FARMINGTON, Maine — A hunch and good police work led to the arrest of a man authorities say murdered 81-year-old Grace Burton in her Farmington home in June.
Juan Contreras, 27, was arrested in Waltham, Mass., on Thursday night and charged in the June 21 slaying. He was being taken to the Franklin County Jail on Friday and was expected to arrive in the early evening.
“I really want to take the opportunity to commend Sgt. Michael Adcock of the Farmington Police Department,” Maine State Police Lt. Brian McDonough said during a press conference in the Farmington police station. “He’s probably the one responsible for the connection to Mr. Contreras, strictly by his police intuition.”
Maine State Police Detective Randall Keaten said in an affidavit that Adcock presented him with an incident report from July 23. It said that Contreras crashed his bicycle near the intersection of Oakes Street and Wilton Road in Farmington. Contreras provided his address to Adcock and told him that he was moving back to Massachusetts in a couple of days.
On Nov. 3, while continuing to search for suspects in the murder investigation, Adcock realized that Contreras was no longer around.
At a meeting that day, Adcock “just threw it out there as a possibility and that’s when the lead came in and the follow-up continued. It brought the investigation to a success,” said McDonough.
On the night of the murder, police found that the screen on a window on the back of Burton’s apartment had been cut open, said the affidavit.
Burton, who had been sleeping in a chair in the living room, was stabbed 35 times by the intruder. She was able to call 911 shortly after 1 a.m. to report the assault. She died later that morning at a Lewiston hospital.
“I want to give Grace Burton credit because she gave a very accurate description of this individual,” said McDonough. “And to see [Contreras] and how close the description is is truly remarkable.”
Several drops of blood were located on the window sill and the ground outside the cut screen, according to the affidavit.
DNA sampling played a major role Contreras’ arrest, McDonough said.
Although police had taken DNA samples from male residents of the Farmington area, Contreras was not among them.
In Waltham on Wednesday, Contreras provided a buccal swab to Maine State Police Detective Abbe Chabot. The sample was analyzed by the state police crime lab on Thursday. Later that day, the lab contacted Chabot, saying the sample matched blood from the window sill and ground found at Burton’s apartment.
The probability match made detectives certain they had the right man.
“At this point the estimated probability of selecting a random person in the population matching Juan Contreras’ 9 Locus DNA profile for the south eastern Hispanic population is one in 2.4 trillion and south western Hispanic population is one in 718 billion,” read the affidavit.
After Burton’s slaying, Contreras was hiding in his Farmington home when police came asking for DNA samples, the affidavit said. His DNA was not already on file.
Contreras was hiding in the back room of his apartment and his wife, Amanda Contreras, brought him meals there so that he was not seen by police, according to the affidavit.
Juan Contreras explained to his wife that he cut open his hand while whittling, read the affidavit. Amanda Contreras said Juan was heavily intoxicated the night of the slaying. She said when she asked him about the homicide the morning after it happened, “he would not respond to her and did not say a word to her,” said the affidavit.
Amanda Contreras said she is no longer with Juan Contreras and has had no contact with him since he moved to Massachusetts, the affidavit said.
Farmington Police Chief Jack Peck said he was proud to see the whole community come together to help solve the crime.
“This senseless act affected the whole community,” said Peck. “The arrest of Juan Contreras has brought some closure and hopefully given the people a renewed sense of safety in their homes. This was, in fact, a great collaborative effort with all the agencies involved and I’m just glad that one of my guys could give this little bit of information to help crack this case.”
McDonough also gave credit to Burton’s family for keeping the public’s attention on the case.
“I want to thank the families of Grace Burton,” he said. “They’ve been really remarkable in their mom’s investigation as far as keeping her name and the investigation in the public eye. We asked them to do a lot. I just wanted to thank them for that.”
Members of Burton’s family were not at the press conference.
McDonough said Contreras did not have a significant criminal history.
According to the affidavit, Contreras was charged by Waltham police on June 1, 2003, with breaking and entering at night to commit offenses. A month and a half later, he was charged with shoplifting. On June 10, 2010, he was charged by Woonsocket, R.I., police with possessing a prohibited weapon other than a firearm.
McDonough said Farmington police, state police, Franklin County Sheriff’s office, Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, Wilton police, federal border patrol agents and the Maine Warden Service all worked together on the investigation.
Contreras will make his initial court appearance Monday at Franklin County Superior Court in Farmington.