Unsolved Cold Case Lincoln County, Maine

Who killed Florence Estelle Norcross Lauze?

Sat, 04/01/2017 - 7:00am

Researched and written by Sarah Sherman McGrail

Copyright Cozy Harbor Press, Inc. - February 2017

In every small Maine town there are always cold cases with whispers from the past. In Lincoln County, there remains just such a case, the unsolved 1975 homicide of Florence Estelle Norcross Lauze, a young woman from Brockton, Massachusetts, whose body was found in Sherman Lake in Newcastle, Maine. She was 19 years old and she had been strangled.

On the morning of August 16, 1975, on Lynch Road in Newcastle, Maine, Randy Pearce of Boothbay, Maine, and a young relative of his stopped to go fishing at Sherman Lake near the head of the causeway, which is located on the opposite side of the lake from the Route 1 Rest Area. What started off as an innocent outing soon took a sinister turn, when around 8 a.m. Randy discovered a woman’s body floating in the lake waters.

Mr. Pearce walked up the road to David Wood’s farmhouse, which was the second house on the right, just after the causeway, on Lynch Road headed towards Route 1. A very shaken Randy Pearce described what he had seen and then asked to use the family’s phone so he could call the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department. Initially, the incident was reported as a drowning.

David Wood’s son, Eric, was 17 years old at the time and remembers that morning vividly: “Dad and I drove down the hill to see what was going on. As we approached, I could see a woman’s body up against the rocks on the west side of the causeway. Her arms were spread in front of her body and her hair was fanned out across the water. She was face down, partially dressed, wearing white underwear, her legs were submerged, and I could see bruises on her hip.”

Retired Knox County Sheriff and Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department Detective Dan Davey was on duty that day, and my August 11, 2016, telephone interview with him confirmed, “I was the first officer called to the scene at Lynch Road that morning and upon arrival determined that it was foul play. I secured the scene and contacted the Maine State Police and the District Attorney’s Office.

“It took a while for the Maine State Police to arrive from Augusta. By the time they did, word had spread, and quite a few onlookers had come to the scene to see what was going on. The woman’s body was in plain view. I can still see the whole scene in my mind. Whoever killed her made no attempt to hide the body and it looked as if they had taken great care to gently lay her in the water.”

Eric Wood clearly remembers the woman’s body being pulled out of the water and once ashore she was flipped onto her back. It was at that point that it became very evident that this wasn’t a drowning: “I could clearly see a ligature mark around her neck, black and blues on her upper body, and a scratch on her hip. It was obvious to everyone present that she had been strangled.”

On August 21, 1975, the Lincoln County News reported: “We still have no idea who she is,” said State Police Lieutenant Jerry Boutilier. “She doesn’t appear to be local. We have possible leads, but we’re going to have hundreds of those before it’s over,” he added. “She appears to be 16-25 years old, has light brown hair three to four inches below her shoulders, hazel eyes, pierced ears, and an appendectomy scar,” Boutilier said. He added that the woman was partially clothed, wearing a long-sleeve dark blue jersey top, underwear, blue socks, low brown shoes with crepe soles and several pieces of jewelry.

In the article, Boutilier described the jewelry as a silver wire bracelet with turquoise stones, an oriental coin on a leather thong worn on the wrist, a silver cross on a silver chain worn as a necklace, and a woven wire finger ring.

The Boothbay Register reported on August 21, 1975: “She was a white female, 5 ft. 7 in. tall, 135 to 145 lbs., long light brown hair below the shoulders, hazel eyes, believed to be in her late teens or early twenties. She had pierced ears and wore small crystal earrings. She wore a chain type ring on her left hand, a woven silver wire bracelet on her right wrist with an oriental design gold coin attached. Her toenails and fingernails were painted with silver polish.

“The body was partially clothed in a long sleeved dark blue jersey top, blue bra, white bikini underwear with yellow border, brown shoes of Bass make, and dark blue socks. The body of the woman was taken to Strong Funeral Home in Damariscotta, Maine.”

