FAIRFIELD — It may never been known exactly why Terry Whitney decided during the early morning hours this past Christmas to set fire to his estranged wife’s house and then fatally stab himself.

Local police are continuing to investigate the unusual case on Dec. 25 but say they haven’t uncovered any hints pointing to why Whitney did what he did.

“A lot of times there’s warning signs, and not with this case,” police Capt. Paul St. Amand said, adding that police could find not find evidence that he told anyone about his plans or had sought out help.

Fairfield police Chief Tom Gould said that while the investigation is ongoing, the case probably would be closed soon without any formal charges or other action.

Terry Whitney, 63, was under court order to stay away from his estranged wife, Diane Whitney, since he was charged with criminal mischief and domestic violence assault on Oct. 31. However, during the early morning hours of Sunday, Dec. 25, Whitney returned to the home they had shared on 323 Norridgewock Road, cut power to the house, and set fire to it and his truck using an accelerant and a torch.

St. Amand said police conducted a search of Whitney’s apartment on Old Center Road and found no evidence that he had been planning to set fire to the house or take his own life.

For St. Amand, the case was the most unusual thing he has seen in his 15 years on the job. “It’s hard to put into words what you think about what you do with this,” he said.

Regina Rooney, the public awareness coordinator for the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, said generally that in cases involving domestic violence the motive isn’t always obvious from the outside. She said these cases can be hard to recognize.

“That person’s motivation really is all about them wanting to control what their partner is doing and what’s happening in that relationship, and I think abusive people are really good at hiding that from the outside world,” Rooney said.

Meanwhile, St. Amand said Diane Whitney is doing well and seems to be in good spirits, trying to move on with her life. The Morning Sentinel could not reach her for further comment.

Police arrived after Whitney’s estranged wife had found two sides of the house in flames and called 911. Most of the damage was contained to the exterior of the house, and Whitney never went inside. St. Amand said Whitney apparently had not been in contact with his wife since his arrest in October. Whitney’s wife was able to escape out the back door unharmed while police were attempting to disarm Whitney.

Police attempted to stun Whitney using Tasers, but the nonlethal weapons were ineffective because of Whitney’s bulky clothing. Around that time, Whitney took out a knife and stabbed himself.

He was taken to an area hospital before succumbing to his injuries. Terry Whitney did not say anything to police during the confrontation and he had not had any interaction with local police before his Oct. 31 arrest.

Rooney said instances of domestic violence can be hard to recognize, because they often happen in private ways, but it was in the abusive person’s best interest to keep it private.

“I think it makes sense to a certain degree that people are sometimes shocked when they hear about a pretty public case of domestic violence,” Rooney said. “I understand how some people might be surprised about that, because they’ve been fooled by that person.”

Rooney said it was important to watch for warning signs. She said if someone notices a friend, a family member, a coworker or anyone becoming more isolated withdrawn, or notices a big change in the way they usually act, to check in with that person but not make the assumption the person is a victim of domestic violence. Similarly, if a person’s partner has become noticeably more controlling, that is a cause for concern. Rooney said the steps to take from there are to check in with the person first without assumptions.

She also said the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence has a 24-hour hot line available to anyone, including concerned friends or family members who want to know how to support the person in need.

As for the arson and suicide case, Gould said the remainder of the investigation will be “cleaning up loose ends” since no charges are likely. St. Amand said police are making sure no one else was involved, but to their knowledge no one will be charged. He said there “will be a few things that go unanswered.”

The house was deemed uninhabitable because of broken windows and concerns about damaged electrical wiring, but St. Amand said he did not believe it will have to be torn down. Waterville, Norridgewock and Fairfield fire departments all went to fight the fire. Fairfield police and the state fire marshal’s office will continue to investigate.

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis

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