NORTH YARMOUTH, Maine — Stan Brown, the 93-year-old North Yarmouth man known across state and national beekeeping communities for his longevity, said he believes his son-in-law was fatally shot Sunday trying to protect his landmark bee supply shop from his business partner’s husband.
The shooting attracted heavy media attention and was described as a “shock” by at least one of Brown’s fellow southern Maine beekeepers Monday.
Brown — whose 239 Greely Road store and bee farm sells an assortment of beekeeping supplies and products, such as hives and honey — has been working with bees for nearly 82 years and has been featured prominently in the American Bee Journal.
About 3:15 p.m. Sunday, police said Merrill Kimball, 70, of Yarmouth shot Leon Kelley, 63, of Georgetown near Brown’s store. Kelley died in an ambulance while being taken to the hospital.
Kimball, who Brown said is known as “Mike,” is the husband of Brown’s business partner Karen Thurlow-Kimball. Kelley is Brown’s son-in-law.
Kelley was described by close friends Monday as an “upbeat and jovial spirit” who will be missed in his Georgetown community.
Kimball was detained, interviewed and then released Sunday, according to police. Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, told the BDN on Monday that police are continuing their investigation and had yet to determine whether to press charges.
McCausland said police have interviewed everybody involved in the incident and that the autopsy on Kelley’s body is taking place Monday in Augusta. He said investigators are likely to seek second interviews with those involved in the coming days.
“We’re still trying to pinpoint what brought on the confrontation and what brought the firearm into it,” he said.
In an early Monday afternoon interview, Brown called the shooting incident — and lack of immediate charges against Kimball — a “sad mess.”
“I think it’s pretty … rotten,” Brown said. “They said they need more evidence. What more evidence do you need? You’ve got a dead man with three bullet holes in him. … What [more] do they want? Another dead man? It doesn’t make sense at all.”
Brown said he was at his home, about 200 feet from the shop, overcoming an illness when he heard the faint sound of gunshots Sunday afternoon.
“My daughter came in and said, ‘There’s been an accident up at the shop.’ So I got up and went up to the shop,” Brown recalled Monday. “I saw Karen up there and she said, ‘My husband shot Leon and they’re taking him away in an ambulance.’”
Thurlow-Kimball did not immediately respond to a voicemail Monday seeking comment.
Brown said he told Kelley to keep Kimball — or anybody else — from entering the store, which he said was closed at the time.
“I told Leon not to let anybody into the shop, and Mike wanted to get in there and get something out of there,” Brown said. “I told [Kimball] two or three times over the last couple of years to stay away from my shop.”
The 93-year-old beekeeper said he believes Kimball regularly carried a firearm, but said Kelley did not. Brown said Kimball had in the past gone into his store when it was closed to “take tools, bee supplies or anything else he could sell.” He described his business partner’s husband, a lobsterman, as “troubled.”
Brown also suggested his business relationship with Thurlow-Kimball may be irreparably damaged by the incident. He said he hasn’t seen her or heard from her since Sunday afternoon.
“She won’t come back here,” he said.
Larry Peiffer — a master beekeeper who works in the Standish, Limington and Buxton areas and serves on the Maine State Beekeepers Association board of directors — said the shooting incident came as a surprise. He said nearly everyone in the state’s beekeeping community knows of Brown and his North Yarmouth bee farm and store.
“It’s a shock to me that such a thing would take place, and I don’t know what would have warranted such a thing,” he said.
Leo Gibbons, who called himself a “good friend” of Kelley’s from the Georgetown area, said Monday he “will miss” the shooting victim.
“[A]nyone who knew him will tell you that he had a way of making people laugh like no one else I know,” Gibbons said in an email. “He would always light up any room with his upbeat and jovial spirit. Even when he was hurting, recovering from heart surgery, he would joke about it. Leon would do — and often did — anything to help out anyone, even if he didn’t know them.”
John Ater, from Bath, said he had known Kelley for 25 years.
“[H]e always wore a smile that was contagious,” Ater said. “He wanted to make people happy and would lift you up when you [ran] into him. … If I was having a rough day, he would always remind [me] that things could be worse. In a nutshell, [he was] helpful, happy and honest.”