The Maine State Police set up a command post at the Pioneer Motel in Edgecomb and a team of detectives was assigned to the case from the Bureau of Criminal Investigation. Lincoln County News stated, “A pathologist from Augusta General Hospital ruled the 16-25 year old woman suffered ‘death by strangulation.’ Police stated that the body had been in the water less than 24 hours when it was discovered by Randy Pearce.”

Lieutenant Boutilier was also quoted as stating, “There were no witnesses we are aware of yet,” and did not rule out the possibility of a sexual motivation in the apparent homicide. “Sexual molestation is a possibility, although the autopsy showed there were no outward signs of that.”

At the time, the police reached out to the public asking them to contact local or State Police with any tips. Her clothing had no traces of identification on it and it was surmised at the time that she could be a seasonal waitress working in the area for the summer.

The Boothbay Register noted, “Investigators have been working round the clock in an effort to break this case. They have checked out every phone call, every bit of information that they have been able to pick up. Hundreds of hotels, motels, restaurants, gas stations, camping areas, and individual persons in the surrounding towns have been interviewed in the hope of finding someone who had seen the girl alive.”

One of the detectives working the case told the Boothbay Register reporter, “The police are eager to establish this girl’s identity so we can proceed as quickly as possible to apprehend those responsible for her death.”

During our interview, Detective Davey recalled, “My colleagues and I kept asking questions around Lincoln County, even though it was technically a State Police case. The case just seemed to dry up. There weren’t any other strangulations reported at that time so there wasn’t a pattern to follow.”

After days of following leads, the Maine State Police resorted to something they had never done before and a photograph of the deceased woman was flashed on TV screens during local news programming. Law enforcement agencies and newspapers across the United States also received the image in the hope that someone would know who she was and would contact them.

The head and shoulders photograph of the young woman that was distributed to law enforcement and news media across the country showed her lying on her back in the grass. She was wearing the dark blue shirt noted in the newspaper articles and the image clearly showed a ligature mark around her neck, which indicated that she had been strangled.

Finally, an identification of the woman was made by her relatives in Massachusetts after a sketch of the girl was published in Boston area newspapers. The Boothbay Register noted, “Massachusetts State Police Detectives John Bukant and Frank Gentile worked with Maine State Police Detectives William Bickford and Martin Greeley in the Brockton area over the weekend.”

On August 28, 1975, the Lincoln County News quoted Maine State Police Lieutenant Jerry Boutilier as saying, “Lauze was positively identified Tuesday by State Police. A first identification was made through a sketch published in a Massachusetts newspaper. Apparently the mother had talked with her about a week before her death.”

Boutilier stated Lauze was divorced and had been living with a roommate in Brockton prior to her death. Identification was made through photographs, dental records, and jewelry. Authorities continued an investigation of the case in Maine and Massachusetts.

Massachusetts Detective Gentile was quoted as saying, “Mrs. Lauze is known to have been en route to Maine to visit her father, and she left Massachusetts on August 15 and was probably hitch hiking. The Attorney General’s office is attempting to determine the time she left the Brockton area for Maine.”

Author’s Note: David W. Norcross Sr. moved to Back Meadow Road in Damariscotta in 1973 with his second wife. Research indicates that both of Florence’s parents have since passed away, but that she had multiple brothers and sisters.

In an August 27, 1975, edition of the Lewiston Evening Journal, Deputy Attorney General Richard Cohen was quoted as stating, “Mrs. Lauze was an unemployed divorcee. She had not been reported missing,” Cohen said. “Family members did not know that she was in Maine or whether she was alone. They said her father lives in Damariscotta and Cohen speculated she may have been en route to see him when she was killed. Maine detectives had been in the Brockton area for two days circulating photographs of the victim after several persons said they recognized her as a Massachusetts woman.”

