April 06, 2020

Belongings tell history of slain man> Auction staff gets intimate portrait of North Berwick farmer’s life, death

KENNEBUNK — Malcolm Hobbs’ antique farm tools were lined up, ready to be sold.

His relatives held an estate auction in Kennebunk on Saturday as a way to empty Hobbs’ home of some of the materials — valuable and not — that made up his life on Bauneg Beg Hill. With the exception of the oil paintings and a few gold coins, there was little of considerable worth in Hobbs’ home. Except to him.

Three months since the 79-year-old Hobbs was killed in his kitchen, police have not made an arrest. Authorities speculate that someone planned to burglarize his rundown North Berwick house and Hobbs surprised them. Police have not said how Hobbs was killed.

In a way, the staff at Collins’ auction house has come to know the old farmer more intimately than did his relatives and neighbors. For one month, they pored through floor-to-ceiling piles — random, messy, inexplicable collections that overwhelmed every room in the house.

“I think it was valuable to him because it was his family’s history,” said Bruce Collins, owner of Collins Auction Galleries. “He grew up in this house. His mother grew up in this house. Except for his service in World War II, you know, he never left. That’s quite powerful, and as we went through the house, we felt that.”

It quickly became apparent to Collins that Hobbs, like his parents before him, threw away nothing. Mail, from an assortment of decades, was tossed on the same stacks with books and clothes (mail-ordered, but never opened) and artifacts from childhood. Marbles, paper dolls and wooden jigsaw puzzles were buried deep, as were grade-school certificates honoring little Malcolm’s perfect attendance.

There were box tops saved for prizes never redeemed, a box of doughnuts from the 1940s, Quaker Oats from the 1920s. Even an old Chevrolet, which Hobbs never got a license to drive, was filled with cans and bottles.

Only a small living space remained, Collins said. Part of the living room couch was free from clutter, and Collins assumes that is where Hobbs would lean back to fall asleep.

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