ELLSWORTH, Maine — Pauline Buie may have done more than anyone else outside law enforcement to try to track down her friend Richard “Rick” Bellittieri, but still she wishes she had done more.
Buie, an Ellsworth resident, went to police nine months ago, in November 2012, after she became concerned that Bellittieri was not returning her phone calls or emails. But it wasn’t until last week that anyone — police included — found out Bellittieri, 61, had been murdered.
On Aug. 1, four days after skeletal remains found on a property on Goose Cove Road were identified as Belittieri’s, police arrested William Morse, 43, of Fishkill, N.Y., on a charge of murdering the Trenton man. Police have indicated that Bellittieri’s remains bear four gunshot wounds, but they have not indicated when or where Bellittieri died.
On Tuesday, sitting at the dining table of her Ellsworth apartment, Buie recalled going with a female friend last fall to the Goose Cove Road property where Bellittieri’s remains would later be found. Bellittieri was building a condominium apartment on the property and was spending a lot of time working there, she said, but Buie and her friend didn’t find him.
Police say Morse was assisting Bellittieri on the construction project, which was never completed.
“The time that I did drive by there, my girlfriend and I, this guy — again I gave him a note with my name on it. I asked him, ‘Where’s Rick?’ He said, ‘Rick is in New York making money to try to finish the [condo] project,’” Buie said. “Rick was probably dead then.”
Buie said she did not remember who it was she talked to at the Trenton property, but she gave him her name to so he could tell Bellittieri she was looking for him. Her friend has since told her Morse was the man they spoke to, she added.
According to a Maine State Police affidavit filed in Hancock County Superior Court, Buie contacted the Mount Desert Police Department on Nov. 2, 2012, and asked them to help her track Bellittieri down. She said an officer went to a house that Bellittieri owned and rented out in Hall Quarry and contacted the tenants. She said she thinks the tenants later told police they spoke to Bellittieri and passed along Buie’s request to contact her.
Only it wasn’t Bellitieri the tenants spoke to, though they thought it was at the time. The tenants and police now say it was Morse who rented out Bellittieri’s house to the tenants last fall and was passing himself off as the man he is accused of killing.
“At that point, I thought, ‘Oh, OK. Well, maybe Rick is just busy, he’s still working on the condo,’” Buie said, recalling her inquiry last November. “That was like his baby. He was so excited about that project. So, I just kind of left him alone, you know? Sometimes I feel bad or guilty because I didn’t press the issue more.”
Police began investigating Bellittieri’s disappearance in earnest last month after Bar Harbor police stopped a car Morse was driving and discovered that Morse was in possession of Bellittieri’s Social Security card, driver’s license and bank cards. The car, police found out, also was registered in Bellittieri’s name, according to the Maine State Police affidavit.
Citing the ongoing investigation and pending prosecution, officials with Mount Desert Police Department, Maine State Police and the state Attorney General’s office have declined requests for further information about the case.
Buie said she became friends with Bellittieri three years ago as they attended group dances around Hancock County, but added they always had a platonic relationship. Bellittieri frequently was busy, she said. Besides being a landlord of the Hall Quarry house and constructing the Trenton condominium building, he was a trained accountant and had a roster of clients whose tax returns he prepared each year, she said.
Every once in awhile, they would contact each other and then go out dancing or shopping or for a meal. Bellittieri, originally from the New York area, had no family nearby, according to Buie.
“I think Rick should be remembered as a person that would help you if you needed help. I remember talking to him about a lot of people he has helped, and I hope those people come forward with some information,” Buie said. “He’s just a giving person. He’s just a genuine good person.”
Buie said she thinks the truth about what happened to Bellittieri eventually will come out.
“It might not be the whole truth, but I think it’s going to come out,” she said. “[Morse] had his ID. He must have known something about [Bellittieri’s] whereabouts. Why didn’t he report it? Because he knew — right?”
The Ellsworth woman said she has had difficulty sleeping, wondering why her friend was shot and if anyone else might have information about his death.
“I have so many questions. Why? What happened? Did anybody hear anything? All this stuff is going through my mind,” Buie said. “Why would somebody just shoot Rick four times? He wasn’t a bad person. He didn’t deserve that. And then just to put him in the woods like a bag of garbage? God.”
Police wrote in the affidavit that they interviewed Morse at least twice in the weeks leading up to his Aug. 1 arrest. They indicated he told investigators he had seen Bellittieri within the past few weeks, which would make him the only person who has seen Bellittieri since last summer.
Police say that, besides passing himself off as Bellittieri to the tenants in Hall Quarry, Morse has passed himself off as Bellittieri to other people, including police officers, in person and possibly over the phone, and has withdrawn thousands of dollars from Bellittieri’s bank account.
Morse made his initial appearance on the murder charge in Hancock County Superior Court on Aug. 2 and is being held indefinitely at Hancock County Jail in Ellsworth. According to Morse’s defense attorney, Jeffrey Toothaker of Ellsworth, his client is expected to be indicted Thursday, Aug. 8, by a Hancock County grand jury on the murder charge.