New York inmate admits murder of former Martha’s Vineyard teacher

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Photo courtesy of Democrat and Chronicle

Police in Greece, New York, announced an arrest last week in the unsolved 21-year-old murder case of Stephanie Kupchynsky, a young music teacher who taught in Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools for two years.

Edward Laraby, a terminally ill prisoner already serving two life sentences for sexual abuse and attempted murder, confessed to her murder in a hospice unit of Wende Correctional Facility in Alden, New York, apparently resolving what has been a decades-old murder mystery. Mr. Laraby, aged 59, has Lou Gehrig’s disease, an incurable neuromuscular disease.

He made a statement admitting to Ms. Kupchynsky’s death last May, on the understanding that his remains would be buried outside of prison grounds, according to an online article by YNN Rochester. Mr. Laraby was indicted on two counts of second-degree murder on July 16 and pleaded not guilty. His attorney said Mr. Laraby’s health would make a trial scheduled for February 2013 unlikely.

Vanished

Ms. Kupchynsky, a violinist, attended the New England Conservatory of Music for two years after graduating from West Virginia in 1986. From 1988 to 1990, she was the full-time string music teacher for Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools.

Ms. Kupchynsky moved to Rochester, New York, in 1990, where she worked as an elementary school music teacher in the nearby town of Greece. The 27-year-old disappeared from her apartment the night of July 31, 1991, after taking a friend’s children for ice cream, according to an Associated Press article.

Her car was found in the long-term parking lot at Rochester Regional Airport, with her wallet and credit cards in the glove compartment. Her checkbook was later found on a rural road near a lake that was not on the route between her apartment and the airport.

Ms. Kupchynsky had been dating Ken Sullivan, age 33, a violin maker in Ithaca, for two months. He told the Associated Press she talked to him the day before her disappearance and sounded fine. Mr. Sullivan said he wanted “to make sure that every stone has been turned” to find out why she had vanished. Ms. Kupchynsky’s family hired a private investigator and printed thousands of “missing” posters.

Mr. Laraby was a maintenance worker at Ms. Kupchynsky’s apartment complex in Rochester. He had already served three stints in prison for rape, sexual abuse, and armed robbery. He was released from prison about eight months before Ms. Kupchynsky went missing, WHEC.com reported.

Mystery finally solved

At the time of her disappearance, although Mr. Laraby was considered a suspect, investigators lacked evidence to arrest him, Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley said at a press conference last week. In 1998 Ms. Kupchynsky’s remains were found by some kids out fishing in a creek bed in Murray, N.Y.

Ms. Doorley said three Greece police detectives cultivated a relationship with Mr. Laraby for years, which led him to make the statement in May that resulted in the murder charges.

“Until ’98, we couldn’t even say it was a death, much less just a missing person, so it was a very difficult case,” Dave Connors, a retired Greece police sergeant who worked on the case, told reporter Sheba Clarke of YNN Rochester. “A lot of folks worked very hard on it.”

Tisbury police officer Michael Gately was one of them. Greece police detectives contacted Tisbury Police Chief John McCarthy and also spoke to Officer Gately shortly after Ms. Kupchynsky’s disappearance. As part of their investigation, they asked about a person she had been involved with on Martha’s Vineyard, Officer Gately told The Times in a phone call yesterday.

Lasting memories

Officer Gately said he knew Ms. Kupchynsky as a victim of domestic violence. His wife Betsy, an Oak Bluffs School teacher, knew her professionally.

“She was a wide-eyed, beautiful girl, dealing with tragic circumstances alone here, without any family,” Officer Gately recalled. “I’ve thought of her often through the years. It was always a ‘who done it,’ and a question of whether there was an Island connection. I always wondered.”

The resolution of the mystery surrounding Ms. Kupchynsky’s disappearance answered many questions but also stirred up old memories and grief for her good friend Nancy Jephcote, the current full-time MVPS string teacher and popular Island fiddler.

“We met when she was the first teacher in the school string program and I taught in an afterschool program,” Ms. Jephcote told The Times in a phone call yesterday. “We had a lovely friendship. We got trained in the Suzuki method together, and we did a lot of traveling off Island together to classes.”

Ms. Kupchynsky’s students loved her, Ms. Jephcote said, and she promised to keep in touch with them with she left to take the teaching position in New York.

“One of the hardest things about what happened is that the kids all knew that she had disappeared and nobody knew what had happened,” Ms. Jephcote said.

“I believe this had a big impact on some of the kids that are coming up in the program now,” she added. “It’s going to be emotional for them when they hear about the latest news. It’s a hard thing.”

Ms. Jephcote said she hopes those who knew Ms. Kupchynsky will celebrate her life by recalling their good memories of her.

“She left a beautiful legacy here on Martha’s Vineyard,” Ms. Jephcote said. “She had a lot of impact on a lot of people. I don’t know anyone who met her who didn’t realize what a sweet soul she was.”