FARMINGTON, Maine — A man broke into an elderly housing complex in the middle of the night and fatally attacked an 81-year-old woman in her apartment, authorities said.
Grace Burton was assaulted in her first-floor home at the Margaret Chase Smith Apartments on the outskirts of this western Maine town, state police said. She managed to call 911 just after 1 a.m. Tuesday, but she died about 7 a.m. after being flown to a Lewiston hospital.
Police were appealing to the public to report any suspicious activity along Fairbanks Road, also known as Route 4, between midnight and 2 a.m. They’re also seeking the identity of a man seen walking along the road about 1:30 a.m. dressed in a black-hooded sweatshirt and wearing a backpack.
Detectives believe the assailant was injured in the attack and that his injuries — likely on his hands or fingers — are conspicuous, said state police spokesman Stephen McCausland.
A state police dive team was searching a manmade pond Tuesday afternoon not far from the apartment complex in search of clues, McCausland said. He declined to release additional information, such as whether a weapon was recovered or if anything was taken from Burton’s apartment. Investigators also weren’t disclosing if they have any theories on what prompted the attack.
“We have an assailant at large and area residents need to be aware of that,” McCausland said. “We hope someone saw someone in that area or can identify the assailant based on his injuries and that they’ll call police.”
There haven’t been any reports of break-ins or disturbances at the apartments, said Barbara Bachelder, who lives in the 10-unit complex but didn’t know the victim. But the idea of a neighbor being killed is unsettling, she said.
“It’s a little scary, and totally unnecessary you would think,” she said. “I guess you just stay in your apartment and keep your door locked. I guess that’s the safest thing.”
A dozen state police detectives, along with Farmington police and the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department, are investigating, McCausland said. The medical examiner’s office was expected to perform an autopsy Wednesday.
The apartment complex is owned by Liberty Management Inc. and managed by Stanford Management, which are based in Portland.
Stanford Management spokesman David Farmer said the complex manager described Burton as a “lovely person.”
“Obviously the entire community is shaken by this,” Farmer said “It’s hard to comfort people when it’s such an act of violence. We don’t know the details, but it seems senseless.”
Stanford Management has contacted Evergreen Behavioral Services at Franklin Memorial Hospital to provide crisis support to residents who might need it, Farmer said. The company is also planning to survey all the apartments to make sure the doors, windows and locks are secure.