State seeks ‘cold case’ investigators; unit would try to solve 72 elusive murders

Posted Nov. 18, 2000, at 12 a.m.
Last modified Sept. 28, 2011, at 3:51 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Every year on May 26, the smiling face of Alice Ann Hawkes appears on the obituary page of this newspaper.

An annual message from her family vows “never to forget.”

The 23-year-old brunette who loved holidays and her family bled to death in her Westbrook apartment after someone slit her throat in 1987. Her killer has never been caught.

She is one of 72 people on the state’s list of unsolved homicide victims.

Her family believes they know who killed her. Each year, the memoriam in the Bangor Daily News serves not only as a token of respect for Hawkes, but also as a reminder to the killer that they have not forgotten.

The detective who spent years investigating Hawkes’ murder has long since retired. It’s difficult to know how many times the case has been passed from one detective to another.

“That’s one of our problems,” Paul Gauvreau, head of the criminal division for the State Attorney General’s Office said. “Detectives change jobs, they retire or get reassigned to new duties and these old cases keep getting transferred to new detectives who already have full caseloads that demand immediate attention. It’s difficult for them to really spend the necessary time on these cases, and there is no continuity.”

That problem, along with extraordinary advances in forensic science, has prompted the Attorney General’s Office and the Maine State Police to team up in an effort to form the state’s first cold case squad.

“This has been done in other states and has proved to be very successful,” Gauvreau said.

The proposed squad would consist of a team of three or four detectives and a prosecutor to work solely on old homicide cases.

“We’ve included the special prosecutor in our budget request, which right now is on the governor’s desk,” Gauvreau said. The cost of the prosecutor is estimated at $62,000.

The cost of the four Maine State Police detectives is estimated just under $500,000, according to Col. Michael Sperry of the Maine State Police. He said, however, that the positions are not in the state police budget as it now stands.

Though time is a detective’s biggest enemy when trying to solve a homicide, Gauvreau said that with time and sufficient attention, “I think it’s possible to solve at least two to four of these cases a year.”

The state’s unsolved homicide list involves cases throughout Maine. The following is a county by county breakdown revealing the numbers of cases on the list: Cumberland County, 19; York, 13; Penobscot, 8; Androscoggin, 4; Hancock, 4; Kennebec, 4; Somerset, 4; Aroostook, 3; Lincoln, 3; Waldo, 3; Washington, 3; Oxford, 2; Franklin, 1.

Though the recent confessions of serial killer James Hicks have solved two homicides, ironically neither of his victims, Jerilyn Towers or Lynn Willette, ever made it onto the unsolved homicide list because their bodies were not found until Hicks confessed earlier this fall.

Until their remains were unearthed at sites in Etna and Forkstown Township, the women were listed as missing.

Just under 10 percent of Maine’s homicides go unsolved each year – about 22 each decade for the past thirty years.

The list begins in 1965 with the mysterious murder of Effie MacDonald, a 54-year-old chamber maid at the Bangor House in downtown Bangor.

Her murder by strangulation in a third- floor hotel room sent a wave of terror through the community and prompted speculation that she was killed by the Boston Strangler, whose activity in Boston was just hitting a peak in 1965.

Thirty-five years later, Effie MacDonald’s murder is still legendary in Bangor.

Hope is dim that MacDonald’s killer will ever be identified, but the chances that some of the other 71cases may be solved is not so bleak, according to Gauvreau.

“We’re making a lot of progress now on two or three cases, and I would suspect there may be some interesting news on those cases within the next few months,” Gauvreau said, though not disclosing the cases in question.

Some of the names on the list have become familiar over the years, such as Joyce McLain, a 16-year-old girl from East Millinocket who was killed behind Schenck High School in 1980.

Others are less well known, such as Baby Doe, whose body was brought home by a dog in Frenchville in 1985. It is thought that Baby Doe was born in a gravel pit in Frenchville and left there to die.

There’s the murder of Peter Bassett, a Bangor mail carrier who was shot and killed outside of a State Street bar and Aisha Dickson, a 10-month-old baby who was beaten to death inside her family’s apartment in the Capehart housing development in Bangor.

Proof that today’s technology combined with old-fashioned police work can make a difference is the case of 62-year-old Albert Cochran.

Last year, Cochran was convicted of killing an Oakland woman 23 years earlier.

Prior to 1997, when the case was handed over to the seventh detective to investigate the matter, the Janet Baxter murder was thought unsolvable.

Cochran had long been a prime suspect in the death of the nurse, who was abducted from a shopping center parking lot in Waterville, raped, shot and stuffed into the trunk of a car found later teetering on the banks of the Kennebec River in Norridgewock.

While digging through boxes of evidence 21 years later, state police Detective Mike Mitchell found hair and semen samples – samples taken long before DNA testing was available. The samples were tested and came up with a positive match to Cochran. Cochran was arrested shortly thereafter in Florida where he was living.

But the Cochran case was unusual.

Gauvreau is hoping that a cold case squad could maintain continuity and provide the families of murder victims with new hope that the killer may be caught and held responsible.

At the same time, State Police Sgt. Scott Nichols is gathering data on the state’s unsolved homicides to be put on the Maine State Police web site.

