WATERVILLE — The body of a man found dead last week near Kennedy Memorial Drive has been identified as a fugitive who had been on the run for almost nine years. Police say his death is not considered suspicious and he has no connection to the immediate area.

The man, Richard Lawson, 58, was wanted by the U.S. Marshals Service for failure to appear for the second day of a 2004 federal trial in West Virginia, where he faced charges of manufacturing methamphetamine, use of a firearm in a drug crime and possession of a firearm by a felon. Lawson was tried in absentia and found guilty, said police Chief Joseph Massey.

Lawson’s frozen body was found Jan. 11 behind 295 Kennedy Memorial Drive — a mix of industrial and office buildings — just west of Shaw’s supermarket. An autopsy performed this week by the chief medical examiner’s office in Augusta determined that Lawson died of a heart attack because of coronary disease, Massey said.

It’s not known where Lawson came from, where he was heading or when he died, Massey said. Lawson was born in Pennsylvania, but has family in Corinth and Garland in Penobscot County.

Police theorize that a possible explanation is Lawson may have been traveling to Penobscot County by bus and gotten out when the bus stopped at J&S Oil, 330 Kennedy Memorial Drive. From there, he could have walked across the street to 295 Kennedy Memorial Drive and died, Massey said.

“It’s only a guess,” he said. “Bus transportation would have been the most likely form of transportation he would use. He would have been able to get on and off without producing identification, and he would have wanted to keep a low profile.”

Investigators contacted Lawson’s relatives in Penobscot County, but “they were unable to tell us where he had been,” Massey said.

The cold weather preserved Lawson’s body such that the medical examiner could not establish a time of death, but investigators found a milk carton near the body with an expiration date of Dec. 3. If the carton belonged to Lawson, it is likely that he died before that date.

Investigators forwarded fingerprints to the FBI who confirmed Lawson’s identity, Massey said. A missing finger on Lawson’s left hand and his tattoos also contributed to his identification. Lawson, whose alias was Squirrel, had a tattoo of a squirrel.

“We are comfortable that there is no suspicion regarding his death,” Massey said. “The case is closed for us.”

A deputy at the U.S. Marshals Service in West Virginia said the agency would not release any statements about Lawson until early next week.

Ben McCanna — 861-9239
bmccanna@centralmaine.com