BANGOR, Maine — After autopsies were completed Tuesday afternoon on the three bodies found inside a charred vehicle early Monday morning, the Maine attorney general’s office took over the case.
“Under state law, the attorney general directs any investigations that could potentially be a homicide,” Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson said shortly after the autopsies were completed. “When you have bodies found in a burning car, it’s highly suspicious.”
The names of the three people whose bodies were found in the white Pontiac four-door car with Rhode Island plates are being withheld, Benson said.
“I did ask the medical examiner to withhold the cause of death, manner of death and the identities until their identities can be confirmed and the families can be notified,” he said.
Benson went to the location of the car fire Monday and reviewed the scene.
While the autopsies were under way Tuesday, Bangor police continued to work to identify a person seen in a surveillance camera running away from the burning car.
“We’re trying to determine who that person in the video is,” Bangor police Sgt. Paul Edwards said Tuesday morning.
The burning car was discovered by a woman on her way to work about 3:30 a.m. Monday in the back parking lot of Automatic Distributors, located at 22 Target Industrial Circle. After the flames were extinguished, firefighters found three bodies that were burned beyond recognition. No one was in the driver’s seat, according to photos taken by the Bangor Daily News on Monday.
A person is visible on surveillance images taken from Automatic Distributors.
“They did see one person running away,” employee Gary Shaw said Monday morning.
Several fire investigators from the state fire marshal’s office, as well as detectives and a canine unit from Maine State Police, helped Bangor investigators collect evidence at the scene throughout the day and into the night Monday. Edwards described the relationship among the three agencies as unique and beneficial, especially since Bangor conducts its own suspicious death and fire investigations.
Four people who believe the victims are friends of theirs arrived at the scene Monday night after talking to Bangor police detectives. They said they feared that their friends were dead because the friends got into a white Pontiac with Rhode Island plates after leaving a birthday party early Monday and afterward no one was able to get in touch with them.
Bangor resident Shannon Lee, who believes the father of her daughter and the sister of his girlfriend were in the burned-out car, said she brought her daughter to the police station Tuesday morning to provide a DNA sample.
Instead, police asked her to describe her ex’s tattoos and where they were located.
“They said at this point they probably didn’t need the DNA,” Lee said.
Another woman, a longtime friend of the 25-year-old sister believed to have been in the car, said the sister was identified by a metal plate in her arm.
She said the woman’s sister left the birthday party early because she didn’t feel well but expected her sister and her boyfriend, who fathered Lee’s child, to arrive later at her home.
For some reason the sister awoke at 4 a.m. and found they were not at the house. She called Lee about 5:30 a.m. to see if he was at her home.
“It just doesn’t make sense,” Lee said. “I just don’t understand.”
Police are still interested in speaking to anyone who may have seen the white 2001 Pontiac four-door sedan with Rhode Island plates anytime over the weekend, Edwards said.
“This is the car three people were dead inside — it’s important,” he said. “If anybody has seen that car, if we can know where it was — that would be helpful.”
On Tuesday morning, the charred Pontiac remained where it was discovered a day earlier. The blaze was hot enough to burst the car’s windows and pop its tires, leaving the charred shell of the Pontiac with its hood up. The intense fire burned the interior so badly that little remains except for a single wire frame where the seats once were.
Two police officers guarded the car and a yellow police line barred onlookers from getting too close until it was moved to a secure location Tuesday afternoon.
Edwards said the store’s video would be released to the public only if its use could further the investigation.
After learning the victim’s names would not be released on Tuesday, Lee reacted by saying, “I cannot live like this.”
Those with information about the investigation may call the Bangor Police Department at 947-7382. The department’s anonymous tip line can be reached by pressing ext. 6.
BDN writer Andrew Neff contributed to this report.
Correction: An early version of this story requires correction. Automatic Distributors is located at 22 Target Industrial Circle, not 20.