BANGOR, Maine — The strangulation slaying and molestation of a chambermaid at a premier downtown hotel 49 years ago, sent shockwaves through the community and her family, and led to speculation that her death was tied to the unsolved sex murders of the infamous Boston Strangler.
The way the unknown killer used her nylons to strangle Effie MacDonald, 54, at the prestigious Bangor House is how investigators, including two Massachusetts detectives assigned to the “strangler squad,” determined her death was not related to the 13 still unsolved deaths in the Boston area.
The last Boston Strangler murder was recorded on Jan. 4, 1964, and MacDonald was killed on March 18, 1965.
“In most of the Boston slayings … nylon stockings were tightly knotted around the victim’s necks,” a March 22, 1965, Bangor Daily News article reported. “In the Bangor murder, the stocking was wrapped tightly four times around the woman’s neck, but was not tied.”
The two Boston detectives left Bangor shortly after determining the murder cases were not connected.
Tuesday marks the 49th anniversary of the “Bangor House Strangling,” as headlines at the time referred to the case, and even though nearly five decades have passed, MacDonald’s family has never been able to truly heal because the case remains unsolved.
“I think about her all the time,” Avis Mower, Effie’s younger sister, said Saturday.
The Bangor resident said after all this time, she doesn’t think her sister’s death will ever be solved.
Cold cases like MacDonald’s — one of approximately 120 unsolved homicides, suspicious death and missing person cases in Maine over the last 50 years — need to be reviewed by a fresh set of eyes, which is why the state’s attorney general hired former drug prosecutor Lara Nomani in 2007 to start reviewing the state’s unsolved homicides.
Nine cold cases have been solved in the last seven years, and funding for LD 1734, An Act To Create a Cold Case Homicide Unit in the Department of the Attorney General, would provide Nomani with additional technical help.
“We’re asking for two detectives and a forensic chemist, but even if we had one detective or one forensic chemist we would be able to provide focus on the cold cases and give them the attention they deserve,” Assistant Attorney General William Stokes, head of the criminal division in the Maine attorney general’s office, said Saturday by phone.
Waterville toddler Ayla Reynolds, who went missing from her father’s home on Dec. 17, 2011, falls into the missing person-suspicious death category.
Rep. Steve Stanley, D-Medway, who crafted the bill in October originally to help the family of East Millinocket’s Joyce McLain, a 16-year-old murdered in August 1980, testified at the bill’s public hearing before the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee last month, as did members of the Maine chapter of Parents of Murdered Children.
“The judiciary committee was very supportive and now the question is: Can the appropriations committee find the money to make this a reality,” Stokes said.
A 2001 effort to create a cold case squad died because of lack of funding. The Legislature would have to allocate about $500,000 for the first year and $424,000 annually thereafter to fund the cold case squad.
Effie MacDonald was a county girl, born in Houlton, but she moved with her family to Bangor in the late 1930s. Marriage took her back to her hometown in Aroostook County, but after her divorce she returned to the Queen City to near to her parents and siblings.
She moved back to Bangor in 1956, and worked for Quality Bakery on Ohio Street for several years before it closed, then took a job cleaning rooms at the Bangor House, one of the city’s most prominent hotels at the time.
The Bangor House, a palace hotel with fireplaces in each room and a ballroom on the second floor, opened on the corner of Main and Union streets in 1834, the year the city was founded.
Four presidents and a host of other famous politicians, entertainers and sports figures stayed at the hotel, which was converted into senior housing in the 1990s.
MacDonald lived on Boyington Street and arrived for work as usual around 9 a.m. on March 18, 1965. Co-workers reported seeing her just after noon, and at around 2 p.m. her supervisor became concerned because MacDonald, who had an asthmatic condition, was nowhere to be found.
A search was started and a fellow chambermaid found her beaten and sexually assaulted body in a third-floor guestroom that had not been rented for two days. Her clothing had mostly been ripped off and she had been strangled to death with her nylon stocking in what is now one of the state’s oldest listed unsolved homicides.
Bangor police Detective Capt. Clifton E. Sloane was assigned as the lead investigator.
“There couldn’t have been a better man working those investigations back in those days,” said Brewer resident Larry Doughty, who was working as a dispatcher for Brewer Police Department at the time of the murder. “He was a tough cookie. There was all kinds of rumors about who done it. He worked hard at it. I know he did.”
Sloane, who died in 1976, told the Bangor Daily News in a March 1971 interview that he knew, beyond any reasonable doubt, who the killer was, but didn’t have the physical evidence to convict him in a court of law.
Investigators had interviewed hundreds of people and within a few days of the homicide, had narrowed the list of possible suspects to a handful and finally to one, a male guest at the hotel, Sloane said.
The suspect, who was seen leaving by the back door, according to information provided to MacDonald’s family, is now dead.
The case is still open because there is no statute of limitations with murder, Stokes said. Even so, Bangor police have the investigation listed as dormant and does not have an investigator assigned to the case.
Forensic technologies have improved so much over the last few decades that there may be possibilities to connect people to crimes that just did not exist when the state’s cold cases occurred.
“The best way to solve cold cases is to ensure they don’t happen,” Stokes said. “We devote tremendous resources when homicides happen in Maine. We pull out all the stops to get it solved early on, so we don’t end up with a situation that is unsolved.”
The last unsolved homicide in Maine occurred two years ago, he said.
Not knowing who killed MacDonald and why she was taken was very hard for her parents, especially her mother, and her seven siblings.
“She was a nice lady,” MacDonald’s brother, Chester Terrill of Hermon, said Saturday. “She was kind, quiet. It was quite hard.”