Vernelle Jackson has no regrets about burying her best friend in the backyard of her mobile home property in Norway about 18 months ago.

The Maine State Police Major Crimes Unit works Tuesday at the trailer at 239 Harrison Road in Norway, where a woman’s body was found buried in the backyard. Jon Bolduc/Sun Journal

It was an expression of love and respect to a longtime friend, whose dying wish was to be laid to rest near her friend and caregiver, Jackson, an 81-year-old South Carolina native, said in a telephone interview Wednesday night. The two had met and become friends years ago when they both lived in the South, she said.

Jackson decided to bury her friend, whom authorities have not yet identified, after the woman became seriously ill and bedridden. Jackson said her friend, who was born in 1937, was under the care of a doctor as well as hospice care in the months before she died.

Maine State Police came to Jackson’s home at 239 Harrison Road in Norway for a well-being check on the woman on Tuesday, Jackson said.

A former nurse’s aide, Jackson said she has fully cooperated with state police, who informed her that she needed a permit to bury a person. Jackson said she told police that her friend died from natural causes.

State police detectives and evidence technicians located the woman’s remains during a search of the property on Tuesday. The woman had been buried in a shallow grave behind the mobile home,  near the home’s well.

Investigators said the woman likely died in the past 12 to 18 months. Maine Department of Public Safety spokesman Steve McCausland said an autopsy on the woman’s remains started Wednesday. The Maine Medical Examiner’s Office will try to give investigators a positive identification on the remains, along with a cause of death.

“We are looking for answers from the Medical Examiner’s Office,” McCausland said when asked Wednesday about possibility that criminal charges could be brought against Jackson. “We’re anticipating that could take awhile.”

Jackson also told her story publicly Wednesday on camera during an interview with WMTW-TV.

“She told me, ‘I want you to promise me and don’t let me down. I want to be buried in your backyard so I can be close to you,” Jackson told WMTW-TV.

“If I go to jail for it, I just have to go,” Jackson said.

In the interview with WMTW, Jackson said she wrapped her friend’s body in a tarp, and dragged her to the hole she had dug. Jackson, who has been diagnosed with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), said it took her a couple of days to dig the grave and move her friend’s body.

Their friendship goes back years to when they met in church while living in the South. Jackson describes herself as a farm girl, who picked cotton and sweet potatoes and baled hay on a farm in South Carolina.

When Jackson came to Maine 20 years ago looking for a place to live, her friend invited her to stay at her Otisfield home. It was a debt that Jackson tried to repay when her friend, who had no other place to live, moved into Jackson’s Norway home four years ago.

Jackson said her friend had struggled with alcoholism during her life.

“I told her that if she wanted to live with me, she couldn’t drink. I told her I’m a church-going person and I don’t drink,” Jackson recalled. “She never had another drink after she moved in.”

They tried to make the most of their time together. They took road trips to Old Orchard Beach and visited lakes in the Bridgton area. They went fishing and actually caught fish at Lake Pennesseewassee Lake in Norway.

At home, Jackson said her friend enjoyed her Southern-style cooking, especially her fish and grits.

“We just had a good time together,” Jackson said.

Jackson said she did not realize that she needed a permit to bury her friend.

“I stand behind what I did. If I had known I needed a permit, I would have got a permit,” Jackson said.

Jackson owns the home on Harrison Road, which she and her husband, Charlie, purchased. He died eight years ago.

The Norway case is not the first time that police have been called upon to investigate a home burial. In 2016, a Baldwin man admitted to burying his mother in the backyard of a home they shared. Maine State Police investigated why Shawn Farnell, 43, buried his mother, 72-year-old Carolyn Farnell, under about 3 feet of dirt in a construction pit behind their home.

Police were alerted to the presence of a body there when a tipster called the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office. Multiple family members told police that Farnell was in failing health, but did not want to go to the hospital.

While no foul play was suspected, Shawn Farnell did not have a death certificate for his mother or a permit to bury her.

While burial at home or on private land is legal in Maine, the state requires people to first notify their municipality or county so the burial plot can be added to land records. After the family burial plot is formalized on paper, the owner must mark it as a cemetery.

In addition, a person is required to obtain a signed death certificate from a doctor. That allows for the certificate to be maintained as a vital record by the city or town where the person died.

 

 

 

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: