The man accused of murdering a stranger – a California woman - in Littleton in January thought she was the devil who previously used the form of his father, according to Littleton District Court records released Tuesday morning.
And, had Catherine Houghton, 70, not chosen to spend an extra night in Littleton she would have apparently missed her fatal encounter with Rodney Hill, the 37-year-old Vermont man accused of her murder.
Houghton was a trustee at The White Mountain School in Bethlehem and she came to the North Country for a trustees’ meeting.
She graduated from the school in 1960. She had worked for the U.S. Foreign Service, spoke 14 languages, was a pilot and was admired for her charity work and gentle nature.
On January 28th the trustees meeting was over.
But Houghton wanted to spend an extra night in Littleton, says Tim Breen, the head of The White Mountain School.
“She wanted to sing with the acappella group the next night,” he said.
Then she planned to visit Maine to take lessons on how to land a ski-equipped plane.
Houghton went to the lobby of the Hampton Inn in Littleton about 8:45 because her TV remote wasn’t working, according to an affidavit from Jeffrey Ladieu, a detective sergeant with the major crime unit of the state police.
It says Hill was also staying there, having told a clerk he was “escaping a divorce.”
Hill, who was undergoing psychiatric treatment in Vermont, became angry when he couldn’t get his smart phone to send an email to his employer, according to the affidavit.
Police said Hill later told them he was convinced the devil – who normally took the human form of his father - was stopping him.
The affidavit says Hill claimed he then had a “biblical experience.”
That included thinking he was Jesus “due to the sacrifices he had made and that his father was the devil and was out to ruin his family. He believed that his father, as the devil, would appear in a different form that he would not recognize.”
He decided that to protect his family he had to kill the devil.
Leaving his room he saw someone with gray hair looking the other way. It was Houghton who had finished at the front desk.
Police said the desk clerk told them Hill tackled Houghton from behind and appeared to be striking her while yelling something like “how could you have done this.”
She called Littleton police who found Houghton on the third floor, apparently trying to return to her room.
A Littleton police officer said Houghton was covered in blood and had a deep cut on her throat. But “her demeanor remained calm” and she sat down, saying she was dizzy, had been attacked from behind and didn’t know she had been stabbed.
She was taken to the Littleton Regional Hospital where she died.
Other Littleton officers say they saw a man in the parking lot who was barefoot, had blood on his feet and was “raising his arms and yelling something unintelligible.”
According to the court record he told police he was “being tested” and his social security number included the numbers 666.
He said he was sorry he hurt the woman in the lobby and she was innocent.
News of Houghton’s death stunned friends and family. That included those at The White Mountain School, said head of school Breen.
“It was hard to believe something like this could happen,” he said.
In 2011 Houghton gave the commencement speech at the school. One theme included making the world a better and more peaceful place.
“Conflict always starts with individuals and so do negotiation and conciliation. Your skills as mediators and leaders will be needed out there in the world you are entering,” she told the students.
Breen said “her persona was so clearly what she spoke about in the speech. She was a very gentle woman. She had strong opinions, which is a strength, but she was a very gentle woman and really worked to understand people, to engage with them.”
Houghton – often called Kitty - was also interested in the arts and The White Mountain School has decided to name a new arts center - set to open next year - after here.
“For me what I love about it is that her example, the example that her life was an example of intellectual curiosity and personal courage and compassion for others and a celebration of the arts will be an example for students for the future,” said Breen. “We will all be reminded of Kitty by that building on a daily basis and that will be fabulous.”
Hill is in the Grafton County jail charged with second degree murder, said Senior Assistant Attorney General Susan Morrell.
His public defender couldn’t be reached for comment.