“I’m currently compiling information on all the old unsolved homicides, and we’ll be putting that information out on each case, hoping that it will jog someone’s memory or get somebody to come forth with information,” the sergeant said.

The information will include pictures of the victims when they are available, as well as general information about the case.

“It will have the name of the victim, the age, date it occurred, where it occurred. Not specific investigative information, but vague details that are already known to the public,” he said.

The public would have a direct link from the site that would allow them to e-mail the state police with any information they may have.

“We are hoping that with this site and the possible formation of a cold case squad, we can go back to the old evidence and review what’s there and see if we can bring anything to the crime lab,” Nichols said. “The hope is that either technology or just sometimes a little piece of information that someone has that they may have thought unimportant, can help shake some things loose.

“Sometimes someone has one little bit of information that can make all the difference. … There are people out there with information that for some reason or another are not coming forth,” he said.

Maine’s unsolved homicides

  • Joseph Albert, 4/17/72, Saco
  • Baby Doe, 12/7/85, Frenchville
  • Joseph Baillargeon, 2/7/68, Biddeford
  • Shirley Baldwin, 4/4/76, Lisbon Falls
  • Peter Bassett, 8/13/88, Bangor
  • Ludger Belanger, 11/25/75, Somerville
  • Maxine Bitomski, 1/16/93, Kittery
  • Louise Boccuzo, 6/12/94, Kennebunkport
  • Edna Bouffard, 11/14/74, Calais
  • White; Brackett, 11/18/91, Waterville
  • Jeffrey Bradbury, 3/31/95, Lewiston
  • Dorothea Burke, 6/28/84, Stockton Springs
  • Pamela Campbell, 11/20/82, Holden
  • Charles Carruthers, 5/30/81, Harrison
  • James Cassidy, 4/8/76, Amherst
  • Henry Champagne, 2/14/91, Portland
  • Ellen Choate, 6/26/77, Newport
  • Scott Clement, 11/26/91, Maine
  • Michael Cochran, 2/18/81, Lucerne
  • Rose Consalvi, 7/25/79, Berwick
  • Sean Conway, 1/23/91, Newfield
  • Jenna Crabtree, 8/23/96, Windham
  • Mary Ann Deragon, 9/12/85, Portland
  • Aisha Dickson, 1/6/95, Bangor
  • Tammy Dickson, 2/17/94, Portland
  • Lila Drew, 3/18/77, Masardis
  • Donald Dunlap, 5/6/88, Lewiston
  • Jesse Eddins; Patricia Oakes; Donald Morrill, 2/16/81, Bangor
  • Danny Ellsworth, 4/14/84, Augusta
  • Judy Flagg, 1/10/83, Fayette
  • William Greenwood, 4/30/95, Portland
  • Mervin Grotten, 12/23/83, Belfast
  • Judith Hand, 9/10/71, Farmington
  • Susan Hannah, 4/19/92, Old Orchard
  • Alice Hawkes, 10/4/87, Westbrook
  • Malcolm Hobbs, 10/16/97, North Berwick
  • Maude Holden, 10/28/94, Portland
  • William Holt, 7/16/91, Skowhegan
  • Robert Joyal, 4/14/98, Portland
  • Mary Kelly, 4/26/86, Portland
  • Brian Kowalsczyk, 11/7/86, Winthrop
  • Kenneth Kramer, 11/20/82, Cherryfield
  • Florence Lauze, 8/16/75, Newcastle
  • Vincent Lavopa, 12/7/85, Arundel
  • Raynold Levesque, 4/6/94, Madison
  • Alice Lothrop, 2/12/72, Cape Elizabeth
  • Effie MacDonald, 3/18/65, Bangor
  • Charles Mace, 9/23/74, Kittery
  • David Mair, 7/15/92, Fryeburg
  • Linda Maxwell, 9/28/84, Robbinston
  • Shirley McAvory, 8/8/90, Pittsfield
  • Robert McKee, 6/20/75, Newport
  • Joyce McLain, 8/10/80, East Millinocket
  • Dorothy Milliken, 11/6/76, Lewiston
  • Freda Morrill, 7/7/77, Portland
  • Steven O’Neil, 11/3/89, South Paris
  • Mary Olenchuk, 8/9/70, Ogunquit
  • Ashley Ouellette, 2/10/99, Scarborough
  • Douglas Parent, 10/3/83, Waldoboro
  • Crystal Perry, 5/12/94, Bridgton
  • Beverly Polchies, 10/14/84, Penobscot
  • Arthur Robinson, 11/3/80/ Searsmont
  • Michael Sanborn, 9/16/85, Sanford
  • Rita Sark, 9/27/72, Blaine
  • Raoul Schwartz, 11/12/76, Bridgton
  • Bessie Selek, 4/20/99, Waterboro/Lyman
  • Leslie Spellman, 6/19/77, Northeast Harbor
  • Rita St. Peter, 7/15/80, Anson
  • Mary Ellen Tanner, 7/9/78, Lyman
  • Joyce Tannerillo, 8/25/74, South Portland
  • Angela Thomas, 9/28/90, Brunswick
  • Sarina Towle, 3/25/94/Portland

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