A Real Life Slasher Film: The Brutal Murder of Sharon Gregory
➢With October, comes brisk Fall sounds and smells. The chill in the air, the smell of outdoor fireplaces burning, the crunching sound of leaves as you walk through them. For some, Fall means pumpkin flavored food & beverages. Mmm…Yummy!!
➢October also is a time leading up to one of my favorite holidays: HALLOWEEN!! Creepy, crawly, scary things looming in the night. Of course, there’s trick or treating for children & teens, dressed in their costumes, going from door to door, hoping to find the treats, and not the tricks. S-P-O-O-K-Y!!! MUHAHAHAHA!!!
➢And, Halloween and the weeks leading up to it should be fun, making or picking out a costume, decorating your house or apartment, carving pumpkins with creepy faces, or going to watch a horror movie with friends.
➢But, what happens when the horror in that movie becomes real, and the killer behind the mask, is someone you know all too well, and suddenly you are the victim in this real life film??
New England living:
➢This week’s episode takes us to Greenfield, Massachusetts, a New England city, in the western part of the state, with a hometown feel, and a population of about 20,000.
➢It is October of 1988, the L.A. Dodgers beat the Oakland A’s in the World Series. The Pet Shop Boys released their album, “Introspection”, Duran Duran released, “Big Thing”, Roxette released their album, “Look Sharp!”, and The Bangles released, “Everything”. Well not everything, but their album, “Everything”. Maybe you know or listened to one or more of them?
➢If you’re not a music fan, or maybe you are, and were also into movies too, then October of 1988 is when movies such as:: “Michael Jackson: Moonwalker”, “License to Drive” w/ both Coreys – Haim & Feldman, “Alien Nation” w/ James Caan, “The Accused” w/ Jodie Foster, or A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 were released.
➢Now that I’ve given you a frame of reference for what you might have heard or seen in 1988, I want to throw out another movie, which was released in May of ‘88, by the name of “Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood”. The series of Friday the 13th movies, with Jason Voorhees, as the machete wielding killer, would serve as a grim inspiration for an 19 year old boy with a flavor for blood.
Death becomes her:
➢Just after noon on October 24th, 1988, Cheryl Gregory returned home from school, and from the moment she entered the house, her life would never be the same.
➢What she saw was something out of a horror film. There was blood leading up the stairs to the 2nd floor. The amount of blood increased as she made her way to the 2nd floor bathroom.
➢Inside the bathroom, laying in the bathtub, was the mutilated, bloody body of her twin sister, Sharon. She had suffered nearly 2 dozen stab wounds to her back & head, at the hands of her killer, including her throat being slashed.
➢This was no Halloween prank, this was real. And the Gregory family was living their worst nightmare on their street: 138 South Shelburne Road. Their 18 year old daughter, Sharon, born March 26th, 1970, had been brutally murdered, and her twin sister had been unlucky enough to have found the body. But who did this & why?
➢Sharon was a Freshman at Greenfield Community College studying Psychology. But was her choice of major and an assignment to build a psychological profile of someone she knew, a mitigating factor in her death? Detectives responded quickly to the scene, and it wouldn’t take long before their investigation would lead them to a suspect in their own town.
A killer among them:
➢News of Sharon Gregory’s brutal death spread like a wildfire, and residents of Greenfield were scared. No one could seem to make sense of why Sharon, a college freshman, described by Mary Koceila, co-director of the New England Learning Center for Women In Transition, as “one who loved art and the theatre and cared for all people. She had many friends, and the ties with her family were very, very close. She was an individual, a free spirit”, would be the victim of a killer’s rage.
➢Now as I mentioned earlier, Sharon was working on a Psychology project to develop a psychological profile of someone. Her sister, Cheryl, believed the individual she chose as her subject, may have been her killer. But who was this individual & why?
