BANGOR (AP) – Otis LaBree, a legendary law enforcer who solved more than three dozen murders as the first Maine State Police detective and went on to serve 10 years as Penobscot County sheriff, has died at 88.

LaBree died Tuesday in Bangor of old age, his son, Wayne, said Wednesday.

He began his career in Old Town, brawling with belligerent drunks while patrolling its rough and tumble streets as a rookie cop in the 1930s.

“They dressed me up in a fancy uniform, and stuffed newspapers in my hat because it was too big,” LaBree recalled a few years ago. “I looked like General Custer. If I fell down, I wouldn’t have been able to get up.”

Working 10-hour days for 25 cents an hour, LaBree admitted that he “got the hell kicked out of” him more than once as he cut his teeth in the mill town to which he eventually would return as chief.

He joined the Maine State Police in 1940 and found himself patrolling the roads from Fort Kent to Limestone.

“I had a motorcycle and a car with no lights, but the words “State Police’ written on it,” he recalled. In 1954, he became the first detective for the state police, and over the next eight years solved 38 murders.

He retired from the Maine State Police in 1962 and returned to his hometown of Old Town as chief of police.

“Otis and I grew up in the same neighborhood,” said Eugene Beaulieu, former U.S. magistrate judge. “I think the people of Old Town have always taken a great deal of pride in Otis. Everyone has heard of him.”

In the 1970s, during his tenure as Penobscot County sheriff, his bickering with public officials captured headlines and enhanced his reputation as one not likely to back down from a fight.

“He had quite a healthy ego, which made him very good at his job,” said Carl “Bucky” Buchanan, who worked as a state police detective with LaBree.

LaBree is credited with transforming the Penobscot County Jail from a fledgling facility that still threw misbehaving prisoners into a “dog hole” into a jail that became a model for others throughout the state.

LaBree, whose wife, Beatrice, predeceased him, is survived by three children. A celebration of his life will be held Sunday afternoon along the Bangor waterfront on the cruise ship Roxy Lee.

AP-ES-07-03-03 0849EDT

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