It’s true you don’t often know the full story about someone until after he dies.

So it is with Vaughan Orchard, who spent much of the last several years in downtown Waterville, homeless, living in a tent by the Kennebec River and suffering from mental illness. He collapsed in a friend’s apartment March 3 from an apparent heart attack and died at 57 at a local hospital.

I met Vaughan in 2015 when I ventured down to his tent behind the Morning Sentinel building. It was 10 days before Christmas and it was cold, raw and rainy, and the Coleman stove he cooked food on had crapped out.

We talked for a long time and I invited him into our office to get warm.

He told me his history, though people said after I wrote a column about him that much of it was untrue — but he believed it to be so.

For instance, he told me he was 71, when he was only in his mid-50s, police later confirmed.

After his death I learned he was married and had children, though he did not live with them and denied he was related to them.

Vaughan Orchard, shown here on Sept. 7, 2016, lived in a tent year-round for about two years near the Kennebec River in Waterville. Staff file photo by David Leaming

His wife of 20 years, Tammy Orchard, 53, of Waterville, said Thursday he was a hard working husband who cared deeply for his family, but it all ended when he went to prison for dealing drugs and emerged a different person. They could not live together after his schizophrenia got so bad that he believed she was not his wife, insisted she was trying to poison him and claimed he had no children — though they were all trying to help him.

Vaughan was born in Portland, grew up in Yarmouth and Freeport and had anger issues when he was young, according to Tammy. At 18, he beat his stepfather so badly that he was sent to prison for five years, she said.

He was married and had a child when he met Tammy at the Bob-In in downtown Waterville, but later divorced. He and Tammy were together 10 years before they, too, married. He worked hard as a mechanic, fixing cars and motorcycles.

“He was the most handsome man ever,” she said. “He had beautiful teeth, he was a great father, a great husband. He provided for us — until he went crazy.”

She knew he was taking pills of some sort during the early years of their marriage, but did not realize the extent of his heroin addiction until he was busted for dealing drugs, she said.

The family helped him over the years, despite his insisting they were not related. They offered him a place to stay and gave him money, but he wanted to live outdoors, independently. He was hospitalized at least three times for mental health issues, Tammy said.

His daughter, Tanya Laury, now 35, said he was a good father to her, her sisters Holly and Harley, and brother, Danny.

“He used to braid my hair. His family came first. His kids and our mom were the light of his life. He worked to pay the bills and made sure we were all taken care of.”

After he was released from prison, everything was different.

“He didn’t know we were his kids. He lost his mind. They said he probably always had schizophrenia, but it came out later.”

His daughter, Harley Orchard, 25, of Waterville, was mourning his loss Thursday, saying she was sad he will not get to see her baby daughter, due May 8. He was a good man, despite his troubles.

“He always — even if he was having a rough day — would do something to make somebody happy and help somebody in any way he could. Even when he was struggling, he didn’t ask for much. He was a very intelligent person. Yes, he had craziness, but he could do math like crazy. He loved newspapers and doing Sudoku. He loved crosswords and could do them in seconds. You’d be surprised how intelligent and strong he was.”

After I wrote the column about Vaughan in 2015, people came out of the woodwork, wanting to help him. Some even sent me money, asking me to make sure he got it.

On Christmas Day, my husband, Phil, and I visited him at his tent and I handed him an envelope containing some $200 in cash people had donated. I could tell he was grateful in his own way, though he did not thank us profusely like one might expect. He just took it and stuffed it in his pocket.

Harley Orchard holds her pregnant belly as she looks through old pictures of her and her late father, Vaughan Orchard, at her apartment on Spruce Street in Waterville on Thursday. Vaughan was a well-known homeless man who died suddenly of a heart attack. The family can not afford the funeral or cremation expenses and has started a GoFundMe page to raise funds. Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

But he was talkative. He showed us piles of blankets and coats people had brought him and offered us a small plastic bag of Christmas cookies that was among a mountain of holiday treats left at his campsite. He said he’d never be able to eat it all himself. He also produced five brand new donated Coleman stoves and said he was trying to give four away to those in need. He seemed perplexed that he received so many, saying, “I only needed one.”

He talked of wanting to build a tiny shelter to live in. He finally did build a small wooden hut next to his tent, but last fall, a woman reported him to the police and the landowner, Pan Am Railways, ordered him off the property.

After that, he wandered the streets in all kinds of weather pushing a grocery cart, his tall, lanky, 6-foot frame and wild gray hair prominent as he plucked bottles and cans from trash cans and dumpsters. The window at my desk overlooks one of those dumpsters and many days I’d see him climb right inside.

I saw Vaughan for the last time two days before he died, lumbering across Common Street to Castonguay Square next to City Hall. He passed east of the building and turned north on Front Street, heading toward the Two Cent Bridge at Head of Falls.

His family is struggling to scrounge up the money for his cremation, which is $3,425. Burying his ashes seems out of the question unless a GoFundMe page reaps enough contributions, his wife said Thursday.

The marriage certificate of Vaughan and Tammy Orchard sits on a picture of their baby daughter Harley Orchard at Harley’s apartment on Spruce Street in Waterville on Thursday. Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

“I’m going to go to Social Security tomorrow because they said they would give $250. We don’t have money for a service or a burial. We’re trying our hardest to do everything we can to come up with enough for cremation.”

Harley, his daughter, said he loved the Two Cent Bridge, believed he owned it, and spent a lot of time there.

“I wish there could be a memorial plaque down there for him. I’d go to see him there as much as I could.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter for 30 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.