McLain probe begins anew

Posted Sept. 03, 2008, at 10:54 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 7:25 a.m.

EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — A squad of investigators was canvassing this small northern Penobscot County town Wednesday as state police sought to breathe new life into their 28-year-old investigation of the Joyce McLain homicide.

“We have had as many as eight detectives there since yesterday,” Stephen McCausland, state police spokesman, said Wednesday. “We brought up our largest vehicle to give us some room to reinterview many of the people we have already talked to over the years, and we will be in town all week.”

The detectives will reinterview old witnesses and sources, speak to new sources who have recently come forward, follow new leads and give old leads a fresh look, McCausland said.

“We are going to reinterview many people that we have talked to over the years. Some [others] are people that we will be talking to for the first time that have information that might be of use,” added McCausland, who urged anyone with information to call 800-432-7381.

The detectives used the public safety building on Route 11 as their base of operations. On the street outside was a large, unmarked camper. Police Chief Garold “Twig” Cramp helped detectives find people, particularly those who might have married or moved since investigators spoke to them last.

“I do know a lot of the families in town,” Cramp said Wednesday. “I am more or less like an old dictionary on the shelf.”

Detectives and forensic experts at the state crime lab in Augusta also are continuing to examine new evidence after a number of suggestions offered last Friday by internationally recognized forensic experts Dr. Michael Baden and Dr. Henry Lee.

Baden and Boston forensic neuropathologist Dr. Peter Cummings, a native of Millinocket who volunteered to help, performed an autopsy on McLain’s body while Lee reviewed physical evidence collected since the badly beaten body of McLain, 16, was found near the Schenck High School soccer fields on Aug. 10, 1980.

Citing the improbability of finding any new evidence, state officials had initially declined Pamela McLain’s request to exhume her daughter’s body. But the victim’s mother persisted and with the help of the Justice for Joyce Committee raised $20,000 to pay Baden’s and Lee’s expenses to conduct their forensic examination. The state shared facilities and information.

Baden and Lee found that the body was in remarkably good shape and said that new evidence was recovered, but they cautioned that the evidence must still correspond with other case information to produce a suspect and probable cause for arrest — a formidable task.

McLain and other town residents said they were pleased to see state police at work on Wednesday.

“I think it’s wonderful that something might come out of this,” said Janice Currie, 58, of East Millinocket. “They need closure, her mother, her family. I would say everybody in town wants to see this case closed with a conviction.”

McCausland said that among the “significant” items Baden and Lee suggested detectives review were the letters and mementos that had been placed in McLain’s casket 28 years ago.

McLain, McCausland and retired funeral home director James G. Dowd said they did not know whether the letters were examined by investigators before they were placed in the coffin in 1980. State police Detective Troy Gardner, the on-scene supervisor on Wednesday, declined to comment.

“I can’t remember back then,” McLain said Wednesday. “I just know that there’s letters there, I wrote one myself. That’s what was in there.”

Dowd recalled receiving six to eight sealed envelopes, plus mementos — including stuffed animals — and possibly a few folded notes before services at Calvary Temple Assembly of God Church.

“I know that a family member came to me the morning before the funeral service itself and asked if I could put this group of envelopes or whatever into the casket,” Dowd said Wednesday. “Within a few minutes they were in the casket. All the letters that I can remember were in envelopes but there might have been some loose sheets of paper, notes, in there. If there were loose notes, they were folded.

“I didn’t read any of them because that wasn’t any of my business,” Dowd said, adding that he also didn’t know what had been done with the letters before they were given to him. “The family members never told me that any detectives looked at them, but that would not have been my business either.”

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