Interestingly, an obituary for Florence from the Brockton, Massachusetts, newspaper, Brockton Daily Enterprise, states that she was a nurse’s aide at the St. Joseph’s Manor Nursing Home in Brockton, Massachusetts, and that her body was found August 16, but was not identified until Tuesday when Massachusetts State Police circulated pictures in the Brockton area. Her funeral was held at St. Mary of the Nativity Church in Scituate Harbor.

A Brockton Daily Enterprise article dated Tuesday, August 26, 1975, stated, “City Woman Is Murder Victim”: “Brockton Police today learned that a homicide victim, found on August 16, submerged in water in a culvert in Newcastle, ME, has been identified as Florence Estelle (Norcross) Lauze, 19, who was last known to have resided at 312 North Main Street.

“Detective Lieutenant John J. Bukunt and Detective Frank P. Gentile reported that a Maine medical examiner has given the cause of death as strangulation. Two State Police detectives from Maine arrived here this morning, and in conjunction with Detective Gentile, are probing the crime in the local area. Details of the incident, the local detective said, are sketchy at this time, adding that the investigation now is centering in this area, with some possible leads.”

Brockton officials stated: “The victim was the daughter of Mrs. Clarie E. Magnus of East St., and was the estranged wife of Richard Paul Lauze whose present residence has not immediately been ascertained. Reportedly the couple had been married in Sharon, MA.”

The Brockton Daily Enterprise reported on Wednesday, August 27, 1975, “Local Police ‘Have Leads’ in Woman’s Strangulation”: Detective Frank P. Gentile stated, “We do ‘have leads’ in the recent strangulation death in Maine of a city woman.” The article later states, “Detective Gentile, assigned by Detective Lieutenant John J. Bukunt to head the probe here, now centering in the local area, spent the greater portion of Tuesday with two Maine State Police detectives, Corporal Detective William Bickford and Detective Martin Greeley, and they said, ‘There are some leads in the case here.’ The Maine officers have returned there to continue the investigation.

“According to Deputy Attorney General Cohen, the victim was an unemployed divorcee and had not been reported as a missing person. She had been married, local officials said, to Richard Paul Lauze, whose present residence is not known.”

An August 28, 1975, Boothbay Register article reported, “Lauze was the divorced wife of Richard Paul Lauze, also from Brockton, Massachusetts, and was unemployed. Her body had been held at St. Andrews Hospital in Boothbay Harbor, but was released on Wednesday and sent to a funeral home in Brockton, Massachusetts. Funeral arrangements have not been completed at the time this newspaper went to press.”

A September 11, 1975, Lincoln County News article stated, “No new leads in Newcastle Case.” Deputy Attorney General Richard Cohen was quoted, “The investigation is still continuing, but unfortunately there are no new developments. It’s been uneventful.”

Author’s Note: Eric Wood and his father David, who has since passed away, always thought that whoever dumped Florence’s body at the causeway knew the road. Their theory was that it was too far out of the way for a stranger to find in the dark.

Also keeping in mind that in August 1975, the residents of Lynch Road would have had their windows wide open as air conditioners wouldn’t have been as common as they are now. Did anyone on the road hear anything unusual that night?

In August 2015, the Newcastle Historical Society included a story about Florence’s unsolved murder in their newsletter, noting that, “The crime was committed forty years ago and rumors still circulate around Newcastle about who killed her, but still no one had ever been arrested for her murder.”

In July 2016, this author and her good friend, in an attempt to keep their minds busy, decided to learn everything they could about Florence’s case. Initial inquiries were fielded to Lieutenant Love at the Maine State Police and then research was started.

Author’s Note: In 2014, the 127th Maine State Legislature approved funding for an Unsolved Homicide Unit. Maine State Police Lieutenant Jeff Love is the Commanding Officer and all unsolved homicides and missing person cases are reviewed there.

Newspaper archives were checked online and in person in both Maine and Brockton, Massachusetts, at the city library; local police departments, retired officers, and police records departments were contacted both in Maine and Massachusetts. Jessica Cummings at the Maine State Police assisted with a records search of the 1975 and 1976 Uniform Crime Reports to check for any rape or aggravated assault trends that may have been occurring during that time period (none were found). Jaclyn Zawada, Staff Counsel for the Massachusetts State Police, assisted with a records search in her state (none were found); genealogical records were accessed and Florence’s obituary was located, names from the obituary were cross checked against popular social media forums, i.e., Facebook (no relatives listed were found).

A post from Florence’s niece, Emily Maguns, was located on the YouTube site: “Unsolved Murders Maine Florence E. Lauze.” She made the following comment about a year ago, “Florence (better know as Fluffy) was my aunt. I never got to meet her as she was murdered years before I was born. Thank you for keeping her story alive and known.” In August 2016, I reached out on YouTube and left a message for Emily, but she has yet to reply as she will have to revisit the YouTube site to see the communication request.

Anne Fleming, Research Librarian at the Brockton Public Library, and a volunteer named David were able to locate several Brockton Daily Enterprise articles about Florence on microfiche, which I promptly sent for and then learned that there had been leads in the Brockton, MA, area.

At that point in time, I thought it would be beneficial to speak with Florence’s family members, if they were willing, and also to members of the Brockton Police Department and the Massachusetts State Police who were part of the investigation. Unfortunately, my search for Florence’s family has run dry.

On October 9, 2016, I called the Brockton Police Department and spoke with a female officer. I explained who I was and why I was calling and asked if Detective Frank P. Gentile or Detective Lieutenant John J. Bukunt were still around. She checked with the current Captain who told her that Detective Gentile wasn’t, but Detective Lieutenant Bukunt was and he saw him quite often. I gave all my contact information to the officer and she said she’d see what she could do. As of October 31, 2016, I have not heard back from either the Brockton Police Department or Detective Lieutenant John Bukunt.

An internet search found a Maine State Police Facebook post showing an image of former State Police Officer, Jerry Boutilier. His daughter confirms on the Facebook page that her Dad passed away in 1999.

At this point, I had taken my research as far as I could and thought it was time to have it reviewed. I submitted it to the Maine State Police and left Lt. Love a voice message on October 31, 2016. I soon received a call from Detective Joshua Birmingham, who was assigned the case when he joined the unit. After discussing what I had found during the course of my research he replied that, “Detectives have worked on Florence’s case since 1975 and although there has been no resolution to date, they will continue to work until her case is solved. State Police Detectives have reviewed the evidence and utilized modern technology to further enhance past efforts. A fresh set of eyes frequently brings new life to a case.”

I asked if a story could be run about Florence in local newspapers and in Brockton, MA. Detective Birmingham said he would run it by the team of investigators at the Maine State Police and get back to me.

On January 27, 2017, Detective Birmingham emailed me and indicated that he thought a newspaper article on Florence would be beneficial at this point in time and that a Victim Advocate would contact Florence’s family first. In February, with his permission I submitted this article to the Boothbay Register, Lincoln County News, Times Record, Kennebec Journal, Bangor Daily News, Portland Press Herald, and the Brockton Enterprise.

On the 41st anniversary of the discovery of Florence’s body, I drove across Lynch Road and stopped at the causeway, which has since been rebuilt. It was a beautiful morning and as I looked out over the water and meadow I was swiftly reminded that, despite this being a peaceful scene, in 1975 a 19-year-old woman had either lost her life here or had been dumped at this location, after being strangled with a ligature.

Florence and her family deserve justice and it is my belief that somewhere there is someone who can help. Perhaps they remember seeing or hearing something out of the ordinary and they didn’t know what to do about it or they were too scared to come forward at the time. Please help bring the truth to light and contact the Maine State Police if you have any information about Florence Norcross Lauze’s death.

To access the Maine State Police webpage, Google www.maine.gov/dps/msp/, then click on Criminal Investigation and Forensics, Unsolved Homicides Unit, Unsolved Homicides, Lauze, Florence E. Each victim and missing person is listed alphabetically, and there is a “Leave a Tip” icon that can be clicked if anyone has information that could help.

If you do not use the internet, call the Maine State Police directly in Augusta at 207-624-7076 or 1-800-452-4664 to submit any information you have about Florence’s case or any other cases about which you may have knowledge.

Works Cited

Boothbay Register, “Strangled Girl Found in Sherman Lake,” August 21, 1975.

Boothbay Register, “Young Woman Found in Sherman Lake Identified as Florence Lauze of Brockton, MA,” August 28, 1975.

Brockton Daily Enterprise, “City Woman is Murder Victim,” Tuesday, August 26, 1975.

Brockton Daily Enterprise, “Local Police ‘Have Leads’ in Woman’s Strangulation,” Wednesday, August 27, 1975.

Brockton Daily Enterprise, “Rites Scheduled Friday for City Murder Victim,” Thursday, August 28, 1975.

Information For Survivors On Strangulation, Family Crisis Services brochure, 2016.

Lewiston Evening Journal, “Murder Victim is Identified,” August 27, 1975.

Lincoln County News, “Woman’s Body Found at Sherman Lake,” August 21, 1975.

Lincoln County News, “Body Found at Newcastle Identified,”August 28, 1975.

Lincoln County News, “No New Leads In Newcastle Case,” September 11, 1975.

Lincoln County News, “Assault with Knife Investigated,” January 1, 1976.

www.findagrave.com. Florece E. Norcross Lauze, July 2016. Email sent to Dan Alcott at dan.alcott@gmail.com, but he did not respond back. He added Florence’s record to the website.

Maine State Police, Unsolved Homicides, www.maine.gov. July 2016.

Newcastle Historical Society, “Newcastle Unsolved Murder,” August 2015.

Wiscasset Newspaper, Obituary Randy Pearce, July 2016.

YouTube, Unsolved Murders Maine Florence E. Lauze, August 2016.

Interviews, Inquiries, or Records Requests

Birmingham, Joshua, Detective Maine State Police, spoke on the telephone November 2, 2016, and in December 2016. Email correspondence November 2016 and January 2017 (207-624-7143).

Blodgett, Seth, Investigator Maine State Attorney General’s Office, telephone inquiry July 2016 (207-626-8800). Referred me to retired Knox County Sheriff and Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department Detective Dan Davey.

Brockton Police Department via email and telephone. Left my contact information via telephone, no response to email, spoke with a female officer on October 9, 2016.

Note: Present Brockton Police Department Captain knows former Lieutenant Detective Bukunt (508-941-0200).

Cummings, Jessica, Maine State Police (Records) phone and email, July 25, 2016 (207-624-7276 or jessica.L.Cummings@maine.gov). Requested Unified Crime Reports for 1975 and 1976.

Davey, Dan, Retired Knox County Sheriff and Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department Detective, Responding Detective and Eye Witness, interviewed over the phone and at his home in Warren, ME, on August 11, 2016 and October 30, 2016 (207-273-8046).

Fleming, Anne, Research Librarian at the Brockton Public Library, 304 Main Street, via telephone and email. Plus her volunteer David who loves microfiche (508-580-7890). Note: Brockton High School yearbooks are digitized on the library’s website. I could not find Florence in them? Did she quit school or attend a private high school?

Flynn, Stephen, City Editor, The Enterprise, Brockton, MA, via email sflynn@enterprisenews.com. Interested in the story and would like to see my research.

Love, Jeff, Maine State Police, Telephone inquiry, July 2016 (207-624-7143).

justadotinmaine@gmail.com, YouTube Maine Cold Case site creator, July 26, 2016, via email. No contact information found for Florence’s niece who commented on the website within the last year.

Wood, Eric, Eye witness, interviewed at his office in Boothbay, ME, on August 9, 2016 (207-633-3193).

Zawada, Jaclyn, Staff Council for the Massachusetts State Police (Records) via phone and email, July 25, 2016. (508-820-2341 or jaclyn.zawada@state.ma.us.) No records found.