Joseph "Chip" Troiano represents Caledonia District 2 in the House. Troiano worked for more than 30 years as a defense investigator in Vermont. The job allowed him to make use of his skill as a photographer, which is currently on display at the Statehouse.
Troiano worked for Vermont’s defender general, as well as two high-profile law firms in St. Johnsbury. His clients ranged from a man convicted in a double homicide in Derby to a man acquitted of driving a lawn tractor without a license in Island Pond. Troiano retired last summer after 34 years as a defense investigator. He says not everyone is cut out for the job.
“My wife tells me that I’ve got a gift of being able to encounter people and engage people and schmooze, I guess, is the term that some people would use,” says Troiano. “If you don’t feel comfortable going up to a house and knocking on a door, not knowing who is going to answer it, with the intent to engage that person who may not want to talk to you, then you’re not made to do this work.”
In the early 1980s, Troiano worked on a rape and abduction case that involved the first use of post-traumatic stress disorder as a defense in Vermont. He interviewed scores of people for another case in which a man shot to death his wife’s lover at a gas station in Orleans.
Richard Rubin is an attorney with the Barre law firm Rubin, Kidney, Meyer & Vincent. He’s worked with Troiano on criminal cases for many years.
“Every murder case, every significant felony case needs an investigator,” Rubin said.
“Many of these investigators, they don’t call ahead. That’s how they get their information. And if they call ahead, they don’t get that information,” Rubin explains. “Unless you’re prepared to go back to someone’s house four times on a freezing cold night 10 miles from the Canadian border and wait till they get home and deal with their dogs, you don’t get the job done. And that is a rare person who’s willing to do that. And that’s Chip Troiano. He'll go back and back and back until he gets that person to talk to him.”
Troiano has seen the methods and technology used in investigative work evolve over the decades.
“When you’ve got bullet holes in walls and you’re trying to determine where they were shot from, now the police use lasers,” says Troiano. “Actually, I do have a laser that I can use. But the old fashioned way was to put a pencil in the bullet hole and that would send you in the direction of which it was fired. I remember doing old-fashioned investigations that way.”
Troiano has been passionate about photography for much of his life. After he served as an infantryman and helicopter gunner in Vietnam, Troiano studied photography at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.
He gained a reputation around Vermont as a forensic photographer who could be called on to document crime scenes. His photographs of blood droplets on a wall or pry marks on a windowsill have been useful to defense lawyers.
But his great love is landscape photography.
Follow Troiano up to the office on the second floor of his home in Stannard and he'll pull up on a computer screen photos of his world travels.
“Here are some monks rehearsing dance moves,” Troiano says as he clicks through his photos. “That’s Abel Tasman National Forest. Look at the fern trees. We saw some of the most interesting cloud formations in Patagonia. This woman is lugging all these fruits and this woman is selling out of her three-wheeled bicycle with an umbrella on top.”
The women selling fruit were photographed in Vietnam. Troiano’s Vietnam pictures, as well as his photos from Patagonia, New Zealand and Bhutan will be exhibited in the Statehouse cafeteria during February.
“My ambition is to present beautiful photos of places that many people aren’t able to go to, so they can travel through my photographs,” he explains. “And all the shows seem to be successful at doing that. People come to me and say, 'Wow, what a beautiful place.'”
Even though Troiano retired as a defense investigator in July, there are some who are a little skeptical about him being permanently retired.
“He’s retired until something really interesting comes along,” says attorney Richard Rubin. “Being an investigator is in his blood, so, he says he’s retired but something comes along, we’ll see how retired he is."
Pressed on the question of whether he might return to work as an investigator, Troiano says that since his paycheck as a legislator stops in the middle of May and doesn’t resume until the beginning of January, returning to his work as a gumshoe is certainly a possibility.