EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — Rep. Steve Stanley has submitted legislation creating the state’s first cold case investigative squad to solve a 33-year-old town homicide and as many as 120 other crimes, he said Monday.
The bill’s language will be drafted for the state Legislative Council to review as emergency legislation later this month, Stanley said. If the council approves the idea, the bill will begin the long trek toward possibly becoming law. If not, Stanley can appeal the decision during a hearing next month, he said.
The unsolved homicide of Joyce McLain on Aug. 8, 1980, is Stanley’s primary motivator, but he said he knows of many other cases that the three-member team could help close.
“I think that putting it in as an emergency will help speed it along,” Stanley said Monday. “There are a lot of cases like Joyce’s where [victim’s families] have been waiting for years. It is time we take a good hard look at this and see what we can do. I think other states have been very successful at this and Maine can be too.”
The “real test” legislators will face is finding the $500,000 start-up fund for the squad and the approximately $424,000 in annual expenses for the years that follow, said Maine Deputy Attorney General William Stokes, who first suggested creating a squad.
“These things in the past have always floundered due to a lack of funding,” Stokes said Monday.
The state Legislature approved creating a cold-case squad in 2001 but the effort died due to lack of funding, Stokes said.
U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, is working with Patrick Day, a volunteer assisting McLain’s mother, Pamela, to secure federal funding for a cold-case pilot program. That might help, but drawing top talent to temporary positions is often difficult, Stokes said.
Stokes first suggested creating the squad early last month in response to Stanley’s plan to submit a bill authorizing Maine’s attorney general to reassign cold cases from their originating law enforcement agencies to others who might solve them. Stokes said a large reward for information leading to the conviction of McLain’s killer or killers, or the formation of a squad, would be more likely to help.
Assistant Attorney General Lara M. Nomani handles cold cases full-time, but works with detectives carrying full caseloads. Old cases take back seats to more recent crimes, Stokes has said.
Nomani has about 120 cases, including 68 listed on the state police Web page dedicated to cold cases at maine.gov. The cases include Bangor and Portland police investigations and missing persons cases or suspicious deaths where homicide is suspected, she has said.
State police and police in Bangor and Portland are Maine’s sole agencies to primarily investigate homicides.
Joyce McLain was a 16-year-old sophomore at Schenck High School in East Millinocket when she was killed sometime during the night of Aug. 8, 1980. She was last seen jogging in her neighborhood. Her bludgeoned body was found on school grounds.
State police have declined to discuss exactly how far their efforts have reached, but they include an exhumation, interstate trips and occasional sweeps through the Katahdin region. They have a dozen suspects, they have said.
Pamela McLain has occasionally expressed frustration with the case remaining unsolved, questioning state police efforts. Besides supporting Stanley’s bill allowing the AG’s office to transfer cold cases away from state police, McLain also supports allowing the TV show Cold Justice to review the files of her daughter’s homicide investigation.
Stokes’ office is considering that request.