Acadia National Park may exist on an island but in the late 1970’s a human predator showed up there and started hunting. The identity of the killer has remained unknown for more than four decades and the mystery as to who killed Leslie Spellman is still waiting to be uncovered.
- The Boston Globe: Slain woman is traced to Boston store, by John F. Cullen.
- Death in Acadia and Other Misadventures in Maine’s National Park. Down East Books, by Randi Minetor
- The Bangor Daily News: Woman found slain.
- The Bangor Daily News: Police release details about slaying victim, by Maureen Williams.
- The Bangor Daily News: Identity sought.
- The Boston Globe: Hingham woman’s slaying a puzzle, by Gloria Negri.
- The Bangor Daily News: Family identifies slain woman, by Christopher Spruce.
- The Bangor Daily News: Slaying probe shifts to Vermont, by Christopher Spruce.
- The Times Argus: Woman Found Dead In Maine Last Seen Alive In Barre.
- The Brattleboro Reformer: Hiker Found Slain After Leaving Vermont, by UPI.
- Bennington Banner: Final hours of victim a mystery, by UPI.
- The Boston Globe: Conn. Killings point to one in Maine, by John F. Cullen.
- The Bangor Daily News: Kill-link theory arouses lawyer, by UPI.
- Naugatuck Daily News: Williams Says Acquin Not In Maine In June, by UPI.
- Nashua Telegraph: Unsolved murder cases reopened, by Associated Press.
- The Bangor Daily News: State seeks ‘cold case’ investigators, by Renee Ordway.
- The Bangor Daily News: Cold case: Clues sought in 1977 slaying, by Toni-Lynn Robbins.
- Fox 22 Bangor: Asticou Azalea Garden 1977 murder still unsolved, by Nit-Noi Ricker.
- Green Mountain Ridge – The Long Trail
- James R. Hicks via Murderpedia.org
- James R. Hicks Bureau of Prisons Profile
- Hartford Courtant: 1977 Mass Murder in Prospect Claimed Woman, 8 Children, by Julie Stagis.
- Acadia National Park Information National Park Service
- Radford Psychology Study
Hi park enthusiasts…
I’m your host Delia D’Ambra.
The case I have for you today details the ins and outs of a horrific murder in Maine’s Acadia National Park
To this day, the who and the why behind this senseless slaying remains unanswered.
It takes place mostly in and around Mount Desert Island, a portion of this mammoth island park that spans more than 47,000 acres and includes 26 significant mountain peaks covered in dense forests. If that wasn’t isolating enough…it’s also bordered by roughly 64 miles of Atlantic Ocean coastline.
According to the National Park Service, Acadia’s beautiful landscape draws in roughly 3.5 million visitors a year who are eager to check out hiking trails, campgrounds, and breathtaking coastal views.
The local population in the small town of Northeast Harbor stays pretty consistent at only about 600 people, but annually droves of tourists pour into this area each summer.
With so many strangers flooding into the area, it the perfect place for a predator to go unnoticed.
And during the summer of 1977, a killer did just that…and has never been identified…even after 45 years.
This is Park Predators.
On the morning of June 19th, 1977, just after 9:00 a.m., Gordon Weetman, his wife Ann, and their two children pulled into the gravel parking lot of Asticou Azalea Gardens on the outskirts of Acadia National Park. The gardens were and still are an impeccably designed display of diverse flowers and plants.
Think of a botanical garden on steroids.
Though it’s technically separate from Acadia National Park, it’s often included on visitor’s list of things to do. The spot has a lot of natural floral archways, reflective ponds, and lush greenery that most visitors can’t stand to miss out on.
The Weetmans were one of those families who didn’t want to miss out. They were in town on vacation from where they lived in New Brunswick.
After parking their car, the family got out, wrangled their kids, and set off on their walk. Less than 25 feet down the trail, Gordon the father stopped abruptly in his tracks. He couldn’t believe what he was staring at.
There, lying on the side of the walking trail, was a lifeless, bloody body.
Gordon couldn’t make out for sure whether it was a man or woman because the person’s face was covered in blood… and to be honest, the family didn’t stick around for long to look closer. Gordon quickly ushered his wife and kids away from the area and frantically drove a mile down the road to the town of Northeast Harbor to call for help.
Gordon found a telephone booth on Main Street and dialed 9-1-1.
On the other end, a civilian police and fire dispatcher on duty named Earnest Coombs picked up the police station’s line.
