Fiction and real life: Moose massacre fascinates
centralmaine.com, July 17, 2013
The small bits of evidence are familiar to anyone who followed the story: a couple cigarette butts, some candy wrappers.
They used a .22, not a gun someone would normally kill moose with.
Roberta Scruggs Contributed photo
Paul Doiron Contributed photo
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There were probably two of them, because they lit the moose — shown a bright light on it to freeze them while the other killer pulled the trigger.
There was the sad detail of the group of three moose shot together.
The shooters left all nine moose where they lay, to rot, that fall weekend in 1999.
There wasn’t much to point to who committed what the Maine Warden Service still calls Maine’s worst wildlife crime, the Soldiertown moose slaughter.
No one was arrested for the 1999 moose slaughter in the remote township northwest of Moosehead Lake, and maybe that’s part of what still fascinates people.
Mystery writer Paul Doiron counts himself as one of those who’s always been interested in the story, and those chilling details come to life again in his latest book, “Massacre Pond,” released Tuesday by Minotaur.
Maine’s less-traveled wilderness is the backdrop for Doiron’s mysteries — “Massacre Pond” is the fourth — and a Maine warden is the protagonist.
Doiron, whose previous mysteries had some decidedly non-Warden Service crimes, said the moose massacre “gave me the chance to examine some of the special forensic challenges that are unique to wardens’ jobs.”
As fascinating as Soldiertown is to Mainers, Doiron’s editors — from away, naturally — wanted “something bigger.”
He also had an idea formed around Roxanne Quimby’s proposal for a national park in the North Woods. Put the two together? Presto, a gripping mystery about a moose massacre and a woman trying to carve a park out of a flinty Maine culture that is not interested.
Next to “where do you get your ideas?” the question fiction writers hear the most is “who is that character supposed to be?”
Doiron is quick to point out, in fact frequently points out, that Betty Morse in “Massacre Pond” bears little resemblance to Quimby.
Writers, good ones at least, may get sparked by people and events, but the biggest inspiration comes from feelings and themes. Their books aren’t about something, they’re ABOUT something.
So Doiron took Soldiertown’s details and, as he says, made them “the inciting incident in a series of escalating episodes that ultimately lead to murder.”
What the book is really about is what happens when someone inspires such a level of hatred among people that someone wants her, or the people in her life, dead.
In that framework, readers looking out their window at a cornfield or square-lawned suburbia 1,000 miles from Maine can understand the awfulness of the moose killings.
But with real life, sometimes a smaller context works just as well and can still tell a bigger story, with heroes, villains, hate — maybe even enough to kill nine moose to make the point — and plain old stupidity.
“Soldiertown was the last thing I wanted to write about the Warden Service,” Roberta Scruggs said this week from the airy Augusta headquarters of the Forest Products Council, where she now works.
Scruggs, who wrote for the Maine Sunday Telegram and the Lewiston Sun-Journal, was immersed in warden stories for a long time.
This was back in the 1990s, when the service wasn’t the fun gang on “North Woods Law,” but a controversial group that gave sportsmen fits and gave Scruggs a lot of fodder.
Shortly before Soldiertown, she wrote a scathing piece about the service and she was so unpopular with the brass that one top official once screamed, “Why don’t you just go away?”
She didn’t cover the Soldiertown massacre. By the time she wrote about it, she wasn’t even writing for a newspaper anymore.
But, pushed by contacts in the service, she got the bug and began to dig. She talked to Warden Mike Favreau, stationed in Rockwood, the town nearest the massacre. Favreau couldn’t let it go either.
Scruggs didn’t have a plan when she started digging. No one was paying her to write the story. Yet she dug. And dug.
The result was a 20,000-word (about 36 pages for those of you who aren’t in the word-counting business) story as fascinating as anything a mystery writer could put together.
Scruggs published her story in three parts on her Scruggs Report blog in 2005. She later wrote for Down East and knew Doiron. So when he started writing “Massacre Pond,” she lent him her notes.
He was welcome to them. She said by the time her story appeared on the web, she’d had Warden Service overload and was ready to move on.
But 14 years after the massacre, the excitement of a good story still gets to her.
Her story has a hero, Favreau, who said to Scruggs, “How dare they? How dare they just ride and kill?”
Like Doiron’s Mike Bowditch, Favreau was relegated to picking through gravel pits looking for evidence.
The fact that a .22 was used “gets everybody all the time,” Scruggs said this week. No one uses a .22 to shoot a moose.
Then there was the fact the moose were obviously lit. Freeze killing.
She doesn’t think the crime will ever be “solved.” If you read her story, though, it’s hard not to draw a conclusion.
Scruggs will read Doiron’s book. She doesn’t plan to write her own fictional account.
While fiction writers can poke at the truth in search of a bigger theme, Scruggs said there’s nothing like being a reporter.
“I love that electric charge you get when someone sits across the table from you and tells you their story,” she said.
“I love the twists and turns that you just can’t make up.”
Maureen Milliken is news editor of the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Kennebec Tales appears the first and third Thursday of the month.