Raymond Lester stands next to a BMW X3 in this undated photo. Police say Lester, 35, of Portland is suspected of driving a BMW X3 in the hit-and-run death of Nicole Mokeme on June 19, 2022, in Acadia National Park. Police are looking nationwide for Lester, who has been charged with murder, and for the vehicle. Credit: Courtesy of Maine Department of Public Safety

The death of Nicole Mokeme in Acadia National Park more than a week ago is only the third alleged murder ever in the park and the first since 1987.

Maine State Police has issued an arrest warrant for Mokeme’s boyfriend, Raymond Lester, on a murder charge allegedly running her over with his BMW SUV at the Schoodic Education and Research Center at Schoodic Point.

Neither Lester nor the vehicle have been found since Mokeme, 35, was killed, and few details about the incident have been released. The vehicle may have been damaged when the incident occurred either late on June 18 or early June 19 on the Schoodic center campus, police have said.

Deaths in Acadia are not unheard of, but are extremely rare. The park gets millions of visitors each year — with the vast majority appearing in the summer months — and has averaged around one or two deaths per year for decades — including deaths caused by medical problems such as heart attacks.

Homicides in the park are much rarer still, with only three since the park was founded 106 years ago in 1916. Park officials have estimated that Acadia has had more than 180 million visits since it was created.

The most recent murder investigation in Acadia prior to Mokeme’s death occurred 35 years ago, when Dennis Larson pushed his new wife, Kathy Frost Larson, off Otter Cliffs, causing her to plummet 80 feet to her death. Larson, who later was convicted of her murder and confessed to killing his first wife in Montana in 1975, died in 2000 when he jumped from a third-story window at Maine State Prison in Thomaston.

In 1982, Clifford Strout of Southwest Harbor fatally shot Mark Reed, also of Southwest Harbor, at the park’s Seawall picnic area, which Strout claimed to have done in self-defense.

There was a prior killing in Acadia 44 years before that, in 1938, but that was believed to have been accidental. In that case, Park Ranger Karl Andrews Jacobson was shot by a poacher who mistook him for a deer in the Schoodic section of the park.

In more recent years, two people died in Acadia in 2021 when they fell from an icy cliff on Dorr Mountain, and no one died in 2020. The park’s deadliest year was in 2004, when it had 2.2 million visits and seven people died from falls, crashes or medical problems or by drowning or by suicide.

There is a pending manslaughter case in the federal court system related to the deaths of three people in Acadia in 2019. In that case, Praneeth Manubolu has pleaded guilty to manslaughter for crashing his car on the Park Loop Road on Aug. 30, 2019, killing all three of his passengers.

Manubolu is scheduled to be sentenced in federal court in Bangor at 10 a.m. on July 8.

Mokeme, a South Portland resident, was staying at the Schoodic facility during a weeklong gathering she had organized as executive creative director at Rise + Shine Youth Retreat. She founded the Bowdoin-based Rise + Shine organization in 2014.

The organization’s mission is “to foster meaningful relationships between Black people and nature through cooperative living, wellness retreats, residences, and outdoor exploration/celebration,” according to its website.

Nick Fisichelli, executive director of the Schoodic Institute, which manages the Schoodic facility, said staff at the institute were “deeply saddened” by Mokeme’s death.

“She was an inspiring leader and visionary here in Maine, creating opportunities for Black and Indigenous youth and families to connect with nature and build community,” he said. “She, along with several partnering organizations, brought the Black Excellence Retreat to Acadia National Park and the Schoodic Institute campus. Our thoughts and prayers go out to her family and community.”

Mokeme is survived by a daughter, her parents, a stepfather and six siblings, according to an obituary published by the Portland Press Herald.

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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....