McLain confident slaying will be solved

Posted Sept. 04, 2009, at 9:13 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 12:13 p.m.

EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — It has been Pam McLain’s dream since Aug. 10, 1980.

Her daughter’s killer has been caught, tried and convicted. Protestations of innocence have died away, perhaps replaced by pleadings or remorse. There’s no doubt anymore: He’s the guy. In her dream, McLain is confronting the man she has wanted to meet for 29 years.

She knows what she will do.

“I will look at the killer, eyeball to eyeball, and I am going to smile, and I will walk away,” McLain said Friday. “I will let the state of Maine do what has to be done to him, and my job will be ended.

“I am just going to smile, and walk away, because it’s over,” McLain added. “He will be a prisoner, and not just in his own mind. That’s what he is. He hasn’t been free for 29 years. He has been a prisoner in his own mind.”

Although a year has passed since internationally renowned forensic experts Dr. Michael Baden and Dr. Henry Lee examined the body of McLain’s daughter, Joyce, and discovered fresh forensic evidence, McLain and a young Boston-based forensic pathologist who assisted Baden and Lee still believe that she will live out her dream.

“Outside of Pam and her family, no one wants this case solved more than the state police. I think they will solve it,” said Dr. Peter Cummings, 37, a neuropathologist for the Massachusetts Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and a Millinocket native who, as a boy, was fascinated with the unsolved homicide.

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, but the biggest break might have come Aug. 29-30, 2008.

That’s when Baden, Lee and state investigators opened McLain’s casket and made what they described as a near-miraculous find: an extremely well-preserved body and several pieces of new forensic evidence.

“The stars were aligned. Everything from the integrity of the casket to the condition of the remains, everything was aligned,” said Cummings, who assisted Baden and Lee as a volunteer and still communicates with investigators regularly.

McLain and Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, agree that the case is still a top priority, with hundreds of hours spent on it by state police Sgt. Troy Gardner and other investigators since last September.

“We have done an incredible amount of work in the past year and the exhumation gave us renewed vigor to attack this case again,” McCausland said. “That’s where it stands.”

McLain, who occasionally has been critical of police efforts, is satisfied with how hard they are working — and not surprised that the killer or killers haven’t yet faced charges.

“They’re working on it. I didn’t expect any different. I think the public did,” McLain said. “I said I thought it would take a year or two, if anybody remembers. I said it’s not like a TV show. It’s not ‘CSI.’ It doesn’t get solved in two hours.”

Baden and Lee were paid with $20,000 McLain and a citizens group helped raise over almost two years after the Maine Attorney General’s Office declined to pursue the exhumation, citing the unlikelihood of finding fresh evidence.

Their reticence at exhuming the body themselves shouldn’t reflect poorly on Maine authorities, Cummings said.

“The thing I was surprised by was how well things went,” Cummings said. “If you could have drawn a plan and said this is the best-case scenario I could hope for, that’s actually what happened. I think we all came away from that excited and optimistic. I think they [investigators] feel that way today.”

However, the McLain case is one of the most complex he has ever seen, Cummings said.

“There is a lot going on, and you will never really know until it’s all over the incredible efforts that people put into this case,” Cummings added. “I am a Mainer. I love my state and my people, and I have to say, the [investigators] here are top-notch.”

The quality of the work done by investigators, Cummings said, might best be seen in how the new forensic evidence only added to scenarios the investigators already had assembled. It didn’t create new scenarios.

“Any observations we made certainly reinforced or redirected attention to things they had been working on,” Cummings said. “It resolidified some things that they did and let the police see the whole picture.”

Citing the need to keep the case confidential, Cummings declined to comment further. Baden and Lee did not return telephone messages seeking comment.

In the year since it occurred, the exhumation has drawn national attention. People magazine did a feature story on Cummings and McLain earlier this year, and the Arts and Entertainment Network pitched to Cummings the idea of starring in his own TV show. CNN’s Nancy Grace offered him a guest shot, he said.

Cummings refused A&E’s offer and said he would do Grace’s show only if it concentrated on McLain and her daughter’s homicide. That ended that.

“I just want to do my job and come home,” said Cummings, who found the idea of hosting his own TV show amusing. “I was like, what? My own show? No thanks.

“If I can somehow get Joyce’s name on people’s minds through shows like Nancy Grace, I would be happy to do it, because I think that would help the case. But beyond that, I am quite comfortable with my anonymity.”

For her part, McLain has spent the past year doing what she did for so many years before: raising her three foster and adopted children, minding her cafe, called Pam and Ivy’s, and happily pursuing the joys of great-grandmotherhood.

The 62-year-old gained 30 pounds since giving up smoking in December, and hasn’t lost her wryly self-deprecating sense of humor or her drive to see her daughter’s killer brought to justice.

“The big guy in the sky is my leader. They [state police] are the workers. I am just a worker. I am the one with the big mouth,” she said with a laugh. “You don’t agree with that, do you? God has to have somebody with a big mouth watching this.

“I am relaxing,” McLain added. “I am sitting back and letting them do their work. It might take another year or two, but it’s going to be solved. I am sure of it.”

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