Recalling unsolved murder

Posted Sept. 11, 2009, at 7:05 p.m.

One of the most stunning moments of my career as a reporter came one day in the unlikeliest places — at Frances Hawkes’ dining room table just off Center Street in Bangor.

Frances was a gentle soul with a soft voice. She sat across from me as I browsed through scrapbooks and photo albums belonging to her daughter, who had been brutally murdered years before.

I flipped through the treasured photographs of Alice in elementary school and at the family’s camp on Pushaw Pond. There were photos of Alice with her sister, her brothers, her mother and with friends.

I was preparing to do a story on Alice and her unsolved murder. Frances was graciously allowing me into her home to see the details of Alice’s life because, as hard as it was for her, I represented attention for her beloved youngest child.

Frances would have gladly gone through her life with nothing more than being a cheerleader for her children. But on one October day in 1987, Frances Hawkes found herself the mother of a murder victim.

It was so far from a place that she ever would have imagined herself to be. Today, all of these years later, I think I understand that.

Alice was a good girl. A smart girl. A girl who went to college and made friends easily. Alice made smart and wise decisions and loved her family. Alice was not supposed to be found in her Westbrook apartment brutally murdered.

But she was.

And so years later I found myself in Frances’ home looking for photographs to go with a story I was writing on this unsolved murder case.

I sifted through photos of her from her childhood and of her and her family at camp. All the while Frances talked gently to me about her beloved daughter.

Then I opened up yet another album, and as I slowly turned the pages, I gasped.

Frances leaned over to see what had startled me.

I pointed to a picture of a dozen or so young women, all lined up, all wearing white dresses and big smiles.

“That’s me,” I whispered.

On every page were pictures of my own college friends. Familiar faces and places jumped from the pages. I had known Alice and I had attended the same university, but had no idea we belonged to the same little sister organization affiliated with the Delta Chi Fraternity.

Alice died in October 1987.

Each year on her birthday in May, Frances placed a memorial to pay tribute to her daughter and to remind all of us that Alice’s killer remained free.

In the last 20 years of her life, Frances’ greatest wish was that she would live to see Alice’s murderer brought to justice. She wanted to sit in the courtroom to see him or her sentenced to prison.

On Wednesday, Frances died. She was 88.

She had great faith. I hope she died thinking that she would soon know the answers to all of the questions she had. Why and who?

She asked in her obituary that donations be made to the Parents of Murdered Children, which provided her with comfort and support during the past 20 years.

I hope, in the end, that Frances found peace, and I will remember her — who lost a husband, lost a daughter, lost her siblings and a granddaughter — as one whose faith did not waiver.

But I still hope that someday I may write this column and be able to say that Alice’s name has been removed from the unsolved homicide list.

The day that the story I wrote about Alice’s case appeared in the Bangor Daily News, Frances and her niece Patricia Libby sent me the biggest bouquet of flowers I’ve ever received.

“Thanks,” they said.

Thank you, Frances Hawkes. Your fight may be over. You did your part, but the killer of your daughter is out there somewhere, and that will not be forgotten.

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