AUGUSTA — Flossie Panek recalls John L’Heureux as a polite, clean-cut young man.
When she learned Wednesday he had been charged with killing her longtime friend, Mary Turner, she couldn’t believe it.
“When I saw him come out of that [police] car, my knees were shaking,” Panek, 67, said after L’Heureux’s initial court appearance on two murder charges. “I can’t imagine what he’s accused of doing.”
L’Heureux, 28, was charged Wednesday with strangling the 87-year-old woman and setting her Augusta home on fire early Tuesday morning. He is one of her former tenants.
L’Heureux also has been charged with killing his stepdaughter, 16-year-old Kristen Smith, whose body was found early Wednesday near a Manchester cemetery.
Panek and Turner had been friends ever since Turner styled her hair for the first time 51 years ago.
They took a liking to each other, and they would chat about their lives and families during Panek’s regular appointment every Thursday afternoon.
Later, they found support in each other as they successfully battled cancer.
“I was like a daughter to her,” Panek said. “She just kind of tucked me under her wing.”
Panek began looking after Turner each day after the elderly woman’s husband died 11 years ago. She would drive her to the grocery store and to the hospital for checkups. All the while, Turner still styled Panek’s hair from the shop in her Myrtle Street home.
John L’Heureux entered their lives in November, when he and his wife, Joy, rented the second-floor apartment in Turner’s home.
Panek remembered them as good tenants. They were quiet, paid the rent and sometimes even offered to help out with things. After he lost his job in June, the couple moved out and headed for Sanford, where John L’Heureux has family. Panek could not remember where he had worked.
That was Panek’s last encounter with John L’Heureux — until Wednesday.
Her husband, Alex, heard on the news that L’Heureux had been charged with killing Turner. She rushed to the television set and saw a man with long, shaggy hair and a goatee. That wasn’t the man she remembered.
She had to confront him, just to be sure.
Panek wept quietly during L’Heureux’s initial appearance on murder charges in Southern Kennebec District Court in Augusta. Afterward, as he was led away in handcuffs, she asked him why, but he said nothing.
Asked why L’Heureux might have killed Turner, she replied, “He must have wanted money, and he knew she had some. That’s all I can think of.
“This is beyond what I can even explain,” she said.