Mom seeks FBI help in 1980 homicide

Posted Aug. 08, 2010, at 7:23 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 11:29 a.m.
Joyce McLain (, teenage homocide victim. Her body was found on a power-line clearing located behind Schenck High School, in East Millinocket, where she had gone jogging Aug. 10, 1980.)  Photo courtesy of Pam McLain(Bangor Daily News/File Photo)
Joyce McLain (, teenage homocide victim. Her body was found on a power-line clearing located behind Schenck High School, in East Millinocket, where she had gone jogging Aug. 10, 1980.) Photo courtesy of Pam McLain(Bangor Daily News/File Photo)

EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — Saying she has awaited an arrest for 30 years and avoided criticizing investigators for two years, the mother of homicide victim Joyce McLain called on state police Sunday — the anniversary of her daughter’s disappearance — to give the unsolved case to the FBI.

“It’s been two years [since the exhumation of her daughter’s corpse], 30 years since the murder, and I am kind of disappointed,” Pamela McLain said. “There were several physical items found that could be DNA’d and I have heard nothing [about] any of it in two years.

“I question that. Why? Big W-H-Y,” she said, enunciating the letters. “So what is happening? I said I would wait two years and I would shut my mouth, but now I would like to have the FBI take it because I have lost a lot of faith in the Maine State Police Department. I worry that they are not equipped to handle it [the homicide]. I am really worried about that. I really am. And not just for mine — for all of the other [unsolved homicide] cases in the state that are lying dormant, unsolved.”

Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, was on vacation Sunday. His designated replacement for this weekend, Lt. Jackie Theriault, did not return a message left with state police dispatchers in Augusta.

The FBI would take the case if it invoked federal jurisdiction — if the U.S. Attorney’s Office saw in it a violation of federal law, said FBI Special Agent Gail Marcinkiewicz, spokeswoman for the Boston division of the FBI, which covers Maine.

“Murder is not something that we typically have federal jurisdiction over,” Marcinkiewicz said Sunday.

A 16-year-old Schenck High School sophomore, Joyce McLain was killed sometime during the night of Aug. 8, 1980, apparently while jogging. About 35 hours passed, and a rainstorm came, before searcher Peter Larlee found her body in a clearing near electrical lines close to the school’s athletic fields. Her head and neck had been hit with a blunt object.

The homicide drew national attention on the syndicated television show “Unsolved Mysteries” in 1989, in which Larlee re-enacted his awful discovery, and in People magazine, which in April 2009 featured the extraordinary discovery of forensic evidence found during the exhumation in 2008. The “Unsolved Mysteries” episode is still available on the Internet.

No arrests have been made. State police maintain that the case always has been actively pursued.

The McLain family will likely write to the FBI, state police commander Col. Patrick J. Fleming, the governor’s office and at least some members of Maine’s federal delegation seeking FBI intervention, said Greylan Hale, Joyce McLain’s cousin and Pamela McLain’s nephew.

Hale acknowledged that investigators have worked hard but thinks the FBI is needed.

State police “had plenty of time,” Hale said. “Maybe they have a pretty good idea who is involved [with the homicide] but they have to wait for that one little piece of evidence, to make sure that their i’s are dotted and their t’s are crossed. Maybe the FBI can help them do that, and finish it.”

In previous inquiries, FBI officials told the McLains that they could not take the case without state police assent, Hale said.

Local law enforcement agencies don’t typically give cases to the FBI, Marcinkiewicz said.

“They are usually quite capable. We would not get involved if they can’t do it [handle a case]. We get involved to provide them with additional resources they don’t have,” Marcinkiewicz said.

Such resources include the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, best known for its pioneering work profiling serial killers and rapists, and its many forensic evidence units, Marcinkiewicz said.

Marcinkiewicz could not immediately determine whether the FBI has recently assisted state police with the McLain case.

The FBI provided police with a profile of McLain’s killer at least a decade ago, according to newspaper records.

Pamela McLain’s latest comments fit a pattern of tension and amity she and investigators have developed over the last decade. McLain lets months or years pass before complaining publicly about a lack of communication regarding, or progress with, the investigation. State police make public statements of sympathy and privately brief her as best they can, they have said, without violating case confidentiality.

Less frequently, McLain announces a private initiative to bolster the case. About three years ago, Hale said, a state police detective visited the Vidocq Society, a Philadelphia-based organization of international and prominent investigators that offers free advice on unsolved cases. A society representative told Hale that the society had offered state police some helpful advice.

McLain’s most successful private initiative came in 2007, when she re-formed the Justice for Joyce Committee and announced its intention, over state officials’ objections, to have her daughter’s body exhumed for DNA examination.

Internationally recognized forensic experts Dr. Michael Baden and Dr. Henry Lee, whom the committee was paying, examined the body in late August 2008 and were astonished to find an intact vault seal, vault and a metallic coffin that looked almost new, and several pieces of usable evidence, including DNA.

“Your God has done well by you,” Baden told Pamela McLain.

The doctors cautioned that the evidence would have to correspond with other data to produce probable cause for arrest — a formidable task — and as many as 30 detectives worked the case for several weeks in fall 2008. They moved into the town Public Safety Building and began re-examining all case evidence. A year later, they expressed optimism that they would catch Joyce’s killer.

Dr. Peter Cummings, a Boston-based forensic neuropathologist and Millinocket and Dover-Foxcroft native who assisted Baden, hasn’t spoken with state police in several months, but believes their efforts have been very strong.

The lack of arrests “is probably reflective of the challenges related to this case,” Cummings said Sunday, “the complexity of it more than anything. The people working on this give it their absolute top priority. The amount of time that has passed doesn’t indicate a lack of effort or lack of desire on their part. They are working really hard.”

A glimpse into the elaborate and confidential nature of the case came in December 2009 when U.S. District Judge John Woodcock urged Philip Scott Fournier, 48, of Millinocket to disclose to investigators whatever information he has about the McLain case. Identified by the judge as a “person of interest” in the homicide, Fournier was being sentenced by Woodcock to 6½ years in prison for possession of child pornography.

Fournier’s federal public defender said that Fournier had cooperated with investigators. McLain said he is among about a dozen suspects or people of interest spoken of since the homicide.

McLain said she recognizes that homicides go unsolved, but she just can’t stop believing, though her faith has been tested, that Joyce’s killer will get away with it.

“We lose faith and that shouldn’t happen,” McLain said. “I just think something is wrong here. If they thought that this was one that was not solvable, that would be one thing, but I have heard a lot of people said it was solvable.

“I have to find a direction to go. There’s lots of people who can help me,” she said.

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