➢Cheryl told Detective Peter Clarke, that Sharon had been concerned about a guy named Mark, who was a mutual friend of Scott Landry. She said Sharon didn’t like the way Mark looked at her, that it made her feel uneasy. And, although she didn’t know his last name, Cheryl did know where he lived, 112 Meadow Lane, in Greenfield, as they had hung out there before, along with other friends.
Who is mark?
➢The logical question to be made is, who is Mark, and did he actually have anything to do with Sharon’s death? Or, would he be able to shine more light on her case? They would have to find him first, and that would end up being more difficult than they imagined.
➢Detective Clarke & Trooper Leonard Crossman went to 112 Meadow Lane, and made contact with Mark’s mother, Mrs. Betty Branch. This was not the first time Detective Clarke had been here, he recognized this house, and Mark’s mother from a case he worked on several years before. She had last seen Mark at 10:30am that morning, before she went out shopping. When she returned, he wasn’t at the house.
➢At about 5:30pm, October 24th, the same day as the murder, Troopers Sicard and Crossman, met with Mark Branch’s friend, Scott Landry at the Greenfield Police Dept. He informed them that he was hanging out with Mark from 8:15am to 11:30am that morning. Scott said he picked up Mark at about 8:15, in his father’s pickup, to take him to an appointment at the Massachusetts Rehab in Greenfield. We will come back to the reason for this meeting later.
➢After the meeting, Scott said he and Mark went back to his place to watch & record stuff on MTV. At 10:07am, Sharon called Scott, crying. She wanted to know if he had a car she could use because hers wouldn’t start. When asked if she was ok, Scott said she told him she wasn’t sure.
Is mark a friend or foe?
➢What happens next is definitely strange. After learning that Sharon was upset over not being able to contact her boyfriend, Chris Therrien, then her car wouldn’t start, Mark asked why her parents or sister couldn’t just drive her. Scott told him that her parents were at work, and Cheryl was at school, so no one was at her house to help her. Mark went to make a phone call in the other room, to who, no one knows. Mark then asked Scott to take him home, because he wanted to get his car and pick up his paycheck from the local Stop & Shop, where he worked.
➢Detectives determined, after speaking with the manager on duty, that Mark never went to pick up his check. So where did he go?
➢At about 6:25pm, still October 24th, Michael Rockwell, a neighbor to the west of the Gregory household, came into the Greenfield Police Dept. to give a statement, that would shed more light on just what happened earlier that day to Sharon Gregory.
Eye spy with my little eye:
➢In a statement given to police, Mr. Rockwell said:
“…he had just begun to watch television when he heard the sound of a car door closing. The sound came from the driveway to the east of his house. He looked out his window and observed a dark grey Chevette, possibly 2-door, parked facing into the driveway. The front end of the Chevette was about even with the walk going from the driveway to the front door of the residence at 138 South Shelburne Road. Mr. Rockwell observed a white male approximately 6′ tall, approximately 180-195 lbs., with dark hair. Mr. Rockwell said the hair was a “long, military cut.” He did not see any facial hair. The man was wearing jean-type pants, a jean-type jacket, both of stone-washed or acid-dyed color. The man was clean-cut. The man had his hands in his pockets and Rockwell watched him walk to the front door of 138 South Shelburne Road. The man was not wearing glasses. Between about 3 and 5 minutes later, Mr. Rockwell again heard a car door from the direction of the driveway at 138 South Shelburne Road. He looked out the window again and saw the same person seated in the Chevette. He heard the engine start and saw the Chevette back out of the driveway and head west on Shelburne Road. Approximately 30-40 minutes later, Mr. Rockwell again heard a car in the same driveway. Looking out, he saw Cheryl’s car pull in. Moments later, he saw police cars arrive.”
➢When provided a photograph of Mark Branch, Mr. Rockwell identified him as the person he saw coming & going from the Gregory residence. Coincidence?
Which way did he go?
