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House-Dad Charged in Wife’s Death

October 20, 1997

READING, Mass. (AP) _ To his neighbors, Edward Donahue was a good guy: a stay-at-home dad who drove kids to Cub Scouts and did volunteer work.

But one town away, where his wife Elaine worked double shifts as a nurse to support their four children and her husband’s gambling habit, her friends immediately suspected him the moment she disappeared a month ago.

Prosecutors say the friends were closer to the truth as Donahue, 44, was arraigned Monday on murder charges. He allegedly bludgeoned his wife to death in their bedroom, stashed her body in the basement for weeks and led vigils for her safe return.

Then, as police closed in, Donahue allegedly bought a 50-gallon plastic container, stuffed his wife’s body inside and rented a storage locker to hide it in.

He pleaded innocent and was held without bail.

A tearful group of about 25 nurses and hospital employees went to court to see the man who joined them in vigils, even as his wife’s body lay wrapped in blankets and plastic in his cluttered basement.

``I can’t believe he led us all down the street like that. He walked with us from Reading to Stoneham, with his children in front,″ said nurse Jeanne Smith, who worked with Elaine Donahue for 14 years.

One friend told prosecutors that Elaine had said if anything ever happened to her, they should assume her husband was involved.

When Mrs. Donahue, who was known for being punctual, didn’t show up on time for work Sept. 18, her co-workers called her husband, who said she had gone shopping and was likely on her way. When she was an hour and a half late, the head nurse called her home again, then called police.

Talk at the hospital was openly suspicious of Ed Donahue. Co-workers said they knew Elaine Donahue worked extra shifts partly to cover his gambling debts, and although there was no indication of previous violence, they knew that she had been afraid of him.

Debbie Leone, another co-worker who posted flyers at a mall seeking information on Mrs. Donahue’s disappearance, said, ``He came to me and said, `Can I have some flyers? The kids want to go around to the stores and ask if anyone’s seen their mom.′ I lost it right there.″

Three neighborhood mothers waiting for the school bus Monday had also joined Donahue on the march. They described him as mild-mannered and a good father, and said nobody thought twice about sending their children to play at his home.

Despite his apparent good nature, the couple’s marital problems were no secret. Neighbors said they knew the Donahues weren’t happy but thought they had an agreement to put their problems aside and stay together for their children.

After the searches and flyers and vigils, a break in the case came Thursday when police convinced Ed Donahue to allow them to search his home with cadaver-sniffing dogs on Friday.

Thursday afternoon, police got a call from a suspicious clerk at a hardware store, saying Donahue had purchased a 50-gallon plastic container.

When they told him they planned to return with a court order to search his house, Donahue apparently stuffed the body in the container and drove it out of town. Then he allegedly tried to hide a mattress soaked through with blood.

The 43-year-old nurse’s body was found in the plastic container in a storage locker in nearby Lynnfield early Sunday. Police said Donahue rented the locker on Thursday.

The children were staying with relatives of their mother, police said.

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