A U.S. Coast Guardsman suspected of murdering a 59-year-old Bellingham woman killed himself in an Arizona cabin this weekend, according to police.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael G. Arnold, 33, of Boise, Idaho, had been a person of interest in the murder of Abigail Gulotta, 59, a hairdresser living in the South Hill neighborhood.
Police interviewed witnesses who saw Gulotta having drinks with several Coast Guardsmen late Saturday, Aug. 2, at bars in the Fairhaven neighborhood, said Bellingham Police Lt. Rick Sucee. She left one of the bars around 12:30 a.m. with a 5-foot-8 white man, about 140 pounds, with a shaved head and "Dumbo ears," according to one witness description.
On that Sunday morning Gulotta, who almost always arrived early for work, didn't show up on time to Blessings Salon and Spa in Fairhaven, so a coworker went to check on Gulotta at her home six blocks away. She was found dead from massive head trauma around 11 a.m. in her basement apartment at 606 12th St. The door had been locked, and the key was missing. No weapon was found. But it was clear she hadn't been killed by "fists," Sucee said. The county medical examiner ruled the death a homicide.
Arnold, a gunner's mate, and several other crew members of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Sherman were questioned over the next few days. Police spoke with Arnold for hours but didn't have enough forensic evidence processed to arrest him, Sucee said. And because of a misunderstanding, other crew members unwittingly confirmed Arnold's alibi.
After being woken up by a detective around 2:30 a.m., crew members thought police were asking about Sunday night, not early Sunday morning, Sucee said. They recalled Arnold had been on the ship with them, as he'd claimed, according to police.
"So we were looking for his twin," Sucee said.
In the meantime Arnold was transferred to a U.S. Coast Guard base in Seattle.
He drained his bank account and went AWOL from his post early Friday, Aug. 8. Police later learned he'd picked up his wedding suit from San Diego, the Sherman's home port, and fled to a family cabin in Show Low, Ariz. From there, he contacted his wife and told her he planned to kill himself on Saturday, Aug. 9, according to police. (She feared him and was elsewhere, Sucee said.)
U.S. Marshals searching for the AWOL Coast Guardsman found Arnold had hanged himself inside the cabin. Sucee had not reviewed notes left behind by Arnold, but the lead Bellingham detective on the case traveled to Show Low to gather evidence. Police believe Arnold confessed to the murder before taking his life.
Detectives continued to investigate how Arnold traveled more than 1,500 miles from his new post in Seattle to San Diego to Show Low, a two-hour drive through the desert from Flagstaff, Ariz.
Police did not release a suspect description, or details about the crime, until Monday, Aug. 11. Pending a medical examiner's report, police have declined to say if they suspect a sexual assault occurred. A motive for the crime had not been established as of early this week.
"It appears he was drunk and became enraged, and acted upon it by killing the woman," Sucee said. "Why he got enraged, other than alcohol, I don't know."
Gulotta lived in New England before moving to Bellingham about a year ago. She resided in the South Hill apartment for about six months, while working at the salon.
The Cutter Sherman, a 378-foot vessel launched in 1968, had been docked in the Fairhaven Shipyard for repairs since April.
Arnold, who joined the Coast Guard in January 2009, was a part-time barber on the side for the ship's crew of 170. The cutter left Thursday for San Diego.