The panic in the caller’s voice made it difficult for him to understand what exactly the guy on the other end was saying, but once Earnest got the man to calm down, he told him to hang up and come into the station to explain what was going on in more detail.
Minutes later Gordon arrived at the Northeast Harbor Police Station and breathlessly revealed to Earnest what he and his family had seen. He told the officer that there was what looked like a man’s bloody body in the path near the parking lot of Asticou Azalea Gardens and somebody should get up there fast and check it out.
Earnest knew the spot Gordon was talking about was just 100 yards or so from the Maine 3 and 198 entrance of Acadia National Park. There were going to be hundreds of people flooding through that area on a Sunday. So, he knew his agency needed to act fast.
Earnest immediately phoned one of his colleagues, Sergeant Tyrone Smith, at his home and alerted him of the grisly discovery near the park.
According to John F. Cullen and Anson Smith’s reporting for The Boston Globe, Earnest’s first thought at the report of the body, as he later told the paper, was quote — “Nope. Never thought it was murder. I guess because nobody’s ever been murdered here before.” –end quote
Initially, Earnest stayed put at the police station with the Weetman’s and his sergeant traveled to the scene to check out what they were dealing with. A few minutes after Tyrone arrived on the scene, he chirped back over his radio to Earnest to let him know that they were dealing with a 10-49…short code for homicide.
Earnest couldn’t believe it. A murder in the park was the last thing he expected his department to have to handle in the middle of the busiest season for Acadia.
Once the Northeast Harbor police realized they were dealing with a homicide, it didn’t take long for the agency to call in the Maine State Police for assistance. Earnest, Tyrone and their colleagues were ill-equipped to handle such a big investigation. They needed the help of a true homicide detective and that’s what they got when state police detective Edward Mandell was assigned to the case.
Detective Mandell arrived at the crime scene in the gardens roughly an hour after the body’s discovery at approximately 10:15 a.m. to begin his investigation.
When he took a closer look at the victim’s body on the trail, the first thing he noticed was that Gordon Weetman had mistakenly reported the victim as male. The deceased person was actually a young woman with light brown hair, olive complexion, and grey eyes. From what Mandell could see, she looked to be in her early 20’s and was around 5 feet tall with a slender build.
There was no question for the detective that this woman had been murdered. She had multiple deep cuts on her head and in her hairline and she appeared to have a severely broken jaw.
These were NOT the type of injuries that Detective Mandell and other responders on scene felt had come from an animal attack or freak accident. The woman’s wounds appeared to be violently intentional.
The other giveaway that a person had attacked her was the fact that she was partially undressed. Her shoes and pants were missing. The only clothing she had on was a beige/brown sweater, a maroon nylon vest, underwear and red knee-high socks.
To detective Mandell’s dismay, the woman had no wallet, purse or any identification on her that could give investigators an idea as to who she was or where she was from.
Items like this being missing normally would indicate robbery as a possible motive…but to Detective Mandell that didn’t completely add up. Mostly because the victim was still wearing pieces of jewelry when she was killed, and the killer had not taken those items with them.
The pieces looked unique. Like they’d been with the victim for a long time or possibly given to her as gifts. There was an oval tiger eye ring on one of her fingers and a hand carved wooden bracelet shaped like a serpent on one of her wrists.
While detective Mandell and state police techs processed the crime scene, they noticed that the ground underneath the victim’s body was moist BUT her clothing was dry.
According to several news reports, the area had gotten a significant amount of rainfall prior to 6:00am on that day. Sometime between 5:30am and 6:00 is when the drizzling let up. So, investigators concluded that because the woman’s body was sitting on top of damp ground but she and her clothing were dry that more than likely meant she had not been on the garden trail long before being found.
It suggested she’d ended up there after the rain had stopped. So, sometime after 6:00am but before she was found at 9:00am—a three hour window.
This helped them narrow down her time of death significantly or at least pinpoint better when her killer would have been in the area.
More than likely, whoever the suspect was parked in the same public parking lot that the Weetman family had pulled into.
According to Randi Minetor’s book, Death in Acadia and Other Misadventures in Maine’s National Park, Detective Mandell recovered the murder weapon from the crime scene during his initial search BUT what it was is information police have never revealed in this case.
What I can tell you is that based on the fact that the murder weapon was located near the woman’s body, and she had significant blood loss on the trail, investigators assumed with a high degree of certainty that she had been killed there…NOT killed somewhere else and then dumped there.
