Maine State Police continue to search water wells in the Smithfield and Mercer areas, trying to find the remains of Pauline Rourke, of Fairfield Center, who disappeared 41 years ago.

“We’ve examined more wells throughout northern Kennebec County and southern Somerset County, following up on leads the public has provided us, and haven’t found any evidence that has furthered the investigation,” Lt. Jeffrey Love, who oversees the Maine State Police Unsolved Homicide Unit, said Tuesday. “But certainly, we have eliminated a lot of wells and areas people have concerns about.”

Police believe Albert P. Cochran, Rourke’s live-in, distant relative, killed her in 1976. Cochran told police before he died June 27 this year in a Rockport hospital that her remains were in a well in the Smithfield area. He never directly admitted, however, that he had killed her. Rourke was 32 when she disappeared.

At the time of his death, Cochran, 79, was serving a life sentence at Maine State Prison in Warren for raping and murdering Janet Baxter, of Oakland, in 1976, a couple of weeks before Rourke’s disappearance. Police in 1976 had not yet linked Cochran to Baxter’s death but did so 23 years later through DNA testing. Cochran, who grew up in Oakland, was married and living in Stuart, Florida, at the time and was arrested. Earlier, he had served nine years in an Illinois prison for murdering his first wife, Patricia Ann, in Joliet, Illinois. She was 19 at the time and he admitted having killed her. He also was charged, but never convicted, of stabbing their three children to death. At the time, he claimed his wife killed them.

Before Cochran’s death, state police visited him several times in prison, seeking clues about the location of Rourke’s remains. Rourke’s daughter, Honey Rourke, 53, of Lewiston, also visited him in prison, helping police to draw information out of Cochran, who was in poor health. Honey Rourke was 12 and lived with her mother and Cochran in a trailer when her mother disappeared.

Efforts to reach Honey Rourke on Wednesday by phone and Facebook were unsuccessful.

After Cochran’s death, state police reached out to the public to ask for help in identifying water wells in the Smithfield and Mercer areas where Cochran told them Rourke’s remains were. Police not only visited Cochran in prison, they also drove him to areas around Mercer and Smithfield to try to get him to show them where the well is that he said contains Pauline Rourke’s remains.

Cochran had told police that during the year before Pauline Rourke disappeared, he and Rourke were on the property where the well is located and Cochran stole two wagon wheels from that property, which also had a barn on it, according to state police Detective Jay Pelletier, who is working on the case.

Honey Rourke told the Morning Sentinel in July that her mother had wanted two wagon wheels to place at the end of their driveway in Fairfield Center, and she wanted to place reflectors on them. She said Cochran tried to find wagon wheels for her, and they traveled to a property where they saw some wheels. Honey Rourke thinks that may be the place where he dumped her mother’s body. She said she traveled with Pelletier and a victim advocate to try to find that site but they were unsuccessful. Cochran had described the property as having a dilapidated barn on it that had caved in and there was a well between the barn and road and the well was lined with slate rocks on top.

Police say the well could be in Smithfield or Mercer — or even Fairfield, Norridgewock or Oakland.

Love, who supervises both the Unsolved Homicide and Major Crimes units for state police, said Tuesday that police have looked at about a dozen wells, have excavated some wells and used tools and technology to examine the inside of the wells. In some cases, they have removed contents from the bottom of the wells to examine them.

Police appreciate the calls they have received from the public about possible places Rourke’s remains are and have followed up on leads and will continue to, according to Love. Though police have not yet found her remains, they remain optimistic.

“It only takes one phone call that provides the right information that matches up, and these detectives have a lot of passion for what they do, and they’re not going to give up,” Love said. “They’re going to follow up on all the leads, and we’re hopeful that we’ll receive the information that will lead us to closure, which is what Honey is looking for.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

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Twitter: @AmyCalder17