Slain Belfast man was ‘angry’

Posted Dec. 11, 2008, at 8:17 p.m.

BELFAST, Maine — As the police investigation into the shooting death of James G. Cummings entered its third day, traits about his personality came to light along with the fact that his father also was shot to death.

Cummings, 29, of High Street was the son of a wealthy California businessman, James G. Cummings Sr., who was murdered a decade ago by a disgruntled employee, according to newspaper reports.

The younger Cummings was reportedly shot to death by his wife, Amber B. Cummings, 31, at their High Street home Tuesday morning. The couple’s 9-year-old daughter was at the house when the killing occurred. Police are investigating the killing as a domestic violence homicide. No arrests have been made, and Amber Cummings and her daughter remain in the Belfast area.

Maine Department of Public Safety spokesman Stephen McCausland said investigators did not anticipate making any announcements about the case Thursday. Results of an autopsy conducted on Cummings the day before are being withheld while the investigation continues.

Two area tradesmen who performed extensive work on Cummings’ house last summer described Cummings as being a disagreeable man whose wife cowered in his presence. They also said he talked incessantly of his love of guns and had a fascination for Adolf Hitler.

“It didn’t shock me at all when I heard about it,” said Mike Robbins, who spent a month painting and roofing the Cummings home last summer. “He was a very angry person and was verbally abusive to his wife all the time.”

Robbins described Cummings as a heavyset man who liked to walk around his house wearing a cowboy hat and an ankle-length black leather coat. He said Cummings would often sit outside on a lawn chair and watch him work and make disparaging comments. He said Cummings had a mean streak and was particularly abusive toward his wife.

Robbins said Cummings also spoke about how he “really liked the Nazis” and claimed to have a large collection of Nazi memorabilia, including pieces of Hitler’s silverware and place settings.

Another contractor who worked on the Cummings house had similar recollections. The man declined to be identified because he was preparing legal action against Cummings’ estate because of unpaid work. He said he and Cummings disagreed about the work he performed and that he decided to walk away without getting paid because of Cummings’ explosive personality.

“Normally I’d go after payment, but in this case I walked away. He was absolutely the worst customer I ever had,” he said Thursday. “I just perceived that the guy was dangerous and capable of real violence. I was afraid of the guy. He talked all the time about guns, one of those guys that would let you know he had guns.”

He added that “this guy was a huge fan of Adolf Hitler, he had silverware and dinner sets Hitler used.” He described Cummings as “verbally abusive to his wife and just about everybody. You’ve heard of short guys with a Napoleonic complex; well, this was a fat guy with a Napoleonic complex.”

If Cummings directed any of his volatile tendencies toward his wife and child, police were unaware of it. Belfast Police Chief Jeffrey Trafton said the only time the police were called to the home was over an animal complaint.

The Cummings family moved to Belfast in August 2007. According to records at Belfast City Hall, the home was “trashed” when the Cummings bought it in a foreclosure sale through a Florida mortgage company. The couple paid $153,900 for the property, which the city has assessed at $164,100.

Robbins said Cummings told him that he was raised in California but moved to Texas because he could not get along with his family. He did have a job and could afford to pay for extensive renovations to his home, where he spent most of his time, as far as Robbins could see. Cummings claimed to have made his money in Texas real estate, Robbins said.

“I doubted that,” he said. “He didn’t seem to be the kind of guy who could make it in real estate. He was too much of a jerk.”

It appears that the real source of Cummings’ wealth was his father, who was killed on July 30, 1997, at age 77 by a disgruntled part-time employee, according to news accounts from that time found online. The employee later confessed to shooting the elder Cummings.

The senior Cummings was a prominent landowner in the Northern California city of Fort Bragg, a coastal community of 7,000 in Mendocino County, according to Katherine Lee, editor of the Fort Bragg Advocate News. He made his fortune in land, restaurants, motels, a fish-processing plant, malls and other businesses, she said.

Lee said the elder Cummings owned large parcels of land along the Fort Bragg waterfront and that a trust was established in his name after his death. An Internet search of the James G. Cummings Trust revealed Thursday that the trust has an estimated annual income of $10 million.

“It was a real sad turn of events,” Lee said Thursday of Cummings Sr.’s murder. “He was kind of a colorful guy around here. Everybody knew him.”

Lee could not provide any information about the younger Cummings. She said the paper, a weekly published every Thursday, had yet to receive an obituary for the son.

According to an Associated Press story published around the time of the father’s murder, Cummings Jr. had once used a video camera to secretly tape his mother’s alleged drug use. However, authorities dropped the charges after discovering that a substance seized from the woman’s apartment was not black-tar heroin, as was suspected.

Robbins recalled that Cummings also hated public schools and refused to let his daughter enroll. He said Cummings was constantly berating his wife and harping at her to home-school the girl. He said Cummings had a controlling personality and wanted to know his wife and child’s every move.

“He was a bad guy and that’s just what I saw working for him. I couldn’t imagine living with the dude,” he said.

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