After hours of processing the scene, investigators transported their Jane Doe to Maine’s Chief Medical Examiner’s office for an autopsy. According to Maureen Williams reporting for The Bangor Daily News, the medical examiner determined that the victim HAD NOT been sexually assaulted, despite the fact that she was missing items of clothing.
In his report, the medical examiner noted that even though there were no obvious signs a sexual assault had occurred…he warned detectives that there could still be sexual motivation to the crime.
The doctor found that Jane Doe had no food or liquid in her stomach, which indicated it had been a while since her last meal. Her toxicology screening came back negative for alcohol. At the time, the M-E stated that he could not determine if any drugs were in her system. At first that kind of struck me as odd, because it seems like a pretty standard test for ME’s to be able to run…but again, we’re talking about 1977 here…I’m not sure if post-mortem blood tests for drugs were even that standard back then.
Anyway, the ME officially ruled the victim’s cause of death as blunt force trauma to the head. She’d suffered multiple skull fractures as a result of being bludgeoned.
X-rays and pathology showed that the initial blow that likely incapacitated her was to the side of her head right on her hairline. This injury broke her jaw. After being knocked unconscious, her attacker landed several more fatal blows.
The doctor wrote in his report that based on the angle of the first strike, it appeared it was possible the woman was running from her killer when she was attacked.
Other information from the autopsy revealed that the victim had had some dental work done in her life because she had several fillings that the doctor determined were likely put in during her childhood. Everything else about Jane Doe showed she was in good health and didn’t appear to have a history of substance use, trauma, or signs of living a transient lifestyle.
This gave investigators hope they would quickly be able to I-D Jane Doe. I think there thinking was, if she wasn’t someone who lived on the fringes of society, surely, she belonged to a family and had loved ones out there who’d noticed she was gone and would be looking for her.
Authorities released her description to the local media and sent copies of her fingerprints to outside agencies, just in case she might have an arrest record elsewhere in New England.
Within days, hundreds of calls from families of missing young women came into the Northeast Harbor police station and detectives sifted through each one of them, but none of the descriptions matched their victim.
Investigators turned to the locals outside of Northeast Harbor and asked folks in other towns around the national park to come forward if they had any information or heard anything that might be linked to the case.
Their hope was that perhaps a local resident or maybe even a visitor who’d been in the area shortly before June 19th had seen their Jane Doe and learned her name.
During the first week of the investigation, police interviewed hundreds of people including employees of Acadia National Park and the Azalea Gardens…but they didn’t learn anything new.
According to Randi Minetor’s book, not one person seemed to have known the woman or even come across her path. This frustrated investigators because there were very limited options for lodging, restaurants, and shops outside of the national park boundary. So, if their Jane Doe was camping or staying in the area, someone should have seen her or bumped into her at some point.
On the other hand though, if she wasn’t visiting but instead was brought to Acadia from the mainland…then authorities were up against really tough odds of try and identify her.
Since no one in the small towns on Mount Desert Island seemed to know who this woman was, state police brought in a forensic artist to make a sketch of Jane Doe.
Once police were satisfied with the drawing resemblance to the young woman, they released it to the press and it was published in several regional newspapers across the New England area, including The Boston Globe.
Police took a gamble and released detailed information about the type of clothing she’d been wearing and the pieces of jewelry they’d found on her.
Within a day or two police received a promising lead.
A gas station attendant on Mount Desert Island came forward and told police that he sold $3.00 worth of gasoline to a man driving a dark colored older vehicle around 10:00 p.m. on Saturday, June 18th. The attendant remembered seeing a woman closely resembling Jane Doe description sitting in the front seat of the car holding a scruffy small dog that was wearing a red bandana instead of a collar. The witness said he was able to recall such specific details about this interaction because he’d been kind of obsessed with how cute the terrier was and he joked with the couple about never having seen a dog wear a bandana like that.
Around the same time this witness came forward, another person called in to police and reported that they’d seen a small scruffy dog wearing a red bandana being pushed out of a moving car on Route 198 near Azalea Gardens around 6:15 a.m. on Sunday, June 19th—the same morning Jane Doe had been found.
Unfortunately, this second witness couldn’t remember any details about the person they’d seen driving the car. The only thing they recalled was that after the dog was thrown out, the driver sped off toward an area on the South side of the island, known as Seal Harbor.
