Carlson child abuse investigation continues; family of possible victim frustrated

Posted April 13, 2012, at 3:24 p.m.
Robert Carlson
Robert Carlson

BANGOR, Maine — Maine State Police continue to investigate allegations of child sex abuse against the Rev. Robert Carlson, a longtime religious and civic leader who committed suicide five months ago Friday.

As that work goes on, new details have emerged about Carlson’s embellishment of his credentials.

“The investigation is still open and there is no timetable on when it will be closed,” state police Detective Sgt. Jeffrey Love said this week of the probe, which began just days before Carlson committed suicide on Nov. 13 by jumping from the Penobscot Narrows Bridge in Prospect.

The five-month wait has been hard for family members of a 52-year-old man befriended by Carlson four decades ago and who may have been abused by him in the early 1970s.

“My brother came clean to the family” a couple of years ago about an ongoing sexual relationship he had with Carlson, a sister of the man has said.

She and other family members were interviewed by a state police detective the day after the investigation started and have been waiting for the results.

“At this point we think the whole thing is a joke,” an Alton relative of the man said Wednesday with obvious anger in her voice. “They are not going to let the truth be known, but that is all right because they can never go back to worshiping him.”

Carlson was told about the state police investigation by Penobscot County Sheriff Glenn Ross, his longtime friend, the day before he jumped to his death, the Waldo County Sheriff’s Department report about Carlson’s suicide states. Ross has said he did so because Carlson was on the Penobscot County Jail’s board of visitors and he wanted to limit his access to the jail.

Carlson met up with the Bangor man who is the focal point of the child sex abuse investigation in the hours before his death, according to the Waldo County report.

The man was an 11-year-old boy when Carlson befriended his mother — a single mother of six — in the early 1970s while the family lived in Orrington, according to the man’s family. Carlson began sexually abusing the boy soon after and the two remained in contact through the years, family members said. The Bangor Daily News is not identifying the man because of the possibility that he is a victim.

The last call made on Carlson’s cellphone was to the man, who told police they met for about 30 minutes at his Bangor residence around 12:30 a.m. Nov. 13.

“We believe he was the last one to see him” alive, Waldo County Chief Deputy Jeff Trafton said in January shortly after his department’s report into Carlson’s suicide was completed.

While Carlson was the public face for Penobscot Community Health Care, which he helped found and of which he was president, the Bangor Daily News has learned he exaggerated his credentials.

On the resume he provided to the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, where he was a volunteer instructor for more than 25 years, Carlson listed himself as a hostage negotiator trainer for the New York Police Department in 1972, but police officials in the Big Apple say he was never an employee.

“There is no record for a Robert Carlson who is born in 1943 who worked for the NYPD,” the department said in an email on Feb. 6.

John Rogers, director of the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, said a background check was not done on Carlson when he was hired nearly 30 years ago “because at the time, he was a captain at the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office.”

Carlson was a jail administrator in the 1970s and later became its chaplain, a role he also held for the Bangor and Brewer police and fire departments. He also was a chaplain for Husson College.

Well-known and well-regarded in Greater Bangor, Carlson also helped found the Hope House, a Bangor shelter for those with drug and alcohol addictions.

State police detectives began their investigation on Nov. 10 at the request of the Penobscot County district attorney’s office after that office received an anonymous letter stating Carlson “sexually abused a young boy several years ago” while pastor at East Orrington Congregational Church.

“This boy is now a grown man and they still have a secret relationship,” the unsigned letter states.

State police detectives did not get a chance to speak with Carlson, 68, before his death, Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, has said.

Since starting the investigation, the state police Major Crimes Unit for northern Maine has been busy investigating a double homicide in Dover-Foxcroft and fatal shootings in Levant, Hermon and Lamoine as well as preparing for this week’s Amity triple murder trial.

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