RUTLAND, Vt. – Longtime friends and business associates of James Pak, a well-known gardener and mason who moved from Rutland six years ago, expressed shock Sunday over the Korean man’s arrest in the murder of a teenage couple who rented an apartment in his Biddeford, Maine, home.
Pak was arrested Saturday night after a reported landlord-tenant dispute over parking turned deadly, according to the Portland Press Herald. Police gave his age as 74, although Pak had previously said he was born in March 1944, which would make him 68 years old.
He is charged with two counts of murder and is being held at the York County Jail pending his arraignment either Monday or Wednesday, the Press Herald said.
Those who remember Pak from his decades spent in Rutland as a prominent businessman and artisan said they were dismayed to hear about the charges against him.
“He was a gentleman and a hard worker. I never saw that side of him,” said Myles “Skip” Pratico Jr. “That’s not the Jimmy I knew for 25 years. He was proud of how hard he worked and what he accomplished. That news is very shocking.”
Pratico’s father played an important part in Pak’s rise from a Korean War orphan, who came to Danby as a child with only scant knowledge of the English language, to a respected businessman who left Vermont with an extensive list of friends and associates he credited for making him a success.
Myles Pratico Sr. helped Pak learn some of the gardening and masonry skills that would help him start his own business.
Skip Pratico, who owns his own landscaping business, said he worked occasionally with Pak after his father’s death. He described him as a man grateful for the opportunities he’d had.
“He always talked about the struggles he went through to get where he was,” Pratico said. “I never talked to any of my customers who ever had a fight with him over anything. I never heard a bad thing about him at all.”
Rutland developer Joseph Giancola said he, too, had never heard any complaints about Pak and was surprised to hear he owned a gun.
“He was always talking and always upbeat about some new venture,” said Giancola, who knew Pak as a landlord and who was involved in multiple real estate transactions with him. “As a businessman he had confrontations with people who didn’t pay him or if a job wasn’t going well. But he didn’t get violent. He had lawyers.”
Aside from his prominence as a businessman, Pak was well known for his life story.
He was separated from his parents and five siblings at age 6 when the North Korean Army invaded his home in South Korea.
Wandering alone in an apocalyptic landscape, Pak happened upon some lost American solders. He helped them find their way to an air base and was rewarded for his kindness by a commander who took him under his wing.
After working odd jobs on the base, Pak joined the United Service Organization and performed with other Korean children with luminaries such as Bob Hope.
After the death of the commander who took him in, Pak moved to Vermont. He overcame taunts and harassment during his early years in the states by learning English, completing school and going on to work at everything from dairy farming to a job at General Electric.
When not working, he learned everything he could about plants and masonry.
That education eventually led to a business that employed more than 60 people.
In 1999, Pak and a longtime friend managed to track down two of his sisters and his mother, who were still living in South Korea.