Deposition begins for witness in murder cases

Victim’s son testifies

Staff photo by Don Himsel Assistant attorney general Patrick Queenan shows Joel Ranstrom an evidence bag containing a chair leg during his testimony Wednesday.

NASHUA – Sometime during the evening of Oct. 2, 1988, Joel Ranstrom, then a 24-year-old truck driver for a Massachusetts seafood distributor, borrowed the keys to his mother’s Jeep and her Mason Street apartment, kissed her goodbye and drove to Hudson to visit a friend.

The friend wasn’t home, Ranstrom said in court Wednesday, so he left, and at some point ended up at the Golden Dragon restaurant, where he downed two or three mixed drinks before the bartender shut him off.

Describing himself as “definitely buzzed,” Ranstrom said he drove back to the second-floor apartment his mother, Charlene Ranstrom, shared with her partner, Brenda Warner. After struggling with the door lock, he eventually got in, went to the bathroom, grabbed a beer, sat on the couch and within 10-15 minutes, fell asleep.

By then it was quite late, around 1 or 1:30 a.m., Ranstrom testified Wednesday as the first day of his to-be-continued deposition hearing got underway in Hillsborough County Superior Court South.

But that timeline would later come under scrutiny by defense attorney Cathy Green, who along with attorney Ray Raimo, is representing David Caplin, one of the two men accused of killing Ranstrom’s mother and Warner nearly three decades ago.

Ranstrom, now 52, was called to testify, through a recorded deposition, in Caplin’s case and that of Anthony Barnaby, who both stand accused of killing the women either late the night of Oct. 2 or early on Oct. 3, 1988 in the bedroom of Apartment D at 7 Mason St.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed to video record Joel Ranstrom’s testimony ahead of the defendants’ trials out of concerns that Ranstrom’s various health issues may deteriorate to the point he won’t be able to testify in person at the men’s trials, which, it appears, won’t get underway until sometime in 2018.

One of the reasons for the delay is the pending ruling by the state Supreme Court on prosecutors’ appeal of a lower court order regarding pretrial hearings.

Barnaby and Caplin were suspected and arrested following the murders, but neither was ever convicted. They returned to their native Canada, only to be rearrested several years ago after a Nashua police detective reopened their cases and discovered new evidence.

They were returned to New Hampshire in May 2015 and were jailed without bail as their cases progress.

Judge Jacalyn Colburn said Wednesday the deposition hearing will resume at a date to be determined.

Meanwhile, Ranstrom, a large man at 6 feet, 4 inches tall and upwards of 250 pounds, said under direct questioning by state Assistant Attorney General Patrick Queenan that after falling asleep on his mother’s couch, the next thing he remembered was being awakened by his brother, David, a developmentally-disabled man who died in 2010.

“I remember looking at the clock, it was about 7 a.m., I asked David where mom is,” Ranstrom said. “He said they were sleeping … that they wouldn’t wake up. I had no idea what he was talking about, so I told him again to go wake them up.”

David Ranstrom returned with the same story. “He said something about cuts, he was pointing to parts of his body,” Joel Ranstrom said. “So I went in … “ he said, pausing as his voice broke.

“My mom, she was hanging off the end of the bed. Her face was black. Brenda was tied up.

“I knew they were dead (as soon as) I saw them. There was blood everywhere.”

Ranstrom said he ordered his brother out of the apartment and followed him out, stopping at the apartment of Theresa Warner, Brenda’s mother, who also lived in the Mason Street building.

“I told her they were dead … she was like, in shock. I was freaking out …,” he said.

Ranstrom said he went to a first-floor pay phone and called 911. “All different emotions,” he said, when Queenan asked him what was going through his mind. Asked if his brother touched anything in the apartment, Ranstrom said he did, that he handed him a broken chair leg, which he tossed on a chair.

Soon after police arrived, Ranstrom said he was in the parking lot when a first-floor neighbor he knew as “Tony” came out and asked him what happened.

“He asked me what was going on,” Ranstrom told Queenan. “I just told him, my mother’s dead, looks like she was murdered.”

Police later transported Ranstrom to headquarters for questioning. He gave statements to police, he told Queenan, who asked about his emotional state.

“I was really freaked out … in shock, I couldn’t believe what was going on,” Ranstrom said. “It seemed like everytime I blinked my eyes I saw my mother’s face.”

But Green, in her cross-examination, reminded Ranstrom that he had told police following the murders that he got home between 9-9:30 the night of Oct. 2, not at 1-1:30 a.m. the next morning as he testified Wednesday.

As he did multiple times under Green’s questioning on Wednesday, Ranstrom said he didn’t remember, nor did he recall if police read him his rights at some point, which, according to transcripts Green produced, they did.

“So you weren’t entirely truthful with the police on Oct. 3, right?” Green asked. “That was the truth at the time,” Ranstrom replied.

While Ranstrom earlier referred to his mother as “my best friend” with whom he “got along great,” Green pointed out that Ranstrom allegedly told police a different story on Oct. 3.

“You said you never hit her or wrestled with her, right?” Green asked. “Yes,” Ranstrom replied. “That’s wasn’t true, was it?” Green said.

“I didn’t always get along great (with his mother), but at that time, she was my best friend,” Ranstrom said.

He also, according to Green, engaged in shouting matches with his mother in the months leading up to her death. Ranstrom agreed, adding that’s partly why he moved to Taunton, Mass., where he lived at the time of the murders.

He acknowledged his and his mother’s relationship was “very difficult” when he was young, according to transcripts Green provided. Reminded he once told a friend that he “didn’t like it that his mother was a lesbian,” Ranstrom said he “might have said that (because) I was just upset.”

The other key topic on which Green questioned Ranstrom Wednesday was his long history of alcohol and drug abuse, which, she indicated, led to his admission to treatment facility at age 18.

She cited, and Ranstrom acknowledged, multiple stints in rehab or treatment programs before and after his mom’s death. By Green’s account, he’d been in rehab seven times by 1990, while Ranstrom estimated he entered treatment “four or five times” since 1990.

While Ranstrom admitted to a history of alcohol problems, including “blackouts,” he denied having “a history of drug abuse” when asked by Green, referring instead to his “periodic use” of drugs like cocaine and heroin.

He also acknowledged at least embellishing, if not lying about, his drug or alcohol addiction in order to gain admission to a treatment program.

“You told the doctors different things, correct?” Green asked.

“I sure did,” Ranstrom answered. “When you’re trying to get in a program in New Hampshire, it’s impossible, unless you’re actively using,” he said.

As to why he gave different answers to different doctors, he said, “I was trying to get in a program.”

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-1256, dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com or@Telegraph_DeanS.