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Unemployed Trucker, Talked Out of Suicide, Accused of Murdering Family

October 22, 1991

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) _ A jobless truck driver who was persuaded by police officers not to jump off a bridge was charged Monday with strangling his estranged wife and smothering his three young daughters.

James Colbert, 39, was ordered held without bail pending an Oct. 31 probable cause hearing. He faces four counts of first-degree murder.

Earlier in the day, Colbert waived extradition in Chelsea District Court in Massachusetts.

At the Concord hearing, Colbert kept his head down and appeared dazed as he shuffled along with detectives guiding him in and out of the courtroom.

″It’s a trying time for him, to say the least,″ said James O’Donovan, a New Hampshire lawyer who appeared with Colbert at the Massachusetts hearing.

Mary Jayne Colbert, 30, and her daughters, 2 1/2 -year-old Emily; 1 1/2 -year-old Elise; and 10-week-old Patricia were asphyxiated, said Michael Ramsdell, the state’s senior assistant attorney general. He said the bodies were found in their beds.

Mrs. Colbert was strangled and the children were suffocated, according to an autopsy performed Monday.

Their bodies were found before dawn Sunday in their apartment in the quiet residential neighborhood.

″It was an atrocious crime,″ Ramsdell told reporters. ″To a man, everyone who viewed them was deeply saddened.″

Authorities said the Colberts were separated and the father had moved to Chester, about 25 miles southeast of Concord.

Mrs. Colbert filed for divorce Oct. 8 and secured a restraining order against Colbert, court records showed.

Court papers showed Mrs. Colbert said her husband threatened to cut her with a razor blade in August, threatened to ″buy her a bullet″ on Sept. 1 and raped her on Oct. 2.

Massachusetts State Police Sgt. John DiFava said police received a call around 4:45 a.m. Sunday that a man was trying to jump from the Tobin Bridge. It was the same span from which Charles Stuart plunged to his death into Boston Bay on Jan. 4, 1990, after authorities learned he plotted his pregnant wife’s murder more than two months earlier.

Two troopers persuaded Colbert not to jump. He identified himself and ″said he just killed his wife and three children,″ DiFava said.

Neighbors said Colbert was an unemployed truck driver who took meticulous care of his rig, but lost it two or three months ago because his previous wife no longer helped him with payments.

″His truck was immaculate,″ neighbor Ed King told the Concord Monitor. ″I think if a fly landed on it he would have cleaned it off afterwards. On the negative side, that’s all I ever saw him do. ... He wouldn’t help with the children, which annoyed me, because with three tiny tots the poor girl needed help.″

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