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Slasher-movie buff murder suspect's body found

By KENNETH R. BAZINET

BUCKLAND, Mass. -- A hunter stalking deer Tuesday found the body of a murder suspect whose taste for horror films may have played a role in the grisly stabbing death a young woman, authorities said.

The body of Mark Branch, 19, of Greenfield was discovered by the hunter in woods in rural Buckland, state police said. Branch was suspected in the Oct. 24 stabbing death of Sharon Gregory, 18, of Greenfield.

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A medical examiner was on the scene to determine the cause of death. The clothes and description matched that of Branch, said Greenfield Police Chief David McCarthy.

Officials said further details of the discovery and other evidence in the case would be released at an afternoon news conference.

Authorities have said the slaying may have been inspired by the 'Friday the 13th' series of horror movies. Branch allegedly 'thinks he's Jason,' the masked villian in the movies, a top investigator said at the outset.

Gregory, a student at Greenfield Community College, was found by her identical twin, Cheryl, in the bathroom of her home on Oct. 24. She had been stabbed repeatedly in the back, face and head, according to police reports.

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The slaying was especially frightening for the residents of Greenfield, a town of about 19,000, since it came one week before Halloween and was coupled with reports of Branch's yen for the horror films.

When the searches failed to come up with Branch, town fathers called off an annual Halloween parade and ordered trick-or-treating be held during daylight hours.

Agencies and private businesses hired a team of psychologists to hold 'post traumatic stress' counseling sessions in Greenfield with residents and members of the Gregory and Branch families.

Published reports indicated Branch had been under psychiatric care for several years. One report said he had sought treatment at a Boston psychiatric hospital after leaving the New Salem Academy, a private school, six weeks into the school year in 1984.

Branch's car was found in Buckland a day after the murder was reported. The dense woods in the western Massachusetts town had been the site of several subsequent manhunts for the suspect.

Authorities predicted from the start of the case that if Branch were dead in the woods he would be found by deer hunters once the season opened on Monday.

Investigators followed leads from reported sightings as far away as New Hampshire, Connecticut and New York.

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Police and firefighters from throughout Franklin County, where Greenfield and Buckland are located, searched the woods the first week of the investigation and later returned after receiving reports of a sighting and a housebreak in which survival gear was stolen.

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