Memorial service a show of resolve
KENNEBUNK — “Thirty-five years ago on the seventh of July a young girl screamed and no one heard her except the person(s) who clubbed her,” said the Rev. Fred Holmberg, who addressed a crowd of nearly 140 at the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in Kennebunk last Saturday evening.
Residents, family and friends had gathered for the memorial service of the late Mary Ellen Tanner. This month marks the 35th anniversary of Tanner’s unsolved murder.
Tanner, brutally murdered in 1978 at the age of 18, was fondly remembered with laughter and tears, her memory still fresh in the minds of many who were close to her.
She was found July 7 in Gracie Evans Airfield in Lyman by a pilot flying overhead who mistook her body for a deer. An autopsy revealed that Tanner, who was beaten to death, was three months pregnant at the time.
Those responsible for her death have not been apprehended and, in recent months, those close to Tanner have made it their mission to bring Mary’s killer to justice. The memorial service strengthened their efforts.
Tim Ames led the service as family members and friends were invited to speak in the pulpit before Holmberg gave the benediction.
Jackie O’Keefe, a childhood friend of Mary’s, read a lighthearted letter Mary wrote two years before her death, coaxing laughter from the audience.
In inquiring about a dance the prior evening, Mary wrote: “Was you-knowwho there? Was he with you-know-who in you-know-what?” Mary also flaunted the word “wicked,” coupling it in ways like “wicked good,” and “we went to bug this wicked hunk, but he wouldn’t let us in,” Mary wrote of trying to get into a dance club.
Mary’s Uncle Mark, who addressed the audience with the young daughter he named after his late niece, offered another anecdote that reminded friends and family about Mary’s sense of humor.
After getting caught with a pack of cigarettes by her mother, Mary claimed she was “only smoking the cigs down to the butt for a homeless man, because all he wanted to smoke were the butts.”
Laughter brought a noticeable reprieve. Eclipsing the humor and cheerfulness, however, was sorrow and graveness.
Charlie Tanner, Mary’s older brother who now lives in Portland, told anecdotes before quickly changing his tone.
“Suddenly it never happened again,” Tanner said of a memory of Mary that occurred around Christmastime. “I couldn’t remember anything about the Christmas after her death.”
“No longer could parents be complacent and not be worried each second they couldn’t see their child. No longer could they just let them go down the street and see if ‘Jimmy’ was home,” Tanner said.
“Remember that art guy around the corner? He immediately went from quaint, to suspicious to, at the very least, weird.
“Yes, all of the sudden you had to watch everyone. Trust and innocence were a thing of the past. I’m sure the situation has improved, but never again will the good folks of this area be as safe as they had,” Tanner said.
“All of the sudden our worst enemy was not some guy from Russia hiding missiles on a remote island, it was the person next door. Maybe it was just a matter of time before something dreadful happened; but why now, why here, why her?” Tanner said as he began to cry.
“I wish I could say with conviction that I was here to celebrate a life, but the truth is, we’re here to mourn,” Tanner said. “It still hurts 35 years later. It hurts bad.”
The Rev. Holmberg concluded the speeches on a grim and assertive note.
“Those strangled screams echoed in the ears of her friends, family and community. They still echo from time to time,” he said. “We want to put an end to the strangled screams, but that can’t be done without justice ... we aren’t vigilantes looking for a hanging tree ... we simply want to know who killed her. And we will come back year after year until we find her killer,” he said.
“Someday we will not hear the screams; we will only hear Mary’s song.”
Any information regarding Mary Turner’s murder case can be sent to Maine State Police Detective Corey Pike at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 1-800- 228-0857.
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