BANGOR, Maine — Cold wind whips along the banks of Kenduskeag Stream in March, but beneath the low green steel beams of the Harlow Street Bridge, there is some refuge.
It’s underneath that downtown bridge that 34-year-old Trevor Paul Sprague, a homeless man from Lubec, was known to hang out and it also was where his body was found engulfed in flames three years ago Saturday.
A passing driver spotted smoke coming from underneath the concrete-and-metal bridge on March 7, 2006, and called the Fire Department. When crews arrived they found Sprague face-down with 2-foot-high flames shooting up off his 6-foot-7-inch body.
Sprague’s body was burned so extensively that investigators had to use DNA to positively identify him.
Police have determined that he was the victim of a homicide, but have disclosed few other facts about the grisly killing, including whether the fire was the cause of Sprague’s death.
Those facts are the key to finding the killer, Bangor police Sgt. Paul Edwards said Thursday.
No one has been arrested in the case, but more than a dozen have confessed, he said.
“We’ve had quite a few people who say they did this, and it proved to be not true,” the sergeant said. “Only the person that did it and the officers involved” know the details behind how Sprague was killed.
“We do not know who did this,” Edwards said. “We’re waiting for the right tip, for the right evidence.”
The unsolved homicide remains frustrating for investigators, who continue to work the cold case, as well as for Sprague’s friends and family.
“It’s been hard,” family friend Debra McConnell said Thursday by phone from her Lubec home. “There is no closure.”
Sonia Olson of Lubec, Sprague’s mother and his legal guardian, declined to talk about her son on Friday, but exasperation could be heard in her voice.
“I don’t want to talk to anybody,” she said. “Bye.”
A month before his death, Trevor Sprague visited his father, Jeffery Sprague, in Machias, the elder Sprague said during an interview two years ago.
Sometime after that trip to Machias, Trevor Sprague traveled to Bangor, then visited his mother in Florida before returning to Maine about a week and a half before he was killed, said his father, who described his son as a friendly but sometimes reserved man who “wouldn’t hurt a flea.”
Asked why his son chose to live a transient lifestyle, his father said: “It was just Trevor. He always had a place to go, but he never stayed that long.”
Jeffery Sprague also acknowledged that his son showed signs of trouble, and said that some of the homeless people his son associated with were a bad influence.
“He drank quite a lot once he got in with that crowd,” he said.
Bangor Area Homeless Shelter officials have said that Sprague stayed at the shelter on occasion, but as a loner who liked his seclusion, and that he was known to stay under the Harlow Street and other bridges.
The slain man also suffered from mental health problems and had a criminal history that included his conviction for assault and unlawful sexual contact in 2005 after he improperly touched a teenage boy who was sitting in a park near the Bangor Public Library. Sprague also was convicted of two counts of indecent conduct in incidents that occurred in 2001, according to a prosecutor.
There are three other unresolved homicides on the books in Bangor — one in 1997, one in 1988 and one in 1965 — but with murder there is no statute of limitations, and all cold cases typically remain open until solved.
“It’s not forgotten, that’s for sure,” Edwards said of Sprague’s death. “We’ll continue to review it, and review it again and again.”
The transient nature of the city’s homeless people, who often have alcohol, drug or mental illness problems and are sometimes wary of police, has been listed as a factor impeding the 3-year-old investigation.
While the initial intensity of the investigation has slowed, Detective Brent Beaulieu is assigned to the case and “he continues to get leads,” Edwards said. “The file just keeps getting thicker and thicker.”
Investigators have pursued hundreds of leads over the last three years, but are still open to more, the sergeant said.
“We’ll take any rumors or information people have,” he said. “That’s what we do. It’s a big puzzle. We’re just waiting for the right piece” to complete the puzzle and find the killer.
About 150 Lubec residents as well as people from Bangor joined Sprague’s family when his cremated remains were interred at Olson Cemetery in Lubec in the spring of 2006.
In Lubec, a small Washington County town, everybody knows everybody else and “Trevor was one of our children,” McConnell has said. The horrifying circumstances behind his death hit the community hard, she said.
“We’re all still very sad,” she said.