INVESTIGATION RESULTS IN CONVICTION OF ARSON SUSPECT
Microscopical Study of Articles Held for Evidence Reveals Facts That Helped Convince Maine Court of Guilt of Defendant
SCIENCE has entered the field of criminal investigation on a rather grand scale. It has also changed the entire picture of arson work, and there are many accounts of successful detective work done through the use of the microscope and test tube.
The following account of how an arson suspect was convicted, is taken from The Torch published by the Maine Insurance Department:
Suspicious Dwelling Fire
“Another very interesting case arose in the town of Dixfield. This particular fire occurred on Sunday, January 9, 1938, about 2 a.m. It involved the home and barns of Mr. and Mrs. Wilmer Berry who occupied the buildings along with their two small children. They were also sheltering a woman known as Mrs. Anatole Blanchard and her one small child. Housed in one of the barns were two horses, eight head of cattle, and about 150 chickens. This fire resulted in a total destruction of all buildings and contents and the persons mentioned barely escaped with their lives.
“The Berry family were of the homeloving and hard working type and were known to be very considerate and charitable. In the course of their daily contacts in neighborly meetings they considered the welfare of Mrs. Blanchard and her small tot who had been excluded from their own home by their husband and father, being cast out without any possible means of shelter and food. The hospitable and charitable Berrys took upon themselves the responsibility of the care of Mrs. Blanchard, an expectant mother, and her child.
“As a result of their charitable offerings many arguments and threats were made upon them by the husband, Anatole Blanchard. On numerous occasions he threatened the lives and property of both his own family and the Berrys.
“When it came close to the date in which his wife expected to give birth to the child, Blanchard kept wandering around the premises of the Berry home supposedly for the purpose of gathering all into his design for destruction.
All Property Lost in Fire
“Early on the morning of January 9, the day on which this fire occurred. Mrs. Blanchard was first to awaken and discovered the barns which were attached to the main dwelling, were on fire. She quickly awakened the Berrys and all barely escaped with their lives. They were unable to save a particle of their life’s savings. An attempt was made to contact the Fire Department by means of the telephone. After several unsuccessful attempts the idea was abandoned. Then Mr. Berry attempted to start the motor in his truck, so that he could summon aid and after working on the car several moments the motor failed to respond.
“Early that morning Commissioner Lovejoy and Mr. Gillece and Mr. Scully arrived at the scene and started the investigation. To begin with the telephone wires had been cut from their fastenings on a pole a distance of a quarter of a mile from the Berry home which accounted for the failure of the telephone during the progress of the fire. As to the reasons for the truck failing to respond, it was found that the distributor cap had been removed. Then a complete survey of the neighbors and friends who had any information relating to the various arguments and threats made by Blanchard was made and their testimonies reduced to writing.
“This same day the accused, Anatole Blanchard, was arrested and charged with arson and in the course of questioning, he gave a very inconsistent story as to his activities.
Telephone Wires Cut
“An investigation centered around the cutting of the telephone wires. This being one of the points which we had to clear up as we were unable to determine just how the fire had been set and what might have been used in the setting of said fire. The circumstances depended a lot upon the person who was responsible for the cutting of the telephone wires. Many photographs were taken with the able assistance of the Maine State Police Department, not only of the burned area but as to the location of the telephone wires and poles. Both of the cut ends of the telephone wire were removed from the two separated parts and were turned over to Lt. Leon Shepard of the Main State Police Department, together with articles of clothing worn by the accused at the time of arrest, and several pairs of cutting pliers removed from the car of the accused.
“For three weeks, Lieutenant Shepard passed these various articles of evidence through microscopic examination and through his untiring efforts, much valuable information was obtained and was related to the Court in a form of testimony. Some of this information obtained through Lieutenant Shepard proved beyond a doubt that the clothing which this accused wore at the time of his arrest bore evidence of cedar bark. This proved to our satisfaction that the person wearing these clothes was the one who climbed the cedar pole to cut the wires. The several pairs of cutting pliers referred to were closely examined and all but one pair were eliminated. The cutting edge of this particular pair of pliers was likewise examined microscopically and tested to get the similarity of the cutting edge used in separating the two wires. Lieutenant Shepard proved through his laboratory test that without a question of doubt the pliers found in Blanchard’s car was the very tool used in severing the telephone wires. Enlarged photographs were made of the cedar bark and of the wires to show conclusively that the tests of Lieutenant Shepard were positive. It might be said that this was a very interesting and scientific investigation to show what this Department had to do to carry out every possible source to prove not only to ourselves but to the Court and jury that in our belief, as in this case, the accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
“The layman may query at the laboratory tests but this is one of the many scientific methods used in the detection of crime and similar in itself to the tests used by ballistic experts in laboratory tests to determine that certain bullets were fired through a certain gun by showing the rifling marks. The cutting edge of the pliers made characteristic marks on the wire which through comparison with a known sample identified the pliers as the instrument which cut the wire.
Trial Lasted Two Days
“As a result of this investigation, Anatole Blanchard was tried before Justice Albert Belliveau, sitting at the County Court, Oxford County, and a jury. The trial consumed two full days. The jury was out only ten minutes, returning with a verdict of guilty of arson as charged.
“The sentence of the Court was a term of five to ten years in State’s Prison.
“We believe that this case is a splendid example of the coordination of various law enforcement agencies and is ample proof of our repeated statements that cooperation will accomplish favorable results.
“Since January 1, 1938, there have been 532 fires reported to this Department. We have investigated 45 of these fires as being of suspicious or of incendiary origin. There have been six convictions since the first of the year with four more awaiting the action of the Grand Jury.”