"He trusted too much," Larry Saltus said. "He was a very trusting soul. Very trusting."
A trust that Larry Saltus says ended in tragedy for his close friend, Ralph Bell. Bell was allegedly murdered by the one man who was supposed to love him.
"Ralph was very much taken with Danny," Saltus said.
Friends say Bell was immediately drawn to his next-door neighbor, Daniel Whalon, 25. And within days of meeting, the two struck up a secret relationship. But they say the intermittent love affair was rocky and often violent.
"First he used to always say, well, Danny doesn't know his own strength, he doesn't mean it. But right in my kitchen one day Danny picked him up and threw him against my sink," Saltus said.
Police now say that violence escalated to murder between Monday night and Tuesday morning on a train bridge in Burlington.
"Whalon stabbed Bell in the chest and neck causing fatal injuries. Subsequent to that Bell fell 50 feet over a sheer cliff," Burlington Police Chief Mike Schirling said.
According to court papers, Bell invited Whalon to go for a walk Monday night. Whalon told police Bell was jealous of his new relationship with a woman. When the two reached the so-called blue bridge, Whalon said Bell tried to have sex with him anyway and he fought him off by stabbing him with a knife that he says he randomly found on the ground. Whalon said he panicked after Bell stumbled and fell off the bridge. To cover his tracks, Whalon returned home and wrote a fake note pretending to be Bell, claiming he was going to be in New York for a few weeks.
"We have someone who has lost their life. Family members are grieving right now. So any time you're dealing with a case like this, it is a tragedy," Chittenden County Prosecutor T.J. Donovan said.
The state will be seeking a second-degree murder conviction which carries a penalty of 20 years to life in prison.
"The facts outlined in the affidavit support a second-degree murder charge at this time," Donovan said.
Whalon has a criminal history in Vermont dating back to 2002, including numerous property crimes, frauds and misdemeanor assaults.
In court Friday he declined to enter a plea, so he will be back in court Monday. In the meantime he is being held without bail.
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