➢So, where did Mark Branch go? At this point, no one knew, but the town was on high alert. Maybe because there was more to Mark Branch that they knew, or wanted to admit. But with Halloween just 1 week away, one thing was for sure, they wanted him found before the killer struck again.
➢In the meantime, police were still trying to gather details and information. Scott Landry had told them that he had known Mark since the 3rd or 4th grade. He said Mark had issues in school and that he had gone to a school for troubled kids. He also told police that Mark’s mother had told him that Mark had tried to commit suicide on at least one accasion. Scott said that Mark had been hospitalized at Belmont State Hospital for nearly a year between the ages of 16-18. And, that he had attended the Northampton Center for Children and Family Services, which had full-time residential facilities. It was one of them that Mark Branch had stayed & graduated from.
➢When police interviewed Scott Landry’s girlfriend, Amy Piliatas, she painted a similar picture of Mark. She said Mark was very interested in the Friday the 13th movies, and the killer in the movie, Jason Voorhees. She said Mark fantasized about being Jason & what it would be like to kill someone. She also told police that Mark collected movie memorabilia from this and other horror films, and bragged about having Jason dolls, hockey masks from the film, videotapes of the movies, and similar combat boots as worn by Jason in the movies. A search of Mark’s room, confirmed this, and police found more than what was originally expected.
A clearer picture of the killer:
➢At this point we know that Mark had serious psychological issues. And, alarm bells and sirens should have going off to those that knew him best about his involvement in the death of Sharon Gregory. But why?
➢I hinted at this earlier, and now i want to dive a bit more into what led up to Sharon’s unexpected death.
➢According to Cheryl Gregory, Sharon’s twin sister, back in August of 1988, she was at Scott Landry’s house, as was Mark Branch, and Mark mentioned after some conversation that he had a psychological profile that had been written about him. Cheryl asked if she could take it home, which he agreed to, but told her not to share it with anyone else, and to burn it after she was done reading it. (Maybe she did this to help her sister out w/ her assignment. At this point Mark doesn’t seem to know about the project.) Cheryl agreed and did cut his name out of the profile before bringing it home.
➢On Saturday, October 22nd, a couple days prior to the murder, Sharon got a phone call from Scott asking if Cheryl still had the profile because Mark changed his mind and wanted it back. Cheryl said she did, and it was on the floor of her bedroom. The psychological profile was never returned to Mark by either Sharon or Cheryl, and it was never found after the murder. (Maybe this was the ruse Mark used when he made his phone call while at Scott’s place on the day of the murder.)
Oh no, he didn’t:
➢While in middle school, which likely led to him having to go to a school for troubled kids, Mark had dressed up as Jason, jumped out of the bushes with a knife, and proceeded to chase a young girl around the school yard with it. He didn’t harm her, either because he was just trying to scare her, or because he fell down in his pursuit of her. Mark had told Cheryl this story, and also told her that he wanted to try it again, this time on Halloween, 1988. Cheryl told police of this story.
➢Derek Iannelli, another friend of Mark’s, painted a very dark picture of Mark to reporters that interviewed him after the murder. Many of Mark’s other “friends” gave interviews as well, but refused to have their names published, because they feared Mark, who hadn’t been found yet. Derek said that Mark often felt ostracized and not good enough. While at Greenfield HS, Mark would call girls at his school, and say sexually explicit things to them. He also kept “files” on these girls, with information he could use later against them.
➢He was described by a female classmate who attended Greenfield HS with him as an outcast, who didn’t fit into any clique in the school. She also said that he was always planning to kill someone, even as a kid.
➢In 1984, a female classmate from New Salem Academy, said Mark had threatened to kill her, and she only remembered him in passing, and really didn’t have a connection to him at all.
➢In another incident, Mark left the school after, “…sending her death threats in letters and putting a scalpel through a photograph of her, which he stuck to her locker.” He also threatened to stab another female student. The leaving of the school was a mutual agreement between school administrators and Mark’s family. (Think we are getting a clearer picture of who Mark is.)
