We crime writers are often asked where we get our ideas. Do we conjure them up like magicians? Keep inspirational dream journals? Scribble down snippets of snatched conversations?
Sometimes, it seems, we merely have to live in the right little town.
Vicki Doudera here, and as you know from many of my past posts, I live year-round in Camden, a town in the midcoast known as “the jewel of the Maine Coast..” If you haven’t yet visited this particularly pretty piece of the Pine Tree State, you owe it to yourself to come. We’ve got gorgeous harbors, Camden Hills State Park with 30 miles of trails, lovely Lake Megunticook, fabulous restaurants such as 40 Paper, a restored Opera House, and much more.
Unfortunately — we’ve also got crime.
You may remember my blog about the woman whose husband pushed her off the top of Mount Megunticook, hoping to kill her so he could pocket her recently inherited millions. A jury found him guilty in July, and Charles Black – now my friend Lisa’s ex-husband – was sentenced to 30 years in prison only two weeks ago.
On the heels of that, there was a stand-off at our downtown pharmacy, a sad situation that resulted in a pharmacist being held hostage while an obviously very troubled man demanded drugs and then took his own life.
And now… ? Two high-profile cases involving the theft of millions of dollars. Neither has yet to go to trial, but, in at least one case, the defendant has admitted his guilt.
The first involves a couple, Jason and Mary Throne, who moved to Maine from Colorado, where Jason worked as a patent attorney for window treatment company Hunter Douglas. The lawsuit claims that beginning in 1999, the Thrones created a company that billed Hunter Douglas for patent search services that were never performed. Allegedly they purchased trophy homes in Rockport (the town next to Camden) and Steamboat Springs, Colorado, as well as automobiles and a boat. The story first broke in Colorado, back in June, then quickly traveled East.
Hunter Douglas’ lawsuit alleges that the Throne’s actions amount to racketeering, the crime of obtaining or extorting money illegally, or carrying on illegal business activities. Jason Throne is still in town, attending high school soccer games while the wheels of justice slowly turn.
And now we have another white collar crime in our little town: embezzlement.
This latest scandal broke last week, and it’s a big one for Camden. It involves a former “Townsperson of the Year,” Russell “Rusty” Brace, who is accused by United Mid-Coast Charities (the organization he headed for seventeen years) of embezzling 3.8 million dollars of charitable donations over a period of a dozen years. Apparently he has admitted to the charges.
I don’t think I’ve ever had the occasion to look up the word embezzlement. It is “the act of dishonestly withholding assets for the purpose of conversion (theft) of such assets by one or more individuals to whom such assets have been entrusted, to be held and/or used for other purposes.”
The big word in this definition is “entrusted.” Unlike the racketeering scheme supposedly run by the Thrones, this crime (if it is proven to have taken place) involved breaking the trust not only of the organization’s officers, staff, and donors, but of all the charitable organizations to whom the money was supposed to flow,of all the people in our area who supported all the fundraising events. The details are still emerging, but if true, this embezzlement represents a huge breach of trust.
Which is why so many of us here in Camden feel very betrayed. And that, when it comes right down to it, may end up to be the biggest crime of all.
All of this comes at a time when I am finishing up the third edition of my book Moving to Maine, a guide for people relocating here, or merely thinking about it. I talk in the book about how safe Maine is, how people rarely lock their doors, how random violence is seldom an issue.
All that is still true, even with Camden’s rash of crimes. Our state is still much safer than most of the country. But even a jewel has its dark side, and beautiful Camden has never been immune to greed, or whatever it is that makes someone want to push his wife off a cliff, demand drugs at gunpoint, or steal millions of dollars from an employer.
Where do crime writers get their ideas? Sometimes, sad to say, we are living right in the midst of them.
I am sure that Camden is really rocked by the Rusty Brace scandal. It shakes your faith in people, doesn’t it?
But your observations just prove that we crime writers don’t have to look far to find fodder for our writing.