In Vermont, blotting an old stain on a town's reputation

NEWBURY, Vt. (AP) A macabre, decades-old secret hangs over this New England farm town hugging the Connecticut River. A retired judge thinks he has unlocked it.

Prosperous but unpopular dairy farmer Orville Gibson disappeared in the wee hours of New Year's Eve 1957. Searchers pulled his bound body from the river nearly three months later.

The case remains officially unsolved, but it's been widely accepted for decades that a small mob of drunken townspeople incensed by rumors that Gibson had beaten his elderly hired man kidnapped him, tied him up and threw him in a car trunk, where he suffocated. They threw his body into the river.

The crime was deemed a "lynching" by editorial writers from Boston to Washington to the civil rights-era South. (All the players in Vermont were white, but white supremacists in the South used the story to cry they were being unfairly singled out for the mob killings of black men.) The story spread across the globe, even earning a feature in Life magazine.

"You can go anywhere, quite a ways off, and if you say you're from Newbury they'll bring it up," said Eleanor Placey, 72, who was related to Gibson by marriage.

Two men later went on trial but were both acquitted.