond. He is due back in court Feb. 5 for an evidentiary hearing.
Public defender Martha Hornick, who represented Hill during his brief court appearance, didn't immediately return calls seeking comment.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Susan Morrell said Wednesday that Houghton's autopsy has been completed, but results wouldn't be released until Thursday.
Houghton's is the first killing since 1999 in Littleton — a community of 4,000 just west of the White Mountains National Forest in northwest New Hampshire, near the Vermont border.
Houghton held master's and doctoral degrees from Stanford University, had served in the Peace Corps in Nepal and worked as an international officer for Bank of America before joining the global business arm of the commerce department — often working under the auspices of the U.S. Foreign Service at embassies worldwide.