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Man walks alone after wife's unsolved slaying

WALPOLE, Mass. -- Thomas Kennedy uses his shoes to clear the dead leaves from a clearing near a dirt path in Bird Park.

"This is where I found her," he says. "She was lying on her back. She didn't know what hit her."Irene Kennedy, 75, had left her husband during one of the couple's regular morning strolls when someone slashed her throat, head and stomach. Deep bite marks were left on her body.

A year later, police still don't know who it was.

The fear that gripped Bird Park after Irene Kennedy's slaying is still evident. Older women walk in groups. Most single walkers have dogs in tow. Residents living nearby often avoid the park after nightfall or carry weapons for protection.

Tuesday, Kennedy returned to the park as he continues to do. Sometimes, the strolls make him feel closer to Irene. On other days, he scans the gentle hills, wondering if a passer-by could know something about his wife's vicious killing.

Last Dec. 1 was unseasonably warm when he and his wife began their regular stroll at the park near their home in Foxboro, 25 miles southwest of Boston.

Irene, often a faster walker, went in one direction, he in another. At times husband and wife could see each other in the distance because the park was small and the leaves had already fallen.

Kennedy finished his walk and went to the car to wait for his wife.

"I waited 10 minutes, then 10 minutes more," he recalled. "Then I headed back into the woods, and she was there."

Irene's body was covered in blood and naked from the waist down, her clothes strewn nearby. The woman he married more than 50 years ago was dead.

"I couldn't say anything. I didn't touch her. I was numb with shock," he says.

He ran to the car and drove to a groundskeeper's office for help.

In the days that followed, police interrogated Kennedy, even confiscating his jacket and shoes as evidence. He didn't mind: It was proof police were doing everything to find whoever killed the woman with whom he had square-danced, laughed and raised four children.

Hours into the investigation, police thought they had a break.

Search dogs chased a scent to the home of Edmund Burke, a distant relative to the Kennedys who lived on the edge of the park, just a few yards from where the couple's car was parked.

Burke was arrested 10 days later. Reports that dead cat carcasses were found in his freezer made the unemployed loner seem even more like a murder suspect.

But Burke's DNA didn't match evidence, and he was released.

Irene Kennedy's death was the first of three slayings in Norfolk County over the past year that remain unsolved. The district attorney's office has repeatedly refused to speculate on whether the killings are related.

Kennedy's daughter, Susan, 48, hasn't ruled out a connection. She and her family gathered this week at a memorial in the park erected in her mother's honor.

"Everybody's so afraid the public will panic, they are so afraid to say the words 'serial killer,' " she says. "I think the public should panic. I don't think people are safe."

For 78-year-old Thomas Kennedy, at least Irene is now safe.

"I know the Lord is taking good care of her," he says. "I'm not really one for revenge. He'll get his. But I just want someone locked up so he can't do it again."