OAKFIELD, Maine — State police charged a Houlton man with two counts of murder Tuesday in connection with the deaths of an Oakfield couple early Monday, but said they see no links yet between the suspect and the victims or any motivation for the crime spree they believe he committed.
Matthew Davis, 32, was charged Tuesday morning at the Maine State Police barracks in Houlton, where he was being questioned in connection with several set fires, stolen vehicles and break-ins that occurred within a few hours in Oakfield and neighboring Island Falls.
Investigators continue to assemble their case against Davis, with one element missing — an understanding of why it all happened.
“That aspect remains under investigation,” Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, said Tuesday afternoon. “We continue to connect the dots here between the victims and” the rest of it.
Police identified one victim as 51-year-old Michael Kitchen on Tuesday and are presuming that the second victim is 49-year-old Heidi Pratt, McCausland said.
An autopsy conducted at the State Medical Examiner’s Office in Augusta showed Kitchen died from multiple gunshot wounds, McCausland said. An autopsy on Pratt is scheduled for Wednesday and a positive ID is pending additional work by the Medical Examiner’s Office, he said.
Kitchen worked as an automotive mechanic and helped manage a garage in Houlton that his family owned. Pratt was a social worker at Healthy Families, specializing in working with infants and very young children, friends said.
“At this point in the investigation, there is no known connection between the couple and Davis, who works as a carpenter,” McCausland said.
The State Fire Marshal’s Office also said Davis is the suspect in the three fires they are investigating, at the Oakfield home of Pratt, at the Katahdin Forest Products facility in Oakfield and a pickup truck burned near a boat launching ramp in nearby Island Falls.
Investigators combed through debris at the home Tuesday seeking first to determine what caused the fire, said Sgt. Kenneth Grimes of the Maine State Fire Marshal’s Office. Their investigation will likely take several days.
Police tracked down Davis and arrested him at about 10:45 a.m. Monday in a stolen vehicle on Beaver Dam Point Road in Island Falls, according to McCausland.
Davis is scheduled to make an initial appearance Wednesday before Justice E. Allen Hunter in Aroostook County Superior Court in Houlton. The hearing will take place around 11:30 a.m., a court official said Tuesday.
Detectives informed Davis of the charges Tuesday morning at the state police barracks in Houlton, where Davis had been transported for questioning from the Aroostook County Jail. Davis was held at the jail since his arrest Monday. The decision to file murder charges was made by the Attorney General’s Office.
The alleged crime spree by Davis began with a break-in, fire and vehicle theft at the Katahdin Forest Products woodyard in Oakfield. It continued with the deaths of the couple, fires and vehicle theft at 331 Oakfield-Smyrna Road in Oakfield, and a kayak theft and motor vehicle fire at a Richardson Road home on the southwest side of Upper Mattawamkeag Lake in Island Falls.
It ended, police said, when they found Davis driving the stolen vehicle on Beaver Dam Point Road.
The owner of the stolen kayak, Island Falls resident Dale White, said that police told him they suspect Davis stole the kayak from his lakeside yard and rode it across the water before beaching at Beaver Dam Point. Several police were combing the woods near White’s cabin when a neighbor across the lake called him to see if he was missing a yellow kayak. White immediately told police.
“Jeez, the cars flew out of here so fast you wouldn’t believe it,” White said. “The police [arrested Davis] a little while later.”
White said another one of his neighbors — a man who spotted a vehicle burning near White’s garage and called 911 — told him that he heard what sounded like a great many rounds of ammunition going off in the flames.
A gun owner, White said he saw amid the wreckage of the pickup truck the melted or burnt remains of three revolvers, including one left on the truck’s tailgate. It was unclear whether the weapons belonged to the truck’s owner or had been placed there by someone else.
White and David Gordon, president and CEO of Katahdin Forest Products, said the damage done to their properties pales compared to the emotional pain the crimes caused.
“We lost two important members of this community,” Gordon said of the victims. “They were loved by so many people and that’s a big hole that is left over.”
Gordon and White said that they can think of no reason why Davis would target them. Gordon said that Davis is not a former employee and has no connection to KFP, its parent company Katahdin Cedar Log Homes, or its sister companies, Katahdin Cedar Fencing or Cedar Ideas.
“I don’t believe I have ever met this individual before in my life,” Gordon said Tuesday. “But he sure made a heck of a mess here.”
White said he doesn’t know Davis and cannot tell whether Davis, who is suspected of tearing a large hole in White’s garage to steal the kayak, had ever been to his home on the lake before. White said he locked his kayaks in the garage, which has no windows.
White suspects that Davis first got into a racing kayak at his dock and fell out of the kayak when he rolled it. White found that kayak upside down near his dock.
The pickup truck, which possibly was taken from the home of Kitchen and Pratt, was doused with gasoline or another flammable liquid before being ignited next to his single bay wood garage, White said. The flames started to burn into the structure. Had they spread, the fire would have destroyed his garage and part-time home, he said.
“If it weren’t for the actions of a good neighbor, I would have lost everything I had here,” White said during an interview late Monday.
Much of the damage — estimated at $75,000 to $100,000 — that Davis allegedly did at Katahdin Forest Products was captured on video, which the company president said he has watched several times. Gordon said that the perpetrator drove a vehicle through Katahdin’s main gate and then broke through a warehouse building. He also plowed into a small office inside the building, causing even more damage before he got out of the truck and lit it on fire.
He then stole one of the company’s trucks from the scene and left, according to Gordon.
“I will have to replace the little office and repair all of the fire damage,” said Gordon. “I am hoping by the end of the day to learn a little more from police about why this guy targeted us. Right now, I am just at a loss.”
Gordon said that one of his employees, who lives next door to the victims, heard shots that were allegedly fired by Davis.
“This has impacted a lot of my employees,” he said of the approximately 90 people who work for the company.
One Houlton resident, who asked not to be identified, said that he grew up with Matthew Davis. Davis attended Houlton High School, the man said, and was raised along with a sibling by his grandparents in a religious family, but he was not sure if Davis ever graduated.
“He was always a nice, kind of quiet kid,” he said Tuesday afternoon. “I just can’t believe this.”
Neighbors of Kitchen and Pratt described the couple as very friendly, generous people who liked to do all sorts of volunteer community work. Tracy Tarr, who lives across the street from their residence, said Pratt worked with three of Tarr’s seven grandchildren when they were very young.
Pratt gave her daughter and grandchildren gifts, visited them outside of work and was always buoyant, Tarr said. Kitchen was quieter, more thoughtful, not likely to stir anyone’s animosity.
“She would help anybody,” Tarr said. “If anybody needed anything, she was right there. Once, when we had a baby shower, she wasn’t supposed to go [due to work regulations] but gave a gift. That was the kind of person she was.”
Tarr said her first inkling of trouble was hearing two sets of gunshots, the first faraway, then vehicles rushing by very fast at about 4 a.m. She called her best friend, who is Kitchen’s niece, after she saw firefighters’ flashing red lights. That was at about 4:25 a.m.
Kitchen’s niece arrived shortly thereafter, anguished to discover what had happened. Tarr said she shared her feelings.
“They were pushing everybody back,” Tarr said of firefighters. “The smoke was horrible. This is all so sad, and we have no idea why it happened.”