WEST HARTFORD – Just minutes before he was due to appear in court Thursday to answer several felony charges of alleged sexual misconduct, a well-known West Hartford junkyard owner stepped away from a group of his friends and into his garage where he shot himself three times in the chest with a handgun.
Paul Oakes, 56, was pronounced dead at 1:02 p.m., shortly after his arrival at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H., the same time he was scheduled to be arraigned for allegedly attempting to solicit a local woman from whom he had bought a junked car. Oakes allegedly offered the woman money for sex. The woman said she refused and Oakes attempted to force himself upon her.
Oakes had been the focus of several criminal investigations in the past. Oakes had a conviction in 1973 for the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl.
Oakes was in trouble a year ago after his adult daughter told police he'd held her against her will in his house for days and threatened her with a gun, conduct that Oakes denied. Police did seize several firearms after a search of his house and, at the time of his death Thursday, Oakes was still awaiting trial on that case and also facing federal charges of being a felon in possession of a gun as a result.
"Paul is the most harmless person you'll ever meet," said Doug Tuthill of North Pomfret, who had been his friend since childhood. "He's been villainized by his size and his reputation but that was totally the opposite of what he was as a person. You won't find anybody who helped more poor people than Paul did."
Tuthill and another close friend of Oakes, Will Hein of South Royalton, said they had felt in the hours before Oakes died that something was different about him, but they said they chalked it up to his resignation over the fact that he was almost certainly going to be held without bail following his court appearance in White River Junction.
"The man gave me his flatbed (car hauler) before he killed himself," said a shaken Hein as he stood outside the police station. "He sent me (across the driveway) to help with a tractor-trailer and I didn't think anything of it. I never knew he had a gun in the garage. He just did that so I wouldn't see him do it or try to stop him, because I would have.
"He didn't think he was coming back from court, but we would never have expected this," Hein said. ..Source.. by ERIC FRANCIS HERALD CORRESPONDENT