MEDWAY, Maine — To the Rev. Ralph Jacobs, God has been leaving his fingerprints all over the Joyce McLain case lately.
East Millinocket’s Pentecostal Lighthouse Church pastor, who presided over the reinterment of the body of Joyce McLain at a graveside service Saturday, believes the intuition that compelled Pamela McLain to start pressing nine months ago for new DNA testing of her daughter’s remains was a nudge from God.
The Justice For Joyce Committee’s raising $20,000 for the homicide victim’s exhumation, and the donations, had God all through them, Jacobs said. So was the highly improbable pristine condition of the body, which was exhumed Thursday after 28 years of interment, and the equally unlikely discovery of forensic evidence Friday.
“When you think of everything, from the preservation of the body to the way everybody’s working together — wow. Whether you believe in God or not, this is a wild thing, an unbelievable thing,” Jacobs told about 85 people at McLain’s committal service at the Grindstone Road Cemetery.
“All the little things have added up. All the obscure things have come together,” added Jacobs, who conducted McLain’s first funeral.
Pamela McLain’s joy at this was apparent at the ceremony.
As she held a cigarette and cup of coffee — which she also carried during the exhumation — McLain said the new evidence relieves her of a burden she has carried since 16-year-old Joyce was found bludgeoned to death near the Schenck High School soccer fields on Aug. 10, 1980.
No longer does Pamela McLain have to fight for her daughter, she said. After decades of silence, Joyce McLain is speaking for herself. The evidence allows Joyce to give state police clues about who killed her, and those detectives have pledged to renew their efforts to catch her daughter’s killer. That, together with her belief that Joyce’s spirit left her earthly remains long ago, had McLain feeling buoyant.
“This is not a sad day for me at all,” McLain said Saturday.
Soon, McLain said, she can be more attentive to the family and friends who have suffered with her all these years. But she would never have had the strength to face this new chapter of her life had she not visited her daughter’s grave Wednesday night.
“I knelt here and said, ‘Well, kid, we made it. I can’t wait for tomorrow,’” McLain recalled. “I could not wait to see the hearse pull out of that driveway and head for Augusta — which I missed, by the way, because I was talking to somebody when it happened.”
McLain said she knew scientific advances would produce new evidence for her daughter’s case during the autopsy, which was conducted at the office of the chief medical examiner in Augusta.
Boston forensic neuropathologist Dr. Peter Cummings, a Millinocket native who volunteered his aid, assisted Dr. Michael Baden, an internationally recognized pathologist who has reviewed the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
As Baden and Cummings conducted the autopsy, Dr. Henry Lee, whom Baden brought into the case, reviewed the investigation’s physical evidence. One of the world’s top criminologists, Lee worked on the O.J. Simpson murder case and was pivotal in Maine’s first successful DNA-based prosecution, the murder trial of David Fleming in 1995.
Brought into the case at McLain’s request, Baden split the $20,000 with Lee to cover their expenses. The doctors were initially dubious that a forensic exam would reveal anything new. They weren’t the only ones with doubts, McLain said.
“Other parents and people would doubt me and what I did, but until they have to fight for their daughter or their son, like I had to fight, they should not criticize,” McLain said during Saturday’s ceremony. “I knew why I did it, God knew why, and Joyce knew why.”
That powerful sense of purpose came from her daughter’s spirit, McLain said.
People who knew Joyce McLain wouldn’t find that so strange, said Judy Page of East Millinocket, a family friend who read the poem “A Faded Rose” during the ceremony.
“The people or person who did this thought they had eliminated Joyce but they did not,” Page said just before reading the poem. “Her light still shines, her spirit still lives and she has touched the hearts of people all over the United States, and that, and her mother’s determination to never give up, has brought us to this day.”