- Dateline The Secrets of Birch View Drive Recap and Commentary
- Aired January 6, 2023, on NBC with Lester Holt and Andrea Canning
An apparent home invasion leaves a mother dead in a quiet Connecticut community.NBC
After a long holiday hiatus, Dateline is back, baby. And this week’s episode recounts the tale of the murder of Connie Dabate in Ellington, Connecticut.
The episode starts by introducing us to Peggy and Darlene, Connie and Rick Dabate’s neighbors and Connie’s BFFs. they call themselves the three musketeers or the three amigos depending on the day.
On December 13, 2015, Peggy and Darlene saw dozens of cop cars at Connie’s house. Apparently, someone in the house had triggered an alarm that notified 911 of an intruder.
Police quickly arrived on the scene, and the media wasn’t far behind. Initial reports were a home invasion and that the intruder had fled the scene on foot and was still on the run.
Meanwhile, Darlene hid in her bathroom with her children until the police gave her the all-clear. She called Peggy, but neither of them could get in touch with Connie.
With the crime occurring two days before Christmas, holiday decor was out. Isn’t it kind of surreal when crimes are committed in a holly jolly setting?
Rick Dabate was tied to a chair in the kitchen, while his wife Connie was lying dead in a corner in the basement of the Dabate home. Luckily, their two sons, who were six and nine at the time, weren’t home.
Then we get a quick history of Rick and Connie’s relationship. They met and college and fell pretty quickly in love. That’s all we are really told though.
Next, we meet Connie’s best friend Kim Phillips who is very distraught even in interviews today. This has nothing to do with the episode but Kim gives me major Leslie Mann vibes.
Only a few hours after the attack, the police interviewed Rick at the hospital. He had wounds to his head and shoulders and he was conscious. This is the point in the episode where we see this truly bonkers photo of Rick in the hospital and they show it several times throughout the episode. If you weren’t already suspicious of Rick, you would be after seeing him looking at the camera like a comic book villain.
Anyway, Rick claims that he had left for work and realized he had left his laptop, so he returned home. His security system had also been tripped. He heard a bang upstairs, and he assumed it was the cats because they knock things over. And I’m with him so far. If I hear a bang, I immediately think it was my terrorist cat.
But it wasn’t the cats. According to Rick, a giant man in camouflage with a deep voice like Vin Diesel jumped out of the closet in the master bedroom. The intruder had a knife and demanded Rick’s wallet and PIN numbers.
Then the worst happened, Rick heard Connie walk into the house. He yelled at her to run and Vin Diesel chased her into the basement. Rick heard a loud bang.
Then the strange man tied Rick up with zip ties to a folding chair, but only one arm and one leg. Which, what? Then the man tortured Rick with a box cutter and a blow torch.
But because he had one arm free, Rick fought back. The intruder dropped the blow torch and ran. Then he went upstairs to trigger the alarm. I’m not really sure what happened here because then I’m wondering how Rick ended up back in the kitchen still tied to the chair. But it doesn’t matter because we know this story is bogus, right? That’s Dateline for you.
They found the window/door into the basement was open, so is that where the killer escaped? And they found Rick’s wallet in the backyard.
Down in the basement where Connie’s body was lying, investigators found a revolver-the presumed murder weapon. They also found Connie’s cell phone and Fitbit. Keep this in mind because it becomes very important later.
While the neighbors hadn’t seen anything unusual, they almost all mentioned an enemy of the Dabates, Ken Swinney. He was a contractor that they had hired to do some work in a bathroom. He didn’t finish the work and eventually a small claims case was settled with Ken.
So would this guy have the motive to murder the Dabates? According to friends and family, someone put something in their cars’ mufflers and smashed their windshield. The Dabates certainly believed it was Ken. Was Connie killed over a few thousand dollars?
Most of Connie and Rick’s friends and family immediately suspected the contractor. So the police interviewed him. He denied being there and he had been working at another job that morning.
Plus he isn’t tall and he doesn’t sound like Vin Diesel, but could he have convinced someone else to attack the couple for him? I doubt it, but it’s still on the table.
Next up in the episode is Connie’s wake and funeral. And Rick was behaving oddly in most people’s opinions.
This part is hilarious to me. Peggy and Darlene (the three musketeers/amigos, remember?) obviously attend the wake. And when they were finally able to speak to Rick, he asked them how they knew Connie. As if he didn’t know who they were, lol.
Even if he didn’t know how close they were, he most certainly would have known they were neighbors. I have no clue why he would do this. It kind of reminds me of what I used to do when men who I hadn’t talked to or seen in months would text me. I would ask who they were just to make sure they knew they weren’t that memorable. Passive aggressive at its best.
