She has no technical expertise or training, but when it comes to her daughter’s homicide, Pamela McLain is by far the case’s most ardent investigator.
That’s why McLain, 61, of East Millinocket was disappointed but ultimately not deterred that the state Attorney General’s Office recently declined her request to exhume the body of her daughter, Joyce McLain, who was killed 27 years ago.
“I don’t have a choice but to do this,” McLain said Thursday. “I am fighting for my daughter. She is laying in the ground, and she can’t protect herself. She can’t speak for herself. She can’t say if there’s anything [evidentiary] down there with her, so I have to try and find out.”
Citing recommendations from the Maine State Police Crime Laboratory and the state’s chief medical examiner, Deputy Attorney General William R. Stokes said the chance of getting foreign DNA relevant to the case, per McLain’s request, “is virtually nonexistent.
“Given the fact that 27 years have now passed since your daughter’s death and burial, the amount of bacterial degradation would be significant and would destroy any foreign DNA that might exist,” Stokes wrote in a letter to McLain dated March 3.
A 16-year-old Schenck High School sophomore, Joyce McLain went jogging the night of Aug. 8, 1980. Her partially clad body was found two days later in a power line clearing about 200 feet from the school’s soccer fields. Her head and neck had been struck repeatedly with a blunt object.
When Pamela McLain asked the state medical examiner’s office late last year to exhume the body, she hoped that the killer might have left DNA traces in the wounds that could help with the state police investigation, which continues. She also believes there is at least a chance the body has not degraded to the extent the experts believe.
“They think they know what’s down there,” McLain said, “but they can’t tell me that all bodies decay in the same way. God might have preserved her better than that.
“I was hoping that they would give me this one,” she added, “with all the letters I have written.”
Maine’s U.S. senators, congressmen, attorney general, local and state police, and national cold case investigative societies are among the recipients of McLain’s letters, telephone calls and e-mails over the last 27 years as she moved from quiet observer to outspoken advocate in the effort to nail her daughter’s killer.
McLain is alternately condemning and heartbreakingly philosophical in her comments about the murder and the six primary state police investigators and others who have handled her daughter’s case. She is quick to criticize almost all and lavish in her praise of the few she felt were up to the task.
She carries the awful burden of the homicide, but also owns a bar, Pam & Ivy’s on Main Street, and cares for foster children. While she rambles at times, McLain is focused, not hysterical.
“I’ve been on the case for 28 years. They come, they go. They bungled it from Day One, and as far as I am concerned they are still bungling it. ‘We’re that close,’ they would say. That was years ago,” McLain said. “There were too many people, too many notebooks, on the case. They have had about a dozen suspects in this.
“I’ve come to terms with it. If I just knew who did it, if I was the only person who knew who did it, that would be enough for me,” she said of the homicide. “It would be enough for me, but not for her. I don’t think I could keep it secret.”
With the attorney general’s rejection, McLain hopes to get a second opinion from such forensic experts as Dr. Michael Baden, the chief forensic pathologist for the New York State Police, and Dr. Henry Lee, chief emeritus of the Connecticut State Police and former chief criminalist for the state of Connecticut.
She’s hoping their opinions will be more favorable and might sway Maine’s attorney general.
McLain lacks the money to hire a private investigator or exhume the body herself, but she’s not quitting.
“I’m going on with this,” she said, “until the day I die.”