Robert “Bobby” Desmond who lived with his mother and stepfather, Alice and Chet Marden and his siblings on Hovey Street, has not been seen since Aug. 1, 1964. Kennebunk Police have re-opened the case and are looking for answers. Courtesy Photo

KENNEBUNK – Every year on Aug. 21, Dawn Marden bakes a cake and writes “Happy Birthday Bobby” on the icing. The cake is for her brother, Robert “Bobby” Desmond, an 11-year-old boy who vanished in Kennebunk on the night of Aug. 1, 1964.

He lived with his four siblings, his mother Alice and his stepfather Chet Marden in a house on Hovey Street. And then, on the morning of Aug. 2, 1964, he wasn’t there anymore.

Dawn, who was 3 years old when Bobby vanished, has been looking for answers for years, as has her elder sister, Lynne.

“All I want is closure,” Dawn said in a telephone interview Friday, Sept. 9. Closure is the goal for Kennebunk Police Detective Steve Borst, who was asked by Police Chief Robert MacKenzie to look into the matter in 2018. He is asking for anyone with information about the 58-yearold case to get in touch with him.

The last action on Bobby’s disappearance appears to have been in 1976, when excavation of the basement of the Hovey Street home turned up no trace of him. Representatives of the Maine Attorney General’s office at the time told reporters they were looking into about a dozen cold cases and that a relative had stepped forward with information. The AG’s office suspected foul play.

After that, it appears there was no further action concerning Bobby Desmond’s disappearance.

Advertisement

Dawn said Bobby, her half-brother, had lived with his father, Phil Desmond, in New Hampshire after Phil and Alice divorced. Bobby attended his mother’s wedding to Chet Marden on Jan. 1, 1964, and after a bit of moving back and forth between his biological parents, came to live with his mother, stepfather and siblings in Kennebunk sometime in the summer of that year.

It wasn’t a happy home, Dawn recalled. There was abuse and bouts of binge drinking by her stepfather.

“He took it to extremes,” she said, and he became violent.

Dawn remembers that during those times, her sister Lynne would scoop the little girl up in her arms and hide her in a closet under the eaves, to keep her safe.

She described it as a strict household – one that mandated children not ask questions, about anything.

“I have no memories of playing outside with Bobby or him playing outside,” she said. The Marden children didn’t play with neighborhood children. “We stayed close to home,” she said.

Advertisement

Still, Dawn said, at times Chet bought groceries and fixed things around the home. A World War II veteran, he was a pipefitter at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. When he married Alice, his second wife, he took on her five children, said Dawn.

Dawn, in the telephone interview, said she remembers coming down the stairs with her brother Tony on the morning of Aug. 2, 1964. She said her mother told the two children, “Kids, see this, Mommy’s purse is open, there is money missing, the door is open, Bobby must have stolen the money from Mommy’s purse and run away.” Then, said Dawn, her mother said, “let’s go have breakfast now,” and there was no more talk about Bobby.

When she turned 17 or 18, Dawn said she began to have a vivid recurring dream. A decade later, she began therapy.

“Through therapy I was able to recall this night,” she said, and she is firm in her recollection. “Chet was “busting up the furniture,” Dawn said. She heard screaming and crying and went into the closet under the eaves. Later in her bedroom, she said she saw a sheet tied to the bedframe. She said she saw footprints in the damp grass – Dawn later learned there was partial moonlight that night, which accounts for her being able to see the footprints, and she knew her sister Lynne had left the house.

“I went into Tony’s bedroom across the hall, where Bobby was sleeping. I found him on the floor, unconscious in his white BVD underwear, and I tried to drag him into the closet,” said Dawn. Her mother saw what was transpiring and went after the girl. Dawn said she slipped under the bed, but her mother dragged her out by the foot to the main floor and then into the basement. Dawn said her mother thrust her into a wooden crate used for transporting hunting dogs. She remembers the crate had little portholes in the sides, covered in chicken wire. She said she had dreams of seeing a car outside and a rug.

