While Raymond Bellavance Jr. was found guilty on Dec. 30 of burning down the Grand View Topless Coffee Shop in Vassalboro, the man who lost his business and his home in the fire says he is not resting easy.

“What I’m going to do is go away wondering whether they got the right person or not,” Donald Crabtree said in an interview. “I’ve got no closure, for sure.”

Bellavance, 50, of Winthrop, was convicted of two counts of arson in the fire and faces maximum prison terms of 30 years on each count. The judge has said a sentencing hearing will be set in February.

Andrews Campbell, Bellavance’s attorney, said he has filed a request in Kennebec County Superior Court for a new trial.

Crabtree owned and operated the shop, which featured topless waitresses serving coffee and doughnuts, in the restaurant area of a former motel on Route 3. The business drew national attention and stirred local controversy when it opened in February 2009.

It was destroyed by a fire that started just before 1 a.m. June 3, 2009.

The night before the blaze, Crabtree went to a meeting of the Vassalboro Planning Board, seeking permission to lengthen the hours and turn the coffee shop into a strip club.

“What bothers me the most is that three hours after a strip club meeting, there was a fire,” he said.

Crabtree said his business was thriving until the fire, which investigators immediately determined was arson.

During the recent trial, Bellavance’s attorneys proposed that someone other than Bellavance set the fire and said that investigators refused to consider additional suspects. Describing his alibi, Bellavance testified that he was nearby planting marijuana hours after the fire.

A key witness, Thomas Mulkern, provided unexpected testimony that he accompanied Bellavance and watched the man set the building on fire. Mulkern reversed his earlier story that he was elsewhere during the fire, saying he recently completed a drug rehabilitation program in jail and wanted to clear his conscience.

Mulkern was arrested this past week on charges that he stole money and fled from police and had to be jolted with a stun gun when he resisted arrest. He later attempted to strangle himself with a bed sheet in his jail cell, police said.

Crabtree, his twin daughters, their 4-month-old babies and the daughters’ boyfriends were asleep in apartments in a wing of the motel when the fire broke out. They were awakened by a passing ambulance driver and escaped without injury.

However, they lost their home, their belongings, and Crabtree said he lost equipment he had accumulated over 19 years of carpentry, lobster crates and scales from his wholesale lobster business and furniture from a large home he had recently sold from Ellsworth.

He did not have insurance. Crabtree reopened the business in a commercial trailer, but last year he sold the property and now lives in Greenbush.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]


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