FARMINGTON – A local police officer’s hunch, DNA evidence and a detailed description Grace Burton gave police of her attacker before she died led to the arrest Thursday night of a Massachusetts man who is expected to be charged with the crime.

Juan A. Contreras, 27, of Waltham made an initial appearance in court there Friday where he waived extradition, Maine State Police Lt. Brian McDonough said Friday during a news conference at the Farmington Police Department.

Contreras was expected to leave Massachusetts on Friday afternoon and be back in Farmington, housed at the Franklin County Detention Center on Friday night. He is expected to be arraigned in Farmington on Monday, police said.

Contreras is to be charged with murder once he is returned to Maine, Maine State Police spokesman Stephen McCausland said.

After months of investigating the homicide, the arrest was made after DNA samples taken from Contreras provided a match to samples taken at the crime scene, he said.

McDonough said that a random encounter between a Farmington police officer and Contreras broke the case open, making it possible to get the DNA match that is the key evidence supporting the murder charge.

Sgt. Michael Adcock followed a hunch and is responsible for making the connection to Contreras, McDonough said.

Contreras crashed his bicycle on a road in Farmington a month after Burton’s death. Adcock responded to the crash and discovered Contreras was living in a trailer park on Pillsbury Lane, which is off Fairbanks Road and near the Margaret Chase Apartments, where Burton was killed.

Adcock interviewed Contreras after the crash and passed the information on to state police detectives, the affidavit states.

He did not ask for a DNA sample at the time, but he followed up leads tied to Contreras and became suspicious after Contreras vanished from town several weeks after the slaying, McDonough said. Deputy Attorney General Williams Stokes said Contreras was under surveillance before his arrest.

Contreras advertised himself as a professional dog sitter and housekeeper while living there, and he had family living in the area, Farmington Police Chief Jack Peck said.

Police believe Contreras cut a screen and entered through an unlocked window of Burton’s first-floor apartment. Her attacker left a trail of blood outside the apartment and near the window.

Investigators took several hundred DNA samples from men with ties to the Farmington area. Contreras voluntarily submitted a DNA sample Wednesday, McDonough said.

Burton, 81, who called 911 after the attack, gave police a detailed description of the attacker, describing him as a medium-sized man with a thin mustache. She was taken to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, where she died later that morning.

McDonough said Friday that the description played a big role in guiding the investigation.

On Friday, Contreras waived extradition and Maine State Police were expected to take him to Franklin County Detention Center in Farmington, according to Deputy Attorney General William Stokes, whose office is prosecuting the case.

According to the affidavit, Massachusetts police charged Contreras in 2003 with breaking and entering at night to commit offenses. His criminal record also includes a shoplifting charge and charge of possessing of a prohibited weapon other than a firearm, the affidavit states.

Lois Seamon, a close friend of Burton’s, said Friday that she was relieved by the arrest.

“It’s just the answer to our prayers that this can hopefully finally be finished,” she said.

McDonough also praised Burton’s family for working with investigators and keeping the case in the public spotlight.

Julie Shaw, Burton’s only daughter, made a public plea for help catching her mother’s killer just a week after the homicide. Family and friends of Burton, who had five children and many grandchildren, also raised a $17,000 reward for information leading to an arrest, police and family members said.

Police Chief Jack Peck said Friday that the death had spread fear and frustration through the Franklin County town of about 7,700 residents.

He told reporters that he hopes the arrest can bring closure for Burton’s family and community, as well as provide residents with a renewed sense of safety in their own homes.

“This senseless act affected the whole community,” he said.

The murder charge in Maine has a minimum sentence of 25 years to life. Contreras will likely appear in Franklin County Superior Court early next week, Stokes said.

The Sun Journal contributed to this report. 

Morning Sentinel Staff Writer David Robinson can be contacted at 861-9287 or at:

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