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EASTON, Maine — In the early morning hours of April 24, 1993, Virginia Sue Pictou-Noyes sneaked out of a Bangor hospital, desperate to get back home to her five children in Easton.
A 26-year-old wife and mother, Pictou-Noyes had been taken to Eastern Maine Medical Center after being beaten outside a Bangor bar, allegedly by her husband, Larry Noyes, and his brother Roger Noyes Jr., according to a police report.
Maine State Police detectives believe she made it as far north as Houlton, where she reportedly made phone calls trying to get a ride home, according to the agency’s Web page on missing people.
She has not been seen nor heard from since.
Larry Noyes was charged with domestic assault and taken to Penobscot County Jail. Roger Noyes Jr. was issued a summons on an assault charge. The charges against them were dismissed, however, after Pictou-Noyes disappeared.
What happened to Pictou-Noyes remains a mystery that her family, friends and police have been trying to solve for 18 years.
Several of her family members believe she is dead, the victim of foul play at the hands of her husband, brother-in-law or both.
“I know it here and I know it here,” her father, Robert Pictou, said during an interview, gesturing to his head and then his heart.
Pictou, now 72 and living in Nova Scotia, described the last exchange he had with Larry Noyes in a potato field where the two were working in 1994.
“He says to me, ‘Bob, you know that I loved your daughter and you know that I wouldn’t hurt her,’” said Pictou.
“And I looked at him right in the face and said, ‘But you did, didn’t you?’ And he never said a word. He turned around and that’s the last that I’ve seen of him.”
Larry Noyes, 44, did not respond to requests for comment.
James Madore was the Maine State Police’s lead detective in the initial stages of the investigation. He considered Larry Noyes and Roger Noyes Jr. prime suspects in the case, according to a story about the missing woman published on Sept. 9, 1994, in the Bangor Daily News.
The story includes statements Larry Noyes made during an interview with a BDN reporter in 1994 at the Aroostook County Jail, where he was serving a one-year sentence for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, driving after license suspension, driving to endanger, failure to stop for an officer and violation of bail conditions.
“They said I hit Virginia, which I never did,” he said in the interview. “Everyone thinks I killed her. Let them think what they want; I know what is true.”
Madore, now serving his third term as Aroostook County sheriff, declined to comment on the case late last year, saying that it would not be appropriate because the investigation now is being led by Maine State Police Detective Darren Crane.
Last summer, Larry Noyes was arrested on several domestic violence charges unrelated to the case of Pictou-Noyes. In September 2011, he was indicted by an Aroostook County grand jury on charges of domestic violence terrorism, violation of a protection order and tampering with a witness.
During an arraignment hearing Dec. 29, 2011, in Aroostook County Superior Court, Noyes pleaded not guilty to all of the charges. A dispositional conference for his case is scheduled for Feb. 17. He remains free on $200 cash bond.
Roger Noyes Jr. died on Oct. 11, 2009.
Neither man ever was charged in connection with the disappearance of Pictou-Noyes.
An unending quest
Over the years, family members have conducted searches and investigations of their own, said Pictou-Noyes’ sister Agnes Gould, who was an outreach caseworker and spiritual leader with the Aroostook Band of Micmacs at the time of Pictou-Noyes’ disappearance. Gould now lives in Nova Scotia, where among other things, she is a radio disc jockey.
She has distributed missing person posters from coast to coast in the United States and Canada and has gathered pieces of information along the way, including details she has gleaned from members of other Indian tribes who have visited Micmacs in Aroostook County.
“The stuff I picked up you could not use in a court of law,” Gould said this week. “People have gone out on vision quests,” she said, referring to a spiritual tradition through which ancestors can be contacted for guidance and information. Gould said that vision quests involve months of preparation and several days of fasting.
“They have said she has come to them in dreams,” Gould said. Some of the messages that Gould said Pictou-Noyes has relayed include:
• “Listen for large equipment.”
• “I’m in the woods.”
• “I’m near water.”
Gould said that she has been told that Pictou-Noyes had been shot, that her remains are in Maine “but a little south of Aroostook [County]” and that she would be found within two decades of her disappearance.
The messages have been relayed to her by members of a variety of tribes, including Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, Zuni and Cherokee.
The case also has been highlighted on several websites devoted to missing persons, including Porchlight International, the Doe Network and the Charley Project, to name a few. And although Pictou-Noyes was an adult when she vanished, her case was posted on the New England Unsolved Child Murders and Missing Children Network’s Facebook page by its administrator, Jim Russell of Bangor, who also has taken an interest in solving the mystery.
Nearly two years ago, Pictou-Noyes’ family created a Facebook page about the case. The page, which is public, has provided a mechanism for sharing memories about Pictou-Noyes, family photographs and the facts of her case.
Many of the entries are heartbreaking, including this one from her brother, Francis Pictou, who now lives in Massachusetts: “I miss u sis, ‘I often think of the times we had’, My memories of you makes me laugh and during special times like your bd and Christmas I cry. [You] are truly missed and I can still remember our last conversation together. You said you had to go! The kids needed to be fed and then off to bed. I LOVE YOU GIN ! We will talk again someday.”
