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Remembering Linda Wiggin

Every professor is entitled to the occasional absence or two per semester, but when part-time instructor Linda Wiggin did not attend four class meetings in a row, her students began to worry that something more serious may have happened.”At first I didn’t think anything was wrong because we received an e-mail from Linda on Monday (Nov. 10) saying that she was ill,” said Bianka Nolan, a freshman in Wiggin’s Effective Speaking class.

The e-mail from Wiggin, aside from informing the class that she was “very ill” and would not be attending class, urged the students to practice, commended them for “doing great,” and informed them that she would see them Wednesday.

But when the students attended class on Wednesday, once again, Linda was not there, this time with no e-mail preceding her absence. Friday and Monday’s scheduled classes followed suit.

“After the recurrence we all started talking,” said Nolan, “We knew something must have been wrong. We would all come for the first 10 minutes of class, and some of the things that were said was maybe she was really sick, heart attack, hospitalized, or even dead.”

While Nolan and the others in the class hoped otherwise, news sources confirmed on Tue, Nov. 18 that their worst fears were in fact true: Linda Wiggin, 49, was found dead by police in her Poultney home.

“When she was first absent, I couldn’t figure out what was going on and never in a million years would I have thought she had been murdered,” said another one of Wiggin’s students, freshman Justin Bouvier. “But I was watching the news on Tuesday night and they had said they found a woman’s body in her home in Poultney, and I immediately knew it was Linda.”

Foul Play Suspected

The immediate information surrounding Wiggin’s death was vague, saying only that there was evidence of foul play, and that her body was not discovered until a second search of her home.

That information alone, while ambiguous, was enough to suggest to Sociology professor Linda Olson that Wiggin likely died as the result of a domestic dispute.

“I’m a sociologist, so when I heard suspicious circumstances, my immediate reaction was that there was some foul play involved,” said Olson. “Every one-in-three women that are murdered are killed by an intimate partner.”

Olson’s hunch about the circumstances of the death only grew when police named Wiggin’s boyfriend, David Denny, 41, a person of interest.

Denny was first considered a person of interest on Nov. 16 when a neighbor of Wiggin’s called the State Police in Rutland about “a suspicious person wandering around the residence by the name of David” according to the Rutland County Police Report deposed by Detective Sgt. Daniel T. Elliott

Upon arrival, Denny was nowhere to be found, but by speaking with tenants to whom Wiggin served as a landlord, police learned that “[the tenants] had not seen Linda Wiggin since Monday (Nov 10), and that they never go that long without seeing her” according to Elliott’s statement.

Further details in this statement include that the witnesses saw Denny moving Wiggin’s car, cleaning her apartment with “numerous cleaning supplies,” and on Nov. 10, the reported day of Wiggin’s death, one of the tenants who lived upstairs from Wiggin informed police that she heard “muffled arguing,” clamoring, and expletives being yelled by a man who she believed to be Denny.

After the visit to Wiggin’s home on Nov. 16, Brandon police arrested Denny on a probation violation two days later in order to keep him in police custody while they looked for enough evidence to link him to Wiggin’s murder.

After the chief medical examiner concluded that Wiggin’s cause of death was indeed homicide, Denny was charged with second-degree murder on Nov. 19.

The autopsy indicated that Wiggin was killed by several blows to the head, and a friend of Denny’s told police that he admitted to hitting Wiggin with a frying pan and then burying her body in the basement of her home. Three cast iron frying pans were confiscated from Wiggin’s home, but police have not officially announced one to be the murder weapon as of press time.

‘Not an Isolated Issue’

Olson, who in addition to teaching several courses at Castleton, heads up the C.H.A.N.G.E. Initiative (Creating, Honoring, Advocating, and Nurturing Gender Equity), and contacted the group soon after she heard of Wiggin’s death.

“I understand that some people don’t want to label Linda Wiggin as a victim, but she was a woman killed by violence, which is not an isolated issue,” Olson said. “Something happened to our community and we need to look at it and ask how we can educate our campus on how to deal.”

Olson went on to say that whenever a violent act is made public, it triggers painful memories for survivors of violent acts.

Aside from the campus memorial held for Wiggin on Dec. 8, Communication Professor Thomas Conroy suggested working with the Rutland Women’s Shelter as a way for students to positively channel their feelings.

“I’d like to see our students become involved in some supportive activities as a response to what’s happened or not,” Conroy said. “Either way, it’s an important civic engagement.”

The C.H.A.N.G.E. Initiative continues to meet every other Thursday in The Old Chapel, and is far from finished in its efforts to increase gender equity on campus.

‘Full of Life’

Castleton English Dept. Chair Dennis Shramek delicately thumbs through a pile of 8-by-11 inch pieces of paper with obvious care before identifying them as the contents of a file that was being kept on Wiggin as an adjunct faculty member.

Shramek hired Wiggin during the summer of 2007 initially to teach Effective Speaking, crediting her enthusiasm as a main reason for her hire.

He explained that department chairpersons and supervisors routinely evaluate newly hired professors, and therefore he had many opportunities to observe Wiggin in the classroom.

“I had noticed that she had a real talent for getting the whole class involved in discussion,” said Shramek. “She always had a really good sense of humor and her students appreciated that, too.”

After successfully instructing her Effective Speaking course in Fall 2007, Shramek approached Wiggin about also teaching English Composition in addition to another Effective Speaking course in Spring 2008, a prospect that Wiggin eagerly accepted.

Aside from being fully competent by Shramek’s standards, he noted that based both on their performances in class and the evaluations they filled out, that students greatly benefited from Wiggin as an instructor.

“The students really enjoyed her,” Shramek said. “I’ve heard repeatedly through the evaluations and after the fact that she was interesting, passionate, humorous, and a good role model as a public speaking teacher since she did it so well herself.”

While he insisted that the nature of the student evaluation is to remain confidential, Shramek shared excerpts from this semester’s evaluations that were submitted shortly before Wiggin’s death.

“I love this class,” Shramek reads before flipping to another evaluation. “She is full of life and energy every day,” Shramek pauses and breathes deeply. “That one really struck me after she died.”

Nolan and Bouvier attest to Wiggin’s success as a professor and both said that the period of adjustment has been a difficult one.

“She wasn’t like your every day teacher,” said Nolan. “There was just something different about her. I am not really a public speaker, but she always told me how good I was doing and what to improve. She was the type that you could go to for help if you needed it.”

“She was a dynamic teacher for sure. She always kept class lively and you never knew what she was going to say,” said Bouvier. “She had a mantra of ‘ideas become actions’– if you think you can succeed you will, if you think you will fail than you will. And that is how she lived her life.