Due to the proximity of their murder scene, the gas station clerk’s story and the location of where the second said they’d seen the dog being tossed out of a moving car… police suspected the dog had some connection to their victim.
When authorities announced that they were trying to find the dog, it didn’t take long for them to locate it and learn that it had been found on the afternoon of June 19th wandering along the nearby highway leading to the gardens.
It had suffered a shoulder injury but was going to recover. By the looks of it, police determined the animal had been well-cared for and beloved by someone.
Because the dog didn’t have a collar or any identifying tags, this lead kind of went nowhere. Investigators couldn’t use it to confirm the identity of their Jane Doe…but felt certain it was connected to her.
For the time being police had to put the information aside and continue digging. According to reporting by The Boston Globe, they started inspecting their victim’s clothing and noticed that her maroon nylon vest was manufactured by a specific clothing company. They contacted that company and were able to trace the vest to the specific store in Boston, Massachusetts where it had been sold. State police investigators went to the store and spoke with a clerk who said they remembered selling the vest to a young woman in her late 20’s but they couldn’t remember her name.
On June 26th—eight days into the investigation– a woman living five and half hours away in Hingham Massachusetts named Betsy Spellman, was at home reading an article in The Boston Globe that was talking about everything that was unfolding in Maine regarding a deceased unidentified Jane Doe.
As Betsy browsed the report… her eyes froze on a line of copy that detailed the latest update in the case…something about a maroon vest…
She frantically turned the page and continued reading and that’s when she saw what no mother should ever have to see…
Betsy couldn’t believe her eyes…there on the page of her Sunday newspaper was a sketch of a woman police were saying was unidentified….BUT she knew without a shadow of a doubt that the face she was looking at was her daughter, 27-year-old Leslie Spellman.
As Betsy continued reading the article, she learned that authorities had been able to trace the manufacturer of a maroon nylon vest to a Boston sporting goods store. A clerk at the store had told police that they remembered selling the vest to a young woman in her late 20’s but did not remember her name.
The next day, Betsy sent her other daughter, Amy, to Northeast Harbor PD in Maine. Amy took with her sister Leslie’s dental records and within a matter of hours the family’s horror was realized.
Police used those dental records and confirmed the identity of their Jane Doe as Leslie Spellman.
They learned from speaking with Amy that earlier that summer she and Leslie had started backpacking a 270-mile trail called The Long Trail that went through the main ridge of the Green Mountains.
According to the Green Mountain Club’s website, The Green Mountains run from the Massachusetts state line through Vermont and all the way up to the Canadian border.
Amy told authorities that she had parted ways with her sister in Vermont on Saturday June 18th…one day before Leslie was killed. The night of the 17th both of them had stayed at a family friend’s house. She said when she last saw her sister, Leslie mentioned she had plans to hitch-hike North to Maine to a community that provided lodging and was sort of a communal living village for people who were into yoga and spiritual enlightenment.
Amy decided to head South and make her way to New York to visit her friends…and Leslie went North.
According to Amy, Leslie had worked as a yoga instructor herself back home in Hingham and was a passionate and hard-working person who made her own jewelry and taught herself how to play the mandolin in her spare time.
The commune that Leslie was headed to was an Ashram Community, and it was located near Acadia National Park, though it’s unclear from my research if Leslie ever reached her destination. I have to think she didn’t…mostly because she was last seen by Amy on the morning of the 18th…and was found dead on the morning of the 19th.
Back in 1977 hitch-hiking was commonplace for Amy and Leslie, as it was for a lot of people.
Amy said she enjoyed hitch-hiking all over the country selling handmade jewelry. She said she and Leslie always hitched rides when they were backpacking together. It was just their way of getting around.
But June 18th was Leslie’s first-time hitch-hiking on her own, according to Amy.
In addition to giving all of this helpful insight on Leslie’s movements to investigators, Amy also helped them learn where they may need to start searching to locate areas her sister might have been camping.
Amy explained that her sister was not the type of person who would set up a campsite in a designated location. Instead, Leslie would just find a good spot off a beaten path and enjoy the tranquility that the woods offered. She didn’t like to be crowded by loud visitors and tourists.
Amy also provided investigators with another piece of crucial information. She said that Leslie had been traveling with her dog. A scruffy terrier named Taylor…who always wore a red bandana around his neck instead of a collar.
Suddenly, that Mount Desert Island gas station attendant’s account about seeing a woman holding a scruffy dog wearing a red bandana on the night of June 18th became SUPER important. Authorities strongly suspected the woman this witness had seen with the dog was Leslie.
