Warning: The following contains disturbing descriptions of violence, including sexual violence. Reader discretion is advised.
On June 20, 2008, a jury found that Sheila LaBarre was sane when she murdered two boyfriends in Epping, New Hampshire. LaBarre admitted to killing Michael Deloge and Kenneth Countie in 2005 and 2006, respectively, claiming God had made her an “avenging angel,” sent to earth to punish pedophiles. In her mind, this included Deloge and Countie, whose remains were found on her 115-acre farm.
“There seemed to be no basis whatsoever in reality to any suggestion or any claim that her victims were pedophiles, engaged in pedophilia or were child abusers. None whatsoever,” Brad Bailey, a defense attorney who represented LaBarre, tells A&E True Crime. “And that, too, was something that informed the insanity defense I pursued at trial.”
The jury rejected LaBarre’s plea, finding her guilty on two counts of first-degree murder and sentencing her to life in prison, where she remains today.
LaBarre’s Early Years and Life Before Her Arrest
At her trial in 2008, psychiatrist Dr. Roger Gray described LaBarre’s childhood as “populated with people who could use her however they wanted and wouldn’t protect her” and “populated with a real threat of death.” He also testified that the painful memories likely contributed to her decisions as an adult. During Gray’s testimony, LaBarre broke down and had to be escorted from the courtroom.
“Her childhood had been nightmarish,” Michael Benson, who wrote a book about LaBarre’s life, “The Burn Farm,” tells A&E True Crime. “She was [sexually and emotionally] abused by her dad and his friends, facts corroborated by her older sister, who also endured the abuse.”
Born in Alabama in 1958, LaBarre graduated from Fort Payne High School in 1976 and had several unsuccessful marriages. She was admitted to a psychiatric facility in the early 1980s after attempting suicide. Ronnie Jennings, her husband at the time, claimed her mood swings often turned violent. “Sheila’s mood disorders were severe enough to cause her to be psychotic at times, but there was not enough evidence to show that mental illness caused Sheila to commit her [future] crimes,” Benson says.
LaBarre moved to Epping, New Hampshire in 1987, after she answered a personal ad placed by local chiropractor Wilfred “Bill” LaBarre. Although she never legally married Bill LaBarre, she took his last name and lived with him until he died in 2000. Claiming she was Bill LaBarre’s common-law wife, LaBarre later inherited his entire estate, including the farm, despite objections from the deceased’s children.
‘Avenging Angel’ Commits Murder on the Farm
“When [LaBarre] was young…she swallowed a bottle of pills, slid into a car and drove until she passed out at the wheel and crashed,” says Benson. “She was rushed to a hospital and spent more than a week in a coma.”
When she awoke, she claimed that she had died and found herself seated at a table with various men who all had long beards. LaBarre insisted one of the men was God.
“She was told [by God] that her work on earth was not through and returned to her life under orders to kill pedophiles, to kill perverts like the men who had hurt her when she was little,” Benson says.
After she lured Deloge and Countie, a young man with a learning disability whom LaBarre met via a personal ad, to her farm, she subjected the men to physical and mental abuse. Prior to Countie’s death, two police officers recalled seeing him in a wheelchair inside a local Walmart, covered in bruises and burns.
“Sheila taped the audio of her torture sessions, tapes she could listen to after the victim was ashes and bones on the lawn, sessions in which she would force her victims to admit they were pedophiles,” says Benson.
Several days after the Walmart sighting LaBarre made a bizarre phone call to Epping police in which she played audio of Countie confessing to being a pedophile. When police conducted a welfare check, they noticed a burn pile containing what looked like a large, fleshy human bone, bone fragments and a pair of sneakers. A search warrant was issued, and authorities arrested LaBarre on April 2, 2006, after she attempted to flee.
“Even after human remains had been found on her property, LaBarre was left alone to destroy evidence while the cops went to get a search warrant,” says Benson. “By the time they got back, the most impressive human bone and the victim’s sneakers were nowhere to be found. “Police conducted a three-week search of LaBarre’s farm, during which they discovered an incinerated mattress, human bones and blood splatter in various locations throughout the house. LaBarre admitted to stabbing Countie to death before burning his body. She also confessed to killing Deloge and burning his body, but it is unknown how he died.
Defense Argues ‘Lack of Criminal Responsibility’
“At the time that I represented her, I would describe Sheila as a severely mentally ill individual,” says Bailey. “Both our mental health experts were in agreement that Sheila was suffering from a substantial mental health disease or defect, such that she could not conform her behavior to the conduct of the law, or appreciate the difference between right and wrong, which is the standard in many states for an insanity defense.”
Based on observations and conversations with LaBarre, including multiple psychiatric evaluations, her defense team deemed there was viable ground to argue a lack of criminal responsibility, as defined by New Hampshire law—even though she admitted to two homicides. (This is called not guilty by reason of insanity in other states.) Also unique in New Hampshire, the burden of proving that someone is insane or not criminally responsible, is on the defense.
“In many other states, such as Massachusetts where my home practice is based, it’s different in that once it’s raised by the defense, the burden is on the prosecution to prove that somebody isn’t faking,” says Bailey. “So, I had the very unusual experience of putting evidence in front of the jury that established how severely mentally ill Sheila was.”
Among the evidence, Bailey and his team described an incident where LaBarre took a hatchet and hacked into a trailer where her boyfriend at the time was sleeping. They also detailed her taking a revolver and firing shots at another boyfriend as he ran through a field. And they brought in witnesses who testified they saw LaBarre order her victims into the trunk of her car and believed she kept the men in cages on her property.
In June 2002, the jury rejected the defense, finding LaBarre guilty of first-degree murder. While it’s difficult to speculate what forms a jury’s basis of opinion, Bailey believes that even if the jury understood lack of criminal responsibility, they likely considered LaBarre a future risk to society.
“In their minds, they might have thought Sheila was too dangerous and that she might one day get out if she was placed in a mental health facility.”
Could LaBarre be a Serial Killer?
LaBarre admitted to and was convicted of two homicides, which meets the FBI’s current definition of a serial killer.
While conducting a search of the LaBarre property in 2006, investigators also discovered three human toes near the farm. A forensic analysis determined the remains did not belong to either Countie or Deloge, and a DNA match has not yet surfaced. There has also been speculation that LaBarre killed Bill LaBarre, an allegation she denies.
LaBarre is currently serving life in prison without the possibility of parole at the New Hampshire Correctional Facility for Women in Concord, New Hampshire.