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My Top Five: Most Intriguing Maine Crimes


by Gerry Boyle

My Top Five: Most Intriguing Maine Crimes by Gerry Boyle first appeared in Islandport Magazine, Winter 2017. 

When I was asked to do a Top 5 Maine crimes list, I knew it would be no problem. Five crimes? Why not twenty-five? After more than thirty years in the crime business—first as a newspaper reporter and then as a crime novelist—the challenge would be selecting so few. I should point out, though, that my criteria for memorable crime may be different from yours. I look for some aspect of a murder, a theft, an arson that is unexpected, or a crime that can’t be easily explained away. There is something about the crime that I just can’t shake—and I can shake a lot.

Ayla Reynolds

The blue-eyed, blonde toddler disappeared more than five years ago from a nondescript ranch house on a quiet street in Waterville. Her face first went public on posters her parents, Trista Reynolds and Justin DiPietro, put up in the days after she was reported missing. In the weeks and months that followed it would be seen across the country and the world.

DiPietro told police his eighteen-month-old daughter had been abducted from the small house in the middle of the night, but there was no evidence that pointed to an intrusion, investigators said. The baby’s blood was found in the basement, but Ayla was never found.  Reynolds, who was estranged from DiPietro, demanded he tell the truth. Police said the dad’s explanation was, in so many words, a crock. But that was DiPietro’s story and he was sticking to it. And so did his girlfriend and his sister. For days. And weeks. And months. And years. In September 2017, Ayla Reynolds was declared legally dead.

This is what has stayed with me about this terribly sad case. The people in that house were interviewed by Waterville police, State police detectives, and the FBI. These are professionals who can smell a lie like my cats can smell Friskies. These cops can also turn a liar into a pretzel, but nobody in the sad, sad case of Ayla Reynolds has snapped.

This is highly unusual. Extraordinary, even. If the stories were concocted and coordinated, nobody has been tripped up. Nobody’s panicked and ratted the other two out. Nobody has broken under the inescapable weight of the truth.


Henry Lombard and Hubert Hartley

It’s Thanksgiving, 1990. Four young guys, a young woman, and her toddler daughter are staying in a small cabin in the woods in Fairfield Center. They’ve come to go deer hunting.

That morning, half-brothers Henry Lombard Jr., 28, and Hubert Hartley, 18, get back from hunting. Morris Martin and Paul Lindsey Jr. are asleep on couches in the living room. The woman, Hartley’s girlfriend Tammy Theriault, is ordered upstairs, told Lombard and Hartley have something to take care of. Shots ring out. Martin and Lindsey are killed as they sleep. Their bodies are dragged to the cellar, stuffed in trash bags, and dumped in a bog a few miles away.

After everyone cleans up the blood, dinner is served. Ham.

Lombard and Hartley are arrested, charged with the murders, and tried separately. Theriault testifies against both of them, though she said she didn’t see who pulled the trigger. The half-brothers implicate each other. There was no one else in the house. Theriault didn’t kill the two men. The separate juries decide there is reasonable doubt in both cases. Lombard and Hartley walk.

But not far. Lombard is immediately arrested on federal gun charges. He’s a career criminal and is sentenced to life. Hartley, also faces federal weapons charges, pleads guilty in federal court and gets five years, the maximum. State prosecutors don’t forget. To this day they do everything possible to have joint trials when cases are linked.

Dennis Dechaine

For nearly thirty years, Dennis Dechaine has been one or the other—the perpetrator of a heinous crime or the victim of a terrible miscarriage of justice. Last year, a federal appeals court denied Dechaine’s latest and perhaps last bid for a new trial. He remains in the state prison in Warren, doing life for the murder of a twelve-year-old babysitter. The state says they have their man; his fervent supporters say there is DNA evidence that would exonerate him if it were allowed.

The case has spawned a citizens’ group devoted to freeing an “innocent” man. A book has been written about the former Bowdoinham farmer. A video interview is on YouTube. His case has rallied support like no other in the history of Maine. In the end, the evidence has carried the day:  Dechaine stumbling from the woods where the girl’s body was found; his reported confessions; papers from his truck found near the house where the girl was abducted; a rope from his truck used to bind her; and his alibi that he was wandering in the same woods that day taking drugs.

Countless people have been convicted on much less. But whenever Dechaine popped back up in the news, I had to wonder. What if it wasn’t him? What if he’s spent half his life in prison for a crime he didn’t commit? What if he was, as his supporters say, set up? Can you imagine what that life would be like? I can. And do.

Claudia Viles

I feel a little bad singling out the former Anson tax collector, who was convicted in 2016 of stealing more than $500,000 from the town. For me, Claudia Viles is a fascinating type: a mild-mannered embezzler who skims big money from small towns and businesses and otherwise wouldn’t hurt a fly.

But Viles, who steadfastly maintained her innocence before being convicted and sentenced to five years in prison, can stand in here for the other embezzlers who are regularly tripped up by auditors, leaving townspeople shocked and dismayed. “Claudia Viles? I’ve known her my whole life!”

In the Anson case, the town operated like Mayberry. Viles was the only employee who registered cars and collected excise tax. She also was the only one who documented how much she took in. And the one who made the deposit. It would be easy to take a little loan one week, another the week after that. For years. Eventually, you’re in deep and there’s no way out.

I didn’t know Viles, but I did know Anson way back when. I started at the Morning Sentinel as a cub reporter assigned to cover Somerset County. Anson is the kind of town where business is done with a handshake because, after all, most people have lived in town their whole lives. There are no secrets. When something like this is uncovered, suddenly people don’t know whom to trust. In my business, that’s a very interesting thing.

Don Christen

Back in the day, marijuana legalization activist Donny Christen was, in fact, a criminal.

I first came to know Christen in the early 1980s when he sent me a letter that reeked of marijuana smoke. Christen, who was living in Madison, had a bad back and a complaint. He had the right to advocate for marijuana use, he said, but when he did, he was treated as a criminal. Over the years, that was the case. In smoke-outs on the courthouse steps, demonstrations at the State House, Donny would whip out some weed. Cops would step in, as required for an act of civil disobedience. One time, Christen did seven months in the county jail for handing out marijuana cookies.

A man before his time.

I think of Christen every time I drive by a medical-marijuana growhouse (there are at least three within a few miles of my house). Or when I see, as I did in downtown Bangor a few weeks ago, a full-size marijuana plant growing in somebody’s front yard. Who would have thought?

Christen did, and eventually the state came around. Hempstock, the annual festival he long organized, has gone mainstream. No more renegade marijuana growers plying their trade in the backwoods of Somerset County. I’m glad I was around to see it, and got to explore that world in my mystery novel Potshot. It’s like living through Prohibition. Something to tell the grandchildren.

Gerry Boyle is the author of fourteen crime novels, including the acclaimed Jack McMorrow series, featuring a former New York Times reporter transplanted to rural Maine. Straw Man, the latest in the series, won the 2017 Maine Literary Award for Best Crime Fiction. Boyle is a former newspaper reporter and columnist. His crime reporting has fed his crime fiction. 

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