Michael Hand was arrested in connection with the 1986 murder of 15-year-old Tracy Gilpin, whose Massachusetts death inspired her sister, Kerry Gilpin, to become a law enforcement officer.
Kerry Gilpin is now a Massachusetts State Police Colonel. The news that an arrest was made in the long-languishing cold case was first reported by Boston journalist Cheryl Fiandaca. The Massachusetts State Police have now confirmed the arrest. The suspect’s full name is Michael Arthur Hand.
“It’s been 30 years. I know it’s solvable,” Kerry Gilpin told The Boston Globe in 2017. “In my heart of hearts, I know that that person is out there.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Michael Hand, Who Is In His 60s, Is From North Carolina But Has Kingston Ties
“Massachusetts State Police and police in North Carolina have arrested MICHAEL HAND, now 61, of Troutman, N.C., for the October 1986 homicide of 15-year-old Tracy Gilpin of Kingston, Mass,” the Massachusetts State Police said in a statement. “HAND is in custody in North Carolina pending an expected court appearance there tomorrow. Authorities have begun rendition proceedings to bring him back to Massachusetts to be prosecuted for Tracy Gilpin’s murder.”
Online records give the suspect’s name as Michael Arthur Hand. Records allege he had ties to Kingston, Massachusetts back in the 1980s. (Tracy Gilpin lived in Kingston.) Records also show he is in the custody of the Iredell County Sheriff’s Office. He doesn’t appear to have a social media presence. Massachusetts court records for Plymouth County, where Kingston is located, show only a civil case filed by Ford Motor Credit Company against a Michael A. Hand for just over $3,900 but doesn’t list a date of birth. Troutman, North Carolina, where Hand was currently living, is a small town with just more than 2,500 people.
There is a Michael Hand in the 1975 class of Silver Lake High School in Kingston, Massachusetts. Arthur Hand, the father, was listed as an assistant principal in the district and a senior class adviser.
A man who was a few years ahead of Hand in high school told Heavy that Michael Hand was raised in the Kingston area. He said that he “knew of Michael because he was his dad’s son. His dad had a tough guy reputation as junior high principal. Silver Lake was the regional area covering the towns of Kingston, Pembroke, Halifax and Plympton.”
According to CBS Boston, “Michael Hand, 61, of Troutman, N.C., was arrested on Saturday night in North Carolina.” Few details have been released about what led authorities to Hand.
“Hand is expected to appear in court on Monday and then the process to bring him to Massachusetts will begin,” CBS reported.
“Plymouth District Attorney Timothy J. Cruz said state troopers assigned to his office arrested Hand Friday at his home and charged him as a fugitive from justice based on a warrant for his arrest for Tracy Gilpin’s homicide,” reported BostonHerald.com.
2. Tracy Gilpin Vanished After She Left a Party to Get Cigarettes
The tragedy unfolded on October 1, 1986, when “Tracy headed out to a party not too far from her house. She had just been paid from various babysitting jobs, so Kerry remembers her sister wanting to go out and have fun,” according to NBC News.
She left the party, though, to get cigarettes at a local convenience store and then was seen at a payphone. NBC News reported that a woman offered Tracy a ride but she declined it.
Her body was found three weeks later, and it was believed she died “from a massive blow to the head,” according to NBC, which reported, “Three weeks later, a woman out in Myles Standish State Forest in Plymouth, a town about 14 miles from where Tracy vanished, stumbled across a grisly scene; the badly decomposed body of a teenaged girl. It was Tracy.” Her body was “partially clad.”
According to The Boston Globe, Tracy’s body was “covered with brush” and there “was a large boulder on her head, and her pants and shoes were missing.”
3. Kerry Gilpin Felt Like Her Family Was Stuck in the 1980s as a Result of Her Sister’s Murder
Kerry Gilpin, Tracy’s sister, spoke out about the murder over the years and the effect it had on the family. To some degree, she told Dateline NBC, the entire family remained trapped in the 1980s. “Sometimes, for her older sister Kerry, it feels like she too will forever be a teenager,” NBC News reported.
However, the family and sister never gave up hope that the cold case could be solved. “It’s hard to think it’s been 30 years without her,” Kerry Gilpin told Dateline in 2017. “We just hope it can be solved now.”
The family had offered a $25,000 for information leading to resolution in the case. It’s not yet clear whether anyone will qualify for that money. In an interview with The Boston Globe, Kerry Gilpin described her sister as “hilarious, genuine, and carefree” and said she liked to act out soap operas with dolls, fussed a lot over her hair, loved Lionel Richie and Diana Ross, and dreamed of having children when she grew up.
4. Kerry Gilpin Wrote That the Arrest Left Her Family ‘Cautiously Optimistic’
The news of an arrest left the Gilpin family “cautiously optimistic” that justice would finally be at hand for Tracy.
“My family and I would like to thank Plymouth County District Attorney Tim Cruz, the Plymouth County State Police Detective Unit, the Massachusetts State Police Crime Lab, the Kingston and Plymouth Police Departments, police in North Carolina, and all of the investigators who have worked diligently over the last 31 years to solve Tracy’s murder. We are also extremely grateful to the members of the public who have provided information to investigators,” the statement said.
“For the past three decades, we have remained hopeful that Tracy’s murderer would be identified. The much-welcomed news of an arrest in the case leaves us cautiously optimistic that justice for Tracy is within reach. My thoughts today are not just with my own family, but also with all the families who have lost loved ones to violence. We will continue to work tirelessly to find justice for all murder victims.”
5. Other Suspects Emerged Over the Years & Tracy’s Mother Didn’t Think Police Did Enough at the Time
There were a series of theories and possible suspects over the years. For a time, fingers were pointed at a neighbor in Kingston, Henry Meinholz, Jr., after he was convicted of murdering 13-year-old Melissa Benoit, according to The Globe. Benoit’s body “was discovered in a neighbor’s basement but investigators ruled Meinholz out as Tracy’s killer, The Globe reported.
Meiholz taught Bible school.
Tracy’s family argued that the police department did not do enough to solve the case when Tracy first disappeared. “The police deemed her a runaway and wrote her off,” said her mother Kathleen Gilpin in 2001. “They came to me several times and said she had been seen at the beach or at the mall.”
This post will be updated as more information is learned about Michael Arthur Hand.