BANGOR, Maine — A former sheriff said he had concerns years ago about the Rev. Robert Carlson — who committed suicide Sunday by jumping from the Penobscot Narrows Bridge — and his relationship with young boys.
Former Penobscot County Sheriff Timothy Richardson, who was hired as a deputy in the early 1970s and was sheriff between 1980 and 1984, said he questioned actions by Carlson in the 1970s. Carlson, a prominent community leader, was administrator of the jail in the 1970s and later became its chaplain.
Richardson said Carlson “would come into the control room [at the Penobscot County Jail] with young boys at 2, 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning. It was very uncomfortable. It was just a very odd situation.”
Richardson, who was a young part-time deputy in the early 1970s, said he reported his concerns to Otis N. LaBree, sheriff at the time, and then Penobscot County District Attorney David M. Cox, who later became a judge.
“They were concerned but they didn’t take it anywhere,” Richardson said. “They didn’t want to take it anywhere.
“Back then they [religious leaders] were above suspicion of child abuse,” he said. “Later on, we all learned they are one of the biggest perpetrators of that type of crime.”
Both LaBree and Cox are now deceased. Richardson said he didn’t know of any other deputies or jail officials who officially voiced concerns about Carlson.
“When I became sheriff I told him it was about time for him to move on,” the former sheriff said. “In the ’80s, that is when I spoke to Carlson and we parted ways.”
The unsigned letter, sent to Gov. Paul LePage, local Boy Scout leaders and law enforcement, claims that Carlson “sexually abused a young boy several years ago” while he was pastor at the East Orrington Congregational Church. The letter asked for an investigation into the matter.
The state police investigation, which began Thursday, included questions posed to a Bowdoin woman and several other family members about a child sex abuse case from the 1970s reportedly involving Carlson and the woman’s brother, who was 11 at the time.
Under current Maine law, the statute of limitations for prosecuting sex crimes committed against children under the age of 16 extends back to 1985. In 1991 the law was changed and there is no statute of limitations on child sex crimes that occurred after that year.
Dawn Krog of Bowdoin said Monday that she and other family members spoke to a Maine State Police detective late last week about Carlson and his relationship with her family when they lived in Orrington.
“My brother came clean to the family” a couple of years ago about what she described as an ongoing sexual relationship he had with Carlson that started when he was just a boy, Krog said.
Another relative interviewed by police, a woman from Alton who asked not to be identified, said Carlson put forward a very caring public face.
“I know people will believe what they want, but we know the truth,” she said Tuesday. “This has brought all the pain to the forefront and once again it makes us feel helpless. Carlson was in law enforcement, he was a minister and he had everyone thinking he was the second coming of Christ.”
Krog’s brother and his relationship with Carlson is why Richardson contacted his bosses more than 30 years ago, he said.
“I remember him distinctly,” the former sheriff said of Krog’s brother. “That is the one I went to LaBree about and the one I went to Cox about. I wished I hadn’t been so young and innocent and a nonbeliever at that time” about religious officials committing crimes against children.
The governor’s office received the anonymous letter on Nov. 10, the same day the Maine State Police began its investigation. Boy Scout leaders at the Katahdin Area Council turned over their letter concerning Carlson and allegations of child abuse to state police detectives on Monday.
Carlson and his wife, Elaine, were honored last week when the Katahdin Area Council of Boy Scouts of America held its 15th annual Distinguished Citizen Award Dinner, which is mentioned in the letter.
The governor’s office released a copy of the letter to the Bangor Daily News on Tuesday.
“This boy is now a grown man and they still have a secret relationship,” the unsigned letter states.
The decades-long relationship between Krog’s brother and Carlson continued until his death, she and the other female relative said.
State police also reported receiving another call in connection with the sexual abuse investigation, according to Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.
“We are keeping the investigation open,” he said Tuesday. “There may be other members of the public who want to talk. There may be victims who want to come forward and we are here to listen.”
Carlson’s autopsy determined that he committed suicide when he jumped from the bridge around 4 a.m. Sunday and drowned in the state’s largest waterway, Mark Belserene, administrator with the state medical examiner’s office in Augusta, said Tuesday.
Church leaders at the East Orrington Congregational Church met Tuesday and are planning to issue a statement in the coming days to address concerns of churchgoers and the public, the Rev. Carl Schreiber said.
“East Orrington Congregational Church members are saddened. We hurt and we have questions just like the rest of the community,” the pastor said.
Carlson helped found and was president of Penobscot Community Health Care; was a founder of Hope House, a Bangor shelter for people with drug and alcohol addictions; and was a previous chaplain for Husson College as well as the Bangor and Brewer police and fire departments, according to a recent Bangor Daily News story.
“He did so much good but you can’t exclude that,” Richardson said. “It isn’t OK. It’s the most horrible thing that could have happened.”
An earlier version of this story said that a second person alleged abuse by the Rev. Robert Carlson. Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public safety, said that police received another call in connection with the case. He did not confirm that a second person alleged abuse.