AUGUSTA — The 68-day manhunt for murder suspect Robert Burton is the longest in Maine history, and it cost taxpayers a significant amount of money, the chief of the Maine State Police said Tuesday.
“We don’t have the exact costs, but our ballpark figure is going to be on either side of $500,000,” Col. Robert Williams said. “That is just the state police costs. We’re in the process of putting together the exact costs of what the overall search cost the citizens.”
Burton, 38, was the subject of an intensive search involving several law enforcement agencies from in and outside Maine that began on June 5 with the discovery of his ex-girlfriend’s dead body in Parkman. He turned himself in at the Piscataquis County Jail in Dover-Foxcroft on Aug. 11. His lawyer said Burton did so because he feared he would be shot.
“At the [July 2] press conference, I made it very clear that the outcome of this would be dictated by him,” Williams said. “We certainly were looking for a peaceful resolution, but if it came to using deadly force, we wouldn’t have hesitated. Certainly, it’s better the way it ended. We say that, but I’m sure other people may have different thoughts on that.”
Burton is accused of fatally shooting Stephanie Ginn Gebo, 37, who had ended her relationship with Burton a week before her death, and died the day after his probation for previous domestic violence crimes expired. Burton’s lengthy criminal record includes more than 10 years in prison for domestic violence crimes in 2002 that ended with a 12-day manhunt.
The most recent manhunt for Burton involved multiple law enforcement agencies from Maine — including state police, Maine Warden Service and the Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Office — as well as others from New Hampshire and Massachusetts. A group of 15 Federal Bureau of Investigation agents and others who provided technical support also came to Maine on June 20 to assist state police. Then there were assisting agencies, such as the Maine Department of Transportation, which supplied electronic signs and the manpower to put them into place to warn people traveling in the area about the manhunt.
“We were using all the available resources, and it was all about capturing Robert Burton,” Williams said. “Key points people need to know is that law enforcement, as well as other agencies, banded together to protect the community.”
At points, more than 70 law enforcement officers were on hand daily actively searching for Burton, who was described as armed and dangerous. But as time went on and leads abated, the number of officers on hand diminished but never disappeared, the state police chief said.
“People will never understand how much we put into this,” Williams said. “Some people won’t understand when they see the dollar value why we expended so much effort. If you looked [into the woods] up there — you’d understand.”
People and businesses in the region said they are extremely pleased they can again let their guard down. Williams could not say enough about the support from community members.
“We had great cooperation from everybody,” the colonel said. “I don’t know if that is the case everywhere.”
Williams said he was not disappointed that law enforcement didn’t capture Burton, but he did describe the manhunt’s ending as “anticlimactic.”
“We’re just happy that it’s over for many reasons,” Williams said. “We can give closure to the family, both families. Robert Burton’s family had some angst about him being on the run, and we certainly know Stephanie’s family had a huge need for closure.”
Erika Kennedy of Guilford, who was a friend of Ginn Gebo, said the family and others will be helped by a GoFundMe account she set up to raise reward money for anyone who aided in apprehending Burton. Since he turned himself in, “the funds will be split between the kids fund, the [Multiple Sclerosis] fund, and domestic violence fund,” Kennedy said in a Tuesday email. “This has been OK’d by the family and [Stephanie’s] daughter chose the domestic violence fund.”
The three groups will split around $3,137 raised by community members, she said.
“We’re happy that it’s concluded, at least the manhunt part of it,” the state police chief said. “We still have work to do on the homicide part but we were extremely pleased he turned himself in and there was a peaceful resolution to it.”
“I think we can say it was the longest running continuous manhunt in the state, and it’s going to be one of the most expensive,” Williams said.
The search for a Canadian draft dodger who shot well-known Maine guide Wesley Porter of Patten at a camp at Webster Lake in 1943, is believed to be the second-longest manhunt for someone wanted in a homicide in Maine. The search for “The phantom of the Allagash” seven decades ago lasted 66 days before he was fatally shot.