Phillip Torrey glanced back into the kitchen as he headed out the door. His bug-eyed 6-year-old dog, Franky, looked back expectantly, just like always.

The next time the sixth-generation lobsterman saw Franky it was to identify his body after it was found washed ashore across the bay, shot and wrapped in plastic.

Now, two men Torrey once considered friends are accused of breaking into his Winter Harbor home, stealing his SUV and luring his dog to its death with pieces of cheese. The animal cruelty case shocked residents of the small, remote Down East village and garnered national attention from people outraged at the brutal death of a helpless family pet.

Franky, a 6-year-old mix, belonged to Phillip Torrey of Winter Harbor.

“It’s amazing at a time when the country is divided so much that a small town in Maine and this dog have brought such a huge outpouring of people showing love and compassion,” Torrey said in an interview last week. “It’s like a bunch of the ugliness stopped for a second, even though this was caused by such an ugly act.”

The bizarre case began Aug. 26, when Torrey called police to report his home was broken into, his Hummer was stolen and returned damaged, and he could not find his dog, a Boston terrier-pug mix named Franky. Four days later, Franky’s body washed up across Frenchman Bay in Hancock and, as it happened, onto a private beach at the coastal home of Hancock County District Attorney Matt Foster.

Soon thereafter, police issued arrest warrants for suspects Nathan Burke and Justin Chipman.

Burke, 37, of Hancock, and Chipman, 22, of Steuben and Winter Harbor, have been charged with one count each of aggravated cruelty to animals, aggravated criminal mischief, burglary, theft and unauthorized use of property. They have not entered pleas and told police they did not hurt Franky.

Burke, who had worked on Torrey’s lobster boat for about three years, was released on $1,000 bail. His attorney, Jeffrey Toothaker, said in court that Burke has received threats, according to the Ellsworth American. Toothaker was in court Friday and not available to comment.

Chipman’s bail was also set at $1,000, but he remains in custody because he was on administrative release for a terrorizing conviction at the time he is accused of burglarizing Torrey’s home and killing Franky.

“It’s so hard to wrap your brain around,” Torrey said after Chipman and Burke appeared in court last week. “My house is so quiet.”

‘HE’S MUCH BIGGER THAN WHAT HE IS’

Franky first came into Torrey’s life as a puppy when he and his girlfriend at the time adopted the “bug dog.” When they split up, Franky went to live with the ex-girlfriend. Then, three years ago, a friend spotted Franky’s familiar face at the local animal shelter.

“We went right down to the shelter and got him,” Torrey said. “He seemed so scared at the shelter, but once we got him back in the car he was running around kissing me and kissing (my other dog) Budget.”

Torrey’s 16-year-old son, Simon, was especially happy to have Franky back home. They’d lie on the couch watching movies, Franky sprawled on his back across Simon’s lap, paws in the air. Franky would get fired up when Torrey arrived home from setting and hauling traps, always ready to run around with a squeaky toy.

“He’s just a little dog, but he’s much bigger than what he is. He’d be there at lobster boat races and gatherings at my house,” Torrey said. “He loved those days because he could run around and everyone would feed him a little snack. He was a part of the family.”

But not everyone was a fan of Franky.

Burke told someone in town that he did not like Franky and that “one day Franky would come up missing,” according to court documents. Torrey said Chipman didn’t like Franky because he had gotten into a fight with Chipman’s dog.

When Franky turned up missing while Torrey and his family were in New Hampshire for a concert, Torrey didn’t immediately suspect his friends. Burke had been the sternman on his lobster boat for the past three years. He’d known Chipman, who had worked for him on the lobster boat, since Chipman was a child.

Torrey had left for the concert on a Thursday evening, saying goodbye to Franky on the way out the door. The next morning, his sister, Doreen Eschete, stopped by to let Franky and Budget out, but only Budget was in the house. She assumed Franky had escaped, but when he didn’t turn up by that evening, she began to worry something was wrong. Eschete also found her brother’s Hummer in the yard, damaged and covered in mud.

Worried about their dog and ready to search, Torrey and Simon returned home to Winter Harbor.

