GARDINER — A therapist in a downtown building is dead, shot through the head at his desk. “REDRUM” — “murder” spelled backwards — is written in blood on the wall of a neighboring apartment.

A woman who lives in a third unit once told her sister that her male neighbor, who has a criminal record, is creepy. Now they’re both missing. There’s blood in their apartments.

Those gruesome scenes greeted many of Maine’s top homicide investigators Thursday in downtown Gardiner. But don’t panic: That narrative was invented as part of a drill for the Maine State Police Evidence Response Team, which examines and processes evidence at the state’s major crime scenes, including most homicides, to identify suspects and determine the sequences of criminal events.

Brandi Caron, a forensic chemist at the Maine State Police Crime Lab in Augusta and a team member, set up an elaborate crime scene on the second floor of a building at 203 Water St. that was recently bought by her husband, who is gutting that part of the building.

That gave the team the perfect opportunity to “throw some blood around” and “throw some semen around.” However, “we’re not getting gallons and throwing it everywhere,” she cautioned. “It’s realistic.”

Using those bodily fluids — donated for training purposes — team leaders created an elaborate crime scene. A kitchen cabinet in the woman’s apartment was spattered with blood, and the floor was cleaned roughly, leaving blood behind. Blood-stained jeans with a box of bullets were in the suspect’s flat. Bullets remained from the shooting of the therapist, represented by a bloodied dummy. A bloody shirt was recovered in the vacant unit.

The team investigated the four apartments of interest in the building as part of a two-day training exercise that will end Friday at the crime laboratory, said Maine State Police Detective Herbert Leighton, the commander of the team, which has worked 3,600 hours at crime scenes so far this year.

Leighton said the team, which is made up of 24 sworn troopers and higher-ups and another 20 associate members such as Caron with forensic backgrounds, typically trains quarterly. These sessions test the team’s ability “to communicate and link things up,” as well as the team’s system to see if there are areas in which it can improve, he said.

“When we train together and have meetings and stuff, we can make sure that when it’s game day, we have the right resources to know what we need to know,” Leighton said.

In the victim’s apartment, Maine State Police Detective Jay Pelletier’s team found many clues besides the hastily cleaned blood in the kitchen, eventually lit up after a chemical, Luminol, was sprayed on it.

A substance, probably semen, was found on a bedsheet alongside ripped underwear and a bra. The victim was a nurse, but her scrubs were laid folded in her bedroom, indicating that she was taken from the apartment before work. Also, one knife was missing from a butcher block in the kitchen.

“We’re trying to limit a time frame,” Pelletier said, “and sometimes what’s missing can be important.”

The team members working the scenes were given only a rough narrative of the incident that was supposed to have happened in Gardiner, but Caron let the Kennebec Journal in on the secret.

The suspect entered the woman’s apartment, raped and stabbed her there and dragged her body into his apartment across the hall. The therapist heard a commotion and went into the hall, where the suspect shot in him in the head, later posing him at his desk to make his death look like a suicide. Eventually, he put the woman in his vehicle and left. Now it’s a missing-person case with a suspect on the run.

Detective Jason Fowler was among the group working in the therapist’s office, trying to determine how the man had died. A gun was found in front of him, but there was blood on the gun and fingerprints on a doorjamb that didn’t match the therapist’s. Two bullets were recovered from the room, but there was only one entrance wound and one exit wound. A suicide note was written in blue ink, but only a black pen lay on the desk.

It wasn’t a done deal, but the death is “probably not a suicide,” Fowler laughed.

“It’s very suspicious,” he said.

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652

[email protected]

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme


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