By James Niedzinski
---- — GLOUCESTER — One of the two men charged with murder 35 years after a 1976 killing inside a local funeral home has had his trial pushed back to late this spring because of his own health issues in jail.
Norman Pike, an alleged accomplice in a botched 1976 Pike Funeral Home robbery that led to the murder of Eleanor Wadsworth, has had his trial date, originally set for March 3, moved back to June.
The trial is now set to begin June 4 to allow Pike to recover from what has been described as a case of internal bleeding; because of that, he has been unable to help his defense attorney prepare his case, officials said.
Carrie Kimball Monahan of the Essex County District Attorney’s office said Thursday that the trial date was moved at a status hearing held Tuesday at Salem Superior Court. The date was agreed upon by the prosecutor, Pike’s lawyer Thomas Ford, and the judge.
Prosecutors have said that Pike — now 55, but then the 19-year-old grandson of the funeral home’s owner — was with Kevin Ireland, 56, and a third man, Richard “Josh” Kennedy, when they entered what was then Pike’s Funeral Home on Middle Street on Dec. 2, 1976 with plans to steal $1,400 from a second-floor safe.
According to police, Wadsworth, the funeral home’s 65-year-old manager, walked in on them during the robbery and was shot three times in the head; police have said they believe that Kennedy, who died in 2003 in Florida, was the shooter.
Days after Wadsworth’s death, the younger Pike left Gloucester for California. And the case remained unsolved for more than three decades, before being reopened in 2009 by Gloucester’s then chief of detectives, Michael Lane, and Detective Steven Mizzoni.
Because the murder was committed while the perpetrators were committing another felony — robbery — Pike and Ireland were charged with first-degree murder, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison in Massachusetts. The two were arrested in 2010 and Pike fought extradition from California, where he was allegedly living for years under the alias Dan Franklin.
The murder charge against Ireland — who had remained in Gloucester — was dropped in March 2012 after he agreed to plea to a lesser charge of breaking and entering and agreeing to cooperate with police against Pike. Ireland had also built up time served from the date of his March 2010 arrest to his plea agreement last year.
Officials from the Essex County Sheriff’s Department confirmed Thursday that Pike was in Middleton jail despite his health problems.
Pike, who had fought extradition following his arrest, had initially been sent to Bridgewater State Hospital for psychiatric evaluation in May 2010 afer being returned from California to Massachusetts.
The funeral home, now known as Pike-Grondin, continues to operate at 61 Middle St.
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at email@example.com.