The Berkshire County District Attorney’s office has closed its investigation into the March 2019 quadruple murder-suicide in Sheffield, Massachusetts that sent shockwaves through the community. Now, newly released documents are shedding some light on the family at the center of the tragedy. A warning – the details of this story are upsetting, and may not be appropriate for all listeners.
WAMC received a trove of documents from the District Attorney’s office. The investigation says patent attorney Justine Wilbur was 41 on March 12th, 2019, the day she came home to 1343 Home Road in Sheffield from her job at the Hoffman Warnick law firm in Albany. According to GPS data from her iPhone, moments after entering the house she and her husband Luke Karpinski, a patent examiner, also 41, had spent years building in the idyllic Berkshire township, just after 6 p.m., the phone was stationary for six straight minutes. Investigators believe this indicates that Karpinski slit her throat almost immediately upon her return. The DA’s office told WAMC that it was unclear when he killed their children – Alex and Zoe, both 7, and Marek, 4 – before setting the house on fire and climbing into bed in a third-floor loft and killing himself as well.
The couple had been married for around 20 years, and started dating when they met in high school in Dalton, 30 miles north. A childhood friend of Wilbur says the couple experienced difficulties in their relationship due to Karpinski’s addiction to sex and pornography around 2002 to 2003. According to the friend, Wilbur said Karpinski had carried out multiple affairs with women, possibly including sex workers. Wilbur put parental controls on all of the electronics in their lives, and Karpinski sought psychiatric help. In the weeks before the murder-suicide, Karpinski had switched from using an iPhone to a flip phone, which the Wilbur family and Wilbur’s childhood friend said was strange and out of character for him given his interest in technology. State Trooper William DeSantis suggests in a report on the finding that the change may have been related to the restrictions imposed on Karpinski from that period of the marriage. DeSantis postulates that the move could indicate a “current stressor” in their relationship.
Another possible stressor on Karpinski – a cancer survivor who served in the Army National Guard – was his job. A co-worker of Wilbur’s at Hoffman Warnick said that Wilbur had indicated that Karpinski had a declining “allowance rate” several months prior to the murder-suicide, suggesting he had experienced difficulties at work.
No one in their world could have predicted what Karpinski was capable of. He is described as a reserved, difficult to read man with a dry sense of humor. No one from family members to professionals versed in signs of abuse saw any evidence of what was to come.
Neighbors reported hearing loud arguments from the home on a monthly basis – some as recently as the day before the murder-suicide.
But in files drawn from Wilbur’s phone, there are some indications of gathering storm clouds.
In a text exchange with her mother Terri on February 16th, Wilbur described Karpinski as being “in a horrible mood” and that “the kids were acting up.” She describes her husband as “barely speaking and when he does he’s just being obnoxious.” In the exchange, she says Marek was at the time on the verge of being kicked out of the Sunshine Preschool at Berkshire South Regional Community Center in Great Barrington over excessive tantrums and for hitting other children in a fight over a toy. He was kicked out the following month, four days before the murder-suicide. Wilbur alludes to Karpinski “manhandling” Marek to her mother, as well as an argument over the issue. She says he was “snipping at [their children] at every instance.” By the end of the exchange, Wilbur says Karpinski will be “fine for dinner tonight” with Terri.
Investigators note that communication between Karpinski and Wilbur had decreased steadily between 2018 and 2019, with a comparable rise in stress inside the family.
On the morning of March 9th, phone records show that Wilbur had googled “how to deal with husband who ignoresme” (sic) and subsequently “Why Does My Husband Ignore Me And What To Do About It.” A report on her search inquiries include questions about everything from haircuts for girls to gastroenteritis and sugar replacements.
The day before the murder-suicide, an employee of Berkshire Children & Families – a “Parent Educator” with 7 years’ experience – had visited the family home for a meeting with Wilbur, Karpinski, and Marek prompted by a call from Wilbur for help dealing with Marek’s behavioral issues. She said the meeting went well and Wilbur and Karpinski seemed to be on the same page concerning their child’s needs. No signs of abuse were noted.
Karpinski picked up twins Alex and Zoe from Undermountain School just after 10 a.m. on the day of the murder-suicide. Marek was already with him when he picked them up. Karpinski told the school that the withdrawal was due to a dental appointment. But there was no dental appointment on the books for them until April 9th of that year. According to security footage, the children entered Karpinski’s red pick-up truck willingly. It was the last time they would be seen alive.
“I send my sincere condolences to the family and friends of the victims of this horrific and unimaginable crime,” said DA Andrea Harrington. “I would like to thank the first responders for putting themselves in harm’s way in what was, unfortunately, a futile rescue attempt. I asked the Massachusetts State Police to conduct a thorough investigation in this matter because the victims cannot speak for themselves and I felt that a full accounting of what occurred was in the interests of justice.”