Fort Hill commune seeks facts in bank holdup death
Members of a Roxbury commune, the home of two men charged with armed robbery in connection with an attempted holdup at a Brigham Circle bank, yesterday denied any prior knowledge of the robbery.
About a dozen residents of the Fort Hill community, including five women dressed identically in black, appeared at the District 2 police station yesterday afternoon seeking information on last Wednesday's fatal shooting at the bank of a third man, whom they described as "a friend of ours."
On Saturday, police identified the dead man as Christopher Thien, 25, of Auburn, Wash. Police said he also lived on Fort Hill, although the arrested men Mark Frechette, 25, and Sheldon T. Bernhard, 31, both of 24 Fort Avenue terrace told police they knew Thien only by his first name and had met him only a week earlier.
Frechette, who in 1970 costarred in Michelangelo Antonioni's film "Zabriskie Point," and Bernhard are being held at Charles Street Jail on $15,000 bond each. A probable cause hearing is scheduled at Roxbury District Court Sept. 12.
At District 2 yesterday, Fort Hill residents claimed police had told them by phone they could discuss the circumstances of Thien's shooting with Daniel Fitzgerald and Maurice Flaherty, the patrolmen who arrested Frechette and Bernhard last Wednesday at the New English Merchants National Bank branch.
But when the group arrived, a lieutenant told them both officers were off duty.
"A friend of ours was killed," said Wayne Hansen, a former editor of The Avatar, a newspaper published at Fort Hill until about two years ago. "There have been conflicting stories of what happened and we want the facts," Hansen said.
According to police, Thien and two companions entered the bank at about 5 p.m. Wednesday and demanded money. The two policemen were summoned after a bank teller triggered a silent alarm, police said.
Fitzgerald reportedly was knocked to the floor during a scuffle with one of the men, who was carrying a pistol. Police said Flaherty shot the man when he aimed his gun at Fitzgerald.
Hansen and another Fort Hill resident, George Pepar, said none of the 100 persons living there knew that a robbery was contemplated.
The Fort Hill community was established in 1967 by followers of Mel Lyman. Similar groups regarding Lyman as a spiritual leader a claim Lyman attempted to document in his "Autobiography of a World Savior" have settled in Kansas and southern California.
One Fort Hill resident attempting to dissuade a Globe photographer from using his camera at the police station said: "There's no story here today, but this is only the beginning."
Lawyer Harvey Silverglate of Boston, whose firm is representing Frechette and Bernhard, said he was trying to secure dispositions from witnesses to the attempted holdup. "But I can't say anything for the record at this time," Silverglate said.