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Did Guardsman's double life lead to a triple slaying?

Peter Contos had a wife in one town and a girlfriend and two sons in another 15 miles away. And neither woman knew of the other, since he used his post in the Air National Guard as an excuse for his long absences.

If Contos was starting to feel the pressures of keeping his two worlds separate, as some suspect, he didn't wait to get caught in a lie.Instead, he killed the girlfriend and the boys and stashed the youngsters' bodies in his locker at a military base on Cape Cod, authorities say.

Contos, 31, is jailed without bail, charged with murder for allegedly strangling 35-year-old Catherine Rice and their sons, Benjamin, 4, and Ryan, 2 months old, at their apartment in Lowell on Sept. 27.

Only last year, Contos had married Robyn Hetu, and the couple were living in a house in Stoneham that they shared with Hetu's parents.

Within two months, however, Catherine Rice became pregnant with Contos' second child. More recently, he assured her they would get a house together south of Boston.

"She was ecstatic. She thought he was moving in with her, and they were looking for a bigger place, and she thought everything was going well," said Rice's college friend Ann Gale.

Friends said Rice had long believed that it was Contos' Air Force duties that kept him away. He apparently told his wife the same story. (In truth, Contos was no longer in the Air Force; he was in the National Guard and had worked some security jobs.)

Rice even arranged recently to have all her calls forwarded to a cellular phone so she wouldn't miss Contos' calls.

Over the years Contos had refused to meet Rice's parents. He was a shadowy figure in their lives, occasionally mentioned by Benjamin. They thought it was strange but deferred to their daughter's judgment.

More recently, however, Rice had been expecting Contos to be around more often, her parents said. They said she told them he'd be there for the birth of their second child. But she went into labor two weeks early, and on July 21, Contos never responded to her pages, said her mother, Shirley Rice.

Eventually, Rice called her parents, and her father, Cecil Rice, acted as labor coach for Ryan's birth. Still, Catherine Rice gave Ryan his father's last name, something she hadn't done four years earlier when Benjamin was born.

In recent weeks, Rice had brought the two boys to Otis Air Force Base, 75 miles away on Cape Cod, several times to see Contos.