Tiny Maine community seeks answers after killings

AP News
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Posted: Dec 01, 2009 6:02 PM

A man who loaned money to friends despite his own financial troubles was killed along with his wife in their trailer home over the weekend, jolting this community that is home to about 70 people and only a couple of paved roads.

On Tuesday, residents were left wondering what happened to Michael and Valerie Miller.

Investigators released scant details as they searched for a middle-aged woman believed to have been the last person to have seen the Millers alive, an hour or so before they were found on the kitchen floor Saturday afternoon.

Family members were told that the Millers were side by side, with Valerie's head across her husband's chest. But police declined to release any details, other than to say the deaths were ruled homicides.

"There's only a limited number of people who knew what went on in that house," said Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety. "We are not going to be getting into a lot more details in this case until it's a lot farther along."

Family members gathered late Tuesday afternoon at the victims' home, about 50 miles northeast of Bangor.

One of the couple's sons, Matthew Miller, 26, called the killings "very strange." He said the family is willing to put up money for a reward, if necessary, to get information leading to arrests.

Valerie Miller's brother, Kevin White, said his brother-in-law helped others and provided loans. He also said Michael Miller didn't believe in banks.

Michael Miller ran what might be called an informal pawn shop. A neighbor, Terrence Mulligan, said locals would give him firearms and other possessions in return for a loan, "then they'd come pay him and he'd give them back."

Detectives are aware that Miller loaned out money, but aren't speculating whether it had anything to do with his death, McCausland said.

Miller, who filed for bankruptcy 10 years ago, was able to loan money to friends because he lived frugally, White said. He was a seasonal employee of Walpole Woodworkers, which operated a mill that made cedar fences, and was laid off on Nov. 20.

When it came time to pay taxes, Miller would drop by the Webster Plantation home of Theo Jipson. The 81-year-old Jipson was the tax collector for 57 years until her retirement in March.

"He always said if I need any help, give him a holler," Jipson said.

He also owned a property in Lincoln assessed at just $8,700, but he was behind on his property taxes. He was delinquent on taxes for the past three years, according to the Lincoln tax assessor's office.

Webster Plantation is among the most rural places in one of the nation's most rural states.

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Part of the vast woodlands of northern Maine, Webster is dominated by marshlands and streams, and has only two local roads _ Tucker Ridge and Pickle Ridge roads. The town office is a white clapboard building at the junction of the roads. The modest homes are located on large lots that have plenty of privacy.

There used to be a stop sign, but it was knocked over years ago. The town never bothered to replace it, Jipson said.

According to the most recent statistics available, Webster Plantation's median household income of $19,583 is barely half of the state average. The poverty rate is nearly double, and the unemployment rate for 2008 was triple the state average. The high school graduation rate stood at under 60 percent.

Double homicides are unsettling anywhere, but particularly so in a community where everybody knows everybody.

"It's kind of mind-blowing, especially in such a small area," said Dorothy Glidden, who lives a few houses down from the victims.

Kevin Mulligan, 39, went to school with the couple's sons.

"It seems like it's really safe until this happens," he said.

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Associated Press writers Clarke Canfield and David Sharp in Portland contributed to the report.