Oakfield murders and a changing Aroostook

 by Jen Lynds

Although it has been nearly a month since the brutal and senseless Sept. 23 murders of two Oakfield residents, shock and fear still lingers in the community. The victims, Michael Kitchen, 51, and Heidi Pratt, 49, were successful at their jobs, loved by their family and friends, and admired in their community.

The man accused of shooting both of them to death, 32-year-old Matthew Davis of Houlton, remains at the Aroostook County Jail.

Shortly after the murders, a friend of mine posted about the killings on his Facebook page.

He expressed sadness not only for the loss of the two individuals, but also about losing the sense of safety and security that he’d felt growing up in Aroostook County in the 1980’s and 90’s.

My friend grew up and remains in the Houlton area. He is a parent now and worries about what he believes is the increasing violence in the region.

Writing on Facebook, he noted that when he was younger, he did not have to worry about all of the drug related crimes and murders that seem to be happening with increasing frequency in The County.

After the violent acts of Sept. 23, it is hard to argue with him.

Davis has been charged with two counts of murder in connection with the deaths. He did not enter a plea when he made his first court appearance.

After allegedly killing the two victims, he also set the home afire and then stole Kitchen’s truck. Davis has only been charged with the homicides, but is suspected of slamming the wrecker he owned into the side of a building at Katahdin Forest Products in Oakfield before setting a building there afire and stealing a Katahdin Forest pickup truck found burning at the home of Kitchen and Pratt about a mile away. He was arrested later that morning in Island Falls after a resident of Richardson Road reported finding a burning pickup truck believed to be Kitchen’s parked near a garage at a home on the southwest side of Upper Mattawamkeag Lake.

Police have said that they haven’t yet established a motive for the crime.

When I was growing up in The County, I can only remember three or four murders from grade school right through college.

Over the past 10 years as a writer for the Bangor Daily News, however, I have been stunned by the number of murders that I have covered.

The names and faces of the victims never leave my mind.

Up until a few years ago, I generally believed that people tended to be murdered by people who knew them. I thought that it was only in the Hollywood horror films or “slasher” movies that a stranger crept into a home and murdered helpless victims in the darkness.

And then came Thayne Ormsby.

The 20-year-old stabbed Jeff Ryan, 55, his son Jesse Ryan, 10, and Jeff Ryan’s friend Jason Dehahn, 30, to death in June 2010. Ormsby incorrectly believed that Jeff Ryan was a drug dealer. After showing no remorse, he was found guilty in a trial in 2012 and sentenced to life in prison.

And there have been many others.

There was Stephen Vance Ketzel, 2, who died in 2004 after suffering deep internal injury to the abdomen while in the care of Scott Saucier, a Fort Kent man who was his mother’s boyfriend. Saucier served a 5-year prison term for manslaughter.

Michael D. MacDonald, 27, murdered his father, Michael W. MacDonald, in Masardis in 2004, by shooting, bludgeoning and stabbing him to death.

He was found not criminally responsible and sent to Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta to receive long term treatment.

In 2006, Christopher Shumway, 20, of Caribou was found guilty of murder, gross sexual assault and robbery for the January 2005 murder of 20-year-old Erin Sperrey of Presque Isle, his supervisor at a Caribou Tim Hortons. He choked and beat her to death and was sentenced to 45 years in prison.

Daniel Boles, 31, was sentenced to 13 years in prison for murder in 2007 in the death of 57-year-old Jacqueline Shorey, who had been beaten and stabbed inside a blood-spattered room at the Scottish Inns in Houlton on Dec 9, 2005.

Darrel Smith, 56, of Woodland, was alone in Smith’s Sawmill and Logging on Thomas Road in Woodland when someone walked in on Feb. 6, 2008, robbed him and shot him to death. His slaying remains unsolved.

Joslyn Jones, 3-months-old, died in 2009 after her 17-year-old father, Nicklas G. Jones, threw her into her crib to stop her from crying. The baby died four days later. He is appealing a six year sentence for manslaughter.

George Jaime, 76, was arrested on July 12, 2012 for the murder of Starlette Vining of Presque Isle, who was 38 years old when she last was seen in the fall of 1998 in the Presque Isle area. Her body has not been found. His murder trial begins the week of Nov. 4 in Caribou.

In March 2013, Marcus Sykora, 81, shot his wife, 77-year-old Sheila Sykora, and then himself in a domestic violence murder suicide in Chapman.

With Kitchen and Pratt, that is 13 murder victims in the past 10 years.

Whenever I do a story about a burglary or theft, the police officer generally asks me to include a sentence reminding people to keep their homes and vehicles locked and their valuables out of sight. Still, many people don’t. I have heard several people say that they leave their homes unlocked because they live in the country and don’t feel that anyone will bother them, or that they leave a garage unlocked in case a neighbor needs to borrow a tool or other item.

I think they would change their minds if they sat in court while I was reporting on a case.

They would hear the assistant district attorney telling the judge about prisoners who were being sentenced for burglarizing homes to steal items to sell to get money for drugs, not caring if what they took was your great-great grandmother’s wedding ring or the morphine pain pills prescribed to your cancer stricken mother that you were out taking to a doctor’s appointment when they burglarized your home. They would hear stories similar to those of the Linneus family whose home was burglarized while they were attending a loved one’s funeral, or one of the countless cases detailing violent assaults or other crimes committed by people on drugs, sometimes to get the victim’s money or property or the drugs they possessed. That was the motive in the Boles case. Jackie Shorey had been an acquaintance of Daniel Boles. She liked him. She was nice to him. She likely never thought that he would hurt her.

But he knew that she had drugs.

He went to her hotel room that day with the intention of stealing them. When “she resisted,” according to court testimony, he murdered her and robbed her of drugs and money.

Crime has been rising and falling in cities and towns throughout The County over the past few years.

According to the latest statistics maintained by the Maine Department of Public Safety as part of its Uniform Crime Reporting requirements, crime rates in 2011 were 18.20 offenses per 1,000 persons, a decrease from 19.70 offenses per 1,000 persons in 2010. The rate was 17.28 offenses per 1,000 persons in 2009, down from 18.39 offenses per 1,000 persons in 2008. It was 17.12 offenses per 1,000 persons in 2007, down from 18.99 offenses per 1,000 persons in 2006.

My friend is right. This is not the same Aroostook County we grew up in. And of course, we had to expect that it would change a bit. Everything, everyone, every place does with time.

But I think what hurts everyone around here is the feeling that no one ever thought this would happen here, no matter how bad things got. No one expected that some stranger from Ellsworth would move into the Amity area for a few weeks and then callously slip into a home and kill a little boy, his father and his friend. No one expected that two people, sleeping in their bed, about to be awakened to get ready for work, would instead be shot to death for, at this point it seems, no reason at all.

We are all left wondering. We are all left questioning. We are all left frightened, wondering if we need a deadbolt for the door, wondering if that could happen to us, to someone we love, and knowing that yes, of course it could. It happened to Jeff and Jesse and Jason. It happened to Mike and Heidi.

It happened right here in Aroostook County.

We will never get back all that we have lost.