Nearly five months since Paula Johnson was found dead in her home on Leighton Point Road in Pembroke, a suspect has been charged in the alleged murder.
Rebecca Moores, formerly known as Rebecca Cushing, was arrested Wednesday during a traffic stop in Pembroke — months after her name came up as a suspect in Johnson’s death.
Johnson, 53, is one of 10 people to have been killed in Washington County since January 2020, and one of six to have been allegedly murdered since November of last year. Hers was the last of those deaths to result in an arrest.
Moores, 42, has a prior criminal history, according to state records. In 2012, she was convicted of felony theft, and two years later she was convicted of drunken driving and aggravated assault.
In 2015, she was charged with four misdemeanors including unlawful possession of drugs, escape, refusing to submit to arrest and violating conditions of release, but all those charges ended up being dismissed, according to her criminal history report.
She was a passenger in a truck involved in a fatal crash in Pembroke on Jan. 5, 2020, but did not face any charges connected with that incident.
Moores is expected to make her first appearance on the murder charge at 1 p.m. on Friday in Washington County Superior Court in Machias, according to Shannon Moss, spokesperson for Maine State Police.
Police have declined to release details about how they think Johnson was killed, saying only at the time that the circumstances were “suspicious.” The death was ruled a homicide by the state medical examiner’s office. A police affidavit, which is expected to contain details about the killing, has been impounded by a judge, preventing its contents from becoming public.
Trevor Hold, a Pembroke resident who serves on the town’s school and conservation committees, said local people are relieved that someone has been charged with Johnson’s death.
“Everyone was kind of waiting,” Hold said. “It was starting to feel like ‘is someone going to get away with it?’ The whole town has been holding its breath.”
Hold said the lack of an arrest was unsettling, and the death of a local teenager on June 28 has only added to that feeling.
That death, at a home on Old County Road, is being investigated by both Maine State Police and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, according to the Machias Valley News Observer. Moss said it is believed to be the result of “a medical event,” but has not released additional details about it.
Since Johnson’s death, the yard around her house — 2 1/2 miles down on the west side of scenic Leighton Point Road — has not been maintained, serving as a visual reminder of her unresolved killing.
A white cape with black trim has sat unattended, with tall grass growing unchecked in the yard and shades and curtains pulled shut, blocking the view. Plastic yellow tape that reads “POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS” has remained wrapped around trees between the house and the road, left over from when detectives combed the property in February.
The alleged murder was not the first time law enforcement has responded to Johnson’s house, though police have not connected Moores to any prior incidents there. Locals have been concerned about apparent illegal drug activity at the house.
Fifteen months ago, in an incident that isn’t believed to be connected to the death, three people forced their way into the house and stole thousands of dollars in cash from two people inside, one of whom was Johnson. Such robberies have become more common in eastern Maine in recent years as the illegal drug trade has become endemic in the area, often drawing dealers from out of state who set up shop in a local customer’s home.
Johnson told police at the time that her son Joshua Carter and two other people broke into the house on the morning of April 18, 2021, and tried to tie her up, but she resisted.
“She said Josh then went upstairs and they tied up her ‘house guest’ and stole all his money before running out the front door,” Washington County Deputy Sheriff Ashley Seiler wrote in a summary report.
The so-called house guest, who said he was from New York, told the deputy that Carter and another man bound his hands with a cable tie, hit his legs with a baseball bat and then stole all his money.
“[He] said he had about $10,000 for school and school supplies,” Seiler wrote in the report.
The man told the deputy he did not have personal identification with him and declined to fill out a statement, Seiler added.
Carter and the two other intruders — Tabitha Carroll, 29, of Pleasant Point and Edward Sockabasin, 40, of Perry — fled the scene in a pickup truck but were chased down and arrested by responding police.
All three later pleaded guilty to burglary and other charges and were ordered to be incarcerated for terms ranging from six months for Sockabasin to six years for Carter, according to court documents. Carter, 32, of Eastport also was ordered to pay nearly $9,500 in restitution.