BANGOR, Maine — A man who allegedly confessed multiple times to killing Joyce McLain over the years since the 16-year-old girl’s bludgeoned body was discovered in East Millinocket in 1980 was arrested Friday in connection with her death, Maine State Police announced.
Philip Scott Fournier, 55, of East Millinocket was taken into custody at his home about 11 a.m. by Maine State Police on a murder charge and taken to Penobscot County Jail, officials said. Fournier, who goes by his middle name, will appear in court at 11:30 a.m. Monday at the Penobscot Judicial Center, according to the attorney general’s office.
The chief of the state police, Col. Robert Williams, said during a 4 p.m. news conference at the Bangor barracks that police are confident that Fournier murdered McLain but that the investigation remains open.
“We’re going to continue to work on the case,” he said. “Right now, we think we have the person who committed the homicide, but we’ll see what comes with new developments as people call in.”
McLain last was seen the night of Aug. 8, 1980, while jogging. Her partially clad body was found two days later in a clearing near Schenck High School. Her head and neck had been hit with a blunt object.
Fournier also was involved in a vehicle crash within hours of McLain’s death and suffered head injuries.
U.S. District Judge John Woodcock identified Fournier as “a person of interest” in McLain’s homicide when he sentenced him in 2009 to 6½ years in prison for possession of child pornography. Fournier’s criminal history also includes convictions in state court for burglary and unauthorized taking in 1979, burglary and theft in 1980 and burglary in 1984. After his conviction for possessing child pornography, he was ordered to be a 10-year registrant of the Maine Sex Offender Registry.
Fournier was released from federal prison on Jan. 6, 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prison Inmate locator.
“He has been interviewed by us many times,” Williams said Friday. “One of the reasons this has taken so long” is that Fournier’s story changed many times through the years.
According to the affidavit, investigators spoke with Fournier at least 27 times in the last 35 years, and in some of those interviews, he confessed to the slaying.
On May 15, 1981, for example, Fournier told police that he “raped Joyce and that I hit her with a telephone insulator and that I kicked her,” but after being questioned about it, Fournier responded, “I remembered these things, but I know that they weren’t a part of my memory, they were things I made up.
“I told them I did that, which I didn’t, because I’m not that way,” Fournier said in another part of the 1981 interview. “I said I did it because I thought I had done it.”
Police also interviewed people who said they heard Fournier confess to killing McLain, including his parents, a local minister, and a couple in 2010 who said he told them he was among several young men who attacked and sexually assaulted the girl before killing her.
During interviews with police, Fournier named at least five different men, saying they were involved in McLain’s death. At times he said he was a witness, other times, “he was forced to participate.” The Bangor Daily News is not naming the men because they have not been charged with a crime.
People who answered the door on Friday at Fournier’s mobile home off Church Street declined to comment on the arrest. Neighbors said that several state police and some East Millinocket officers took Fournier into custody at the trailer. Williams said the arrest occurred without incident.
Maine Department of Public Safety spokesman Stephen McCausland said the lengthy investigation shows that murder cases sometimes take time to build.
“A murder arrest is not contingent upon one single piece of evidence” but on the entirety of an investigation, which can span years and include hundreds of interviews, said McCausland.
“You get one shot at a murder case, and you have to make it the best possible, and the [attorney general’s] office determined this week that this was the time,” he added.
Asked if the arrest was connected to the Wednesday death of East Millinocket fire Capt. Peter Larlee, who as a young man found McLain’s body near Schenck High School, Williams said it was just a coincidence.
“It’s quite sad,” said Williams, referring to Larlee’s death from an apparent heart attack. “He found her body, and I’m sure he wanted to see a resolution to this just as bad as anybody. It had nothing to do with the arrest today.”
Larlee went out searching for McLain with her father, Michael McLain, on the evening of Aug. 9, 1980, and went out again early the next morning, the affidavit states. When Larlee found her body, he yelled and got no response, so he walked closer and saw that she was dead, the affidavit states. He ran back to his residence to call police.
It’s the clues — the fact that Fournier knew Joyce McLain had a ribbon in her hair, for example — that tie him to her death, according to the affidavit.
“Many of the details provided by Fournier are consistent with the crime scene,” the affidavit written by state police Detective Thomas Pickering states.
