Sixteen years after one of the most brutal and mysterious killings in Northeast Kingdom history, the case is still not solved.

On Sept. 20, 1984, the bodies of Roland Hanel, 49, and his wife of three years, Maram, 32, were found in their Jay chalet riddled with anywhere from eight to 11 gunshot wounds.

Police said at the time that Maram Hanel was found by a friend of the family's two days later sprawled on her back on the kitchen floor, while Roland Hanel was found in the living room sprawled on the floor on his stomach, on the first floor of their chalet. The second floor was unoccupied. Neighbors apparently heard nothing at the time the shootings allegedly took place.

It was a case that smacked of all kinds of international intrigue and even speculations of mob links due to the nature of the killings - use of a semi-automatic or automatic weapon or weapons using foreign ammunition - and that both the Hanels, who had moved full-time to Jay from Montreal in 1969, were of foreign births, he of Germany and she of Egypt.

Maram Hanel worked at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany, when members of the Black September Palestinian terrorist group kidnapped nine Israeli athletes. An unsuccessful attempt by German police to rescue the Israelis resulted in the death of the Israeli athletes and five of the terrorist group.

Speculation arose whether the Hanels' deaths, particularly her Arab descent, and he a German native, was a retribution killing, even by Israeli secret police, considering the Yugoslav ammunition used in the 9mm murder weapons were also used in Israeli-manufactured semi-automatic guns.

There were also questions raised whether the Hanels were involved in any drug trafficking, since they had a boat in Florida.

Police also later issued a profile that attempted to indicate that the killer or killers may have been a local resident or residents.

However, after the case was reopened several times over the years, including using the Federal Bureau of Investigation to track national and international leads, state investigators are apparently no closer to solving the case than they were 16 years ago.

"We were never able to establish a motive for the murders," Lt. Robert White said recently.

White is the head of the state police Bureau of Criminal Investigation's detectives in the northern part of Vermont.

White said although other cases, such as the investigation into the death of Duane Perry, whose body was found in a shallow Charleston grave over the summer, are taking more immediate priority, the Hanel case is still an active one.

Although there had been several theories and speculations over the years concerning the Hanels' deaths, nothing of a factual nature nor substance to lead to any conclusions were ever found.

During that time, local investigators have reopened the case to follow any new possible leads or new pieces of information. But White said he can't go into details.

"The case is still open," he said, adding a number of officers have been involved in it over the years. But, he conceded, "There is nothing new to report."

The lead investigator of the killings at the time was Pete Johnson, who retired last year as Derby barracks commander after a lengthy term with the state police. Johnson, who continued to follow the case over the years, agreed with White recently: No reason could be found for the killings.

Johnson, who at the time of the deaths said he was optimistic that the case would be solved soon, said nothing was ever established that the killings involved retribution, although there always were suspicions. He never thought it involved a local killer.

As for Maram Hanel's involvement in the Munich Olympics, he said she had been hired because of her multilingual talents. She could speak English, French, Arabic and possibly German, "about five languages. She was an extremely intelligent woman."

He said it was never confirmed whether she had any involvement in the kidnappings and subsequent deaths of the Israeli athletes nor terrorists, and he didn't believe she did.

In addition, his investigation never turned up any links to drug involvements nor any illegal acts linked to the couple.

"Both were fine, upstanding, honest people," he said of the Hanels.

As for the Yugoslav ammunition used in the killings, which resulted in Johnson reopening the case in 1996, he had hoped that it would narrow the case down to a particular weapon sold by a limited number of dealers. But it turned out that the ammunition was sold widely over the United States, and fit a multitude of other weapons besides the Israeli-manufactured Uzi. So nothing could be pinpointed there.

Another local state police detective, who also retired last year and is currently working as an investigator for the Orleans County State's Attorney's office, Roland Prairie, also followed the case over the years. Although Hanel family members and friends said he had given them an update on the case about every two years, and had insights into it, Prairie said this week he had no comment.

Karen Hanel, Roland Hanel's daughter who continued to own the chalet where the deaths occurred for years but now owns another one nearby, has her own theory of the killings.

She speculated that Maram Hanel, whom she said was cooking in the kitchen at the time, knew who was at the door. She said the position of her body described by police indicated that she had willingly opened the door, only to be faced with the gunfire. She wondered if it had been a former friend of Maram who might have had a love interest, and that it was a crime of passion.

Fred Werner said he had been friends with Roland Hanel since they both immigrated from Germany to Montreal in 1957. And they ended up vacationing and buying chalets in Jay off Chilloufoux Road. Linda Werner, Fred's daughter, who with her husband bought the Hanel's chalet, said she had known Roland Hanel all of her life.

They described Hanel as a "great guy, a great family man." They said after he retired to Jay following the selling of his plastic pipe factory in Montreal, he loved the ski resort community, considering it his sanctuary. He was particularly fond of skiing and lived a clean life.

"There was no drugs," Fred Werner emphasized. "He didn't drink. He was a health fanatic. He lived a clean life."

Fred Werner had gone with the Hanels on their boat to places like the Caribbean - where at least one resident speculated that Roland Hanel's troubles might have started - with never any indications of anything illegal taking place.

"I own a boat. That doesn't make me a drug trafficker," said Werner.

Linda grew up with the family. She said that despite all of the speculations and rumors, she has no idea why the Hanels were killed.

But she also pointed out that while he and Maram lived in Jay full-time, her family was there only on weekends.

Other local residents in the community had a less complimentary description of Roland Hanel, some calling him abrasive, abrupt, and even pompous and rude at the ski tows.

Mike Murphy, a local ski equipment business operator who has worked and lived in Jay for years, said after the killings, the investigation seemed to focus on Maram Hanel. But because of her husband's behavior, he said, the focus probably should have been on him. He said Maram Hanel was always "very pretty and very pleasant," and was very sociable. He, on the other hand, seemed to have little tact or friendliness with people - a characterization echoed by other residents of the community, including another German immigrant, longtime Jay resident Tom Emrich.

While the killings were the hot topics of conversation in this Jay Peak Ski Area resort community for a few years after they happened, it seldom is brought up these days.

"I'm the one who usually brings it up," said Emrich. "I always said that after certain things come up over the years, then it is the end of it. I always felt there should be some kind of follow-up over the years."

One of the controversies at the time was when the actual deaths occurred. While police said it occurred two days before the bodies were found, Emrich and his wife Juna swear, along with other residents, that they saw the Hanels the day before they were found. The Emrichs said they saw the couple outside their vehicle at the turnoff to Jay.

As for other residents, while the killings seemed unreal at the time and forced them to lock up their homes, they too say it now doesn't come up much in conversation. They feel that the killings originated outside the community. As Emrich said, a local person would have used a hunting rifle or a shotgun, not a semi-automatic or automatic weapon.

Copyright 2000

The Caledonian-Record


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