Attack leaves town fearful, suspicious

Posted Nov. 02, 2008, at 9:59 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 6 a.m.

PASSADUMKEAG, Maine — About 30 kids came to Rodney Cronkhite’s front door in search of tricks and treats on Halloween last year.

This year he saw only three.

That’s how the Pleasant Street resident knows that his neighbors are shaken up by the brutal beating and rape early Wednesday of a woman who lives on his street.

“I think everybody’s a little nervous,” Cronkhite, 51, said Sunday as he worked on his pickup truck. “Normally, the neighborhood is just like you see it now — nice and quiet. They never locked their doors. They never had to.”

“Now I am sleeping light, keeping my doors locked and my ears open,” said another neighbor, a former Georgia man who asked that his name not be used. “The night that this happened, my wife slept in a motel because I wasn’t here, and she didn’t want to be home alone.”

The victim, who is in her 60s, reported that the assailant forced his way into her home and raped her, beating her badly, before he fled. She called 911 after the attack. The woman was taken by ambulance to Penobscot Valley Hospital in Lincoln and transferred to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor before she was released.

State police continue to investigate, Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, said Sunday. Anyone with information is asked to telephone state police at 866-2121. All calls will be kept confidential.

Passadumkeag is a community of about 440 people about 15 miles north of Old Town. Pleasant Street is about a mile long off U.S. Route 2 near the Penobscot River. It parallels a long, winding stream or thin river that eventually connects to Saponac Pond.

A railroad track runs through town, south to north, over a small rusted trestle bridge. Most of the town is clustered near the wide bend of the Penobscot several miles south of Howland, and its structures grow progressively sparse in the thickening woods to the east. The absence of sound is startling.

Pleasant Street is the town’s main drag. On it are the Grange hall, which doubles as the town office; a U.S. Postal Service branch; the volunteer Fire De-partment and the Passadumkeag Historical Society, all within a quarter-mile of the train crossing. One of the bigger businesses is a home-based blade sharpening shop. A small factory building once sold eels for fishing, but has been closed for years.

Most residents, Cronkhite said, are truck drivers like himself, millworkers or lumbermen. Their homes are small and modest and hug the winding road. Many are trailers. None are slovenly. Many of their driveways are long and wide to accommodate rigs. Pickup trucks are common, usually with rifle racks in the cabs and bright orange vests or sweaters in the back seats.

“It’s easygoing,” Cronkhite said of the town. “People always say hi to each other. Everybody knows everybody.”

The residents interviewed Sunday said they knew the victim and had seen her around. Their respect for her privacy and her suffering, they said — plus perhaps their fear of saying something awkward — motivated their unwillingness to identify themselves. Violence is not unknown to them, but it has never seemed to strike so close to home and so randomly.

“Nothing like this has ever happened here before,” said one resident, who claimed to have lived in Passadumkeag for 64 years. “You don’t know what’s going on. We haven’t heard a thing about what happened. We just can’t believe that it happened in this little town.

“They wonder,” he added, “if it was someone from around here, or from away, who attacked her. Was it someone who just came along and left? They don’t know what to make of it. And they’re afraid.”

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