But anyway, Rick was acting weird. He left the wake, the graveside service, and the reception after the funeral early. Not necessarily evidence but this behavior certainly got the rumor mill churning.
The murder occurred two days before Christmas, so the family tried to put on a good Christmas for the boys.
Connie’s family thought Rick was weirdly cold at the festivities. He wouldn’t look his sister-in-law in the eye and was telling too many jokes for Connie’s family’s taste.
Peggy and Darlene also felt that Rick was behaving oddly. He would send them text messages, but if he saw them in person, he would act like he didn’t know who they were.
Now I have to say, as I always do, that this isn’t convincing to me. How a person grieves isn’t the same for everyone and maybe this was his way of coping.
But the community was suspicious of the behavior. He was living the bachelor life by going out to bars and having parties.
The police, like me, don’t really care about rumors though.
Police look at Rick
Investigators were beginning to suspect Rick, but not because of his social habits. They were suspicious because his story kept changing.
First, he heard the gunshots but then later he said he saw Connie be shot. But then even later, he says he wasn’t actually sure if he had been shot.
And his story was inconsistent with the timeline. He claimed that he returned home around 9 a.m., and that the attack happened shortly after. But he didn’t trip the alarm until 10:15 a.m. That’s about an hour or so of time that’s unaccounted for.
Rick told his dad that the police suspected him while he was still in the hospital. So he immediately hired a defense attorney. A good one. And I don’t fault him for this. Say it with me, “I want a lawyer.” Never talk to the police especially if you are innocent.
By the one-year anniversary of Connie’s death, no arrests had been made, but Connie’s family knew it was Rick.
The scent trail
By this point, the contractor had been completely cleared, which only left the police with Rick as a prime suspect.
We learn about a scent dog named Rocky who is such a good boy. He tracked the scent from Rick’s wallet, which was found in the backyard. But instead of heading into the woods where Rick claimed the intruder had fled, Rocky circled back to the front door. Meaning the killer never left.
Rocky tracks the trail one more time, but this time he ends up at the ambulance where Rick was being treated for his injuries. Rocky has solved it, I think.
Rick was arrested on April 14, 2017. But at this point, I’m wondering what Rick’s motive was. But we are about to find out.
The motive (it’s an affair, shocking)
The show wonders how a seemingly perfect marriage end in murder. Escpeically when you take into account the fact that Rick had not criminal history or pattern of violence. But we know what the motive was, right?
Rick was having a longterm affair with a woman named Sara Ganzer. He told police that he had actually been trying to help Sara get pregnant because she couldn’t afford in vitro. And he claimed that the whole thing was Connie’s idea. Yeah right.
But then Sara got pregnant and Rick says that was unexpected. I am so confused by his version of events.
Connie’s friends say that there is no way that Connie would agree to this plan or that she knew about the affair.
And Sara will take the stand at Rick’s eventual trial.
Rick’s trial was delayed several times and it was supposed to begin March 2020, but then there was a whole worldwide pandemic. Have you heard of it?
Remember, Rick was arrested in 2017, but he was out on bail awaiting trial. So he was walking free this whole time.
But then in April 2022, the trial finally got underway. Everyone was eager to hear Rick’s girlfriend Sara’s testimony.
She told the jury that she wasn’t pressuring Rick to leave Connie at all. She didn’t want to break up their family. But she continued to see Rick even after his murder arrest, and I find that odd. Does she believe he’s innocent?
Here comes the smoking gun, and it’s not the revolver that Connie was killed with. It’s the digital evidence that lays out a pretty clear timeline. And that timeline doesn’t fit Rick’s story.
Connie woke up that morning, messaged some friends and put on her Fitbit before heading to the YMCA for some kind of workout class. But she wasn’t there long because the class had been canceled.
She returned home around 9ish a.m. Rick had claimed that the attack happened between 9 and 9:15, but Connie’s Fitbit proves that she was moving until 10 a.m. So Rick was lying.
He was also lying about having left for work. He never left the property. So the prosecution argued that Rick waited on Connie to return home and had to build up the courage to lure her into the basement before killing her and staging the crime scene.
But Rick’s defense says that Fitbit isn’t reliable evidence. And unidentified DNA was found in six places in the home. The DNA seems to support Rick’s story. I would love to know more about this DNA, but that’s all we really get.
And before we cut to Lester Holt and a commercial break, we find out that Rick took the stand in his own defense. I doubt that will go well.
It didn’t go well. The prosecutor easily poked holes in his timeline. And the prosecutor repeatedly emphasized the Vin Diesel thing and how absurd it was. But Rick stuck to his story.
The jury only deliberated a day before finding Rick guilty. He was sentenced to 65 years in prison.
Both Rick and Connie’s families still mourn Connie’s death.
This was a solid return for Dateline. Let me know what you thought of the episode and the case in the comments below!