FORT JOHNSON – The 2019 death of a Fort Johnson mother is being investigated as suspicious and her husband is considered a “person of interest” in that investigation, Montgomery County Sheriff Jeffery Smith confirmed Friday.
The sheriff confirmed the information a day after details of the investigation were released at a federal court appearance for the dead woman’s husband, Michael D. Darling, in a federal Gloversville-based pipe bomb case.
Kristine M. Howland Darling, 44, the mother of a young teenage daughter, died at her Fort Johnson residence Feb. 6, 2019.
Her death involved a gunshot and has remained an active investigation by the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department for two years, Smith said. The department is working on the investigation with the state police.
“We continue to work hard to get all the facts and details to determine exactly what happened,” Smith said.
Smith also encouraged anyone with information about Kristine Darling’s death to contact investigators at 518-853-5500.
Michael Darling also faces federal charges of possessing pipe bombs at his Gloversville residence on Feb. 12.
Kristine M. Howland Darling grew up in Gloversville and graduated from Gloversville High School, her obituary read. She was an employee at the Wilkinson Residential Health Care Facility in Amsterdam.
She left behind her beloved daughter.
“Kristine was a very bubbly, social person, almost a life-of-the-party person,” lifelong friend Megan Rizzo said Friday. “Just everyone liked her.”
Family and friends have always had suspicions about her death, Rizzo said. Those suspicions surfaced publicly on Facebook last month as Rizzo, after discussions with the family, started a page titled simply “Seeking Justice for Kristine Howland.”
Talk of her death being a suicide started early after her death, Rizzo said Friday. She first heard that from Kristine’s husband, Michael Darling, Rizzo said, when he called her as a close friend of Kristine’s to inform her of Kristine’s death. Michael Darling and Kristine Howland Darling married in 2014.
Darling told Rizzo that Kristine had committed suicide, Rizzo said.
“My immediate thought when I was told she committed suicide was there was no way she committed suicide,” Rizzo said. “That was not her personality. Her daughter was her absolute world. She would never leave her daughter.”
Darling, 41, allegedly repeated the suicide account to federal probation officials this past week, after his arrest in the Gloversville pipe bomb case.
In an interview with those officials, according to federal prosecutor Robert A. Sharpe, Darling “referenced that one of his prior wives had purportedly, in terms of what he’s communicated, committed suicide approximately two years ago.
“The government has been advised that that’s not necessarily the position of law enforcement,” Sharpe told the court, “that that incident continues to be investigated.”
Sharpe referenced several aspects of the Kristine Howland Darling death investigation, though not by her name, at a hearing Thursday to determine whether Michael Darling would be held pending trial in the federal pipe bomb case. Sharpe argued that Darling was a flight risk because, among other things, he is being investigated in his wife’s death.
A final decision on Darling’s custody status in the pipe bomb case was delayed until this coming week at the request of his defense attorney Joseph M. McCoy.
McCoy on Friday declined to offer further comment from Thursday’s hearing, including comment on the death investigation.
The federal pipe bomb case against Darling began Feb. 12 when his girlfriend and family expressed concern that he might harm himself, authorities have said. They reported he left a suicide note.
Police entering his residence at 14 McLaren St. with his girlfriend did not find him, but they saw what turned out to be six pipe bombs in plain view, federal authorities have said. Investigators later found other components in the residence.
Authorities eventually caught up with Darling on Feb. 14 at St. Mary’s Hospital, where he’d sought mental health assistance, Sharpe said.
Between Feb. 12 and Feb. 14, however, authorities believe Darling fled to North Carolina with two bags with guns, before returning.
Darling, Sharpe noted, was no longer allowed to possess guns after a 2009 Fulton County felony burglary case.
He pleaded guilty in that case to third-degree burglary in exchange for a 16-month-to-4-year sentence. He admitted then to returning to the home of an elderly woman where he had made minor improvements as a contractor and taking lock boxes of coins and jewelry while she was away, according to officials at the time. He then sold coins at a Schenectady pawn shop and other items were found at his residence.
The felony conviction made him ineligible to possess firearms, something Darling knew, the federal prosecutor said.
Kristine Howland Darling lived in Fort Johnson with Michael at the time of her death, Rizzo said. Kristine, listed as Kristine M. Darling in county records, owned the home there on Fort Johnson Avenue. She is listed as taking ownership in November 2017, county records show, about 14 months before she died. She was listed as the sole owner.
After Kristine’s death, family and friends let it publicly rest for a while, before deciding to take it public with the Facebook page last month as the anniversary of her death approached, Rizzo said.
Privately, though, Rizzo said, they reached out to authorities to ensure they were aware that the Kristine they knew would not have committed suicide.
Of the Facebook page, Rizzo said it’s about helping authorities find out what happened.
“The purpose of our page is not to accuse anybody,” Rizzo said, “but we want to gather any information, any contacts or resources we can get to assist police to come to a conclusion and answers.”