‘EVERYONE KNOWS EVERYONE’S DOG’

Winter Harbor lies east of Bar Harbor at the tip of the Schoodic Peninsula. It is home to just over 500 people in the winter, after the summer visitors go home. It’s the kind of small coastal Maine town where families have been fishing lobster for generations and no one among its year-round residents is a stranger.

“It’s almost like a storybook. You hear about these places where people wave to everyone or say ‘hello’ at the grocery store,” said Kylie Bragdon, chairwoman of the Winter Harbor Board of Selectmen.

It’s also the kind of place, she said, where not only does everyone know everyone else, but “everyone knows everyone’s dog.”

So when news broke that Torrey’s little dog was missing, it came as no surprise to Bragdon that people headed out to search for him and shared the dog’s photo on social media. For three days, Torrey and his son combed the town and searched the woods on four-wheelers for any sign of their dog.

“I had a feeling in my heart something bad had happened,” Torrey said. “Simon really wanted to keep looking.”

Torrey said Burke and Chipman told him they had borrowed the Hummer to run down to the town dock, but had no idea what happened to Franky. That didn’t make sense to Torrey, who said surveillance videos showed no sign of the Hummer at the dock. The damage to the Hummer was extensive, ranging from broken mirrors to gouges running down the side panels.

Torrey began to piece it together: the missing dog, the damaged truck. Franky’s leash and a piece of cheese – the kind Torrey used to lure his dog back into the house – were found on the backseat of the Hummer. A bullet casing was lodged in a grate on the hood of the vehicle.

“I called them and said, ‘You need to tell me what’s going on.’ I told them, ‘If you have something to tell me, tell me now or I’ll call the police,’ ” Torrey said. “A couple hours later, they said they had taken Franky with them to go for a ride and he ran off.”

SUSPECTS TURN THEMSELVES IN

Police said what really happened is far more grim.

Burke said in text messages to Torrey that he was “smashed” when he and Chipman went to Torrey’s home and took Franky for a ride because the dog was being mean to Budget, according to court records. Investigators believe the two men lured the dog from the home, shot him in the throat, wrapped his body in multiple layers of plastic and dumped him in Frenchman Bay. There is no indication of a motive in court records, except for the references to their dislike of the dog.

On the evening of Aug. 30, Melissa Foster, wife of the district attorney, found something wrapped in plastic on the family’s beach and called her husband out to see. They pulled back the plastic and saw the remains of a small dog. Just enough fur and markings remained to allow Torrey to later identify the dog as Franky.

A live Winchester .45 pistol cartridge was found on the hood of the vehicle, which Burke had admitted to taking from Torrey’s house, according to court records.

“Mr. Torrey and I both believe that Franky was shot using the headlights for illumination, and that this live round was manually ejected from a firearm while a person was standing directly in front of the vehicle,” Winter Harbor police Officer Eli Brown wrote in an affidavit.

Chipman and Burke turned themselves in to police three days after Winter Harbor police posted their photos of Facebook and asked the public for help tracking them down.

When news broke about Franky’s death, the story appeared on the news in at least 16 states that Torrey knows of. He did an interview with People magazine and fielded calls and messages from radio stations.

More than a dozen dog breeders reached out to offer him a puppy. Torrey was inundated with hundreds of messages and comments from people across the country and Canada. He got 57 Facebook messages during the short time he was in a courtroom during Burke and Chipman’s bail hearing.

“That’s what it’s been like every day. It’s people from all over saying, ‘I’m thinking of you, my prayers are with you,’ ” he said. “You see people who don’t even know each other commenting back and forth and sharing photos of their dogs.”

Bragdon, the select board chairwoman, said Franky’s death brought the Winter Harbor community closer together.

“I’ve never seen such an incredible response from such a large group of people in my life,” she said. “I knew we were a strong bunch, and when push comes to shove we take care of each other. It was never more apparent than now.”

Torrey, who is still sad about his family’s loss and frustrated by the low bail set by the judge, is trying to focus on the positive support of friends and strangers.

He’s still waiting for investigators to finish a necropsy of Franky’s body at a lab in Augusta. It was not immediately clear when that lab work will be done or what evidence police are looking for other than the cause of death. Winter Harbor Police Chief Danny Mitchell Jr. did not respond to a request for comment.

When he finally brings Franky home, Torrey will bury him on a quiet corner of his property.

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: grahamgillian

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.