ALTON, Maine — Blood spatter evidence and the angle of the bullet that entered the head of a man found dead last week at the scene of a murder-suicide involving his best friend and the friend’s estranged wife are likely to be used to determine whether the man killed himself or was slain.
In yet another domestic violence murder-suicide in Maine, Scott Reed, 43, stabbed his wife, Danielle Reed, 39, to death at their Alton Tannery Road house in the early afternoon of Nov. 19 and later killed himself after meeting up with his friend, Daniel Young, 41, of Bradley.
Both men, who may have had a suicide pact, their friends have told police investigators, spent the afternoon together and returned to the rented Alton home at about 5:30 p.m. They were found dead inside the home about two hours later.
“The two men both died of close contact gunshot wounds to the head,” Stephen McCausland, Maine Department of Public Safety spokesman, said Sunday.
Reed left a suicide note, which McCausland described as “rambling,” and one of the two handguns recovered by Maine State Police from the cedar-covered house was owned by Young.
“It appears both guns were used and the lab work will hopefully determine whether Young fired a gun,” McCausland said Monday. “The suicide pact info came from interviews.”
The state’s chief medical examiner concluded that Scott Reed committed suicide but needed more investigative work to determine Young’s manner of death, McCausland said.
Reed telephoned a female friend at 6:52 p.m. and told her to meet him at the house. She called police at 7:23 p.m. after finding one of the three bodies in an upstairs bedroom. Police later found the other two in that room, McCausland said.
Suicidal ideation is a strong indicator in many domestic violence homicide cases, Assistant Attorney General Lisa Marchese said last week at a domestic violence education program held in Bangor.
“We do have a lot of homicide-suicides that are not prosecutable and those percentages this year and last year have been pretty high,” she said.
Six of the 13 Mainers who committed domestic violence homicides in Maine between March 2008 and July 2011 also took their own lives, and nine of the 13 exhibited suicidal behavior before committing the crimes, the Maine Domestic Abuse Homicide Review Panel said in an April report.
“A staggering statistic that emerged through the review process is that 70 percent of the perpetrators showed suicidal ideation prior to the murder-suicide,” Marchese said in the report.
When police investigate domestic violence homicides, there are always signs of trouble, she said.
“Homicides don’t happen in a vacuum in the domestic violence arena,” said Marchese, one of a handful of homicide prosecutors for the state. “There is always a build-up. One of the things police do very well is they go back and interview family members to try and understand what has been going on in that relationship.”
In the Alton case, police investigators are looking into two relationships — the marriage between the Reeds, who were separated, and the friendship between Scott Reed and Young.
Scott Reed was involved in a serious car crash almost a year ago and suffered severe injuries, including head trauma, that left him with “a very different personality, and lingering physical problems,” McCausland said.
Determining how someone died is a science, and “evidence only takes you so far,” Bangor police Sgt. Paul Edwards said Monday. Edwards, a blood spatter expert for his department, is not involved in the Alton investigation but has experience investigating other suspicious gun deaths.
The blood evidence left behind, called the “back spatter,” the positions of the body or bodies and where the bullet entered the body are all details that are used to determine the manner of death in a gunshot case, the sergeant said.
“They would just have to look at every angle of impact, the angle of the blood, the gunshot — where it entered and where it exited — if it did exit,” Edwards said. “It’s a lot of angles. It’s going to be very difficult.”
When a death is a possible suicide, the tests are run and rerun to ensure the findings are correct before family members are informed, he said.
Finding out a loved one died at his own hand is hard on those left behind, so “you better be right,” the sergeant said.
For that reason, “It’s easier to prove homicide than a suicide,” Edwards said.
A gunshot residue test — often used on television detective shows to determine who used a weapon — are “just not that reliable,” the sergeant said. “It’s not like DNA.”
The three deaths in Alton bring the number of homicides in Maine this year to 19, with nine of those deemed domestic violence-related deaths, McCausland said.
“Young’s death [is] not included until we know for certain if it is homicide or suicide,” he said.
Bangor Daily News writers Nick Sambides and Nick McCrea contributed to this report.