Last summer, the search effort heated up thanks to a private Facebook group founded by an Aroostook County woman determined to get answers. Members of The Search for Virginia Sue Pictou-Noyes group initially were admitted only by permission of page administrators, but quickly swelled to more than 200 members.
The new effort took off last July, shortly after Jaime Owens, who was living in Limestone at the time, posted the following entry on the family’s Facebook page:
“All it takes is hope and love for one special thing to happen! One person to care enough to boost things into overdrive! everything happens for a reason. Virginia Sue Pictou-Noyes~many ppl care and love you, it has been 18 yrs. 18 yrs to long for u to remain missing~ we will do our hardest to find you!!!”
Owens posted the message after talking with her mother, Cindy Owens, about Pictou-Noyes, who was a close friend to Cindy.
Cindy Owens, who lives in Presque Isle, noted that despite years of talk and speculation about what might have happened to Pictou-Noyes and who might know about her disappearance, little progress had been made in finding her.
Jaime Owens’ creation of the private Facebook site prompted several women interested in the case to become involved. They included Sariya Hanscomb of Easton, a relative of the missing woman by marriage, and Crystal Gray of Easton, who was one of Pictou-Noyes’ best friends.
“It exploded,” Gray said. “And we all talk back and forth. The pieces just started coming together.”
The site has generated a number of new clues, as well as some promising leads on where Pictou-Noyes’ remains might be found if she is no longer alive, according to Gray and Jaime Owens. Places that have been talked about over the years include a well on a farm in Fort Fairfield, a site on or at the base of Mars Hill, and a reservoir in Easton. The Facebook group also explored an abandoned vehicle thought to be involved in the case, but that turned out to be a dead end. The group shares its information with the police.
The women also looked into reports that the car Pictou-Noyes, her husband, brother-in-law and at least one other person drove to Bangor in just before the disappearance mysteriously burned shortly afterward.
They are leaving no stone unturned. Besides conducting site searches, they arranged to have a scent-specific tracking dog brought to one location and even have consulted a psychic crime fighters website.
Core members of the Facebook group and members of Pictou-Noyes’ family had a chance to catch up on the case during a gathering at Gray’s home in late August. Many were meeting each other for the first time.
Among the Pictou family members who attended were her father, brothers Francis Pictou and Darrell Pictou, who lives in Caribou; and sister Agnes Gould, also living in Nova Scotia.
Also in attendance were daughters Britney Dow, 21, Myley Denslow, 20, and 19-year-old Lanae, who were adopted by Robert and Elizabeth Denslow of Limestone after the children were taken from Larry Noyes by the state.
Because the gathering was organized in a matter of days, the women weren’t able to find sons Chris Pictou and Randy Pictou, who were raised by their birth father, in time.
The gathering was bittersweet for Gray. While she misses her friend, she was happy to be able to see the people she thought of as her own.
“I hung out at the Pictou house. Everybody used to call me Crystal Pictou because I was always there. I was family,” Gray said.
Francis Pictou credits the Facebook group women — Jaime Owens and Sariya Hanscomb, in particular — with bringing new energy to a search that has gone on for too long.
“They opened it right up. One of the key factors, I believe, is that people feel safe. They can speak their minds,” he said.
“It’s one of the first things we check when we get on Facebook,” said Lenae Denslow, who hadn’t even celebrated her first birthday when her mother went missing.
The private page enabled people who are familiar with the case, who might have information about what happened to Pictou-Noyes, to come forward and share what they know. Tips and leads could be sent directly to core members, who kept some information confidential, said Jaime Owens, who temporarily moved outside of Maine to access state-of-the-art medical care for a child with spina bifida.
While state police Detective Crane said he could not comment on specifics because the case remains under investigation, he did confirm that he has been following up on all of the leads he has received related to the case.
“It’s not a closed case,” he said in a telephone interview. “We do take any information that we receive and try to verify it.”
Search group goes public
Last month the search group was opened up to anyone who wants to join or view it shortly after something rather remarkable happened: Larry Noyes joined the conversation.
During the week he participated, Noyes answered some questions about the hours leading up to and after Pictou-Noyes’ disappearance and asked a few questions of his own.
Noyes, who continues to maintain his innocence, also claimed Pictou-Noyes had left behind a note that his mother found in one of the missing woman’s sweaters after her disappearance.
The note allegedly said, “I am leaving in April or August 1993 and I’ll be back when all my children turn 18.”
Lanae Denslow, Pictou-Noyes’ youngest child, said last summer that her father had told her about the alleged note.
“I waited all day and she didn’t show up,” Denslow said dryly, recalling her 18th birthday.
Despite the resurgence of interest in her case, Pictou-Noyes’ whereabouts remain unknown and her loved ones and friends have endured another Christmas and New Year’s without answers or closure.
Jaime Owens and others looking for answers plan to organize more searches in the future. Owens worries that the search will lose momentum if the group does not continue forging ahead.
“All we need is for one person who knows something to come forward,” she said. “This family needs closure.”
Anyone with information about the disappearance of Virginia Sue Pictou-Noyes should call Crane at the Maine State Police barracks in Houlton. The telephone number is 532-5400.