Washington County courthouse in 2021
The Washington County Courthouse in Machias is seen on Feb. 18, 2021. Credit: Erin Rhoda / BDN

In the last six months, rural Washington County has had six homicides — an unusually high number for a county that represents little more than 2 percent of Maine’s population.

A total of 10 people have been killed under suspicious circumstances in Washington County — including a woman in Perry last week — since January 2020. Arrests have been made in eight of those deaths.

That’s left Washington County in a dubious place, leading the state in pending homicide cases and rendering officials shocked.

“We’re counting the days between homicides now,” said Chris Gardner, chair of the Washington County Commission who also works part-time in the county as a police officer. “We’re flabbergasted. This is unbelievable.”

The rural county has eight pending homicide cases, which accounts for 19.5 percent of the total 41 such cases pending statewide.

By comparison, Cumberland County, the most populous county in Maine with 22 percent of the statewide population, has seven pending homicide cases, or 17 percent. No other county in Maine has more than six homicide cases being prosecuted in state courts.

Gardner said Monday that before Kimberly Neptune was found dead at her house in Perry on April 21, it had been a little more than 40 days since anyone had been killed in Washington County. The county’s prior homicide, in which Darren Laney Jr. is accused of stabbing his father to death, occurred in Big Lake Township on March 10.

No arrests have been made in Neptune’s killing, but the police department in neighboring Pleasant Point is offering a $10,000 reward for any information that leads to an arrest and conviction. Neptune was a member of the Passamaquoddy Tribe, which runs the local government at Pleasant Point, known also by the Passamaquoddy name Sipayik.

No arrests have been made in the death of Paula Johnson either, who was found dead in her home on Leighton Point Road in Pembroke on Feb. 9.

Other Washington County homicides in the past six months include the Jan. 10 killing of Eva Cox in Lubec, the Dec. 26, 2021, killing of Jason Aubuchon in Perry, and the fatal shooting on Nov. 4 of Brandin Guerrero in Machias. Five men have been charged in Guerrero’s death, which police say was the result of animosity between rival out of state drug gangs that have set up shop in Washington County.

Washington County also has had more than its proportional share of drug overdose deaths, accounting for 21 out of more than 600 such deaths, or 7 percent, that occurred in Maine in 2021. The 636 drug overdose deaths that happened last year is the highest such annual total ever in the state.

Four other people have been killed in Washington County since January 2020. Thomas Bonfanti, who is accused of fatally shooting three people in Machias and in neighboring Jonesboro in February of that year, is expected to go on trial next month in Belfast. Charles Townsend is accused of deliberately setting a fire in Robbinston that killed Wayne Morrill in October 2020.

Few details have been released about several of the cases, while some affidavits remain impounded and unavailable to the public. Police have not said what may have led Bonfanti to go on his shooting spree, and have released no details about circumstances that led up to the deaths of Johnson and Neptune.

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....