The Curious Life and Mysterious Death of Pippin Roe (update)

Pippin-1994-06-2
1994, Pippin Roe

On July 19th 2014, I learned that my longtime friend, artist, and collaborator, Pippin Roe, had died.  Weeks later, I was again hit with shocking news that Pippin’s death was likely the result of murder.  The following January, a reporter writing a piece on Pippin contacted me through social media.  At first I was skeptical, but it wasn’t long before I realized she was diligent digging through hard-to-find clues on a case that had been largely ignored by the media and didn’t seem like a priority for authorities. The story, publish on January 22, 2015, went beyond tragic circumstances surrounding Pippin’s death, speaking to her life and artistic work – much of which was featured in the article.

‘s story,  The Curious Life and Mysterious Death of Pippin Roe was originally published on Boston.com:

Pippin Roe’s partially decomposed body was discovered by Boston police on July 13, 2014, behind a building on Columbus Avenue in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood.

The story of how it got there is a mystery still unfolding, of a curious New England upbringing, a broken family, and a promising young artist whose friends and family felt powerless as they watched her life spiral out of control.

At her memorial service, the Rev. Leaf Seligman said that Pippin “navigated a childhood shaped by separations and uncertainty, decisions beyond her control.’’

When her body was first found, there was no indication of foul play. Boston police then asked for help to identify three people in connection with the investigation, and on January 19, they arrested Ritcher Baez in Manhattan. Baez, 24, is charged with murder.

Boston Police Lt. Michael McCarthy said, “motive has not been determined’’ and that “the investigation remains active.’’

Gail Baez, who identified herself as Ritcher Baez’s aunt, said she had “no idea’’ what her nephew might have been doing in Boston.

Friends and family of Pippin Roe told Boston.com they had never heard of Ritcher Baez.

Marsian De Lellis, a longtime friend of Pippin, assumed she had overdosed. “That’s what we all thought. It’s shocking to hear she was murdered,’’ he said.

“Pippin had a tough and complicated life, but through it all she was incredibly resilient. I hope she is not defined by her struggles or the circumstances surrounding her death, but by the quality of her friendships, her artwork, and brilliant creative vision,’’ De Lellis said. “If there’s anything we can learn from this, it’s that if someone makes a wrong turn, society isn’t very forgiving.’’

“We all knew Pippin had issues with substance abuse,’’ said Micah Kesselman, Pippin’s half-brother.

“She had a lot of trouble the last few decades,’’ he continued. “But she was getting her life back together … She was focusing a lot on her art.’’

Kesselman said that he and Pippin had planned to reconnect when he moved to Boston to attend Suffolk Law School.

An obituary published in The Monadnock Ledger-Transcript in early August described Pippin Roe as a “talented artist’’ who “especially enjoyed painting flowers’’ and who had studied at both the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the San Francisco Art Institute.

“Her laugh was contagious. She loved performance art, dancing and drama and participated in numerous performances over her short life … She recently took psychology classes in preparation for a master’s program in art therapy.’’

The story of Nancy Kellogg and Eugene “Gene’’ Roe, Pippin’s parents, began in 1969, when Nancy met and soon moved in with Gene. The couple lived at Gene’s Greenville, New Hampshire home, described by others who lived there as part-farm, part-commune.

“People came and went all the time. It wasn’t a great environment for kids, I can tell you that right now,’’ said Jane Waterman, who lived on the farm in the early 1970s. “Gene was kind of out there. He thought he could leave his body.’’

“Everybody can leave their body. They just don’t know how,’’ Gene told Boston.com.

In March 1970, police raided the property, finding a “sizeable quantity of drugs,’’ and arrested both Nancy and Gene, according to a Nashua Telegraph report from the time.

“We were growing pot,’’ Gene told Boston.com. “Big deal. I consider pot a sacred substance … We were all hippies. We used psychadelics. And pot. And peyote. But I consider that stuff sacraments. There was also someone in the house dealing pot. That’s probably what got us busted.’’

Months after the drug bust, with charges still pending, Nancy and Gene welcomed a baby boy, Zebadiah. A daughter, Pippin, was born four years later, in 1974.

“We were making cider at the time. [Pippin] is a botanical term for apple seedling,’’ Nancy said, explaining how she chose her daughter’s name.

