THORNTON, N.H. – Richard “Dick” Dow was a respected former state trooper and part-time police officer. He might also have been a cold-blooded killer.
Dow married Janet Cook Medeiros and later adopted her son, Stephen Medeiros, born in 1964. The couple tied the knot about a year after her divorce from Manual “Wally” Medeiros.
Janet Dow worked as a postal carrier. Stephen Dow loved cars and sports and had a girlfriend.
By all accounts, Dow and his new family were happy together. It’s unclear how long the Dows had been married, but there was no happily-ever-after in this story.
Around 6 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 10, 1982, two neighbors of the Dows, John Spurling and Roland Gooch awoke to the sound of a nearby explosion. Both men investigated and found Dow’s 1982 Saab 900 car in a ditch engulfed in flames.
Spurling, a retired fire chief in 1982, told “48 Hours” in 2001: “As I approached the flames, I could actually see that I had a car in the ditch. I could see that I had a victim in the driver’s seat and also that this victim was beyond anything that I could do for them.”
Inside the vehicle was Janet Dow, 40, and Stephen Dow, 18, burned beyond recognition.
The car was only 500 feet from the Dow home in Grafton County. Spurling noticed the lights on inside the house and figured Dow had heard the explosion like he and Gooch did, yet Dow never came outside to investigate. The state police informed him of his wife and son’s death a short time later.
The investigation was a joke, not to mention brief. “48 hours” reported there were “no autopsies, no interviews, and the car was destroyed within days.”
The investigating agency was State Police Troop F at Twin Mountain — Dow’s employer for 10 years until he retired in 1981. Dow’s commander and assistant commander, Richard Tuck and Thomas Kennedy, were at the fire scene.
Trooper Brian Van Deinse took Dow’s statement, and the police based everything that followed on his account. Dow told Van Deinse that his wife and son left home after arguing whether the youngest Dow could stay home from school to fix his car’s carburetor. They decided to leave the carburetor at the gas station where Stephen Dow worked. They put it in a bucket of gasoline and placed it in the Saab’s backseat.
Dow expressed that his wife might have been distracted while arguing with Stephen Dow as they drove to the gas station that morning.
The police concluded that Janet Dow became distracted while driving, possibly by an argument with her son, or the gas splashing in the bucket and Stephen Dow climbing in the car’s backseat to secure it.
Van Deinse theorized that Janet Dow and Stephen Dow could have been knocked unconscious or killed by cement blocks hurtling forward inside the car. Stephen Dow had placed them in the car’s backseat to weigh the car down for better traction.
The police quickly ruled the fire an accident and closed the case. But a woman came forward 11 years later casting doubt on the ruling and Dow’s innocence.
Karen Saffian dated Dow for eight years, starting two years after the fire and following Saffian’s graduation from college. One day out of the blue, Dow told her what allegedly had happened to his late wife and son on that December morning. He said he went to the house’s basement “to put coal in the furnace.”
“And while he was down there he heard a pop sound and he knew it was gunshots… and grabbed an ax… and went upstairs… and went into the bedroom,” Saffian said.
Dow told Saffian that Stephen Dow used one of his guns to kill Janet Dow. He then had to kill his son with the ax. He admitted the fire was no accident. According to Saffian, Dow put their bodies in the Saab, rolled the car down the hill, and returned to the house to wait for the police to arrive.
Dow said he would deny the story if Saffian ever told anyone. She held on to the secret until the 1990s.
After Dow told her about his family, he changed and exhibited violent behavior, often hitting himself. Fearing for her life, she ended the relationship in 1993 and went to the authorities. Officials subsequently reopened the investigation.
The state hired accident specialist Thomas Bohan of Medical & Technical Consultants of Portland, Maine. Bohan and his team reenacted the fire.
They found a Saab similar to Dow’s car and rolled it into the ditch at the speed Bohan had calculated it traveled during the accident. When the car reached the ditch, it never caught fire because the gasoline in the backseat never ignited.
He told Correspondent Peter Van Sant in 2001: “We only got it to ignite when a rag was thrust inside the vehicle, and a window was left open to let air feed the fire.” Bohan believed someone set the fire from the outside.
The team’s experiment also damaged the vehicle more seriously than Dow’s car and Bohan concluded the Saab had been tipped into the ditch.
Bohan also discovered in the police report that authorities never found the carburetor Stephen Dow had allegedly placed in the car’s backseat.
He called the accident and fire “inherently suspicious” and that 1982 officials should have seen red flags.
Saffian believed that Tuck covered for Dow because Tuck participated in “unethical activities, including fixing traffic tickets and playing favorites with garages called to accidents,” the Associated Press reported.
The severe allegations would have ruined Tuck’s career. After the “accident,” Tuck advanced to executive major, the second-highest New Hampshire State Police position. He retired in 1990. Kennedy succeeded Tuck and retired a few years later.
The New Hampshire Department of Justice Cold Case Unit says in Stephen Dow’s entry on their website, “The subsequent investigation indicates that the deaths of Stephen and Janet may have been the result of foul play.”
Dow died in 2012 at age 67. Neither Janet Dow nor Stephen Dow is listed as predeceased in his obituary.
Some reports spell Stephen’s name as Steven.
True Crime Diva’s Thoughts
There is no doubt in my mind that Dow killed his wife and son. Unfortunately, we’ll never know how or why.
Because he told Saffian a gun and ax were involved, maybe he shot Janet and used the ax on Stephen. Or he used one weapon to kill both.
I believe Saffian, but I don’t believe the story Dow gave her and the police.
The fact that both Gooch and Spurling heard the explosion and came flying outside, but Dow never did, speaks volumes.
There is also no doubt that Tuck and Kennedy covered up the crime for Dow. Both were at the scene, and Dow had the goods on Tuck. It is amazing what someone will do to save their career.
The official accident ruling was based purely on Dow’s statement to Van Deinse and the “accident” reimagined by the police (the cement block theory, gas splashing in the bucket).
Even after Bohan and his team proved the car had been put in the ditch and intentionally set on fire, the police did not go after Dow. And we know why, of course. Dow was a cop. Police never found the carburetor, so everything pointed to Dow lying about events leading up to the fire.
I don’t know anything about cars, let alone car parts. So, is it normal to put a carburetor in a bucket of gasoline?
I believe the two were dead when Dow put them in the car like he told Saffian. I don’t buy that Stephen killed Janet. What reason would Stephen have to kill his mother? I highly doubt he would kill her because he couldn’t stay home from school. I wonder if Dow was abusive toward Janet and Stephen. What was the Dow marriage really like?
I also wonder if Dow received any life insurance money from the deaths. According to others, Dow and his wife appeared happy, so maybe money was a motive. However, Stephen Dow’s girlfriend, Kelly Sutherland, told “48 Hours” that Dow began dating immediately after Janet and Stephen’s death. I think he wanted to get his wife and adopted son out of the picture for whatever reasons.