If detectives’ hunch was right, that placed her on Mount Desert Island, alive, just eight hours before her death…in the company of a stranger.
Investigators brought Amy to the kennel where they were keeping little Taylor and she positively identified him as her sister’s travel buddy and companion.
There was no doubt in investigators minds at that point that the woman the gas station clerk had seen with a strange man on the night of June 18th was in fact Leslie Spellman.
There biggest question was, who was the man she was with?
They sat the gas station attendant down and had him help an artist come up with a composite sketch of the guy but…here’s what’s weird…police have never released that image to the public.
This always frustrates me. Like, why even make a sketch if you’re not going to push it out to people in the hopes of getting someone to ID the guy?
To me, it’s just as important to release his description to the media as it is Leslie’s. I mean back in 1977 police knew that this guy HAD to be one of the last people to see Leslie alive and may have possibly been her killer.
Anyway, despite keeping this information to themselves…and working with only a few good leads, the police in 77’ felt a renewed energy kick into the investigation after they spoke with Amy.
Detectives learned that when Leslie was hiking, she’d been carrying sixty pounds of camping gear with her which included a two-person tent, a red sleeping bag, plenty of clothes, and a journal she wrote in daily.
Police officers and search teams scoured Acadia National Park for days trying to locate ANY of those belongings in areas of the park that bordered main roads…but nothing turned up.
The searches couldn’t cover every square mile of the park, simply because it was too vast, but the area they targeted were where investigators felt traces of Leslie would be.
If her killer had tossed her dog out of a moving car on a main road, they assumed that odds were whoever killed her likely tossed her camping gear and backpack off a roadway as well.
But despite their best efforts to locate anything that could match Leslie’s belongings, the police came up empty handed. The best thing they had to work off of was a rough timeline of what they believed Leslie’s last movements were before her murder.
Police felt confident that sometime on the morning of Saturday June 18th, Leslie said goodbye to Amy and started hitch-hiking on Interstate 95.
It would have been a six-hour drive from where she was seen in Vermont to get to Acadia National Park in Maine.
Because authorities were sure the Mount Desert Island gas station attendant had seen Leslie at 10:00pm on Saturday night…that meant she’d arrived there from Vermont thanks to someone.
They had no way of knowing if she’d taken multiple hitch-hiking rides during her travels or just ridden with one person, like the mystery man they were looking for.
The window of time from 10:00 p.m. Saturday night to 6:00 am Sunday morning was a complete mystery to investigators.
The prevailing theory was that the man she’d been last seen riding with had taken Leslie to the Azalea Gardens and decided he wanted to rob her or sexually assault her and she fought back and that’s when her attacker killed her.
Despite police having this fairly solid idea of what they thought had happened and when…they were still no closer to finding out who was responsible.
According to Cullen and Anson’s reporting for a Boston Globe article published in July 1977 a few weeks after the murder, the case’s lead Detective Edward Mandell said quote– “I wish that I could say that we had something solid to go on, but the real truth is that we don’t have a thing that would help us identify the killer.” End quote
In the weeks following Leslie’s murder, investigators were desperate for more information and felt confident there were more witnesses out there who saw something, but for whatever reason just had not come forward yet.
In late July, about a month after the crime, one of the Spellman’s friends offered up a $1,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of Leslie’s killer. Police were hopeful the money would convince someone to come forward with even the smallest piece of information or evidence…but unfortunately that didn’t happen.
The reward went untouched, and no new leads materialized.
In August authorities finally got a break.
A horrific murder with nine victims that had occurred seven hours away in Connecticut not long after Leslie was killed caught the attention of Maine investigators…
The suspect for that crime…had something in his car that police believed could be directly connected to Leslie.
According to The Hartford Courant, on July 22nd, 1977 a 29-year-old mother of seven named Cheryl Beaudin …along with all of her children and a niece were murdered in Waterbury, Connecticut.
Within a matter of days police there arrested a man named Lorne Acquin for the crime. It wasn’t hard for investigators to follow a trail of clues that led them to Lorne. You see, Lorne was the troubled foster brother of Cheryl’s husband, Frederick. He was out on parole at the time of the brutal murders and was seen with the family just hours before they were killed. Because of his criminal record and witnesses placing him at the victim’s home around the time of the crime, he was brought in for questioning.