Nancy and Gene never married. Gene, who still resides at the same home in Greenville, told Boston.com they had an on-again-off-again relationship that lasted until sometime in 1974, when Nancy moved to Wisconsin, where she was raised.

Pippin bounced back and forth between her parents, living in New Hampshire with her father, then in Wisconsin with her mother, then again with her father, attending schools in both states.

At 8 years old, Pippin made allegations to family members that she had been sexually abused by a relative, according to Gene and Nancy, who both said there was never a criminal prosecution.

While Gene believed his daughter, Nancy did not. She said Pippin “cooked up the story’’ following her school’s observance of “child abuse week.’’

In 1985, Nancy married Joshua Kesselman, and soon gave birth to Pippin’s half-brother Micah.

The relationship didn’t last. Nancy and Joshua divorced three years later, and – according to Micah – began a “long and protracted legal battle’’ over custody.

Nancy made two attempts to kidnap Micah, the first in 1988 and the second in 1992. Nancy confirmed she served time in prison in both instances, and ultimately lost custody of Micah to his father.

While living in Wisconsin, Pippin rescued Micah, then a toddler, from drowning. She explained to her mother that she had learned CPR by watching television.

Back in New England, Pippin attended the Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, but dropped out and got a GED in 1992, according to Gene. She went on to attend the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

In 1994, when she was 19, Pippin moved from Boston to San Francisco to attend the San Francisco Art Institute.

In many ways, Pippin seemed to thrive on the West Coast. She studied not just painting but writing with radical feminist author, poet and playwright Kathy Acker, who died in 1997.

“I was always impressed by the courage it took her to move to the West Coast on her own with few resources,’’ Pippin’s longtime friend De Lellis said.

But, according to Gene, it was also during this period of newfound independence when Pippin developed a heroin habit.

Nancy recalled travelling to San Francisco for Pippin’s art school graduation and finding her daughter “strung out’’ and “addicted to heroin.’’

When Pippin returned to the East Coast after graduating, her substance abuse escalated.

“She then got very addicted to klonopin, then methadone. She was bipolar, and was using drugs to self-medicate,’’ Gene said, adding that Pippin was hospitalized in a psychiatric ward in Keene, New Hampshire.

Nancy said she also believed Pippin suffered from bipolar disorder and said her daughter was “not capable of managing her medication or life.’’

“I couldn’t impress upon her how vulnerable she was,’’ said Nancy, who lives in Hardwick, Vermont and works at a food co-op.

In her mid-to-late 20s, while still sharing her passion for art with friends by sending elaborate letters and drawings, Pippin’s life began to spiral.

In 1999, she was arrested in Fitchburg and charged with cocaine possession and resisting arrest. Within a few years, she had a significant rapsheet that included multiple prostitution arrests.

Then, in 2002, her private troubles became a footnote in a Massachusetts political scandal.

Jeffrey Bean, the former Fitchburg mayor and the state director for then-Senator John Kerry, was questioned by police during a prostitution investigation. Pippin was reported to have been a passenger in Bean’s car, and while Bean was not arrested, denied soliciting sex, and police witnessed no illegal activity, he resigned from his post with Kerry.

The Worcester Telegram & Gazette reported:

“According to the police log, the vehicle also was occupied by Pippin Roe, a 27-year-old woman familiar to police. Court records reveal Ms. Roe has been arrested by Fitchburg police at least seven times in the past five years, three times for prostitution. The latest arrest occurred early Thursday after Ms. Roe allegedly propositioned an undercover police officer. She has pleaded not guilty to offering to engage in sexual conduct for a fee.’’

Pippin was arrested for prostitution again just a month later.

“We knew about the prostitution. We said ‘you’re stupid – why are you doing this?’’’ Gene told Boston.com.

Between 1999 and 2003, Pippin was incarcerated three times at MCI Framingham, according to a spokesperson for the Massachusetts Department of Correction.

Even the time behind bars didn’t do much to change her trajectory.

In 2005, Pippin was arrested multiple times on charges that included shoplifting, “using a vehicle without authority,’’ “possession of a hypodermic needle,’’ and disorderly conduct. She was incarcerated at least three times in 2005 and twice in 2006.

An outstanding warrant landed her back in jail in 2007, and, according to Gene, multiple arrests for “minor offenses’’ followed in later years.

