EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — State police are working “almost daily” on the unsolved 28-year-old homicide of Joyce McLain and still analyzing large amounts of evidence found when her body was exhumed in August, the victim’s mother said Monday.
Speaking after a visit to town on Feb. 5 by state police Maj. Dale Lancaster and Lt. Jackie Theriault, Pamela McLain said she wanted to assure contributors to her successful $20,000 effort to have the body exhumed and examined last August that their contributions were not in vain.
“I really knew that they were going to give it their all five months ago. That had not changed much,” McLain said Monday, “but the public needs to know. I believe they [state police] are working hard on it. They are giving it their all, but the public raised the money. They [contributors] have to be assured that [the investigation] is still ongoing.”
Theriault is the commanding officer for the state police Northern Criminal Division, and Lancaster oversees the state police Criminal Division, said Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.
Speaking through a statement released by McCausland, the officers described their meeting with McLain as positive, one in which information was shared.
“State police have been the ones to stress that it is going to be time-consuming,” McLain said. “It is going to take time. Period. I know that, and I want the public to know that, too.”
A 16-year-old Schenck High School sophomore, Joyce McLain was killed sometime around the night of Aug. 8, 1980, apparently while jogging. Her body was found two days later in a power line clearing near the school’s soccer fields. Her head and neck had been hit with a blunt object.
Several suspects have been investigated — Pamela McLain places the number as high as 14 — but there have been no arrests. At least four detectives have handled the case through the years, and state police Sgt. Troy Gardner, now the case’s primary investigator, has worked with several other detectives who have been on the case almost full time since September, McCausland has said.
The meeting with McClain on Feb. 5 resulted from statements she made Jan. 28 in which she vented frustration at hearing no progress in the investigation from detectives despite fresh evidence unearthed by Dr. Michael Baden and Dr. Henry Lee on Aug. 29.
“If they [state police] don’t have anything, perhaps they should ask someone else to help them out. There is always the FBI to help them out,” McLain said on Jan. 28.
The two internationally renowned forensic experts were paid with $20,000 she and a citizens group helped raise over almost two years after the Maine State Attorney General’s Office declined to pursue the exhumation, citing the unlikelihood of finding fresh evidence.
But a large amount of evidence was found, Baden and Lee said, enough to keep detectives working for months.
Still, they cautioned that the evidence guarantees nothing. Detectives still must fit the evidence within a scenario that identifies a suspect and convince a prosecutor and judge that they have enough probable cause to warrant a charge — a formidable task.
As many as eight detectives have helped out, putting in several thousand hours of work since September, McCausland said.
State police have about 70 open murder investigations dating to the early 1970s that have detectives assigned to them. Those detectives periodically review the cases as well as handle new cases, McCausland said.
McLain has said she accepts state police rationales but remains committed to seeing her daughter’s killer caught. Throughout the case’s 28-year odyssey, the 62-year-old bar owner and foster mother only gradually became an outspoken and occasionally harsh critic of police efforts — and sometimes laments not becoming more free-spoken sooner.
Her struggle has attracted People magazine. A writer and photographer from the national publication visited town last fall to write about McLain and how her daughter’s homicide has hung over the Katahdin region. McLain and Dr. Peter Cummings, a Boston-based coroner and Millinocket native who was inspired by the homi-cide to become a medical examiner, were among those interviewed.
No publication date has been set. The story will be published in mid-March at the earliest, editors said Monday.
McLain seeks to balance her absolute refusal to allow her daughter’s case to be forgotten, the need to allow detectives the time and patience they need to do their work, and her own need for a stable existence.
“We have to let them do it the slow-process, right way,” McLain said of the detectives.
The examination and integration of the new evidence “could take a year, two years or 2½ years. I am sure they are going to do everything they can,” McLain said. “I believe the case is solvable and I do pray to God that they are going in the right direction.”
So McLain will wait. Though far from content, she finds herself becoming more patient and is busy with her children and business. A pack-a-day smoker for 44 years, McLain said she hasn’t had a cigarette in 48 days.
“I am calmer,” she said.