NEW BRITAIN, Conn. (WTNH) — Two more people have been identified after their remains were found behind the West Farms shopping center on Hartford Road in New Britain, bringing the total number of bodies recovered from the site to seven.
Police say they have identified 44-year-old Danny Lee Whistnant of New Britain and 33-year-old Nilsa Arizmendi of Wethersfield after their remains were recovered. They say Whistnant was reported missing on June 24, 2003, and Arizmendi, always in contact with family, was reported missing July 31, 2003, six days after she was last seen getting into Howell’s blue van at a Wethersfield Stop & Shop.
“It was quite a while, especially someone who is in constant contact with their family to be missing that long kind of raised the hackles on the back of your neck saying ‘maybe there is something wrong here,'” said Wethersfield Police Chief James Cetran.
Three bodies were first found at the site in 2007. Four more were found while authorities searched the site from April 21 to May 7.
“These investigators never gave up because they knew justice had to be achieved,” said New Britain Police Chief James Wardwell. “These victims were always so much more than Jane Doe or John Doe, they are real people with real names.”
Six of the seven bodies found have been identified:
- Diane Cusack
- Joyvaline Martinez
- Mary Jane Menard
- Melanie Ruth Camilini
- Danny Lee Whistnant
- Nilsa Arizmendi
All six of those people went missing in 2003.
Officials believe one person is responsible for the deaths of all seven people. Law enforcement sources close to the investigation say 45-year-old William Devin Howell is that person. Authorities say he has been continuously incarcerated since May 2005 when he was arrested and charged in Arizmendi’s death after he and the van were found in North Carolina with Arizmendi’s blood inside. In January 2007, he was convicted of first-degree manslaughter and witness intimidation. In August 2007, Howell was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
“Just think about all of the lives that have been saved because he was convicted,” said Cetran. “It was a great team effort between the prosecution and the police. They were able to make the case.”
Howell was convicted of manslaughter, not murder, because before now, police had not recovered Arizmendi’s body. In his court documents, Howell is reported to have told a jailhouse snitch “the State didn’t have a body and he didn’t want the body to show up because it would do him in.” He allegedly went on to tell the snitch “he had beaten her up himself, breaking her nose and getting blood all over the place” in the van. However, those statements were thrown out because Howell said all this to someone working for the police without having an attorney present.
WARNING: Those courts documents contain strong language and vulgarities. To see them, click here.
Even with the seemingly obvious connections of all the bodies being dumped behind the same New Britain shopping plaza, police will not officially confirm if Howell is a suspect in the other six murders.
“He’s been convicted of killing Nilsa, and that’s it as far as conclusions at this time,” said Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane.