May 27, 2020

Nightmare in Calais Tragedy leaves its mark in Down East community

CALAIS – One night this fall, having reached the easternmost tip of the United States, an elderly stranger stepped off a bus and walked down Main Street.

If Chester A. Doudey remembered Calais, it was only dimly, after a 20-year absence. His matinee-idol hair was now dyed the color of caramel, and his skin showed the years in the Arizona sun. He had been on a bus for five straight days. When someone asked him – and, as far as police investigators know, only one person did – he said he had returned to Maine on a mission he’d put off far too long, to make peace with his four daughters in the area before he died.

There wasn’t time, though. He was dead by morning.

During the days after Doudey was found face-down in his own blood on Main Street – the first random killing ever to occur in Calais, police say – two stories spooled out before a stunned community: one, of a 74-year-old man who traveled 3,000 miles to heal the wounds he made when he walked out on his family years ago; and another, say court documents, of two 20-year-olds in this border town who had decided to “snuff somebody.”

The murder took place three months ago, but people here remain haunted by the intersection of those paths. As they await trial in Washington County Jail, Justiliano Sanchez and Jonathan Pineda have each pointed the finger at the other. Doudey’s four daughters in Maine, who were all under the age of 10 when he left, have run through the events of that night so many times that it verges on obsession. The bartender who teased Doudey’s story out of him before watching him walk unsteadily into the dark is so sick with regret that he has left the bartending business for good.

People all over Calais have trouble forgetting how the elderly man died.

“To me, it’s like a nightmare,” said Police Chief Mike Milburn. “You just want to wake up.”

The strip of downtown Chester Doudey walked into that evening was, in many ways, the place he had left behind.

Raised fatherless in hardscrabble Presque Isle, Doudey was always a bit of a dandy, quick to explain – inaccurately, as it turns out – that his true roots were in Spain, recalled his niece, Pearl Houlton Fitzgerald. His daughters remember him clacking castanets, waving a dish towel, shouting “Toro! Toro!” Fitzgerald refers to it, laughingly, as “that Spanish thing.” If anything, she said, Doudey’s father had been an American Indian.

“He was always a real smooth talker,” she said.

Though he worked, like the other men, in the gravel pits or on a garbage truck, Doudey “always made it seem like he didn’t belong in a small town,” she said.

But Washington County never did shake its mill-town isolation – not while Doudey was growing up here, and not during the economic boom that seized the country since he left.

Main Street in Calais, population 3,800, features a display of bedpans and second-hand holiday outfits and the art of Brenda Batson’s third-graders. Across the river, the Canadian city of St. Stephen, New Brunswick, twinkles prosperously. But in Calais on a recent night, the streets were cold and clear and mostly empty.

Lured by glamour

Doudey had always longed for the heat and glamour of the Sun Belt, and around 1976, facing the wreck of his second marriage, he caught a bus out of Washington County. He left four daughters behind, ages 3, 7, 8 and 10.

Although their mother, Barbara Mitchell, did the work of raising the girls, he had charmed them the way he charmed others around him. Even when they lived in a trailer home in Princeton, half a mile from running water, Tina Edgerly’s memories of her father are luxurious. He would lie on a couch piled with daughters, sharing a half-gallon of ice cream and watching silent movies.

After he left, there were much-anticipated midnight or 1 a.m. phone calls, when he had been drinking and forgotten the time difference, and called his daughters up to croon Spanish songs to them, said Edgerly, who is 33.

But he always had trouble keeping promises.

“He told us he’d come for high school graduation; he never showed. He said he’d be there for my college graduation; he never showed,” said Crystal Doudey, 31, who works for an insurance company in the Portland area. “It was just one disappointment after another.”

From time to time, the girls’ mother quietly took the phone off the hook so his phone calls wouldn’t wake the girls up, but they couldn’t hear enough about him. Fitzgerald, his niece, remembers fielding calls from one of the girls just asking question after question about Chester.

Something tugged at him all those years in Phoenix, said his closest relative there, a 47-year-old daughter from a previous marriage. So on Sept. 7, he returned to Maine the way he left it – climbing onto a bus without much notice to anyone, not even the daughter, Trina Doudey. All he took with him was three plastic bags.

The shortest ride across the country by Greyhound bus, through Dallas, Atlanta, New York, Boston and Bangor, takes 73 hours and 10 minutes.

Still, Doudey arrived in Calais neatly dressed, in a blue blazer and collared shirt, with his hair slicked back. And when he ducked into Mulligan’s Indoor Golf and Lounge, a cavernous bar on Main Street, the bartender wouldn’t have known how far he had come if he hadn’t pulled his money out of his back pocket all balled-up and sweaty.

“He had just gotten ready to leave, when I asked him what he was doing here,” said Larry Saunders, a genial 35-year-old who returned to Calais, his hometown, a year and a half ago.

“He said he was looking for his daughters, who he hadn’t seen in 20-odd years,” Saunders said. “I sympathized, because I hadn’t seen my son in eight years. When I told him that, he sat right back down and bellied up to the bar. We drank a toast to the Navy, and we drank a toast to children, and anything else we could think of.”

Six hours later, Doudey was holding court at the bar, introducing himself as “Pepe Somebody-or-other” and implying that he was well-connected in the Vegas mafia, Saunders said.

He said he was looking for his daughter, but didn’t say the name “Doudey,” so no one made the connection, Saunders said. He asked about hotels – Saunders thinks he even called up and made a reservation for Doudey at the Calais Motor Inn. But then a young man at the bar next to him offered him a room for $50 cash upfront. Doudey accepted the offer and walked, somewhat drunkenly, out into the night.

A five-day binge

At the nubby end of the country, 21/2 hours from the nearest shopping mall, Calais doesn’t have much to offer a 20-year-old: Work prospects top out at telemarketing, for many, and the wintertime brings long nights in cramped houses. Mischief has always been a problem here – kids cut cookies with their cars and throw bottles at street signs – but lately, Milburn said, urban crimes have begun to seep in.

Around the time that Doudey left Phoenix, John Pineda and Justin Sanchez had started to hang out together in a trailer home on North Street, steps from the start of the Atlantic time zone.

Pineda and Sanchez weren’t exactly friends, Pineda said. What they did together was “stay home and drink” – beer in the morning and vodka as the day wore on, said Pineda, a slender 20-year-old with a circlet of barbed wire tattooed around his right wrist. Asked what Sanchez was like, Pineda said he had no idea.

“For those five or six days, we were drunk every day, from the time we woke until the time we went to bed,” he said. “We never really did anything.”

David Mitchell, Sanchez’s attorney, said he believed the two men had known each other longer.

Pineda, who granted an interview at Washington County Jail, had moved up from Portland eight months before to “see what it was like to get out of the city for a while,” he said.

But soon after he arrived, he was charged with breaking into a Calais home and stealing $12,000 in cash and jewelry, and he had begun to think it was time to go back to the city. He was getting restless.

That night they had split a fifth of vodka, Pineda said. Police said there were no indications that the two had used drugs that night. There was a plan to go to a friend’s house, but it was forgotten, somehow, in the night air.

“Usually when we’re drunk we go on walks,” Pineda said. “We didn’t even plan to go into town.

“We got talking,” he said, “and before we knew it we were there.”

Advice to bartender

Before he left the bar, Doudey had given his sympathetic bartender some “grandfatherly” advice.

“He said he had come to make peace,” Saunders said. “He told me, ‘Don’t waste your time,”‘ meaning to make the most of what you have.

Twenty minutes later, Doudey’s face had been smashed in so violently that the medical examiner’s report listed the cause of death as “whiplash and/or heart failure and obstruction of the airways by his tongue due to massive facial trauma.”

According to medical examiners, Doudey made no effort to defend himself from the blows.

Within two days, Sanchez and Pineda had been arrested. Pineda allegedly told a detective that the two had agreed earlier in the night to “snuff someone.”

In the interview last week, Pineda said the phrase referred to “robbing someone,” and that – contrary to the court affidavit – the exchange occurred when they saw Doudey on the street. Statements by both men fleshed out a robbery that escalated into a savage beating, although each suspect reportedly said it was the other who had lost control, smashing Doudey’s face again and again into the pavement.

In last week’s interview, Pineda said he didn’t strike Doudey, and had been “surprised that Sanchez was taking it so far,” Pineda said.

Sanchez’s attorney would not comment on Pineda’s allegations, but his father, Justiliano Sanchez Sr., told local reporters that Sanchez watched while Pineda beat the man.

Police responding to a 911 call found the dying stranger lying face-down, not far from Carmen’s Hometown Pizzeria. In his wallet, found not far from his body, they found his name.

Doudey was taken to Calais Regional Hospital, where he died, and where he finally found his family. Down the hall, working at her housekeeping job, was his ex-wife, Barbara Mitchell. She was astonished to see the body of her former husband – there, pushed way over to the right side of his face, was the pug nose that everyone in Doudey’s family had, she told Fitzgerald.

Stunned, she went home to fetch wedding pictures for comparison.

A day later, once the morticians had had the chance to reconstruct his face, the Doudey girls got the chance to see their father.

“Just talking about it now gives me the shivers,” said Christina Doudey Ahmad, 28, who is married and resides in Scarborough. “It was like a dream, and all of a sudden it was an upside-down nightmare. Can you imagine, if you were 31/2 the last time you saw him, and you had to say hello to him dead?”

They buried him in Augusta.

“I don’t know if my dad had any regrets,” said Ahmad’s sister, Crystal. “I don’t think any man wants to leave his four girls. Those are just questions I would have asked him if he made it.

“They really stole a lot from us in that aspect,” she said quietly.

vWord of what had happened began filtering out to neighbors who have left their front doors open all their lives. The sun rose on a changed city. Life in Calais has always been hard, and domestic violence is endemic. But it had never dawned on people that a stranger might kill you on Main Street for no reason.

“I can recall the day that happened, sitting on the back porch and hearing kids playing and skateboarding and people walking with their dogs,” said Ferguson Calder, editor of the weekly Calais Advertiser. A day later, no one was on the street. “It was as if someone had turned the switch off.”

Charged with two counts of murder apiece – one count of knowing and intentional murder and one count of depraved indifference murder – Sanchez and Pineda await their trial, which probably won’t come until late spring, their attorneys say. If convicted, they face minimum sentences of 25 years each.

For the most part, Calais residents have returned to normal life, accepting, as Larry Saunders has struggled to, that “what happened to Doudey was like getting struck by lightning.”

But the Doudey daughters – three home health care providers and an insurance broker, now – can’t get past the questions: Why did he go home with a stranger? Why did he linger at the bar for six hours?

Why didn’t he call?

“I feel he didn’t want to disappoint us again,” said Crystal Doudey, who remembers looking around for him at high school graduations, always thinking he’d show up.

But Fitzgerald thinks she knows why he ducked into the bar – to calm his nerves for an encounter that frightened him.

“That was just him. Once he was out, he didn’t know how to get back, and I think maybe that’s why he came unannounced,” she said. “I think maybe he thought if he called, they’d say, ‘Don’t come.”‘

To Crystal Doudey, it’s too much to bear.

“We wanted our dad all our lives,” she said. “The thing that kept running through my mind – and I had mentioned it to my fiance – is that I was so close. That’s the worst thing, that we were this close to getting together. You know? We were this close, Dad, this close.”

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