McLain’s body was found lying face down with her head turned to the left and her hands tied behind her back. She was wearing only socks and sneakers, the affidavit states.
Fournier allegedly first confessed to his minister at Calvary Temple. Pastor Vinal Thomas took his confession and then contacted Fournier’s mother and stepfather, Anita and Wayne Powers, and was there at the church when he confessed to them, the affidavit states.
“Fournier stated he hit McLain in the back of the head with an object,” and that Fournier stated he tried to have sex with McLain, the pastor told investigators during a June 20, 1989, interview.
Investigators interviewed Fournier’s mother in May 2014 and reviewed an interview with his stepfather in October 2008, where detectives heard the same story that his pastor had reported.
“I killed Joyce McLain,” Fournier reportedly said to his mother and stepfather while crying uncontrollably, the affidavit states. “I didn’t mean to, Mama.”
After allegedly confessing to his parents, Thomas took Fournier to Bangor to meet with Maine State Police. After the interview, the pastor drove him back to his home in Medway. Information about that interview was not contained in the affidavit.
Fournier’s ex-wife told the Bangor Daily News in 2009 that she believed her husband was involved.
Fournier was a person of interest because sometime in the early hours of Aug. 9, 1980 — or after midnight on the night of McLain’s disappearance — he stole an oil truck and crashed into another vehicle.
A couple of local teenagers reported seeing Fournier and another young man, who appeared drunk, near Schenck High School about 7:30 p.m. the night McLain went missing. And a local couple told police they saw Fournier and another man running with a whiskey bottle along the sidewalk near the high school about 9 p.m. that same evening, the affidavit states.
The timing of the truck’s theft left investigators wondering why Fournier was behaving so rashly, police said. Fournier suffered a skull fracture in the accident and was in a coma for eight days.
Maine State Police have revisited the site where McLain’s body was found several times in the last couple of months. Investigators first returned to the site on Oct. 1, 2015. They then returned a month later and again weeks later.
Williams declined to talk about what, if any, evidence was recovered.
Pamela McLain, who has been a vocal advocate for more work on her daughter’s homicide, declined to comment Friday. Greylen Hale, her nephew, said McLain is “very excited” by the arrest.
“She feels some relief. I don’t think she’ll feel full relief until there’s a conviction,” Hale said. “She’s all smiles. All smiles.”
Pamela McLain worked with volunteers to get a cold case squad started to solve homicides. That effort led to LD 1121, a law enacted in 2015 that made the squad a reality. A homicide is typically considered a cold case after going unsolved for two years. There are about 120 cold cases on the books in Maine.
[MORE: Cold case squad created]
“She has been living a nightmare for the last 35½ years,” Williams said. “ As have many people in that Greater East Millinocket region. I think you are going to find there is a lot of relief in the community.”
Williams said the case was solved by members of the state police Major Crimes Unit, working with the medical examiner’s office and the attorney general. The cold case squad, he said, is still developing its protocols and did not participate in the investigation.
Neighbors of McLain expressed relief at news of the arrest.
“About time,” Penny York said. “I am so glad. [Joyce McLain] should have graduated with me. I haven’t seen [Pamela McLain] today, but what a relief this must be.”
“Finally, some breaking news,” said Mike Lawson, 45, a neighbor of Fournier’s at the trailer park.
Trailer park residents stayed away from Fournier because of his sex offender status, Lawson said.
Fournier was 19 at the time of Joyce McLain’s death and knew her and the McLain family, Pamela McLain said previously. Almost all of the 12 to 14 people whose names police and others connected to the case were known to the McLains as friends, acquaintances or neighbors, she said.
State police interviewed hundreds of people in relation to Joyce McLain’s death and worked thousands of hours on the case over the years.
Investigators continue to urge anyone whom Fournier may have confided in over the years about the case to call the Maine State Police Major Crimes Unit in Bangor at 800-432-7381.
This is the second-longest homicide investigation state police have conducted that has resulted in an arrest. The longest — just over 36 years — was the homicide of Blanche Kimball of Augusta in 1976. Her killer was arrested in 2012.
“Unsolved homicides never end for the Maine State Police,” Williams said.
[MORE: 2008 autopsy revealed new evidence]
BDN writer Nick Sambides Jr. contributed to this report.
Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that a neighbor of Pam McLain who commented on the recent arrest was Teddy York. It was Penny York.