In 2008, Pippin’s older brother, Zebadiah, landed in the news, charged with raping a 12-year-old girl. He was convicted in 2010 on multiple counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault and was sentenced to 20 to 40 years in prison.

Leigh Mae Friedline, Zebadiah’s then-fiancé, spoke in court about his childhood, stating that Zebadiah told her he had been left “to fend largely for himself while he was in his early grade school years, not even providing food reliably.’’

Nancy said her children always “had meals’’ when they resided with her, but added that “in some respects, Pippin and Zeb raised themselves in their teenage years.’’

Friedline also told the court that Zebadiah left home at age 12 “for the commune up the road’’ and proceeded to have “sexual relations with a number of older persons.’’

Nancy said Zebadiah was never abused and that any accusations were “cooked up.’’

But the allegations by Friedline – who did not respond to a request for comment – were similar to what friends of Pippin recalled her having told them.

De Lellis met Pippin two decades ago, and said Pippin told him of a history of sexual abuse going back to her early years in Greenville.

De Lellis called Pippin “very talented and very creative’’ and spoke about stacks of letters they exchanged over the years as Pippin’s life “became troubled.’’

“I wouldn’t hear from her for years. I would be worried that she had died. I would search for obituaries,’’ De Lellis said.

Despite Pippin’s troubled path, Gene said he thinks he was a good father.

“I talk to [Zebadiah] every day,’’ he said, adding that talking to Pippin was more difficult. “She had the emotional age of a 12 or 13 year old.’’

Nancy said she was “absolutely’’ a good mother and that Pippin and Zebadiah were “loved, celebrated, and cared for’’ when living with her.

In hindsight, Nancy says she didn’t understand enough about substance abuse.

“Now I understand how addiction destroys peoples’ lives. But I didn’t realize that for a long time,’’ Nancy said.

In the last decade of her life, Pippin moved frequently, living in Greenville, Fitchburg, Providence, Boston, and on Cape Cod. She made jewelry and collages, joined a gym, listened to Brit pop, practiced yoga, painted, and gardened.

But her Facebook posts highlight her continued struggle with both addiction and mental illness.

August 2010:

“I’m going back to college this fall studying [sic] rpyschology! … I’m also going to start reading my poems at open poetry nights in Boston!yay!things are going really good.’’

October 2010:

“Ok I’m just really Stressed out just got out of psych hospital they didn’t help Me . I have to move and a thousand things to do and very worried and anxious all the time.’’

December 2010:

“yay I feel so accomplished ! now i can go to the gym and yoga a lot … oh and the biggest winter spring goal is to get painting again and make a lot of great art !’’

November 2011:

“i want to be a good girl always but i have this inner duality [sic] constanstly fighting in my mind,it is really hard to live with.’’

January 2013:

“there must be something better for me waiting for me in this life. i know i’ve changed for the better … im sorry for my past behavior and i love you all.’’

Jessica Piper met Pippin as a teenager, and the two remained in touch on and off over the last two decades.

“She got really into drugs. It was really unfortunate. I had really kind of cut her off — I felt terrible, but I didn’t know what I could do to help her,’’ Piper said.

Reverend Seligman visited Pippin when she was hospitalized in 2013, and recalled how she “spoke excitedly of all the projects she had in mind.’’

Marsian De Lellis last spoke to Pippin in late 2013.

“I tried to be motivational and remind her of her talent. I told her to take care of herself,’’ he said.

In the spring of 2014, Pippin developed an infection, and was hospitalized.

On July 2, days after being discharged, Gene said Pippin was at his Greenville home briefly, before she left for Boston.

Gene said he spoke to Pippin by phone on the evening of July 3, when she called from a bus station.

“She didn’t have money. I said, ‘Come home.’’’

Gene said he deposited a small amount of money into a bank account Pippin could access, and that “someone made withdrawals on the account’’ in the days that followed.

“She didn’t come home. I never talked to her again,’’ Gene said.

More than a week after Gene reported Pippin missing, Nancy received a call from a Fitchburg police officer.

“I was moving my beehives. I had just packed up the car. He said: ‘You need to call the Boston police’ and gave me a phone number. I called, and the detective answered: ‘Homicide Department.’’

I have also included some of Pippin’s work on a page for No Mercyan exhibition of Pippins’ artwork I helped to organize in Providence in 2003.