While searching Lorne’s home and car, police discovered bloody clothes outside his house and bloody shoes in the trunk of his vehicle. After those discoveries, Lorne confessed pretty quickly to the slayings just one day after committing the crime.
Now-at first glance, Cheryl and her family’s murder seemed vastly different from Leslie’s.
The crimes were committed hours away from each other, in different states, under very different circumstances. Leslie’s case was a single-victim homicide and possible kidnapping and the Beaudin case was a mass murder of an entire family.
But when authorities in Connecticut searched Lorne Acquin’s car, they were really careful about what evidence samples they removed.
According to an FBI lab report in Cheryl’s case…police in Connecticut found dog hairs in Lorne’s car that were quote–“compatible to Leslie Spellman’s dog.” –end quote.
According to John F. Cullen’s article for the Boston Globe published in October of 1977, Detective Mandell who was heading up the investigation into Leslie’s murder said he felt confident the hairs found in the Connecticut case could be linked to Leslie’s dog, Taylor.
With the limited testing law enforcement had at the time, Mandell said the dog hair from Lorne’s car was the same color, texture, and chemical composition as that of Taylor. They just couldn’t be 100 percent sure though because coincidentally a dog had also been present at the Connecticut crime scene. According to news reports in that case the Beaudin family dog had been unharmed and left outside in their backyard during the crime.
Even though detective Mandell didn’t specify what the murder weapon was in Leslie’s case, he told reporters that Lorne had used a similar blunt instrument in Cheryl and her family’s murders.
Investigators said that in both cases the killer had been righthanded.
On top of that, Lorne’s whereabouts were unaccounted for during the exact time frame police in Maine knew that Leslie had been killed. He’d left work at a roofing company in Connecticut.
What was most damning of all though was that Lorne fit the description of the man the gas station attendant on Mount Desert Island had provided state police when he told authorities what the guy looked like that he’d seen with Leslie. Lorne’s car was also a dead ringer for the type of vehicle that the clerk remembered seeing Leslie and her dog sitting in.
As promising as this lead seemed, Lorne’s defense attorney in Connecticut, a guy named John Williams, was having none of it and publicly expressed his outrage that Maine investigators were trying to pin Leslie’s murder on his client.
According to reporting by The Bangor Daily News, Williams went as far to say that Detective Mandell should have been fired for suggesting a link between the two crimes without evidence to prove it or making an arrest.
Williams stated that by suggesting there was a link between the two cases and his client, without law enforcement establishing definitive probable cause, Lorne would never receive a fair trial for the charges he was already facing in Connecticut.
Williams went on to claim that he had seven witnesses who saw Lorne in Waterbury, Connecticut between June 17th and June 19th, which meant his client couldn’t possibly have been in Maine murdering Leslie Spellman. Up until that point law enforcement in Maine was under the impression that Lorne was unaccounted for in that time frame…but I guess to Williams’ point…that was inaccurate.
Because Williams raised so much fuss about the issue, detective Mandell and Maine investigators decided not to question Lorne about Leslie’s murder until his trial for the Connecticut murders was over.
According to news reports, that trial didn’t get underway though for another two years. However, in 1979 Lorne was convicted for killing Cheryl Beaudin and her family and sentenced to life in prison.
By that time, all of the circumstantial links detective Mandell had hinted to between Lorne and Leslie’s murder had completely fallen off everyone’s radar and Lorne was NEVER questioned about Leslie’s murder.
To this day he’s never been named a formal suspect in the case.
The research material that’s out there isn’t super clear but I guess because of all the time that had passed between 1977 and 1979 Maine authorities had found other leads that led them away from Lorne Acquin being their guy.
It’s hard to know for sure, but either way the discussion about Lorne and Leslie somehow being connected seemed like the last REAL activity in the investigation for TWO DECADES.
Movement in the case literally went radio silent until the year 2000.
That year a man named James Hicks, who was originally from Maine, was arrested in Texas for aggravated robbery. While in custody Hick’s confessed that he was responsible for the deaths of multiple women from Maine who’d been reported missing. He told Texas authorities that in exchange for being able to serve his prison sentence in Maine he would lead New England investigators to the remains of his victims.
James confessed to killing a 34-year-old woman named Jerilyn Towers in 1982, and a 40-year-old woman named Lynn Willette in 1996.
Hicks had already spent six years in prison from 1983 to 1990 after being convicted of fourth degree murder in connection with the disappearance of his first wife, Jennie Hicks. Jennie disappeared in 1977 and was presumed dead.
