A 55-year-old Maine man was arrested Wednesday and charged with murdering a woman 31 years ago sometime after she left a bar in a neighboring town.
Jay Mercier was arrested at his home in the small western Maine town of Industry and charged with murder in the death of Rita St. Peter, who was 20 when she was found dead along the side of a road in Anson on July 5, 1980.
Officials are not releasing details surrounding St. Peter's death or what specifically led them to Mercier. Officials wouldn't release the cause of death in 1980 either, but a 1990 Bangor Daily News story on the case said she had a fractured skull, was severely beaten and was run over by a vehicle.
The previous oldest cold case in Maine that resulted in an arrest occurred in 1983, when Judith Flagg was murdered in Fayette. Thomas Mitchell Jr., of South Portland, was arrested 23 years after her death and later convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
"The length of time of this case illustrates that unsolved homicides never close," said Maine State Police spokesman Steve McCausland.
Mercier has been employed as a laborer for most of his life, was divorced and was living with his girlfriend when he was arrested, police said. He has several criminal convictions on his record, including some for driving under the influence, said Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson, who is prosecuting the case.
Mercier will likely make his initial court appearance in Somerset County Superior Court next week. A public defender will be appointed to represent him, Benson said. Prosecutors will ask that Mercier be held without bail.
St. Peter had been drinking in a bar in Madison on July 4, 1980, and was last seen sometime after midnight crossing a bridge over the Kennebec River from Madison to Anson, a town of about 2,500 95 miles north of Portland, according to a Maine State Police statement. At the time, she was staying with friends in Anson and working at Ken's Family Drive-In, a restaurant in Skowhegan.
She was found the next morning on the side of a nearby country road.
St. Peter is survived by a daughter, who was 3 at the time of her death, and a half-sister, police said.
A grand jury indicted Mercier earlier this month, but McCausland declined to specify what sort of evidence pointed toward Mercier or whether he was identified through DNA.
"We aren't getting into specifics other than we used technology at the crime lab," he said.
At the Anson town offices, Town Clerk Carol Ryan said people in town were shocked when St. Peter was killed. Her family was well-known in town, and Ryan's own daughter was just a couple of years behind St. Peter in school.
Townspeople were talking following Mercier's arrest, she said.
"It's got everybody curious on how do they solve something that was that long ago," Ryan said.