Body found in woods that of missing Hinsdale woman
PERU — Please help us find our mom.
That was the plea the children of Jacqueline "Jackie" Coutinho put on a two-page flyer begging the public to help locate her, after she disappeared May 15 from her sister's home in Hinsdale.
For many people who followed headlines or social media posts about Coutinho's disappearance, she was "the missing woman."
But for those mourning her loss, after she was found dead Tuesday in a wooded area in Peru, she will be remembered as a daughter, sister, mother, stepmother, "Nannie," wife and friend who was deeply loved and is now dearly missed.
"It is with the heaviest of hearts that we let you all know that the woman found in Peru, Massachusetts, yesterday, is Jackie," members of the woman's family said in a post on Wednesday afternoon.
According to the Berkshire District Attorney's Office, at around 9:45 a.m. Tuesday, three loggers spotted the skeletal remains of a woman in a wooded area close to 94 Curtin Road, about five miles from her sister's home. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner confirmed Wednesday the remains were Coutinho.
"Investigators have not uncovered any indications of foul play in Ms. Coutinho's disappearance or death, nor do we believe that there is any threat to public safety connected with this sad loss," Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington said in a statement Wednesday evening. "We send our sincere condolences to the family and friends of Ms. Coutinho."
Hinsdale Police Chief Susan Rathbun said Wednesday, "This is certainly not a resolution we wanted but it gives this family closure."
Family members said in a post they are "devastated" by the news. "However, we pray that she is dancing in Heaven right now."
The post included five photos of Coutinho surrounded by loved ones celebrating a wedding and walking on a beach with a child. Coutinho, 53, was born Feb. 12, 1966, and raised on Nantucket. Her sister, Angela Stetson, says Jackie was the oldest of the three siblings, their brother Darrell being the middle child.
"We all grew up in a good stable home. Our parents did everything they could do for us. I guess you could say Jackie was the quiet one of the three of us," Stetson told The Eagle Tuesday, a couple of hours before the family learned a body had been found.
The family has been reaching out to media outlets, hoping to raise awareness not only statewide, but nationally.
According to the The Inquirer and Mirror of Nantucket, Coutinho was a former assistant town assessor on the island, where she met her husband, Naton "Nate" Coutinho.
The couple moved to Princeton, Maine, in 1993, where they raised two daughters, Lindsey and Haley Coutinho. Coutinho also cared for two older stepdaughters, Jessica Bryan and Jennifer Lancaster, as her own.
Bryan, who lives in California, remembers Jackie's disposition as a happy one. "She definitely loved to smile and laugh with her kids," she said.
Lancaster, who lives on Cape Cod, said Coutinho was "the love" of her dad's life. "They did everything together for 34 years."
Bryan said Coutinho was in the delivery room with her daughter Haley when Jackie's granddaughter, Madison, was born. "She absolutely relished and cherished her granddaughter," Lancaster said.
Coutinho had a kind, carefree look about her, with gray-blonde hair, blue eyes and a sun-kissed freckled face. Other photos shared by her family exhibited the woman's love for the outdoors.
"She also played cards — we're a big card-playing family," said Bryan. "She was a really good cook; it seems like she could cook anything. She was just really kind."
According to Stetson, Coutinho worked for a while in Maine as a teaching assistant at a school. About four years ago, the Coutinhos sold their property and decided to travel across the country in a camper, ultimately landing in Bunnell, Fla.
Both Bryan and Stetson indicated that Coutinho "had some things to work out." They declined to go into detail.
Lancaster said that around February of this year, Coutinho started "not acting like herself." Despite the girls' and others' attempts to get Coutinho professional help, she declined.
Stetson said it was around April when their brother, who lives in Colorado, flew to Florida and drove their sister up to Hinsdale to stay.
"She wanted to come up here to clear her head," Stetson said, noting that it was her sister's first visit to the home. "It was good to see her and spend some time with her."