According to a case study done by psychologists at Radford University, Hicks was extradited to Maine and led investigators to the remains of all three women. Jennie…Jerilyn and Lynn.
Jennie Hicks was dismembered and her remains scattered in woods near Carmel, Maine and the other two women’s remains were found buried near Jenkins Beach in Bangor, Maine. For reference, Bangor is just about an hour northwest from Acadia National park.
Hicks told investigators that he strangled all three women and dismembered their bodies to dispose of the evidence. Although Leslie was bludgeoned to death and not strangled, I think police felt compelled to investigate anyone as cold blooded as James who was in Maine at the time of Leslie’s murder.
Authorities announced in 2000 that they would closely examine if James was involved in Leslie’s case or staying in the Mount Desert Island area during the summer of 1977.
Unfortunately, they didn’t find any evidence connecting him to Leslie’s case and to this day law enforcement in Maine has never confirmed if James was or is currently considered a suspect.
All we know is that he targeted women in the same age range as Leslie, he was from Maine and he confessed to killing during the same year she died.
Whether he’s connected to Leslie or not, James was thankfully convicted of both Jerilyn Towers and Lynn Willette’s murders in the year 2000. He’s still alive and currently serving two life sentences in Maine State Prison.
After the James Hicks attention on the case in 2000…there were no more significant updates for a few years.
In the summer of 2007, 30 years to the day of her murder, Maine State Police held a press conference to bring attention to Leslie’s case and let the public know they HAD NOT stopped investigating her death.
Police told the media that they hoped advances in DNA and forensic technology could provide them with new ways to analyze evidence and give them something fresh to go on, but as of the moment they still had no suspects.
According to reporting by Toni-Lynn Robbins for the Bangor Daily News, Leslie’s sister Amy was present at that press conference.
She said she would never stop seeking justice for her sister saying quote– “It’s never over. It never goes away. I would like to know who did it and where they are now.” —end quote.
In June 2017 the 40th anniversary of Leslie’s murder came and went with seemingly no media attention. If police have utilized new technology to move Leslie’s case forward like they said they were going to back in 2007… that information has not been released and it’s not anywhere in the source material we scoured for this episode.
I have to think though with everything that labs can do now with DNA extraction, there HAS to be more testing that can be done on Leslie’s clothing and possibly even her jewelry.
A reporter for Fox 22 Bangor Online news spoke to lifetime Northeast Harbor residents in 2019 for a memorial piece about Leslie case.
According to that article, residents of the close-knit community have always wondered if Leslie killer was someone just passing through or could have been someone from their town who no one knew was capable of such a heinous crime.
Northeast Harbor locals had never had a murder happen in their hometown before 1977 and have had very few since.
It’s a place visitors travel to from far and wide to enjoy the outdoors and explore the untouched and protected beauty of nature. That same allure is what attracted Leslie Spellman to the area in the summer of 1977.
Things that stick out to me about this case that I just can’t shake from my mind are the fact that whoever killed Leslie CLEARLY DID NOT have the heart to let her go unharmed…but they DID keep her dog alive.
Taylor was only mildly injured from being pushed out of a moving car and he was released to Amy after she identified him.
I think the fact that the killer didn’t also kill Taylor in the process of the crime, but instead let him go on the side of the road could be an important detail to their mindset and how they operate.
I also have a ton of questions as to why police have never released the sketch they made of the man they think was last seen with Leslie. Obviously, they used that drawing to try and pin this on Lorne Acquin…so we know it exists…but why has it never been released to the public?
To be fair though…now that almost 45 years have passed… I doubt it would be of any use because whoever the killer is has aged dramatically or might even be dead.
Still, there could still be someone alive who could see that old composite sketch of him and recognize him from when he was younger.
The viciousness of Leslie’s murder is just so sad and adding to that is the fact that to-this-day it remains unsolved.
Leslie’s surviving loved ones are still hoping for justice as they continue to live in perpetual heartbreak.
Leslie’s murderer didn’t abduct her in the cover of night, she more than likely accepted a ride from them thinking the kind stranger would get her where she was going safely. She never expected to suffer the fate she did and have her killer go free for so long.
The long list of unanswered questions swirling around her case are like the miles and miles of shoreline that stretch around Acadia National Park…You can walk them in a circle forever…looping over and over the same ground and never be any further from the place you started.
Park Predators is an audiochuck original.
So, what do you think chuck, do you approve? *howl*