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The Commons
Photo 1

Left: Photographs of Brattleboro Food Co-op store manager Michael Martin grace the candlelight service held in his memory two days after he was killed at his desk in 2011. Right: An undated photo of Richard Gagnon in the beer and wine department of the Brattleboro Food Co-op.


Special Focus: Visions, values, and tragedy

Originally published in The Commons issue #212 (Wednesday, July 17, 2013).

BRATTLEBORO—Through legal documents, police investigation reports, and interviews, The Commons sheds light on some of the tensions that preceded a 2011 killing in downtown Brattleboro, in an office at presumably the unlikeliest of workplaces — a food co-op. Michael Martin’s killer, Richard Gagnon, was portrayed as an employee who snapped senselessly over a bad evaluation. But the real story behind that tragic morning is much more complicated.

Visions, values, and tragedy. A 22-year veteran employee whose identity was his job. A new store manager hired to impose order on a rapidly growing business that was distancing itself from its hippie roots. Could the story have begun unfolding years before?

In the aftermath. Life went on after the killing. Richard Gagnon pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, and the community was spared a trial. And then employees wanted a union.

What can we learn? A note from the editor about this special report.

• Sidebar: The good wife. Her life changed on the morning the police came to tell her that her husband killed his boss. But Meg McCarthy is standing by her husband, now 900 miles away in prison.

• Sidebar: What goes through a murderer’s mind? Richard Gagnon recounts the days and hours leading up to his pulling the trigger.

What do you think? Leave us a comment

Editor’s note: Our terms of service require you to use your real names. We will remove anonymous or pseudonymous comments that come to our attention. We rely on our readers’ personal integrity to stand behind what they say; please do not write anything to someone that you wouldn’t say to his or her face without your needing to wear a ski mask while saying it. Thanks for doing your part to make your responses forceful, thoughtful, provocative, and civil. We also consider your comments for the letters column in the print newspaper.

Comments (8)

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Joan Lobell (Baltimore MD, US) says...
Thanks for doing such in-depth research on the subject. I have known Richard since I lived in Brattleboro in 1998-99. I couldn't imagine how he could do such a thing, but Meg sent me the link to your article, and now I get it. My life has been a long series of similar incidents in the dynamics. When in the middle of such circumstances, who and what you are is at the center, but all reason is gone, and nothing makes any sense. You just want it to stop.
30th January 2014 3:13pm
david crawford (keene nh, US) says...
He did a premeditated murder. He got off with a relatively light sentence. He went there to kill the man and got off with 17 years. I'm not cryin for the murderer and his family. He could have walked away from his job... He should have got longer in jail. Premeditated murders get longer. I think i heard a bit of the twinkie defense in the reading.. He's got all excuses. And people seem to want to buy his excuses. My bottom line is that he got off easy, and that that is a INSULT ... Read More
25th July 2013 7:46pm
david crawford (keene nh, US) says...
Obviously he is happy for the sentence he got:he chose it.
He went to his job with a gun.
I think the scales of justice leaned away from the victim of his gun.
25th July 2013 8:04pm
Mary Brewster (West Halifax, US) says...
Great journalism - full picture. As a "past" customer of the Co-op (I no longer shop there - since the decision to tear down and expand). I remember Richard as very helpful and kind, although I'm sure he would not remember me. I do not condone his act of violence. I do and did feel the shift of focus at the NEW co-op. Sad all around. The end of many ideals, goals and regard for the community.
24th July 2013 11:57am
Chris Andres (Putney, US) says...
I came to the computer to thank The Commons and Joyce Marcel for this excellent, well researched, rounded, honest look at the events of a couple years ago. Thanks, Joyce, still the best stuff written in this area. And thanks, The Commons. This is stuff I've felt and heard, some of. Healing will, I suppose be long and hard. I miss my arrogant friend, Richard. Guess I too felt he "took one for the team." But the team has now changed. The hippie "co-op" has become part of a ... Read More
19th July 2013 7:51pm
Laura Austan (Brattleboro, US) says...
Thank you. I'm so happy to see this, and like Neil I cried. Well done. I can't thank you all enough.
19th July 2013 7:16pm
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Steve West (Brattleboro, US) says...
As a long-standing, enthusiastic fan of The Commons, I applaud the courage to "go there" with these articles. And echoing Neil's sentiments above, I hope that this becomes a golden moment for healing for this community. Joyce Marcel's writing is balanced and very personal, humanizing each and every subject. This is one example of many as to why The Commons is an invaluable source of information for our area.
18th July 2013 8:39am
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Neil Harley (Guilford, US) says...
Thank you, thank you for such a much needed well researched article on the tragedy at the coop a few years ago. I cried when I read it! Such a relief to read a deeply moving and humanizing account of the events leading up to this event.
Courageously written and I hope this will promote a much needed healing within the community. As my wife Jen expressed after reading it "a blister has burst"! Let the healing begin.
17th July 2013 7:03pm
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