WALDOBORO – Bo Jespersen has found some odd things in the old houses he renovates and sells, but a discovery last month is the oddest, hands down.
Actually, painters with D.L. Painters of Clinton, working for Jespersen’s contracting business, Affordable Maine Homes of Augusta, found it: a human hand, believed to be 50 to 80 years old.
Derek Levasseur, 32, of Clinton was painting the Depot Road house, which was built in 1910, and on a break he was in the garage, examining a small wood-burning stove that Jespersen had agreed he could have. On top of the stove was a box, which Levasseur opened.
Inside was the hand, reminding him of rawhide, “almost like one of those pig ears you see on the counter in convenience stores that you’d buy for your dog,” he said Thursday.
Levasseur’s older brother picked up the hand, and the men concluded it was not real.
“We thought it was a prop,” he said. “I touched the fingers on it, and I thought, ‘It can’t be real.’ “
The men then examined it further, and as a hunter, Levasseur said he recognized the look of decaying bone, where something apparently had eaten through the mostly fleshy hand.
He photographed it with his cell phone camera and e-mailed the image to his wife, who works in Waterville at the District Attorney’s Office. While she was looking at it on her computer, a retired Maine state trooper saw the image and said he was confident it was a real hand.
Levasseur called Jespersen.
“They called me and said they’d been losing sleep over something they’d found,” Jespersen said. When he inspected the hand, he was struck by its size.
“It’s huge,” he said, with fingers about an inch and half longer than Jespersen’s.
“And he didn’t cut his nails,” he added, describing it as a “workingman’s hand.”
The wrist portion appeared jagged, Jespersen said, as if the hand had been removed violently, and 6 to 8 inches of what appeared to be tendons were looped around it.
The hand looked as if it had dried slowly.
“It looked like beef jerky,” he said.
Jespersen called the woman who had owned the house and also called the police, as he had been advised to do by Levasseur’s wife. The previous owner knew about the hand.
“She laughed about it and claimed she’d gotten it from a man down the road,” he said. The woman told him she never knew what to do with it, but liked it.
“She had heard it was from a farming accident,” and, apparently, it had been put in a barn or shed, Jespersen said. The man who gave it to the woman, now in his 80s, remembers his father having it.
Maine State Police came to the house and investigated, including testing the ashes in the wood stove and interviewing the former owner, and finally concluded the hand was 50 to 80 years old. It is illegal to possess such a body part, and police seized it. It was unclear Friday whether the hand would be tested in an effort to identify from whom it came. A call to the state police was not immediately returned.
Jespersen said he was happy to tell the story to a newspaper reporter, if only because it might strike some people as humorous and lighten their day.
Levasseur admitted to being a bit spooked by the hand.
“It’s kind of weird,” he said. “It takes a lot to gross me out,” but the hand did the trick.
Still, he could joke about it, suggesting the hand was a sort of family heirloom. “We’re just passing on a helping hand from generation to generation,” he said.