Friends and clients of a couple that fled a high-pressure lifestyle for a more simple one on a farm several years ago now wonder what signs they may have overlooked that might explain the violent way James and Lizette Eckert died last month.
The couple had three children – a biological daughter, 15, and two sons, ages 11 and 13, they adopted from Russia when the boys, who are brothers, were just 2 and 4.
James and Lizette Eckert were found by police in the New Hampshire farmhouse they lived in since moving from Maine in 2012, on the floor, bleeding. Lizette was dead, James was taking his last breaths. Both had been shot once in the head.
Police announced the arrest of an 11-year-old about two hours later, and have charged him with two counts of second-degree murder, according to a press release by state and local police. The release said the boy’s identity and other information are being withheld because he is a minor.
The Boston Globe, in an extensive story on the parents, said that two people who are knowledgeable about the investigation say the alleged killer is the Eckerts’ youngest son.
Few details were offered about the youngest son, other than the observation by those who had been around the Eckerts that he was quiet and that, back in Maine, he cried a lot, according to the Globe.
The Eckerts ran their own chiropractic business in New Hampshire, drawing a broad base of devoted clients who described them as miracle workers and lived expensively. They seemed always to be renovating their large home, they had a Mercedes camper, a boat and timeshares, the Boston Globe reported.
They also went full-throttle into their business, dedicated to giving their patients relief from pain and taking a comprehensive approach to their health.
James Eckert, who was 48 when he died (Lizette was 50), wrote in a local newspaper several years ago: "I desire to help the newborn, the aged, and those without hope…I choose to care for the patient with the disease, not the disease…I wish to assist rather than intrude, to free rather than control.”
Their lavish lifestyle, the Globe reported, caught up with the Eckerts, who started missing mortgage payments on their Maine property and were hounded by bill collectors. They ran into trouble with the Internal Revenue Service, which assessed the couple more than $100,000.
Neighbors saw a change in the family as their financial downward spiral continued.
James stopped working, they had stopped maintaining their property, and the children seemed unsupervised.
Then one day, abruptly, they left Maine for the farmhouse in New Hampshire that Lizette’s father was said to have bought for the couple, the Globe reported.
The Eckerts voiced disgust with the court system and the government in general.
They homeschooled their children.
While some Maine neighbors said they had been standoffish, their New Hampshire ones said they were very engaged at church and in the community. They resumed chiropractic care and again built a following of satisfied patients.
One of them, Virginia Adams, wrote on the couple’s obituary page: “I would see Dr. Jim twice a week and was always greeted with a cheerful, ‘How's your day?’ His office was a social gathering, a place to see friends, get advice and share a story. I feel so sad. I can't imagine what the family is going through. Hopefully, their faith will bring some comfort.”
Those who interacted with them said they never betrayed any concern about any of their children.
Gertrude Hammond, director of religious education and youth ministry at St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Alton, told the Union Leader newspaper shortly after the murders: “They were here last weekend for our annual parish bingo. They were here for Mass. They were here for youth night. The boys are altar servers. They’re just an integral part of the parish."
The Globe noted that on her Facebook page, Lizette’s “likes” suggested an interest in the topic of kids who are traumatized.
She “liked” the television show "Disconnected Kids, Reconnected Families" and a page for parents of children who have experienced trauma and have problems connecting with others.
Police have not disclosed how the 11-year-old suspect got his hands on a gun or what may have compelled him to murder the Eckerts.
Meanwhile, Lizette’s mother, Diane Kennedy, has established a GoFundMe page to raise money for the Eckert children.
“The terrible impact of losing Lizette and Jim will be felt by their children for many years to come,” she wrote. “Because the story has been in the news, we are doing all we can to protect the children from excess attention, while still allowing the community that loves them so much and so well to help them in ways that will make a lasting impact.”