Family mourn two dead in Dexter; investigation continues

Posted Dec. 07, 1999, at 1:05 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 24, 2010, at 1:06 p.m.

GARLAND — The faces of the dead stared up at the living in Arthur Jette’s kitchen.

Three days after the double murder in nearby Dexter, friends and relatives gathered Monday to mourn and to remember a young woman struggling to get on with her life — and a little boy just beginning to live his.

Snapshots of Mindy Gould, 20, and Treven Cunningham, the 21-month-old son of one of Gould’s close friends, covered the kitchen table in the Jette household. Jette, the little boy’s stepgrandfather, has made his rural home a sanctuary, a safe place where family members can share their grief.

As they leafed through pictures of the pretty young woman and the blond-haired, blue-eyed boy, family members wept and embraced, struggling to confront the senseless crime.

A memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday at Dexter Regional High School.

“We’re just going to stay together until this is over,” Jette, a former Garland selectman, said Monday afternoon.

“The only good we could hear is that there had been an arrest,” he said.

Gould’s older sister, Melanie Bragg, discovered the victims’ bodies late Friday morning at her home at 136 Church St. in Dexter. Gould, who lived with her sister, had been baby-sitting the little boy.

Both victims had been shot once in the head, the state Medical Examiner’s Office has reported.

Maine State Police detectives spent the weekend combing through the home on the main road through town. On Sunday, divers unsuccessfully searched the nearby Wassookeag River for the gun used in the killings.

State police Monday remained guarded, saying only that they continue to pursue leads.

“Some of these cases take longer than others, but we’re determined to find whomever is responsible for these killings,” Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety, said Monday afternoon.

Gould recently had moved in with her sister and her sister’s boyfriend, Alan LaFountain, after ending a relationship in New Gloucester. The murders happened Friday morning at their Dexter home.

On Nov. 30, Gould had obtained a restraining order in Newport District Court against her ex-boyfriend, Jeffrey Cookson, 36, of New Gloucester.

In a statement given to the court on Nov. 10, Gould wrote that Cookson had stalked her.

One night, she wrote, he had stood outside as she watched movies at a friend’s home, then later confronted her. He called her a “slut” and asked why she had been “stringing him along.” She then went to her sister’s home and called the police, after Cookson threatened to “pay a visit” to one of her friends, according to the document.

“Jeff asked me to tell [the officer] what he did,” she wrote. ” … He kept looking at me until the cop told him to leave.”

Efforts to reach Cookson by telephone Monday evening were unsuccessful. His attorney, Dale Thistle of Newport, declined to divulge Cookson’s whereabouts. He said his client had disputed the young woman’s claim, saying Cookson simply had attempted to learn the status of their relationship during that confrontation.

Thistle confirmed that police detectives briefly had detained Cookson on Friday in the Piscataquis County Jail. But he said the Attorney General’s Office later found no reason to hold him.

Cookson has denied involvement in the murders.

“He thought he might be considered a suspect, given the protection order,” Thistle said.

“His words were, `I’m devastated by this,”‘ Thistle said. “He has no idea who might have done this.”

Investigators have declined to say if Cookson is a suspect.

“I’m not getting into who we’ve talked to and who we haven’t,” McCausland said.

As investigators continued to search for the killer, family members sought to remember the victims.

Bragg, Mindy Gould’s sister, said the young woman only recently had begun to get her life on track.

Gould, the youngest of five children, spent her childhood in Corinna and Bradford. She had struggled in school and eventually quit after the eighth grade. Afterward, she lived off and on with Bragg, who is 15 years her senior. Gould helped keep house and care for her four nephews.

“She didn’t have an enemy,” Bragg recalled Monday, surrounded by family members on a couch in the Jette home.

Gould had moved away about three years ago, when she met Cookson, and returned home after breaking up with him about one month ago.

“She just kept telling people she was going to leave him,” Bragg said. “We had just got her back.”

The day of the murders, Gould awoke and got ready early, knowing she would be baby-sitting Treven. Bragg then kissed her younger sister, said goodbye and left for work.

That was the last time she saw her alive.

“She was happy that morning. She was going to have Treven,” Bragg recalled.

“I’m so glad I had her this past month,” she continued, fighting tears. “She was so happy.”

Treven’s mother, Cassie Cunningham of Dexter, was Gould’s best childhood friend.

She, too, recalled how Gould seemed to be headed on the right track, perhaps for the first time. Gould had talked about getting a driver’s license, a job at Wal-Mart and an apartment with Cunningham.

“We did everything together,” Cunningham recalled.

Gould loved, perhaps most of all, to spend time with Treven.

Cunningham, now 19, gave birth to the boy in February 1998, during her junior year at Dexter Regional High School. She was 17.

Shortly after the birth, Cunningham returned to school, attending an alternative program to finish out the year. She graduated with her class last spring.

From the start, she recalled, she knew Treven was special.

He would stare at people, as if to size them up, then smile and let them know they were all right. He loved to play with toy trucks, matchbox cars and his musical Winnie the Pooh.

During her senior year in high school, Cunningham joined the winter cheerleading team. Treven became their mascot.

“I took him to practice with me,” she recalled, chuckling through tears at the memory. “He used to run around in his little walker.”

Just a few weeks ago, Cunningham had portraits made of Treven. He flashes his disarming smile in all of them, wearing a sweat shirt in yellow, his favorite color.

That portrait lay on the table in Jette’s kitchen Monday, along with candid shots of Treven pretending to steer his grandfather’s van, playing outside, relaxing with his grandfather. One portrait shows Gould holding the little boy, shortly before they both died.

Pictures are all anyone has now.

“He was just a neat little kid,” said Jette. “He was just lovable.”

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