Until she started writing true crime mysteries, Kate Flora didn’t appreciate the work it took to train a dog to find a dead body.
Or all the work that dogs could do.

Suddenly rescue dogs, police dogs and cadaver dogs seemed to be everywhere.

“I see dogs differently,” said Flora, 65, former Maine assistant attorney general turned award-winning mystery writer. “Now when I see someone out walking a dog, I’m thinking, ‘What characteristics does that dog have? What would this dog be good for?’ It changes the way you see the world.” 

Her latest true crime book, “Death Dealer,” tells the story of a suspected Canadian serial killer and the Maine Warden Service dogs that helped catch him.

Flora began serving as assistant attorney general 1976. She left the office a couple of years later, then left the law in 1984, when she started writing. She would publish her first book in 1994.

Flora’s early works were fiction, crime stories that often focused on amateur detective Thea Kozak. She later created police detective Joe Burgess, who would also get his own book series. 

Then came Amy St. Laurent’s disappearance in 2001.

The 25-year-old vanished after a night out in Portland. Her body was found six weeks later in Scarborough with the help of Warden Service dogs. Police ultimately arrested Jeffery “Russ” Gorman, one of the people last seen with St. Laurent in a Portland nightclub. He was later convicted and sentenced to 60 years in prison

Portland Deputy Police Chief Joseph Laughlin thought the case would make a compelling book, and he asked Flora for her help. Together they would write “Finding Amy.”

It gave Flora her first in-depth look at the work of Warden Service dogs: recruitment, searches, teamwork.

“It just became really fascinating,” Flora said. “The searchers and the dogs found Amy’s body. That way they were able to have a prosecution and put the bad guy away.”

The book earned a 2007 Edgar Award nomination, but Flora vowed she was done with true crime. Compared to fiction it was too hard, took too long, was too nerve racking to try to get the people and the details right.

But Pat Dorian, the warden lieutenant in charge of search and rescue operations for the state, told her about a case the Maine Warden Service had recently helped with in Canada. A man there had reported his wife missing 10 days after she disappeared. Police thought he’d killed her, but they had little evidence. They needed to find her body.

Canadian law enforcement lacked dogs of its own. It asked the Maine Warden Service to lend its expertise — and its dog-and-handler teams.

The story lured Flora back in.

“Once again it was cadaver dogs and handlers who saved the day,” she said. “They were the people who came in when the cops had looked and looked and looked for months and could not find the body in the vast woods.”

Flora spent time researching the dogs — how they were chosen, how they were trained, how they worked with their humans. She played victim, hunkering down in the woods as dogs searched for her. She followed dogs as they tracked different cadaver scents hidden in abandoned buildings for practice.

“Some of the dogs go in and say, ‘Wow, this is so cool! Look, Dad, look, Dad, I found it!'” Flora said. “And other dogs go in and say, ‘Mom, I don’t want to. I know you want me to, and I know where it is, but I’m not going.'” 

Flora was constantly surprised by the dogs’ skills.

“For the wardens, for Fish and Game, they can find fish. They can find fish in trees, they can find fish in your backpack, they can find fish in your van,” she said. “Taking it a couple of steps further, the knock-your-socks-off things, they can find bullets, the shell … They can find the handgun that a bad guy who’s fleeing has thrown out the car window. They can find the glove. They can find the cigarette butt. They can basically do crime scene reconstruction.” 

She was also amazed by the dog-and-handler relationship. She called it “balletic.”

“There’s all this information that’s going back and forth. It’s like an old married couple almost. There’s this real intimate bond that happens,” she said. 

“Death Dealer” was published this fall by New Horizon Press. Flora wrote a whole section of the book on the dogs.

It was a Maine dog and handler who found the woman’s body in Canada, uncovering evidence that helped convict her husband. Police believe she wasn’t his first victim.

Although Flora was hesitant to write a second non-fiction book, she jumped into the third. Dogs brought her to this one, too.

The book, “A Good Man with a Dog,” focuses on Warden Roger Guay, a handler who has been involved in numerous searches, including the one for Amy St. Laurent and the woman in Canada. The book is now being shown to publishers.

“Whoever knew that I would spend all these years hanging out with game wardens?” she asked. “The dogs are sort of surrounding me now.”

Have an idea for Animal Tales? Contact Lindsay Tice at 207-689-2854 or [email protected].

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