PORTLAND — A Hartland woman is accused of killing her husband and chopping him into pieces after a 23-year marriage. A Lewiston woman was killed while trying to retrieve her belongings. A Mercer man shot his wife to death at Town Hall before killing himself.
More than half of the 25 homicides in 1999 were the result of domestic violence, a frustrating problem for law enforcement, said Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Public Safety Department.
“It’s a depressing trend in Maine,” McCausland said Sunday. “You’re far more likely to be killed by someone you know than [someone] you don’t. And many times it’s a family member.”
The 25 homicides compare to 26 in 1998 and a historical average of 28 a year since the state began keeping detailed records in 1971, McCausland said. The worst year on record was 1989, when 40 homicides were recorded; the best year was in 1993, when only 16 were recorded.
This year, there were 14 homicides that involved either family members or people who were romantically involved, McCausland said.
Victims included Ethel Springer, who was gunned down at Mercer Town Hall before her estranged husband, Bryan Springer, went home, killed himself and set fire to the house.
In Wilton, an elderly man, Clarence Bayliss, shot his wife, Evelyn, before taking his own life on the driveway.
And in Lewiston, Carolyn Cross was shot to death after she obtained a protection-from-abuse order against her estranged boyfriend and arranged to have a Lewiston police officer and two co-workers accompany her when she retrieved her belongings.
Kenneth Emrick popped out a second-floor window, trained his hunting rifle on Cross and shot her dead while the officer was downstairs. Emrick then killed himself.
“It’s very depressing, I have to say,” said Lois Galgay Reckitt, executive director of Family Crisis Services in Cumberland County. “I’d be even more depressed if I didn’t think there were cases where we saved people’s lives.”
Last year, abused women spent about 4,300 nights in emergency shelters thanks to Family Crisis Services, an increase of 30 percent from the previous year, Reckitt said.
One thing Reckitt has noticed is that laws have made it easier for women to escape abusive relationships.
That has cut down on the number of men killed by women who felt there was no other way out, Reckitt said. But there has not been a corresponding decrease in the killings of women because men are more likely to hunt them down.
An example was an upstate New York man, Steven Brown, who traveled to Lebanon and stalked his estranged wife before kidnapping her and killing her brother and boyfriend. Deborah Brown survived the ordeal; Steven Brown is serving seven life prison sentences.
Another example, police say, was a New Gloucester man accused of traveling to Dexter to kill his former girlfriend and the toddler she was baby sitting. Jeffrey Cookson is awaiting trial for murder.
To stop the continuing cycle of violence, a group of men has been organizing homicide vigils for victims of domestic violence. They want to show other men that domestic violence is not OK.
Two Cony High School graduates from Augusta rode their bicycles from Washington state to Maine to campaign against domestic violence.
Reckitt said she expects that there will be two homicide vigils this week, one for an Orono woman police say was killed by her son and a Thomaston man police say was shot to death by his girlfriend’s estranged lover. Both occurred in December, before the holidays.
Reckitt said there is hope for stopping the cycle of violence because police and prosecutors are doing a better job. But the cycle will not end until all Mainers get involved, if only to offer to talk to someone they believe may be a victim of domestic violence.
“You’ve got to take those risks and stand up for what’s right. And what’s right is for people to stop brutalizing each other,” she said.