SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

March 14, 2014

20/20 recalls Peabody murder for hire

Program on Vasco case airs tonight

By Alan Burke
Staff Writer

---- — PEABODY — Money can buy murder, but in Peabody, it only bought trouble for Guillermo Vasco.

The former Peabody resident is the subject of a 20/20 episode tonight on ABC, which will feature murder-for-hire investigations, including Vasco’s fortunate failure to kill his wife and child in 2004 and 2005. The heroes include responding Peabody officers Sgt. Sheila McDaid, retired Sgt. Charles Randall, Lts. Scott Wlasuk, Richard Callahan and Thomas O’Keefe, and Detectives Stephanie Lane and David Murphy.

Initially, Vasco was intending to do the job himself. He had planned to burn down his wife’s house with her and their child in it. When he arrived, however, he duct-taped her mouth and assaulted her instead, according to reports from The Salem News at the time. It was then that his wife, a doctor, hatched a plan to survive, telling Vasco that she wanted him back in her life. More than that, she declared herself on board with moving to Canada, and all they had to do was stop off at Lynn City Hall for her birth certificate.

Once in the city clerk’s office, the wife began yelling for her life.

Vasco was arrested and charged with kidnapping, rape and assault. McDaid, who was working in the domestic violence unit, headed to Salem Hospital to interview the victim. A 5-gallon can of gasoline was found at the house, and it had the look of a strong case. But this was far from the end of things.

Detained at the Middleton Jail in 2005, Vasco not only wanted to be rid of his wife, he now wanted to be rid of a witness, as well. He decided to outsource the murder and, after sending letters to a Maine post office box, hired a likely fellow named Kenneth Croke to do it. He did not know this was Special Agent Croke of the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, who had been tipped off by an informant that Vasco was looking for someone to kill his wife.

Croke visited the jail, where Vasco offered him $20,000 for the murder of his wife. After first deciding to kill her, he asked for his daughter to be spared. His wife was to be sealed in an oil drum and dropped into the ocean.

From this point, it was a matter of making the murder-for-hire charges stick.

Thus, Croke and Special Agent Matthew O’Shaughnessy hired a make-up artist who, with the cooperation of the wife, took photos that made it appear the scheme was a success and that she had been shot in the head and dumped in the woods. Vasco’s reaction to the photo was captured on video.

“I really appreciate that,” he told the agent. “And you’ve got, right now, my friendship, my loyalty, my respect. And anything you need, just come to me.”

He promptly found himself in federal court, where he was convicted of attempted murder and sent to prison for 28 years. Once released, he will be deported to his native Ecuador.

“This woman had incredible strength,” McDaid said later. “She had no intention of going to Canada.” She praised the wife’s ability “to think quickly under extreme pressure to come up with a plan. ... If she had not, we would not be here to talk about her today.”

Two weeks ago, 20/20 correspondent David Muir was in Peabody, talking with McDaid for the program.

Peabody Police see the TV program as a great opportunity to raise the issue of domestic violence.

“The most volatile and dangerous time for victims is when they leave their abusers,” according to Detective Mike Crane. Help in doing that safely is available at HAWC, Healing Abuse Working for Change, at 800-547-1649.

Alan Burke can be reached at aburke@salemnews.com.