At some point in his life of traveling, David Hannauer fell in love with the ocarina. He taught himself how to play the small, round wind instrument to almost any key, then learned how to make them from clay.

David Hannauer, unknown date  Courtesy Katherine Hannauer

“And if David were here, he would give you a whole lecture about it,” his sister Katherine Hannauer said in a phone interview this week.

David Hannauer, 60, died in January after he was attacked in his apartment building at the Portland YMCA. Robert Lancaster, the man accused of killing him, appeared in court Thursday to plead not guilty to one count of depraved indifference murder.

Police said previously that they found Hannauer unconscious and suffering from serious injuries while responding to an assault at the YMCA on Forest Avenue late on Jan. 12. Hannauer died of his injuries the next day and his death was ruled a homicide.

The YMCA said previously that Hannauer lived in their men’s dormitory program. It’s not clear if Lancaster also lived at the dorm, but it was his latest address, according to the state identification bureau.

Officers quickly arrested Lancaster and he has been in jail ever since. He is being held on $500,000 cash bail.


Robert Lancaster, left, at his arraignment along with his attorney, Randall Bates, on Thursday. Lancaster was charged with depraved indifference murder in the death of 60-year-old David Hannauer. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

It’s not clear how the assault happened and why police believe Lancaster is responsible. An affidavit for his arrest outlining the state’s case against him has been sealed since Jan. 16, a court clerk said Thursday afternoon.


Hannauer’s family described him as a free soul.

David Hannauer, unknown date  Courtesy Katherine Hannauer

He was raised in New Jersey and had lived in many places, including Central America, New Mexico and Hawaii before coming to Portland, where he lived for a little less than a decade before his death, according to his sister, who said she helped him move to Maine around 2016. She said their family used to vacation in Maine and they have another sister who lives in the area.

They come from a very musical family; his mother played the violin and the guitar, and Katherine Hannauer was a professional violinist. Hannauer took cello lessons as a child, but had no formal training in music, his sister said. But he was teeming with natural talent, had a great ear and a steady sense of rhythm.

His cousin, David Rovics, briefly lived with Hannauer in Olympia, Washington, while they were in their 20s.


“I recall him as a teenager being really energetic and witty and quick thinking,” Rovics said in a phone interview.

But then Hannauer’s personality changed. While living in Hawaii, his sister said, he and his fiancée contracted a parasitic illness that affected his central nervous system.

Hannauer lived the rest of his life with chronic pain, his executive functions were impaired. His sister said he was having trouble keeping track of things. Eventually, living in Hawaii became untenable and he needed help from his family, she said, who got him to Maine. 

David Hannauer fell in love with the ocarina and started making his own instruments before he was killed in January. Courtesy Katherine Hannauer

But Katherine Hannauer suspected her brother was lonely in Portland. He struggled to keep up with social media and new methods of communication as the world moved online. Often, friends from high school would ask Katherine Hannauer how her brother was doing. She would tell them to give him a call.

The ocarina became a constant presence in his life; he regularly visited a pottery studio in Portland so he could fire his clay ocarinas in a kiln and he played his instruments “all the time,” Katherine Hannauer said.

Whenever someone responded to his playing, it was a bright spot. He loved to make people smile, either with his music or with origami he folded using dollar bills.


“He called them ‘smile generators,’ ” Katherine Hannauer said. “He really enjoyed giving people a reason to smile.”


When the police called her in January, Katherine Hannauer said she traveled to Maine to be with her brother before he died.

“I was with him,” she said tearfully. “I stayed with him. I played music for him.”

Their family has already suffered a lot of loss. David Hannauer’s younger brother died years ago. His sister said they had been close. Then their mother died recently. She hopes they can spread both of their ashes at a private family gathering somewhere in Maine.

Given their loss and the violent nature of her brother’s death, Katherine Hannauer said she has struggled to protect her loved ones from all of the details. She’s not sure what she wants out of the criminal justice process. She said she’s comforted by the fact that Hannauer was an organ donor and one of his kidneys saved another person’s life.

“I haven’t figured out yet how involved I want to be, in this stage of things, or if that would help me,” she said.

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