MEDWAY, Maine — Internationally renowned forensic experts Dr. Michael Baden and Dr. Henry Lee will learn today whether the body of homicide victim Joyce McLain is as remarkably well-preserved as the vault and casket found during Thursday’s exhumation.
Baden and Lee will perform forensic examinations at the state chief medical examiner’s office in Augusta in search of new evidence. They hope to help solve a tragic mystery that has cast a pall over the Katahdin region since the 16-year-old Schenck High School sophomore was found bludgeoned to death near the school’s soccer field on Aug. 10, 1980. She had disappeared two days before.
No one could assess the body’s condition Thursday, but the 30 investigators and family members gathered at the Grindstone Road Cemetery were astonished to find an intact vault seal and a vault and metallic coffin that looked almost new. State police detectives kept marveling about the almost pristine condition of the coffin, said town Public Works Department Director Greg Hale, a cousin of McLain’s.
“The casket looked in remarkable, exceptional shape,” said Stephen McCausland, state police spokesman.
“This has gone the way I expected it to,” said a buoyant Pamela McLain, the victim’s mother. “Everything is perfect. If this is what the coffin looks like, who knows what evidence is inside?
“Everything was in such good shape that I believe there’s a chance, a big chance, that this will get solved,” McLain added. “Everything fell into place.”
“They have a really good group of people working on this,” said East Millinocket Police Chief Garold “Twig” Cramp, whose department covers Medway. “Her forensic guys kept telling her, ‘If the casket is in good shape, we can do a lot.’ They can definitely work with this.”
The only mar was a few inches of groundwater seepage that Public Works Department workers gingerly shoveled from the vault floor after the coffin was removed from the sandy soil. No one could say what impact the water might have.
“I have more hope today than I had 28 years ago,” McLain said.
McLain asked Baden to intervene after rejecting arguments from Deputy Attorney General William R. Stokes, who was advised by state forensic experts that exhumation would likely uncover no new evidence — an opinion Baden and Lee share.
McLain friends revitalized the Justice for Joyce Committee earlier this year, and together they raised about $18,000 to pay the expenses of Baden, who sought Lee’s aid.
Some people might consider it melancholy or even grisly to dig up a loved one’s casket, but McLain said she had 28 years to prepare.
She seemed unfazed, even cheerful as media watched from 100 yards away and Public Works Department laborers Rick Albro, Joel Stanley and Dusty Cramp, Garold’s cousin, methodically unearthed the vault and state forensic technicians gathered sod and topsoil from the grave for examination.
McLain carried a small travel mug and chain-smoked cigarettes as she paced behind the yellow police tape state police set. She wore bluejeans and a T-shirt picturing a frazzled cat bearing its claws with the caption reading, “Feeling Stressed!”
“I’m not,” McLain said wryly, “and this is what I wear when I’m not.
“I have fought and been rejected and fought again, but this is the time,” she said. “If this had happened 20 years ago, I would not have been as prepared for it as I am now.”
State police have disagreed with her occasional criticism of their performance, but they have always respected McLain for her passion and tenacity, McCausland said.
“She’s worked extremely hard to get to this point,” said McCausland, who called McLain’s efforts “Herculean.” He has previously stated that her efforts also revitalized a state police investigation that has produced several suspects and many theories but no arrests.
“Now we have to see if there’s any new evidence here,” he said. “We’ll do everything we can with it.”