Chambermaid’s slaying still unsolved after 45 years

Posted March 17, 2010, at 9:26 p.m.

Effie MacDonald was from Aroostook County. She moved to Bangor in 1956 to be near members of her large family who had moved here from Houlton.

She worked for Quality Bakery on Ohio Street for several years before it closed, then took a job cleaning rooms at the Bangor House, one of the city’s most prominent hotels at the time.

Effie arrived for work as usual around 9 a.m. on March 18, 1965, and co-workers reported seeing her just after noon. Sometime around 2 p.m. that day, her supervisor became concerned because Effie, who had an asthmatic condition, was nowhere to be found.

A fellow chambermaid found her beaten and sexually assaulted body in a third-floor guestroom that had not been rented for two days. Her clothing had mostly been ripped off and she had been strangled to death with her nylon stocking in what is now the state’s oldest listed unsolved homicide.

For her family, who never left the Bangor area, the pain of losing a loved one 45 years ago is still raw because there has been no closure.

“I don’t think it will ever be solved,” Avis Mower, Effie’s younger sister, said last week while sitting in the kitchen of her Bangor home. “Not after all this long time. I know it will never go off the books, but I don’t believe it will ever be solved.”

Mower, who is now 77, was 32 at the time and living on Odlin Road with her husband, Frank, and four young children. Upon hearing the news in 1965, the couple rushed to the hotel but police barred them from the crime scene.

Her youngest son, Dale Mower, was 5 at the time and said he has few memories of his aunt.

He does remember when his mother got the call that Effie had been killed.

“I remember her crying and screaming,” he said. “It was hard [then] and it still is. For most of my life, this was a pretty taboo topic of conversation in the family, but in the last few years my mother has talked about it.”

Just last year, the family got a copy of Effie’s death certificate, and even though they knew what had happened, “seeing it in print wasn’t easy,” he said.

Effie was a wonderful and kind person who was loved, and her entire family was devastated by her death, Avis Mower recalled.

“Not knowing [who killed her] and how it happened, that was the worst for my mother,” she said. “That was the worst murder in Bangor.”

Her older brothers protected Avis, her sisters and their mom, Daisy Terrill, from knowing the details of the crime. During Effie’s funeral, her casket was closed.

“The police just talked to Harry [the oldest brother] and Earl,” who was the family patriarch, Avis Mower said. At one point, she asked a few questions and was simply told, “You don’t want to know.”

In all the years that followed, “they never talked about it,” Avis Mower said. By not talking about it, “you don’t have to live through it again,“ she said.

Of the eight siblings, only three are still living, she said, listing herself, her sister, Hilda McGann of Newport, and her brother, Chester Terrill of Hermon.

Frank Mower said his sister-in-law “never drank once in her life, never smoked and never swore. She was born in Houlton and moved to Bangor with her family in the late 1930s, but returned to her hometown when she married. After her divorce, she returned to Bangor to be near her parents and siblings. She was 54 when she was killed.

“She lived a very simple life really,” Avis Mower said. “She was a homemaker, and loved to knit and crochet. She was a very nice person.”

Some of Effie’s handiwork is stored away for safekeeping in Mower’s Bangor home.

Effie was in the process of knitting a red cardigan sweater for a niece when her life was taken, her sister said.

“I finished one she was working on,” Avis Mower said. “She had it almost done. I finished it. I couldn’t sleep. After [my husband] went to work, I would work on it.”

The investigation

Today marks the 45th anniversary of the “Bangor House Strangling,” as headlines at the time referred to the case.

The mysteries behind the murder of Effie MacDonald shocked the community as rumors circulated that her death was tied to the unsolved sex murders of the infamous Boston Strangler.

In fact, two Massachusetts detectives assigned to the “strangler squad” came to Bangor just after Effie was found dead to see if the crimes were connected, but left shortly after determining they were not.

“In most of the Boston slayings … nylon stockings were tightly knotted around the victim’s necks,” a March 22, 1965, Bangor Daily News article reported. “In the Bangor murder, the stocking was wrapped tightly four times around the woman’s neck, but was not tied.”

Bangor Police investigators interviewed hundreds of suspects and possible witnesses in the days that followed the crime, and collected hundreds of pages of statements.

Lead investigator Detective Capt. Clifton E. Sloane, who died in 1976, told the Bangor Daily News in a March 1971 interview that he knew, beyond any reasonable doubt, who the killer was, but didn’t have the physical evidence to convict him in a court of law.

Within a few days of the homicide, police had narrowed the list of possible suspects to a handful and finally to one, a male guest at the hotel, Sloane said.

“The suspect quickly obtained the services of a lawyer and refused to answer questions,” a March 1971 BDN story reported. If the suspect were tried and later freed “he would be forever beyond the reach of the law.”

The Bangor House, on the corner of Main and Union streets, was converted from a hotel into senior housing in the 1990s.

The crime is still officially unsolved and the killer remains free. Effie’s family believes that they have identified the suspect and say he is now dead.

“My brother said they had a suspect but they didn’t have the evidence to indict him,” Avis Mower said. “Someone saw him leaving, going down the back stairs.”

Longtime Bangor Daily News photographer Jack Loftus took a photo of investigators holding the nylon used to strangle Effie that ran in the paper after the killing and several times since.

Loftus said he has only vague memories of the events of 45 years ago, but he remembers Sloane and his conviction that he knew the killer. The investigation “went on for years and years,” he said.

Sloane never gave the newspaper any specifics about his main suspect.

“I think they tried [to make a case], but they didn’t have the technology,” Dale Mower said.

“They didn’t have DNA [testing capabilities] back then,” Avis Mower added.

Questions about the case, such as what type of evidence was collected and if Sloane’s main suspect is dead, cannot be answered, Bangor Police Chief Ron Gastia said.

The case remains unsolved, he said in an e-mail. “Also, it is a case that, while technically a Bangor case, is still under the jurisdiction of the Attorney General’s office.”

Prosecutor William Stokes of the Maine Attorney General’s Office, said this week that “as far as we are concerned it remains an open case.”

Even though the case is open, the Police Department does not have an investigator assigned to the case, and the investigation is listed as dormant.

While there is no statute of limitations on murder, with age the cases often fade from memory.

For Effie’s relatives, who started to lock their doors after she was killed, the pain of losing her will never leave.

When asked what they miss most about Effie, her sister responded, “Just her.”

“If you needed help, she was there,” she said.

Her nephew said, “Her pickles,” adding he now covets her bread and butter and her mustard pickle recipes.

Avis Mower said after her sister was killed she would sometimes break down crying when she went by the Bangor House. That has passed with the years, but her heart still aches whenever she sees the place.

“I have no desire to go there,” she said.

Dale Mower has posted many of the Bangor Daily News stories of his aunt’s death on a Web page he created, bangorhousemurder.blogspot.com, hoping to find clues to his aunt’s murder.

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