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Judge's reticence on suspect questioned Neighbors, others find it curious she failed to mention Henchen had access to her barn, where two bodies were found

On the sprawling front lawn of Colden Town Justice Carolyn A. Siegel's residence is a dove-shaped sign that states "I Leave Peaceprints."

The sign stands in stark contrast to the horrible discovery made Saturday by authorities inside Siegel's nearby storage barn, where the bodies of homicide victims Geraldine Jackson, 87, of Colden, and Nancy Phelps, 69, of Marilla, were found.

And now people around Colden -- and elsewhere -- are wondering why the 63-year-old town justice, who is also a lawyer, didn't tell authorities three months ago that Robert J. Henchen, the primary suspect in the killings, had access to her barn.

"It makes me wonder, and I'm not the only one," said Walter Lutz, who lives near Siegel's Irish Road home. "We're thinking that it is kind of funny that she didn't report it, especially since all the searches were up there for Mrs. Jackson."

Erie County District Attorney Frank J. Clark also is perplexed.

"Obviously from our standpoint, it's very hard for me to explain how people so intimately aware of the investigation would fail to disclose information that the authorities would want to know," Clark said of Siegel.

Henchen lived directly across the road from Siegel, and Jackson's home was a short distance away.

And Siegel had allowed Henchen, 42, to store his riding lawn mower in her barn.

Authorities said Siegel reported a Dec. 22 fire at Jackson's residence after spotting the blaze on her way to work.

Siegel was described as a longtime friend of Henchen and his wife's family, the Blancks, who have been Siegel's neighbors for years. After marrying the Blancks' daughter, Darlene, Henchen moved in with them.

In fact, when the Blancks purchased a new riding lawn mower, the judge bought their old mower, according to police. Saturday, both mowers were parked in the storage barn where the badly decomposed bodies were discovered, packed in sealed barrels filled with powdered cement.

Last Wednesday, Siegel was present when Darlene Henchen was questioned about the case at the Erie County Sheriff's Office in downtown Buffalo, investigators said.

Authorities also have complained that Siegel was not as helpful as she could have been during the investigation. But Saturday she cooperated fully and let them search her property.

" . . . she's a friend of the family. That's come out. Sometimes it's hard to explain reaction. I can't account for her attitude," Clark said. He added, "We are not aware of any facts now that she would have any complicity in this whole affair."

Henchen, from the start, was considered a suspect, according to Clark, who hopes soon to begin presenting evidence in the homicides to a grand jury.

A member of his office received an anonymous call Saturday from someone other than Siegel stating the bodies were in the barn.

A day before the anonymous tip, members of the Erie County Sheriff's Office and Senior Assistant District Attorneys Kenneth F. Case and Christopher J. Belling of the DA's Homicide Bureau were on Irish Road conducting interviews, Clark said.

And even though several days have now passed, drivers on Irish Road continue to slow down and look at the homes of Siegel and Henchen.

So who is Carolyn Siegel?

She has been active in the community for years, neighbors and acquaintances say.

From 1981 to 1994, Siegel, who was married at the time and known as Carolyn Fenlon, served on the Springville-Griffith Institute School Board.

After leaving the School Board, she attended law school and became an attorney, said Marilynn Calhoun-Allen, a former Colden town supervisor.

In 2003, when Colden Town Justice Alfred Kalinowski retired after 42 years on the bench, the Town Board interviewed a few individuals interested in being appointed to the remainder of Kalinowski's term.

Among them was Siegel, a Republican, whose credentials made her stand out.

"What impressed us was that she was involved in the school district and after she left the School Board, she went and got her law degree," Calhoun-Allen said. "After she was appointed judge, she always acted in a fair way, and that also impressed us."

In 2004, Siegel was elected to a full four-year term.

In a brief interview Saturday, Siegel said she has always told the truth to investigators but offered no explanation on why she did not mention Henchen had access to her barn.

Clark says that since the beginning, Henchen was always more than "a person of interest." He was the main suspect.

Walter Lutz, a neighbor of Siegel's who was out walking with his wife, Joanne, Tuesday afternoon, recalled the intensity of the initial searches for Jackson.

"The helicopters were around a lot," Lutz said.

His wife added that residents now find it "kind of odd" the judge did not think to notify authorities of Henchen's access to her barn.

In a word, Lutz says, Siegel "goofed."

e-mail: lmichel@buffnews.com

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