Sarah Perry reads from her memoir,“After the Eclipse: A Mother’s Murder, a Daughter’s Search,” at the Great Falls Forum at the Lewiston Public Library on Thursday afternoon. Retired Maine State Police Lt. Walter Grzyb, who investigated Crystal Perry’s 1994 murder in Bridgton, listens. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — Sarah Perry chose two excerpts to read from her acclaimed book at Thursday’s Great Falls Forum.

The first describes hearing her mother’s murder from the next room as a 12-year-old and her initial dealings with investigators. The second fast-forwards the reader 12 years, when State Police Lt. Walter Grzyb finally informs Perry that police had found the killer.

On Thursday, arguably the largest crowd in Great Falls Forum history listened as Perry and Grzyb candidly discussed the infamous case, Perry’s 2017 book, and their relationship.

The 1994 murder of Crystal Perry in Bridgton and the subsequent investigation, ending in a 2006 arrest and eventual conviction of Michael Hutchinson is the subject of Sarah Perry’s book, “After the Eclipse: A Mother’s Murder, a Daughter’s Search.” It was named a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice, a Poets & Writer’s Notable Nonfiction Debut, and a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick.

Throughout the hourlong forum, Perry and Grzyb exchanged questions about the investigation and discussed Crystal Perry’s life, Gryzb’s devotion to the case, and the impact the horrific incident and investigation had on Sarah Perry’s adolescence.

About midway through the conversation, Grzyb told Perry that he is constantly struck that she had the strength to get through the traumatic experience, and to grow up to be a successful educator and author.

“You’re my hero,” he told her.

Perry said she remembered her mother as someone who always maintained hope, and was full of joy, despite being a struggling single mother. She said she got her strength from being so connected to her mother.

“To see her life tragically ended after having worked so hard, I did have this mentality of wanting to continue her project, which was to lift me up and make sure that I had an easier time in life than she had, and I really didn’t want this person to have ruined that for her,” she said.

After the five-day trial in April 2007, a jury of eight men and four women took just under two-and-a-half hours to convict Hutchinson, 32, of Bridgton. Crystal Perry was just 30 years old when she was murdered.

When Sarah Perry discovered her mother’s bloody body, she ran barefoot half a mile at night in the rain to knock on doors of neighbors’ homes to get help.

Prosecutors had Hutchinson’s DNA at the crime scene from his sperm and blood. They didn’t know it belonged to him, though, until 2006, when a Maine Crime Lab worker was running DNA samples randomly in the state’s system from unrelated crimes. It was a perfect match. Hutchinson had never been one of the dozens of suspects in the case because there had been no known connection by police between him and Crystal Perry.

Hutchinson had been a mason in Bridgton who worked for his father and lived with his parents about a mile-and-a-half from Perry’s small, white ranch house. He told of an unhappy childhood.

He was sentenced to life in prison.

When asked Thursday about the length of time between the murder and conviction, Grzyb said he sometimes questioned how they missed Hutchinson for years.

Perry asked what it’s like for police investigators to remove the job from their personal lives, to which Grzyb said, “You don’t.”

“He was right there,” he said of Hutchinson. “He would have been traveling back-and-forth past your house the whole time.”

Perry holds a master’s degree in nonfiction from Columbia University in New York City, where she teaches, and is the 2019 McGee Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina.

In a review, Laura Miller of Slate magazine called the book “Raw and perfect. I’ve never read a better depiction of how a sudden, violent event rips through a human being’s apprehension of reality.”

Perry said Thursday that she wanted to write an account that “didn’t conform to all the flashy, sensational true crime accounts that we see on television.”

“Those accounts are so harmful to victims and survivors, but also harmful to law enforcement,” she said.

Earlier in the conversation, Grzyb and Perry discussed the part of the book dealing with the initial investigation, and Perry’s mistrust and anger directed toward many of the law enforcement officers.

She said after gaining access to the case files for her book, some of her initial opinions of certain law enforcement personnel involved in the case were backed up. Some were skeptical of her recollections, or were judgmental, she said.

Grzyb said interactions between Perry and law enforcement personnel could be used as a training exercise for new investigators. For Grzyb, the Perry case has defined his career. He described Thursday the moment when the DNA hit came back on Hutchinson as being “blown away.”

Perry recalls his excitement in her book.

“Some cases mean more to you than others,” he said. “Meeting you, the rest of your family, it really just became a mission to solve this case. At times it was consuming. You just can’t let it go. There were a few years that that’s the way it was. But, I survived. All’s well that ends well.”

Staff Writer Christopher Williams contributed to this report. 


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