Fear stalks streets of Greenfield on Halloween


GREENFIELD, Mass. -- Streets were virtually empty of costumed children on Halloween night as parents planned indoor activities and worried about a missing murder suspect whose grisly crime may have been inspired by horror films.

Police said they scoured all of Greenfield and surrounding areas but have not been able to find their suspect in the stabbing death of Sharon Gregory, an 18-year-old college student whose mutilated body was found last Monday in the bathroom of her Greenfield home.


The mutilation murder has had a chilling effect on an otherwise festive time of year for youngsters and their parents in the western Massachusetts town of 19,000.

A costume party for about 150 elementary school children was the only Halloween night event held by the town, which called off its annual 'ragshag' parade because of fears the killer might return.

Streets were nearly vacant of masquerading children on Halloweennight and many residents darkened their porch lights to comply with police requests designed to discourage trick-or-treaters.


Children attending the party at the local Army National Guard Armory managed to sidestep the scare as entertainers dressed as clowns performed juggling acts, told stories and played music. Prizes were handed out for best costumes.

'I think it went really good, I think the kids were really happy. I didn't see any disappointed faces,' said Shawn Dodge, who brought her two children.

Trick-or-treaters were warned to be off the streets after sunset and extra police patrolled the tree-lined avenues. The opening of a new horror film at a local movie theater also was postponed.

Gregory's death and authorities' weeklong search for the suspect - Mark Branch, 19, of Greenfield -- have sent shudders of fear through the town.

A state police bulletin said the suspect 'should be considered armed and dangerous.' Authorities have said Branch's obsession with horror films may be linked to the stabbing.

Branch turned 19 Sunday, and fears grew that he might return home for a bizarre birthday right out of a Hollywood script. Investigators reported no sign of Branch by Monday night and said they had no new leads on his whereabouts.

Earlier in the search for Branch, which began last Tuesday, one investigator said the suspect 'thinks he's Jason,' the villian from the 'Friday the 13th' series of horror movies. Sources also told The Boston Globe last week that investigators had recovered some items that may have been fashioned after the movie character.


Police have refused to confirm or deny the reports.

Trick-or-treaters took to the street during daylight hours Sunday and Monday after town officials urged parents to keep their children indoors after dark.

'There are certain locations in town involved in this case that may get key preferential treatment (from police),' said Police Chief David McCarthy. 'We have no deep-down fears, but we do have concerns.'

A manhunt was conducted in the thickly wooded area in nearby Buckland, where Branch's abandoned car was found, but was later called off when authorities declared the area 'to be clean.'

'There's been no confirmed sighting and very little information,' said state police Staff Sgt. Norman Robert, whose duties include working with District Attorney Judd Carhart's crime unit. 'Right now we're just following up on leads.'

Police have also promised a crackdown on the usual Halloween pranksters because of existing fears among residents. 'Our main concern is vandalism and malicious destruction,' McCarthy said.

A local movie theater delayed plans to show the new horror film, 'Halloween IV.'

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