Suspect in Colson homicide arrested again on new charges


For the Valley News

Published: 02-14-2023 9:45 AM

BURLINGTON — A White River Junction man, who remains the primary suspect in the fatal shooting of a Windsor County teenager five years ago, has been jailed after he tested positive for drugs and failed to report to his federal probation officer, court records show.

Richard P. Whitcomb Jr., 43, appeared briefly in U.S. District Court in Burlington late Friday afternoon to face two charges of violating the terms of his supervised release imposed as part of his conviction for being a felon in possession of a firearm, records indicate.

Federal Magistrate Judge Kevin J. Doyle ordered Whitcomb jailed pending further hearings. Defense lawyer Robert Sussman waived a probable cause hearing and said his client would not contest the prosecution’s detention request.

While investigating the mysterious disappearance of Austin D. Colson, 19, of South Royalton, on Jan. 11, 2018, Vermont State Police uncovered evidence that Whitcomb, a convicted felon, was in illegal possession of a firearm.

Whitcomb is believed to be the last person to see Colson alive, authorities have said. His alibi proved to be untrue, Assistant U. S. Attorney Wendy Fuller has said in court papers.

Colson’s body was eventually found in an old, large dilapidated barn at 714 Beaver Meadow Road in Norwich in May 2018, state police said. Whitcomb had worked earlier as a caretaker for the farm property, police said.

Colson died from multiple gunshot wounds to the head, according to Dr. Elizabeth A. Bundock, who is now Vermont’s chief medical examiner.

Windsor County State’s Attorney Ward Goodenough said Monday the case remains under investigation.

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Colson played soccer, basketball and baseball at Hartford High School, according to his obituary. He was living with his then-girlfriend Katie Grizzaffi in South Royalton at the time of the homicide, police said. He was operating his own company, A + C Painting. His funeral and burial were held in South Royalton in June 2018.

Whitcomb was initially indicted on Feb. 8, 2018 on two charges: being a felon in possession of a firearm on Jan. 16, 2018 and for using the .32-caliber semiautomatic Colt pistol while trafficking cocaine in January 2018, court records show.

Whitcomb eventually pleaded guilty in September 2019 to a charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm, court records show. His criminal history includes an aggravated domestic assault conviction in Windsor County, records show.

Chief Federal Judge Geoffrey Crawford sentenced Whitcomb to 37 months in prison in January 2020. Crawford also imposed 3 years of supervised released by the U.S. Probation Office and said he would give Whitcomb credit for the time served since he admitted his guilt.

Since Whitcomb’s release from prison last year, his Federal Probation Officer Douglas Cowher has been monitoring his behavior. Cowher filed a violation report in December 2022 citing two sets of infractions for using drugs and not reporting to probation, records show.

Whitcomb tested positive for using cocaine on June 27, 2022, and he also admitted using cocaine on Aug. 1 and 2, 2022, the petition said. It also noted a fourth drug violation when Whitcomb tested positive for cocaine, methamphetamines and marijuana on Dec. 1, 2022.

Whitcomb also failed to report to his probation officer as directed on two dates: Aug. 10 and Dec. 21, 2022, Cowher wrote.

Cowher obtained an arrest warrant on Dec. 22, 2022, and the U.S. Marshals Service in Vermont said it eventually arrested Whitcomb in Lebanon last Thursday. He was brought into federal court in Burlington on Friday afternoon.

Investigators learned shortly after the disappearance of the teen that Whitcomb had been scheduled to meet with Colson on the morning of January 11, 2018, to go looking for scrap metal, police said.

During a subsequent interview with police, Whitcomb admitted he spoke with Colson on the morning of January 11, 2018, and agreed that they planned to meet to go scrapping, officials said. Whitcomb said Colson never showed to gather the metal, police said.

The trailer they planned to use for collecting metal was recovered the following week on Downer Road in Sharon, police said.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Burlington gave an elaborate outline of the details in the case. It said:

Whitcomb further claimed Colson was his drug supplier and that he would obtain illegal drugs from the teenager and turn around and sell them as a middle man.

Whitcomb also reported he had recently given Colson a firearm as collateral to hold in exchange for cocaine. Whitcomb said he sold the cocaine obtained from Colson and later paid back the teen and retrieved the firearm.

After the police interview, Whitcomb allowed investigators to seize cell phones located at his residence, the Colt firearm he used as collateral during the drug deal with Colson and ammunition, including an 8-round magazine for the handgun.

During a search of Whitcomb’s cell phone at the time, investigators learned text messages and other information on the phone had recently been deleted.

However, investigators found that the last search in the Safari web browser on the phone — a search conducted just days after Colson’s disappearance and hours before Whitcomb was interviewed by detectives — sought the answer for:

“How long does GSR last?”

GSR is a common acronym for “gunshot residue,” the statement about the disappearance concluded.

CORRECTION: Richard P. Whitcomb Jr. pleaded guilty in September 2019 to a charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm, court records show. A previous version of this story included an incorrect name for the person who pleaded guilty to that charge.