LEWISTON, Maine — State police are looking for former Holden neighbors of a woman whose body is believed to be the one found in a storage unit in Lewiston on Friday.
Examination of the body began Monday at the state medical examiner’s office, said Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety. Police believe the body is that of Kitty Wardwell, who was reported missing in July 1983.
“The identification is likely to involve DNA comparisons,” said McCausland. “The Wardwell family has given us some items to compare to.
“I don’t know when we will get any answers, but it will not be today,” he said Monday.
Wardwell and Francis “Frank” Julian shared her No. 3 apartment at the Greenwood Gardens Apartments on U.S. Route 1A in Holden in 1983, according to McCausland. State police urge people who lived in the apartments from January to June 1983 to call the Orono barracks at 207-866-2122.
“We’re asking tenants who lived there in that time period to call us,” said McCausland. “Many of [them] we have spoken to over the years, but we may have missed a few. It’s time to update those interviews.
“I suspect most who had lived there in 1983 have moved elsewhere,” he added. “It’s a good opportunity to re-explore that aspect of the case.”
The Moore Self Storage unit where the body was found belonged to Julian, who had rented it since 1992. Julian, who grew up in Bangor, died Oct. 1 at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston at the age of 80.
The body was found in an unplugged freezer. The condition of the body wasn’t released by police.
“[The storage unit] was primarily full. It had a variety of household items,” said McCausland.
Julian reported Wardwell missing on July 11, 1983, telling Salem, N.H., police that he dropped the 29-year-old woman off at the El Rancho Motel in Salem after a fight and then traveled back to Maine without her. In 1983, he occasionally lived with Wardwell at her apartment in Holden, which is about 100 miles from Lewiston.
Marla Collins, Kitty Wardwell’s sister, reported her missing to the Maine State Police on Nov. 23, 1983.
A state police investigation indicated that Wardwell was likely a victim of foul play in Maine. Because of that, the investigation officially remained open.
The freezer was inside a 10-by-10 storage unit at Moore Self Storage, where Julian dutifully paid in advance for the unit, coming around every three months to pay in person, owner Gary Boilard said. The last payment was made on Sept. 6, so the unit was rented through November, he said.
The storage company’s previous owner kept good records, indicating Julian rented the unit 19 years ago on Oct. 6, Boilard said.
Boilard described the situation as “bizarre.”
“How do you keep a secret that long?” he said.
The family was going through boxes inside the storage unit when the remains were discovered, and half of the unit was still filled with boxes when state police alerted Boilard on Saturday. “There were boxes on tops of boxes. From front to back, from top to bottom, it was full of boxes,” he said.
Other than the freezer, there was little else of interest stashed in the unit — mostly household items, McCausland said.
At the time of his death, Julian was operating a secondhand store on Main Street. Before that, from 2001 to 2007, he had run the One Stop Shop in a building owned by Hubert Nadeau selling T-shirts, Christmas decorations, knives and “just about anything,” Nadeau said.
Nadeau said he was surprised by the news of the body’s discovery. “He was a very nice guy,” Nadeau said Monday. “I had no idea what it was all about.”
Both Wardwell’s and Julian’s families are being kept in the loop on the investigation, and both families are cooperating, McCausland said.
Wardwell’s older brother, Dwight Collins, said he never met Julian but knew of him. He wonders why the case wasn’t solved years ago when it was still fresh.
“That’s the same question we all got, I guess,” said Collins, 60, of Bucksport. “I don’t know why the cops couldn’t get it.”
Other family members either couldn’t be reached or declined to comment.
The process of determining the body’s identity could be time-consuming because of its condition. Wardwell’s family members have donated DNA samples that will be compared against DNA from the body, McCausland said.
Julian was 52 when Wardwell disappeared. An obituary in the Bangor Daily News described him as a former restaurateur and novelty salesman who played on John Bapst High School’s 1948 championship football team.
Before Julian died, he was working at a novelty retail store in Lewiston with his son after closing his own variety shop. The son, John Julian, declined to comment to a reporter who approached him Tuesday at his store, Dad-E-Os.
At a Mexican restaurant across the street, several longtime employees said they recalled a private investigator occasionally sitting in a parked car, watching Dad-E-Os, sometimes all day in the years after Wardwell disappeared.
“It just occurred to me after everything came out that maybe the private investigator had something to do with this,” said one of the employees, Valerie Bouthot.
In Salem, N.H., officers were searching the attic and an on-site storage unit at the police station for any record of a missing person report on Wardwell.
“Our records division is pouring through the old paper files looking for a report, if any was taken on this,” Deputy Police Chief Shawn Patten said. “We’re not sure where it’s going to be.”
The results of the DNA tests and an autopsy performed on the body that was stashed in the freezer could be released on Wednesday, officials said.
A team of detectives gathered in Bangor on Monday to begin interviews, McCausland said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
An earlier version of this story contained an error about how often Francis “Frank” Julian paid for his storage unit at Moore Self Storage. According to storage unit owner Gary Boilard, Julian would come around every three months to pay in person, not every month.