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Police: Armed to teeth, Salem homeowner killed himself

New Hampshire Sunday News

April 05. 2017 9:14PM
Police say Charles Hill set fire to his house at 20 Irving St., then shot and killed himself. (Courtesy Salem PD)

SALEM — After barricading his home inside and out, Charles Hill armed himself with a rifle, two handguns, two knives and more than 200 rounds of ammunition, apparently believing that town officials were on their way to evict him, according to police.

Then he set the house on fire and shot himself in the head as the home burned and exploded Monday night.

Police confirmed that the body found in the basement of the single-story home at 20 Irving St. was that of Hill. An autopsy found that Hill, 55, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, according to Salem police Capt. Joel Dolan.

Hill had been battling town officials for years over the unsightly, unsanitary condition of his property, according to officials.

In 2015, the town’s health officer had condemned the home, which had no running water or electricity, as “unfit for human habitation.” He cited a police report that found human waste, rotting food, garbage and “complete clutter” inside the home, creating “a clear and imminent danger to the health and safety” of anyone living there.

Hill also owed more than $15,000 in back property taxes, according to town records. The town had recently sent him a letter, giving him until Monday at 5 p.m. to pay about $6,700 in delinquent 2014 property taxes or set up a repayment plan, according to town officials. Otherwise, the property could be “tax-deeded,” or forfeited, to the town.

The call came in to police around 5:15 p.m. Monday as a routine dispute between neighbors; it was not the first time Hill had clashed with his neighbors. This time, Dolan said, “He was building a wall of logs that was pushing up against his neighbor’s fence.”

When officers arrived to investigate, Hill didn’t answer the door. Then the officers smelled an odor of gasoline and heard a hissing sound, Dolan said, and they quickly retreated.

“I think their training and their sixth sense, something in their gut, told them to back off,” he said.

“And that certainly prevented some injuries.”

Shortly after, an explosion blew out windows and a section of the roof.

Dolan said Hill had used tree stumps and logs to build barricades around his home. “There were also 2-by-4s that were placed on the walkway going from the driveway up to the front door, with nails sticking out of them,” he said.

The rear of the property was also barricaded. And investigators later found a cast-iron stove pushed up against the front door inside Hill’s home. “It appears he was fortifying his property when we showed up,” Dolan said.

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After the fire was brought under control, the Nashua bomb squad and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were called in to check the property for explosives. Authorities knew that Hill had weapons, and the sounds of explosions inside the house made them fear the house might be rigged, Dolan said.

“What we saw in plain sight on the property, and hearing the explosions, we definitely used precaution to search the property, thinking that things may have been set up to hurt first responders as they were going in,” he said.

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Investigators spotted Hill’s body through a basement window around noon on Tuesday, but it took several hours before they could push through the debris and get inside. When they found Hill, Dolan said, “He had one handgun holstered in a holster on his hip, he had a shoulder holster that was empty, and that handgun was found between his legs. And he also had a rifle between his legs.”

Hill also had two knives and 136 rounds of ammunition for the three firearms with him; investigators found more than 1,700 rounds of ammunition elsewhere in the home.

State and local fire marshals are investigating what caused the fire and explosion.

Jeff Emanuelson, fire marshal for the Salem fire department, said the fire started in the rear of the home and was intentionally set. Investigators found portable propane cylinders inside the home, he said.

Emanuelson said investigators have not yet determined what caused the explosion.

But they are looking into whether Hill used an accelerant to start a fire, which could account for the gas smell the officers detected just before the explosion, Dolan said.

In the area where investigators believe the fire started, authorities found four 30-round magazines that apparently exploded from the fire. That may account for the “popping” sounds witnesses reported hearing before the explosion.

According to town property records, Hill co-owns the home with his mother, Alice Hill. After the house was condemned, his mother moved to an assisted-living facility, and Hill had moved in with a brother who also lives in Salem, according to town officials.

But neighbors told reporters Hill had recently returned to the home and was sometimes seen walking around the neighborhood with a gun.

Union Leader Correspondent Melissa Proulx contributed to this report.

Public Safety Salem

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