AUGUSTA — Shortly before Thanksgiving in 1975, Linda Perkins dropped her husband off to go deer hunting in the familiar woods less than a mile from her Washington, Maine, home.

Ludger Belanger, 25, set off into the newly fallen snow and was never seen again.

Aside from evidence that he’d shot a deer and been picked up by a passing car, Perkins said she doesn’t know what happened to him. A body never turned up but foul play was suspected.

As the trail grew cold, detectives have told her they don’t have anything new to go on. With a list of more than 114 unsolved murders in Maine, the case that she, her three daughters and 19 grandchildren care so deeply about just grows ever older.

At a legislative hearing Monday, a measure aimed at lending a hand to the families of cold case victims drew support and opposition, but it was pretty clear that it faces long odds of passage.

Lawmakers have been increasingly willing to take up the cold case issue in recent years, funding a new state police unit to scour the cases for clues and creating a new advocate position to work with the families who have long complained about a lack of communication from authorities.

Rep. Tina Riley, D-Jay, proposed doing more in a bill she said would enhance victims’ rights by ensuring at least annual updates for the families from police, annual press releases on the status of each case, more cooperation by the police for media and private investigators looking into cold cases, and more.

“Everything about this bill is emotionally loaded,” Riley said.

But Maine State Police Chief Robert Williams said the measure “will actually hurt those families” rather than help because it would divert time and attention from solving the cases and possibly undermine efforts to prosecute killers.

He said the police already do everything they can. “All the stops are pulled out” on any homicide case, Williams said.

Williams said police are doing more to keep families in the loop — if they want to hear updates — but “on a lot of these cases, there’s nothing new to act on.”

Assistant Attorney General Laura Nomani, who prosecutes old cases, said none of them are “cold or hopeless” and pointed out that accused killers from cases in 1979 and 1980 are heading for trial.

She said that she recognized the good intentions in Riley’s bill but fears it “will hinder, not help, the investigations.”

Nomani took particular issue with its call for police to share information with investigative journalists and private investigators, a move she warned might compromise the integrity of police probes that often have to be secretive.

Mark Babitz, a former Elan School student, scoffed at the notion that opening files with the family’s support would jeopardize secrets. He warned that “cold cases just get colder.”

Richard Moreau said he’s been waiting for 31 years to find out what happened to his 17-year-old daughter Kimberly who disappeared in Canton.

He said that media attention is “absolutely critical” to keep cases like his in the public’s eye and perhaps unearth a new tip or clue that could end a family’s long wait.

Moreau said better communications with detectives and other authorities involved in pursuing justice is the one thing most after by all the families he’s come to know over the years who face the terrible situation he’s had to deal with.

At one point, he said, he went four years without hearing anything about his daughter’s case.

Giving investigations more tools, he said, might help. “Maybe we start getting some answers and provide some closure.”

Patrick Day, who has worked with many of the families, said one common theme they all think is that “the system is broken.”

But Williams and Nomani said it is improving following the creating of the cold case unit.

Williams said the unit has reached out to the families of 75 victims on its investigatory list while simultaneously picking up the pace in the search for evidence.

Riley’s bill, Williams told the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, lays out “a cookie cutter approach” that is “not a good thing” for many of the families, including a number of them that don’t want to hear anything unless it’s substantial because it stirs up painful memories.

Nomani said it’s necessary to balance what families need to know with the integrity of the investigation that may someday lead to justice, or at least closure.


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