SCARBOROUGH — If they were alive today, Ashley Ouellette and Susan Hannah might be Facebook fans.

Instead their deaths are unsolved homicides – cases that have gone cold and left killers at large.

Now the Scarborough Police Department, which has been a leader in Maine in using social media to solve crimes, hopes Facebook can generate new leads in the two old cases.

“These are both cases that have bothered us for some time,” said Chief Robert Moulton. “Obviously we’d like to be in position to give the families some closure and feel there are people out there that know things that might be of value.”

Moulton was at a conference for Maine police chiefs recently where a speaker said other departments around the country are using Facebook to try to solve cold cases.

The Scarborough Facebook page, launched at midday Thursday, tells visitors they may have important information.

“Investigations are much like puzzles. Each small piece in itself may appear to be trivial but when placed with other pieces of information it can lead an investigator in the right direction,” the page says.

In 1992, Susan Hannah was 22 and living with her mother on Snow Road in Scarborough after separating from her husband.

She was last seen by employees at the Whaler bar in Old Orchard Beach on April 19 at 1:20 a.m. Her mother reported her missing April 20.

Her remains were found in Limington on Nov. 14, 1993, in woods off a logging road near Route 117. Police say they have interviewed a suspect but would not identify the person.

Ashley Ouellette was a 15-year-old from Saco who was found dead in the middle of Pine Point Road at 4 a.m. on Feb. 10, 1999. Police suspect she was strangled. She was last seen at 2 a.m. at a home in Saco where she was supposed to spend the night.

Friends and family marked the 14th anniversary of her death earlier this month.

Ouellette’s death left young teenagers and others in the community feeling vulnerable, said Angie Hilton, who started a remembrance page for Ouellette on Facebook.

“At that age, the severity of what really happened is almost unimaginable,” said Hilton, who had been friends with Ouellette since they were very young children. “It never will be forgotten. It’s a piece of your life that follows you everywhere you go.”

The lack of an arrest and conviction adds to the pain.

“I think most of all it makes me feel angry at that person because they’ve been able to live their life while a family has suffered, friends have suffered a huge loss,” she said. “That person has been able to live their life how they pleased with no consequence.”

Hilton does not remember the Hannah case, but said the months between her disappearance and when her body was found must have been horrible for her mother and others who cared about her.

Scarborough’s webpage encourages people to “like” the page — meaning they can get updates as information is posted — and to share it on their personal pages where their friends might see it and like it as well. That allows information to spread rapidly on Facebook.

The page also allows for two-way communication.

The first comment on the page noted that Hannah was living on a road very close to where Ouellette’s body was found. Scarborough police responded quickly that the two cases are not connected.

Like many departments, Scarborough has used Facebook’s ability to distribute and collect information from a large number of people to solve property crimes, often with the help of pictures from surveillance video.

Lt. Brian McDonough, head of the Maine State Police major crimes division, said the state’s unsolved homicides are on the department’s website but Scarborough is the first department in the state he is aware of to create a cold-case Facebook page.

“Obviously Facebook is more of a communication tool or to have a dialogue to go back and forth,” said McDonough, who became a detective the year after Hannah disappeared. “I suspect there will be more activity.”

“A lot of agencies have had success in solving particularly property crimes with the use of Facebook and hopefully we’ll have some success with this as well,” he added.

The State Police have jurisdiction over all homicide investigations outside Portland and Bangor and detectives have been working with Scarborough investigators on both cases.

McDonough said he spoke with Scarborough Chief Robert Moulton about the page on Wednesday. His only concern, he said, is that detectives might be inundated with leads that don’t pan out. But, he said, he’s looking forward to seeing the volume and quality of the leads. The department is in the process of updating its own Facebook and Web pages, he said.

Periodically, representatives from the Attorney General’s Office, Office of the State Medical Examiner and police agencies involved in the case gather to review it and brainstorm new approaches to the investigation. The last time they all met to discuss Ouellette’s case was two years ago.

“There wasn’t anything substantial to kind of press forward on,” McDonough said, though there was some additional work done by the medical examiner. “Since then, we haven’t had any new information.”

Although he would not speak specifically about the Scarborough cases, McDonough said that often cold cases are not a mystery, but a matter of proof.

“In over 90 percent of those cold cases, we’ve got a very, very good idea of what happened and who’s responsible,” he said. “Solving a case and knowing what happened is different than proving a case beyond a reasonable doubt. We’re just missing that last piece of evidence in these cases to push them over the top and reach that standard of beyond a reasonable doubt.”

 

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

[email protected]