EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — Pamela McLain sees a warning in the recent desecration of her daughter’s Medway grave and of the wooden cross near Schenck High School where Joyce McLain’s bludgeoned body was found 29 years ago, she said Friday.
“Somebody’s telling me to shut up,” McLain said.
Maine State Police Sgt. Troy Gardner and Police Chief Garold “Twig” Cramp held a press conference outside the McLain home on Friday in which state police disclosed that a smiley face had been made with a brownish substance on a small picture frame that was attached to the tombstone at Grindstone Road Cemetery.
A ceramic angel left on the gravestone, but not attached to it, was smashed, Gardner said. Shortly after the discovery of the vandalism, police found that a cross was torn from the utility pole it had been hammered into near where McLain’s body was found on Aug. 10, 1980.
Police suspect that the grave vandalism occurred on the weekend of Sept. 12, Gardner said. Investigators collected evidence at the scenes. Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, said the frame once had a picture of Joyce in it and might still, though the picture may have faded.
“It is sad that Pam has had to go through this, with everything else she has endured,” McCausland said of the vandalism.
A question hung over Friday’s proceedings, which marked the first time that Gardner, the homicide case’s primary investigator, had taken a leading role in a press conference on the case: Could Joyce’s killer or killers be responsible for the vandalism?
“It is possible that these are random acts of vandalism,” Gardner said. “We have to keep an open mind as investigators. We have to consider all possibilities.”
“It’s strange and obviously it requires investigation,” Cramp said.
“I don’t know. I don’t think it’s directed at her,” Pamela McLain said, referring to her daughter. “I think it’s more directed at me. If I shut up, none of this would be happening. Her things would be just a box on a shelf, if I wasn’t talkative. Know what I am saying?
“It’s hard for me to say,” McLain added. “I don’t know who would want to bother the cemetery and the place where she was found. But I can’t imagine anyone killing her either. That same person … if they can kill, they can do anything.
“I can’t imagine kids having done that. All the kids that grow up in this area know something of Joyce McLain,” she said.
“You just never know on this one,” Cramp said.
No other cemetery gravestone was vandalized, Gardner said. The incident is the first in which the gravestone and cross were vandalized, and several of the case’s many suspects — McLain has placed the number as high as 14 — live in the area, she said.
A 16-year-old Schenck sophomore, Joyce McLain was killed sometime around the night of Aug. 8, 1980, apparently while jogging. Her body was found two days later. Her head and neck had been hit with a blunt object.
Several suspects have been investigated, but no arrests have been made.
Never closed, the police investigation appeared dormant for several years until the increasingly vocal McLain re-formed the Justice for Joyce Committee in 2007 and announced its intention to have the body exhumed for DNA examination.
State officials said it was unlikely new evidence would be found, but the body was exhumed on Aug. 28, 2008, and investigators were astonished to find an intact vault seal, vault and a metallic coffin that looked almost new.
Forensic experts Dr. Michael Baden and Dr. Henry Lee, whom the committee had paid to examine the body, were equally surprised to find new DNA and other forensic evidence within the coffin. “Your God has done well by you,” Baden told Pamela McLain.
Baden, the chief forensic pathologist for New York State Police, was assisted in his investigation by Dr. Peter Cummings, a former Millinocket and Dover-Foxcroft resident who volunteered his services.
Among the new evidence were letters left in the casket at McLain’s funeral, said Lee, who is known for his work on the O.J. Simpson murder case, among others. The doctors cautioned that the evidence still must correspond with other case information to produce a suspect and probable cause for arrest — a formidable task.
As recently as last month, McLain and Cummings, a Boston forensic neuropathologist, said they remained very optimistic that police eventually would catch Joyce’s killer.
On Friday, Gardner gave McLain a large manila envelope containing photographs of the desecration.
McLain also indicated Friday that she will replace the vandalized cross at the body discovery site with a new wooden one on Monday or Tuesday.
Made of planks from an old deck at the McLain home, the new cross is white with red lettering. It features McLain’s name, dates of birth and death, a sad face and a heart, Pamela McLain said.
The cross also has written on it “we will never forget” and the words “Psalm 23.” Written originally by Joyce McLain’s aunt on the first cross, its inclusion on the second is particularly meaningful to Pamela McLain today for its lines: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me.”
It’s McLain’s way, she said, of making plain that she is not intimidated by vandals.
“I wish they would come directly. Don’t beat around the bush. Somebody’s got a fight with me, come to me. Don’t do it in a roundabout way. Come right to me. I would love it,” McLain said. “It just shows that somebody’s more worried than I am. I’m not worried.
“I know that state police are really giving it a go this time. The person or persons could have been by my house today. It could have been more than once. I don’t know that. What I know is that I am not intimidated. I am patient. I have been waiting for 29 years.”
Anyone with information about the vandalism is asked to call state police at 866-2122. All calls will be kept confidential, McCausland said.