AUGUSTA — DNA from a homeless Seattle man’s chewing gum helped lead authorities to arrest the man in connection with a 36-year-old Augusta cold case murder.
State and Augusta police arrested Gary Sanford Raub, 63, on Monday night and charged him with the 1976 fatal stabbing of 70-year-old Blanche M. Kimball inside her State Street home.
The Kimball murder is the oldest unsolved homicide case to result in charges in state history, police said Tuesday.
Raub was known as Gary Robert Wilson at the time and lived at Kimball’s home. He is listed as a transient on the Kennebec County Superior Court complaint charging him with murder and criminal homicide in the first degree. The complaint says Raub “knowingly inflicted great physical suffering” on Kimball, a retired dental technician and practical nurse who occasionally took in boarders.
Raub — who in a police-provided photo has a large bandage on his head and a gray beard with purple streaks — is expected to make his first court appearance today to begin the extradition process back to Maine.
He was a suspect from early on, but police didn’t have the evidence to charge him, according to court documents.
Lt. Christopher Coleman, commander of the Maine State Police Major Crimes Unit, said the 36-year investigation turned a corner in summer 2011 when police got a tip. Though the tip wasn’t helpful, the investigation process eventually led to additional DNA analysis, which led to the murder charge against Raub.
Maine State Police Detective Abbe Chabot was assigned in 2003 as the primary investigator in the Kimball murder case. Her investigation included interviews with retired officers who were originally involved.
“The investigators of the day did a very thorough job,” Coleman said. “We’re here today because of their efforts.”
Coleman wouldn’t say what Raub’s motive to murder Kimball might have been. He said the two met when Raub rented a room at her house at 352 State St. There is now a parking lot where the house used to be.
“Blanche had a habit of taking in short-time renters,” Coleman said.
The coldest case
Kimball was never married and had no children, according to her obituary.
Coleman said police haven’t been able to find a close relative, finding only a distance one in New Hampshire. Coleman said the man was glad to hear someone had been charged in Kimball’s murder, but doesn’t want his name made public.
Police found Kimball’s body on June 12, 1976, while responding to a complaint from a neighbor who had not seen Kimball in several days.
Kimball’s clothing was pulled up and her body was decomposing, according to an affidavit Chabot filed in Kennebec County Superior Court. The house was in upheaval, scattered with broken glass and debris.
Police theorized that Kimball was killed between June 2 and June 12, 1976, because they found a Kennebec Journal newspaper from June 2 at the scene as well as a receipt from Cottle’s supermarket dated June 5.
Henry Ryan, chief medical examiner at the time, counted “23 stab wounds to the chest, two stab wounds to the abdomen, 16 cuts and lacerations to the head, and three cuts and abrasions to the hands.”
The cause of Kimball’s death was listed as stab wounds into the heart and numerous other cuts, along with hemorrhage and shock. It was listed was a homicide.
Investigators interviewed Raub twice shortly after Kimball’s death but he denied any involvement. Coleman said Raub left Augusta shortly after the murder.
Before he left, he was caught trying to break into a house near Kimball’s, police said.
Police interest in Raub rekindled after he was accused in an October 2011 stabbing in Seattle that injured another homeless man.
Chabot’s affidavit says blood collected from Kimball’s kitchen was tested for DNA earlier this year and was found to be from a man.
“It appeared that the person who had stabbed Blanche Kimball may have sustained injuries that caused him or her to bleed, leaving possible suspect blood on various items in the living room and kitchen,” Chabot wrote.
Investigators then collected a DNA sample from the knife used in the Seattle attack. The analysis showed partial profiles were linked to Raub and to the blood found in Kimball’s home. A DNA analyst told Chabot that “the estimated probability of selecting an unrelated individual at random from the FBI caucasian population data base is 1 in 339 million.”
An undercover officer with Seattle police then got a DNA profile from Raub in July by asking him to participate in a “chewing gum survey,” according to Chabot. Tests showed DNA from the gum was consistent with samples found in Kimball’s kitchen and on the knife handle from the Seattle stabbing.
Other DNA samples collected in the home matched samples connected to Raub and an unidentified woman, whom police believed to be Kimball.
‘More heart, less hurt’
Raub’s ethnicity is listed as caucasian/American Indian, and he told police he was from the Makah tribe, originally from a Neah Bay reservation in Washington. He was described as a heavy drinker in 1976.
Seattle writer Zachary Watterson interviewed Raub in December 2010 for a story about another homeless man, John T. Williams, a friend, being shot by police. In an interview for The Stranger weekly newspaper, Raub said he was a veteran of the Vietnam War and had been a prisoner of war in Cambodia for three years. Raub said he had been homeless since returning from the war.
“His captors used a gaff on him and yanked out his teeth, he said, and as he talked I could see his toothless gums,” Watterson wrote.
Watterson said he never verified any of Raub’s claims.
Contacted by a reporter Tuesday, Watterson said he was surprised when he learned of Raub’s arrest.
“When you meet Gary, he comes across as a very easy-going, sweet, mild-tempered man,” Watterson said. “He was just coming back from Vietnam when the (Kimball) murder occurred. It’s hard to say what kind of condition he was in.”
In Watterson’s story, Raub says many of Seattle’s homeless men were saddened by his friend’s death.
“Anybody who was on the street, (Williams) had a heart for,” Raub was quoted as saying. “It makes me think: How ’bout talking with people instead of talking at people? We need more heart, less hurt.”
‘We’ll never give up’
Kimball’s obituary, published in the Kennebec Journal, said she was born in Albany, Maine, and was a dental technician and a practical nurse who had worked for the Veterans Administration Center, Togus, and the state of Maine, retiring in 1973.
She was survived by two aunts from out of state and several cousins. She was buried in Hunt’s Corner Cemetery, Albany.
Kimball bought the one-and-a-half story story white farmhouse with green trim, which was just south of South Street, in 1965. It was acquired by the city in 1977, sold and finally demolished in 1981.
A short story about her death ran on the front page of the Kennebec Journal on both June 14 and June 15, 1976. The June 15 story said Kimball was found on the first floor and had been dead for several days.
The article said there were no signs of forced entry into the house. Augusta Detective Sgt. Kerryl Clement said all the doors were locked and he had to force his way in, according to the article.
Kimball’s killing has been among the Maine State Police’s listing of unsolved homicides. That list includes more than 60 murders, the oldest of which is the 1970 killing of Mary C. Olenchuk in Ogunquit.
Jared Mills, deputy chief of the Augusta Police, which worked with Maine State Police throughout the 36-year investigation, said the charges prove the effort was worthwhile.
“The public needs to know these cases never go away,” Mills said. “This is a 36-year-old case that we didn’t give up on. We’ll never give up.”