When she awoke in the morning of Aug 2, 1964, Dawn said she was in her bed and Bobby was not around. There was her mother’s explanation that he had taken money from her purse and run away.

Advertisement

His photos, she said began to disappear from the walls and from albums.

“No one talked about it,” she said.

There is no record that Bobby Desmond was ever reported missing by his parents. In September of 1964, his school – whether a Kennebunk school or one he had attended during his years in New Hampshire is unclear – began asking questions when he didn’t show up for classes, and that is when Kennebunk police became involved, and later, Maine State Police.

Dawn Marden said once the school started asking questions and the initial investigation by police began, the children were shipped off to relatives. The Marden family left Kennebunk sometime after Bobby’s disappearance and went to live in Kittery Point.

Bobby’s mother Alice, interviewed by Larry Stains for a July 14, 1976, Biddeford-Saco Journal story at the time of the basement excavation, told the reporter she believed her son was still alive. Chet Marden, who was ill with cancer at that time, died sometime after the excavation; Alice, who went on to twice marry again, died in 2016.

And while Dawn and Lynne continued to try and determine what happened to Bobby, there was apparently no further law enforcement investigation until MacKenzie asked Borst to look into the matter, after a resident brought in a newspaper clipping about the excavation. The woman had never heard of the missing boy, nor had MacKenzie, who was raised in Kennebunk, said Borst.

Advertisement

Borst has been a law enforcement officer since 1995. He started his career in Wells, worked for the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, and joined Kennebunk Police Department in 2013, where he was soon promoted to detective.

With the Desmond case, Borst’s first call was to the Maine Attorney General’s Office, where he asked for the file. He said he was told the file doesn’t exist – that the case was closed, archived and the file destroyed.

“Today, that would never happen,” Borst said.

Many people – Alice and Chet Marden and others, have died.

Desmond was not listed on the Maine State Police missing persons list, on the National Crime Information Center database, on the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children – but he is now.

The search for answers continues.

Advertisement

“Is it possible an 11-year-old could run away and start fresh,” said Borst, “Yes, possibly; probably, no.”

Borst continues his probe. An officer working for the Kennebunk Department in the 1960s told him he had no memory of the case, and people in the community don’t seem to know about it.

Earlier this year, Borst teamed up with journalist Kylie Low, the creator of a podcast called Dark Downeast, which she began in 2020.

“Cases in my home state weren’t getting the attention they needed or desired,” Low said in an email about her reasons for starting Dark Downeast. “I wanted to take an ethical approach … and honor the humans at the heart of each story and push for action and answers in unsolved cases.”

The 39-minute podcast featuring Bobby Desmond can be heard at https://darkdowneast.com.

Dawn also continues her search for answers. She said she’s found the name Bob Desmond in various parts of the country, and has some hope. “A DNA sample would put this to rest,” she said.

Advertisement

Bobby Desmond was born on Aug. 21, 1953. He would be 69 years old today.

“If he is out there,” she said “I pledge to him respect, because I know what it’s like to have survived that family and he deserves the respect he was not given as a child. He was a forgotten child …”

She said she would tell him, “I’ve always loved you and you deserve better in how you were treated. I fought for you, and I never forgot.”

“I know it was a long time ago, but I don’t give up hope,” Dawn continued. “My brother could still be alive, and I could still know him, if he wanted.”

Borst wants to talk to people who remember the family and remember Bobby Desmond’s disappearance. Perhaps, he said, there is someone out there who is holding information on someone else’s behalf.

“For me, it’s worth pursuing. No one, especially a child, should ever be forgotten about,” Borst told Low in the Dark Downeast podcast. “He had real siblings that loved him; he seemed to have fallen off the face of the earth. … I’m trying to do everything I can to find some semblance of a closure for the family.”

Anyone with information can email Borst at [email protected] or call him at 604-1319.9.

Comments are not available on this story.