Bill Hewitt
February 27, 2006 12:00 PM

Neil Entwistle worked hard to cultivate an air of mystery. He often gave the impression that he was involved in “some type of secret government job” back in England, said the police, quoting his in-laws. The truth seems to be that he did have a secret life, a sordid and troubled one. “He seemed vivacious and friendly,” says one family friend. “But he was close-mouthed about what he did for work.”

Small wonder. In the days after his wife, Rachel, 27, and 9-month-old daughter Lillian were found murdered in their Hopkinton, Mass., home on Jan. 22, it quickly emerged that Entwistle, 27, had been involved in a host of dubious dealings. For starters, police say, he had set up a pornography Web site and was dodging a raft of complaints about a business he ran on eBay. Then came a further trove of police documents on Feb. 13 maintaining that Entwistle, in the days before the killings, visited Web sites for escort services. Ominously, according to the new documents, he also cruised the Internet for ways to commit murder and suicide. Most damning of all, police say they have connected Entwistle to the murder weapon, a .22-cal. handgun that had belonged to his stepfather-in-law. “We have information that links [the gun] to both him and Rachel,” said Middlesex County District Attorney Martha Coakley, “and we know Rachel didn’t use that gun.” Entwistle was arrested in England on Feb. 9 and agreed not to fight extradition; after he arrives in the U.S., he will be arraigned on two counts of murder.

From the outset Entwistle’s account of his movements seemed bizarre at best. In a telephone interview with police on Jan. 23, he claimed he had returned home from running errands on the morning of Jan. 20 and found his wife and daughter shot dead. Rather than call 911, he said, he thought about committing suicide with a knife but realized he couldn’t go through with it because, he said, it “would hurt too much.” He said he then drove 50 miles to his in-laws’ home in Carver, Mass., hoping to get a gun to shoot himself, but no one was home, and he couldn’t get into the house. Police say he then bought a oneway plane ticket and flew the next morning to England, where he holed up at his parents’ home.

Investigators quickly concluded he was lying. They found evidence that Entwistle, who had worked for a defense contractor in England, had no significant source of income and that the family was piling up debt, including tens of thousands of dollars in Great Britain, student loans of $25,000, and more than $8,000 on credit cards in this country. (In the days before the murder, the Entwistles had taken delivery of $6,000 worth of furnishings, bought on credit.) According to Coakley, the dire financial situation was another secret Entwistle kept from his wife. “We have some indication that she did not know,” said Coakley. “If the financial world around him was crumbling, it does appear he may have been the only one who was aware of it.” (Police contend Rachel told her family that she had tried to discuss money with her husband but that he had brushed her off with the claim that their funds were tied up in “off-shore accounts.”)

Investigators say that the money woes, along with dissatisfaction with his sex life, may have provided a motive for the murder. Coakley contends that so far it appears the crime was not committed in “the heat of passion” but by the same token was not carefully planned out, either. For example, Entwistle claims that when he drove to his in-laws’ house after the murder, he couldn’t get in; police say, to the contrary, they found keys to the house in the car he left at Boston’s Logan airport. His purpose in going to the house, they say, was to return the murder weapon, which he had taken earlier. Police say they found evidence of Rachel’s DNA on the gun muzzle along with Neil’s on the handgrip. If he were indeed the shooter, says forensic pathologist Michael Baden, “he would have been smarter if he had thrown the gun in the water.”

Police say that the Web sites he visited before the killings suggest that he may have originally planned a murder-suicide. Whether that angle will be a factor in his defense is unclear at this point. Insanity pleas rarely work, and given the strong hand the prosecution seems to be holding, they may be in no mood to plea-bargain. Ultimately, though, seeing Rachel’s husband arrested for her murder brought no happiness to her family. Says their spokesman Joe Flaherty: “Rachel and Lilly are never going to walk through the door again.”

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