Police stop drivers passing by murder site

Posted Dec. 11, 1999, at 12:53 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 24, 2010, at 12:56 p.m.

DEXTER, Maine — Hoping for a break, police Friday handed out fliers and questioned drivers passing by the home where a young woman and toddler were shot to death eight days ago.

“Good morning. We’re investigating a double murder that occurred last Friday between the hours of 8 and 11 a.m.,” uniformed and plainclothed officers told driver after driver at a roadblock on Center Street, the main road through town.

“If you should happen to have been driving by and saw anything out of the ordinary, please give us a call,” they said. “We want you to know we’re working just as hard as we can.”

Police investigators had questioned a handful of people who had offered information they thought might be useful. They declined to reveal what those people said.

Investigators set up the roadblock one week after Mindy Gould, 20, and Treven Cunningham, the 21-month-old son of one of Gould’s close friends, were killed.

Gould’s older sister, Melanie Bragg, discovered the two bodies around 11 a.m. Dec. 3 at her home at 136 Church St. Gould, who had lived with her sister, had been baby-sitting the little boy.

Both victims had been shot once in the head, authorities have said.

Maine State Police detectives have spent much of the past week combing through the gray and white home, which sits on the main road through town. They have interviewed dozens of people, hoping to obtain leads that could help them arrest someone.

So far, investigators have repeatedly declined to identify possible suspects or reveal whether they have found the murder weapon.

State police Lt. Darrell Ouellette would say only that technicians at the state police crime laboratory in Augusta were analyzing ballistics evidence and DNA samples taken from the home. He declined to elaborate.

“We’re progressing, every day,” Ouellette said Friday morning. “We’re optimistic we’re going to make an arrest soon.”

Gould recently had moved in with her sister and her sister’s boyfriend, Alan LaFountain, after ending a troubled relationship in southern Maine.

Three days before she was killed, Gould had obtained a yearlong restraining order against her ex-boyfriend, Jeffrey Cookson, 36, of New Gloucester. She claimed he had stalked her.

The mother of the slain little boy, Cassie Cunningham, 19, of Dexter, had supported Gould as she sought the court order, relatives have said.

Cookson’s attorney, Dale Thistle of Newport, has confirmed that police detectives had briefly detained his client in the Piscataquis County Jail the day of the deaths. But he has said the Attorney General’s Office later found no reason to hold him.

Cookson has denied involvement in the slayings, Thistle said earlier this week. Investigators have declined to say whether they consider him a suspect.

“Certainly, we don’t want to jump too quickly,” Ouellette said. “We want to build probable cause before we make an arrest.”

Outside the Dexter home Friday, as many as nine officers from the state police, Dexter Police Department and Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department stopped motorists passing by in each direction.

At times, lines of cars and trucks formed as the drivers rolled down their windows and the officers approached, told them about the murders and handed out pink and lime-green fliers with photos of the victims.

On the steps of the nearby two-story home lay a pot of wildflowers and two bouquets, each containing a single red rose.

Gone were the cardboard Christmas scenes, garland and icicle lights that had adorned the home. All that remained were two scarlet bows.

At one point, Bragg, Gould’s sister, stopped by and placed a vine wreath on one of the home’s white shutters. It included a pair of white teddy bears dressed as angels, an emerald bow, and a picture of the two victims, taken shortly before they died.

After dropping off the wreath, Bragg quickly drove off without speaking to reporters.

“Going into our eighth day, everybody’s pretty drained, physically and emotionally,” Ouellette said.

Homicide investigators often will establish roadblocks at crime scenes if they haven’t made an arrest within seven days, Ouellette said.

Sometimes, someone will remember a detail that could provide the missing link. Ouellette, a veteran homicide detective, has seen it happen before.

In February, state police set up a roadblock outside a Kenduskeag home seven days after 40-year-old Katherine Poor was found stabbed to death in an apartment on Route 15.

At one point, someone passing by recalled that Poor, who didn’t smoke, routinely emptied ashtrays soon after smokers left her apartment. But when her body was found, the ashtrays were full, investigators said at the time.

Police investigators later arrested a suspect after analyzing the DNA in saliva samples from filter cigarette butts found at the scene. Frank A. Higgins of East Corinth, a 36-year-old acquaintance of Poor’s, was arrested 10 days after the murder and now awaits trial.

Ouellette is hoping for a similar break in Dexter.

“Sometimes,” he said, “all we need is a missing piece of the puzzle.”

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