FARMINGTON, Maine — A local man was taken into custody Friday in connection with the death of his son nearly 38 years ago in the first arrest made by the state’s cold-case homicide squad since it formed in 2016.
Burton “Ben” Hagar, 62, of Farmington, surrendered to state police just before noon Friday at his Marvel Street home following his indictment on murder charges by the Cumberland County Grand Jury.
Hagar is being held at the Franklin County Jail. He is scheduled to make his first appearance at 1 p.m. Wednesday in Cumberland County Superior Court in Portland, said Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.
Hagar is charged in connection with the death of his 4-month-old son, Nathan Hagar, who was found unresponsive in the family’s 16 School Street apartment and died at Parkview Hospital in Brunswick on May 9, 1979. Nathan Hagar was originally believed to have died due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, but detectives reopened the case quietly in 1991, McCausland said.
Detectives since have gathered new information about the death and coordinated the investigation with the new Unsolved Homicide Unit, which led to the Attorney General’s Office presenting the case to the grand jury this week, McCausland said.
Hagar’s is the oldest unsolved homicide case state police have resolved, according to McCausland. The oldest prior case involved the arrest of a man in 2012 for an Augusta homicide that took place in 1976, 36 years earlier.
The head of the state police, Col. Robert Williams, praised the unit and the Attorney General’s Office for its hard work and dedication in getting the arrest.
“There are more than 100 Maine unsolved homicides and the new unit is reviewing each case,” Williams said in a statement. “There will be other success stories as their work continues.”
Detailed information about the case against Hagar and the death of his son was scarce on Friday. An entry on the Unsolved Homicides page at maine.gov states merely that the boy’s mother, Venus Hagar, was home with Burton Hagar and their son, who was reportedly healthy and alert, when she went to visit a neighbor. When she returned later, she and her husband went to Nathan’s bedroom and found him deceased.
The squad was formed after Rep. Steve Stanley, D-Medway, submitted a bill in October 2013 authorizing it. The Legislature passed it, and Gov. Paul LePage signed it into law, but it languished due to a lack of funding.
Stanley said he was motivated by the murder of Joyce McLain of East Millinocket. A 16-year-old sophomore at Schenck High School in East Millinocket, she disappeared while jogging in her neighborhood on Aug. 8, 1980. Her bludgeoned body was found on Aug. 10.
But squad advocacy eventually went beyond the McLain effort to include families and friends of murder victims from around the state.
Stanley and Rep. Karl Ward, R-Dedham, submitted another bill in December 2014 and lawmakers this time approved a little over $490,000 annually to create and staff a squad effective July 1. 2015.
State police began filling positions within the squad that fall and it went to work in February 2016, but the unit had nothing to do with the arrest a month later of a man who allegedly confessed multiple times to killing McLain over the years.
Philip Scott Fournier, 55, of East Millinocket was charged with murder. That case is tentatively set for trial in January 2018 in Bangor.
The unsolved homicide squad consists of two state police detectives, a forensic evidence specialist and a victim’s rights advocate. A state police lieutenant and state attorney general’s office prosecutor supervise the squad part-time.
The new squad has not been without controversy. HAAD Enough Inc., a year-old group representing unsolved missing and murder cases in Maine, held a news conference in January to announce a proposed victims’ bill of rights legislation and to question the progress of the unit.
Their legislation is pending.