February 13

Maine mother’s anguish prompts lawmaker to propose cold-case unit

The state has 120 of such never-solved murder cases dating back to 1953 but no detectives dedicated to investigating them.

By Scott Dolan sdolan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

State Rep. Stephen Stanley has seen the emotional toll that 34 years have taken on Pamela McLain since her daughter was murdered in 1980.

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This composite shows the faces of some of the Maine victims whose slayings have never been solved.

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Judith and Wayne Richardson, the parents of Darien Richardson, whose murder in 2010 remains unsolved, hold a photograph of Darien on Tuesday.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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READ ABOUT one of the nation's most compelling cold cases, the killing of a young woman nicknamed "The Black Dahlia," who spent part of her childhood in Maine.

Stanley, a first-term lawmaker from Medway, grew up in neighboring East Millinocket with McLain and had her in mind when he submitted a bill proposing the state’s first specialized squad to re-investigate cold cases, like that of 16-year-old Joyce McLain.

The girl was a sophomore at Schenck High School in East Millinocket when she was killed on Aug. 8, 1980. She was last seen jogging in her neighborhood. Her bludgeoned body was found two days later behind the school.

Stanley said his friend has lived with the loss every day since then – and the knowledge that her daughter’s killer has never been found.

He said he didn’t consult McLain before submitting his bill, which was scheduled for a hearing Thursday in front of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee before the hearing was postponed because of anticipated bad weather.

“I’m not saying this cold case squad is ever going to solve it. It might never even get solved,” Stanley said. “If we can help anybody by doing this, if it brings a sense of closure to the families, we’ve done a good thing.”

Pamela McLain declined to be interviewed for this story.

Stanley’s bill would create a four-person unit in the state Attorney General’s Office to work exclusively on cold cases, with a prosecutor, two state police detectives and a state crime laboratory employee. The unit would cost about $530,000 in the first year and about $430,000 in each subsequent year, for salaries, benefits and equipment the unit would need for its work.

Deputy Attorney General William Stokes, who supports the bill, said his office has been advocating for a dedicated cold-case squad since he became chief of the homicide division in 2001, if not longer. The perennial problem has been a lack of money.

The Legislature passed a measure in 2001 to create such a squad, but the law had a clause that caused it to expire in 2004 when the funding never came through, Stokes said.

Maine now has 120 cold cases dating back to 1953, including unsolved homicides, missing-person cases in which crimes are suspected, and suspicious deaths that have not been deemed homicides but may have been crimes, Stokes said.

Maine State Police investigated most of those cases, which are listed on the department’s website. Portland has 10 cold case murders and Bangor has three. Those cities have their own homicide units. The attorney general’s unit would primarily investigate the state police cases.

Stokes said he has discussed Stanley’s bill with both cities’ police departments and made agreements with them that the cold case unit would provide indirect help.

“We would have the resources to work with Portland and Bangor, but state police would not take Portland cases or Bangor cases,” he said.

The unit’s work could include re-examining old evidence with new technology, doing DNA and chemical analysis, re-interviewing witnesses and following new leads.

Maine has an average of about 24 homicides per year. Cold cases are generally those older than two years, but that’s not a fixed definition, Stokes said. “It’s a case where there have been no active leads, and there haven’t been for some period of time,” he said.

Details are sparse on many of the older cases. Just over half of the cases involved men. Many of the female victims were young women. Two of the female victims were babies, including a newborn whose body was found by a dog in a gravel pit in Frenchville.

SUPPORT FROM VICTIMS’ FAMILIES

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