BANGOR, Maine — A purse was left on the Joshua Chamberlain Bridge last week after a person, believed to be a local man, was seen jumping into the cold Penobscot River, police say.
The identification in the purse was that of William Hilderbrand, 22, who has lived his life as a woman.
“We’re not even technically sure it was him,” Bangor police Sgt. Paul Edwards said Tuesday, explaining that authorities cannot verify it was Hilderbrand who jumped into the water.
Police from both Bangor and Brewer went to the bridge just before midnight on Nov. 4 after people driving by called to report a woman on the edge of the structure near the Bangor side of the overpass.
Brewer officers arrived first and saw a person jump into the water, Lt. Chris Martin said Tuesday.
Brewer officers reported to Bangor police, who are leading the investigation, that “this person went under and didn’t come back,” Edwards said.
The Bangor Fire Department immediately sent every resource available to search the river for the jumper, Bangor fire Lt. Joseph Doucet said Tuesday. Firefighters were dispatched at 11:55 p.m.
“We responded with a bunch of equipment and brought the boat,” he said.
Firefighters and police searched for hours to no avail, Edwards said.
“We scoured the banks” looking for the jumper, he said.
A pair of shoes reportedly was recovered by fire crews, but Doucet could not confirm that on Tuesday afternoon.
“They did what they could, but it’s a tough time of year — the water is cold and it’s really fast,” Martin said.
Rumors that a body was found this week are not true, Edwards said.
Hilderbrand is a Passamaquoddy from Pleasant Point who moved to the Bangor area several years ago. He graduated from Shead High School in 2006 and studied cosmetology at Mr. Bernard’s School of Hair Fashion in Bangor during 2008, according to his Facebook page.
He liked to be called “JL,” and lists his job as an escort-exotic dancer for Cinnamon’s Sweets, his Facebook page states.
Friend Erin Gotay of Old Town said Tuesday that Hilderbrand’s friends and family are hoping for the best but fear the worst.
“No one has heard or seen from him” since Nov. 4, she said.
Hilderbrand, who was an avid poster on Facebook, posted his last Facebook message at 11:31 p.m. Nov. 4.
Roger Brown of Old Town, a relative of Hilderbrand’s, called the Bangor Daily News on Tuesday to say he and other family members planned to search for his body around 1 p.m. Wednesday.
“We’ll be out on the river looking for him,” he said. “We’ll be searching by boat.”
Brown described Hilderbrand as “a really good person. She would help anyone.”
Hilderbrand is well known to local police and has a lengthy criminal record, according to prior court listings printed in the Bangor Daily News. He has Bangor convictions that date back to 2007 for assault, theft, criminal trespass, minor possessing liquor, disorderly conduct, theft by unauthorized use of property and violating conditions of release.
Even though police saw someone jump into the Penobscot River and found Hilderbrand’s identification, “we can’t verify it was him still,” and will not be able to do so until a body is recovered and is positively identified, Edwards said.