A woman is killed in a small Maine town and her ex-boyfriend is the suspect.

But he disappears into the woods, where he eludes police for months. Some people speculate he may be dead, that hunters will come across his body eventually, but locals know better. He’s a son of the woods and can live there forever.

“He knows more than the police,” one local says.

The only clue to the fact he’s out there was a security camera image of him running from a camp, not far from where the murder had been committed a month before. Despite the summer heat, he’s wearing long pants and a jacket.

Police put up flashing signs along the highway saying “Manhunt Underway,” but visitors to the area still seem to be oblivious.

It’s not the plot of a new mystery novel, though it could be. No, it’s just Maine.

We’re at the height of the summer tourist season, where one sunny, beautiful blue and green day melds into the next, and our little towns do their best to charm the folks from away.

Summer Maine is a little bit of a dance between fantasy and reality.

People visit and they expect something — the dreams of their youth when they came to the lakes with their families, an escape from their job and hectic life in a more paved, more crowded place. We do our best to oblige.

But it’s not Disneyland.

Aside from the small differences — there’s no one to pick up your ice cream napkins when you casually drop them on the ground where you sit at the picnic tables behind Day’s Store in Belgrade Lakes (and yes, I’ve seen this several times this summer) — there are the big ones.

There is a lot going on behind closed doors or out in the woods that visitors can’t even fathom. Once you get off the well-worn tourist paths, there’s a lot of wilderness out there.

This is a state where, tragically, a car accident can go undiscovered for a week.

That was the case of Martin Poulin and Francine Dumas from Saint-Georges, Quebec, who crossed the border at 10:38 a.m. July 28 to go to New Hampshire, went off U.S. Route 201, hit a tree and were killed. The car sat near the road, shrouded by the trees, for a week before they were found by family members.

Then there’s the weather, storms that come in and plow through towns and woods, knocking down trees and lines, wrecking property and livelihoods.

Like the lakes? Don’t like them too much, because it’s killing them. The Morning Sentinel’s Peter McGuire reported last month that development and other issues around Belgrade’s lakes are increasing phosphorus, which could significantly degrade the lakes in 10 years.

But the biggest diversion from the fantasy of a fairytale place is Maine crime.

It’s no secret Maine is one of the safest states in the country to live in.

Obviously, that doesn’t mean there is no crime.

It’s a sad statistic that domestic violence murders account for about half of the state’s 20 to 25 murders a year. Despite added focus on the roots of domestic violence in the past couple years, that statistic hasn’t changed.

The focus increased after the horrific 10 days in June 2011 when six people were killed in two separate murder-suicides — one in Dexter, the other in Winslow.

It’s hard to drive north up Route 150 from Skowhegan without thinking of that summer. Vacationers may be focused on the pastoral beauty of the area, but few Mainers will drive over the Amy-Monica-Coty bridge without thinking of Amy Bagley Lake and her two kids, Monica and Coty, who were killed by her estranged husband, Steven Lake, in June 2011 before he killed himself.

That happened about a week after Nathaniel Gordon chased his wife, Sarah, out of the house and into the street in Winslow, a little farther south, and shot her in front of their two children. Police then chased Gordon on the Maine Turnpike and used spike mats to stop him in Gray, where he killed himself.

A month later, a little farther north up Route 150 from the Bagley-Lake murders, Angelo Licata killed his father, Alfred, in Cambridge.

That beautiful part of our state would be sobering enough, but the flashing “Manhunt Underway” signs that went up July 1 and were up for much of the month underline the reality.

Robert Burton is accused of killing Stephanie Gebo on June 5 in Parkman. He’s the one police, two months later, are still looking for. They’d like to charge Burton, armed and dangerous and with a history of violence, with murder.

He was last seen around July 6, caught on surveillance camera running from a camp on Point Road in Guilford.

It’s not as though Maine has a lot of secrets.

It’s not a false face the state is putting on for the rest of the world. Maine is charming, beautiful, friendly (in a Northern laid-back kind of way). It’s worth visiting. Vacationland? You bet.

But don’t be fooled. There’s more going on in the atmosphere, the woods, behind closed doors, than you may think.

Maureen Milliken is news editor of the Morning Sentinel and Kennebec Journal. Email her at [email protected] Twitter: @milliken47. Kennebec Tales is published the first and third Thursday of the month.


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