The Eccleston Murder: One Friend’s Reflection Fifteen Years Later

By Bryan Hurlbutt

I think the view of the horizon of time from the vantage point of humanity is like the advice that Forrest Gump got from his mama when she told him, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.” Interestingly the Bible says something similar in a piece of wisdom literature called Proverbs. Long ago Solomon wrote, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.” I still remember the day I learned this with a stark and startling clarity. I was a senior in high school in the Binghamton area. I had just come home from an after school activity when my parents met me at the door and said they had some difficult news to share. I sat down, they began to cry … and soon so would I. My mother’s words still ring in my ears 15 years later, “Dave is dead.”

When you are seventeen years old you have a bravado and swagger about life. All things seem within your grasp and yet you feel outside of everyone else’s. I was no different. But on this day reality swept in like a tornado and devastated my own notions about life and its alleged securities and sureties. As I collected myself, stilted at my mother’s words, I asked her what had happened. She informed me that earlier that day, a little after 8:00 am David had been murdered by his girlfriend, April Dell’Olio, when she stabbed him once in the chest and twenty-two times in the back with a butcher knife from her kitchen. They were down by a Quonset hut next to what used to be a feed mill operated by I. L. Richer and Sons. I have been near that spot many times in my life. In fact my father used to work for them when I was just a little boy growing up in New Berlin.

I don’t think that there is a script for how we are to react to such news. It was one of those moments when you try your best to remember to breathe, words come slowly and thoughts linger long and heavy. It was one of those moments where you are certain the sun is standing still, time has taken a break from its impervious advancement and life hangs motionless, like a thread in space, disconnected from anything that might give it substance.

A couple of days later we drove from Johnson City to New Berlin. We had moved there a few years prior from our house on a gravel road off Route 8 so my dad could go to college. Growing up in New Berlin had been a wonderful experience for me. David Scott Eccleston was the first “best friend” I ever had. He and I did everything together as boys in that small town. His father had left him, his mom and his little brother when he was just five years old. So my dad stepped in and became a sort of father figure to David. He spent a lot of time around our house in my youth. Therefore it was no surprise that David’s mother Diane wanted my father to do one of the two eulogies at Dave’s funeral, which he did, with a broken heart.

Some from New Berlin remember that funeral, held at the gorgeous little Episcopal church right in town. News crews were all over. Television shows like Inside Edition and Maury Povich would do stories on this bizarre case of a fourteen year old girl gone mad in a peaceful community in upstate New York. They were stunned to realize the brutality of the slaying, the stoic calculation evidenced by April going to school after she had committed the atrocity, cleaning off the knife and putting it in her locker. They were intrigued by the growing scuttlebutt about David’s character and relationship with April. How could this happen in a sleepy, one light town?

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