The daughters and stepdaughters were in regular communication with Coutinho. "She was a really good friend," Bryan said. Coutinho had brought a computer tablet and an old phone with her to Hinsdale. Shortly after arrival, Stetson bought her a new cellphone to keep in touch with everyone. Coutinho eventually settled in, taking a liking to the small farm of animals Stetson and her husband keep.
"She liked helping to care for the horses, hung out with the cat and seemed to be enjoying the quiet country," Stetson said.
It rained almost the whole month Coutinho was there, but Stetson said they would take walks when the weather cleared. But she said her sister, "didn't go out anywhere by herself."
On the day Coutinho was last seen, nothing seemed out of the ordinary, Stetson said. "It was just a quiet morning."
The rain had let up. "It was still a little chilly out, but things had started to clear," Stetson said.
Stetson's husband was getting ready for work. She was getting ready to go on the treadmill around 10:15 a.m. Coutinho was outside, "pacing outside the back of the house."
Coutinho eventually popped back in to tell her sister she was watching the birds and saw a hawk, and that she was going back outside.
Stetson said that about 15 minutes later, she went out and Coutinho was gone.
"I did a quick look around the house then hopped into the car and took a ride along the roads she and I had walked on," the sister said. "When I didn't find her on any nearby roads, I got home and got in touch with Police Chief Rathbun. The police were immediately here at the house."
The searches for Coutinho in the hours, days and weeks to follow became extensive. Members of the Hinsdale and state police, and volunteers from Berkshire Mountain Search and Rescue Inc., joined in. They searched surrounding woods from the air, on the ground and in the water with the help of trained detective dogs and knowledgeable hikers. When police had to resume other duties, BMSR volunteers were "willing to go [search] anywhere where we would get leads," Stetson said.
Coutinho's family spread word of her disappearance by messaging media outlets and through their own social media and GoFundMe campaigns. Lancaster traveled to Nantucket last week during the nationally covered sexual assault charge proceedings of actor Kevin Spacey to hold up signs about her sister and to pass out posters, hoping to gain attention for the search for Coutinho. She also enlisted a Massachusetts-based private investigator, Conrad McKinney, of Hallmark Investigations Bureau LLC, "who was phenomenal." They even offered a $2,000 reward for information from anyone who might have interacted with Coutinho over the past several weeks.
The prayers, phone calls and donations were plentiful.
While the support was vast, there were no fruitful leads.
On Tuesday, three people logging in the vicinity of 94 Curtin Road were the first to find Coutinho, two months after she had gone missing. They called 911. State police troopers from the Cheshire barracks and members of the Peru and Hinsdale police departments responded, as did members of the Berkshire County State Police Detective Unit and the state Crime Scene Services Section.
Nate Coutinho, Lancaster and Haley Coutinho all traveled to the Berkshires Tuesday to be at the scene.
"During this time, we have never been closer. We are so thankful for that," Lancaster said of their extended family.
They visited the site where Coutinho was found.
Police say that while the cause of death is still being investigated, there were no signs of struggle or trauma.
"Hopefully, she didn't experience any pain," Lancaster said.
It was later, when going through Coutinho's room at Stetson's house, that the family made another discovery: handwritten cards. There was one for Madison's sixth birthday next May, one for Father's Day for Nate, other family members' birthdays and other occasions.
"It sounds like she knew she was not going to be here next year," said Lancaster. "We were hoping that wasn't going to be the case."
"So many what-ifs are going through our brains right now," the stepdaughter said.
A memorial service is planned, with details to be announced. Money previously donated during the search will be used for Jackie's burial expenses.
"I pray nobody has to go through this," said Lancaster, noting that the help and resources and support is not always there for every person who goes missing.
"I can't imagine how some people have no resources but themselves to go by and you don't know what to do in a case like this," she said.
"We're just grateful for all the kindness and how, in the world that seems really harsh, that people show up when you need them to," Bryan said. "It was really important to us."
Jenn Smith can be reached at 413-496-6239 or @JennSmith_Ink.
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