➢A local video store owner by the name of Robert Quesnel, said Mark would help out on weekends, at his shop, Video Expo 1. And, Mark would borrow horror movies, and only horror movies to watch. He said in an interview, that the gorrier, the better for Mark. I’m not one to blame movies for people’s actions, but this combined with his mental health issues, couldn’t have helped Mark with the thoughts he was having.
➢The day after the murder, October 25th, 1988, Mark Branch’s Chevy Chevette was located off Avery Road in Buckland, Mass., about 25 mins west of Greenfield, both within Franklin County.
➢After a search warrant was obtained by police, the vehicle was towed to the Mass. State Police Barracks, and examined by police officers and a chemist for evidence. This is what they found: “During the course of that search, the chemist identified blood in the vehicle in areas including the accelerator and brake pedals, steering wheel, automatic shift lever, emergency brake lever, driver’s side outside door handle, an inside handle, the carpeting on the driver’s side in the front, and the plastic console housing the shift.” This would later be tested and confirmed to be that of Sharon Gregory’s.
So we know who the killer is, but where he is, is a whole nother mystery in itself.
Where oh where could he be?
➢Mark was in the wind, and Greenfield, and neighboring towns were nervous. Given his past, and statements he had made about wanting to kill this Halloween, people did not want to leave their residences and risk becoming the next victim in his own slasher film. City officials were so scared, that when Mark wasn’t found by Halloween, parades were cancelled, and trick or treating became an early afternoon event.
➢And it’s not like they weren’t searching. They used dogs, helicopters, ground searches on foot, but Mark was nowhere to be found. They even brought in a psychic, to try to aid in finding Mark. He did lead them to an abandoned slaughterhouse, that not even police knew existed out in the woods. I guess that’s how old it was. (Jen describe what was found inside)
➢Despite finding the building, there still was no Mark. That is until about a month later. Hunting season had started late November, and one hunter, Kevin Purinton, found more than a deer when he went out hunting on November 29th, 1988. In the woods, he found the body of Mark Branch hanging from a tree. He had used the laces from his boots and his belt to hang himself. The coroner determined, based on decomposition, that he had likely hung himself the same day of the murder.
➢This brought a lot of people peace, and i’m not sure that there’s many outside of the Branch family, and a small group of his friend’s that are saddened by the death of what media has dubbed, “Mark Branch: The Friday the 13th Copycat Killer”.
➢A short documentary was made in January of 2005, more of a segment within an episode of “Psychic Detectives”. Sharon’s mother refused to participate, as well as the Branch family. Only Cheryl said she would to make sure the information about her sister was accurately portrayed.
Accessed October, 2022. Slasher-movie buff murder suspect’s body found – https://www.upi.com/Archives/1988/11/29/Slasher-movie-buff-murder-suspects-body-found/5288596782800/
Accessed October, 2022. Sharon Gregory Murder Update- Where is The Murderer Mark Branch Today? https://247newsaroundtheworld.com/crime/sharon-gregory-murder-update-where-is-the-murderer-mark-branch-today/
Accessed October, 2022. FRIDAY THE 13TH copycat killer cancelled HALLOWEEN 4 in one small town. https://www.morbidmuch.com/2018/05/friday-13th-copycat-killer-cancelled.html
Accessed October, 2022. Friday the 13th Copycat Killing in Western Mass http://mysterious-hills.blogspot.com/2013/12/friday-13th-copycat-killing-in-western.html
Accessed October, 2022. Police Try To Calm Town Frightened By Murder Suspect https://apnews.com/article/30277ed058513b9f7550f07ca742f38b
Accessed October, 2022. The ‘Friday The 13th’ Copycat Killer https://www.ranker.com/list/friday-the-13th-copycat/jacob-shelton
(Get early ad-free access to weekly episodes – as well as exclusive monthly episodes – by subscribing to our Patreon https://www.patreon.com/sleuthbetold)