Movie Director Jon R. Pownall was photographed on Aug. 31, 1973, in an ice cream truck that was going to be a prop in a movie he was about to film called “The Salem Six.” Pownall was killed in Portland later on the day that this photo was taken.  Associated Press, file

Lynda Pownall-Carlson doubled over with laughter as she battled the wind in an effort to light and send a purple lantern into a cloudless Portland sky to commemorate her father, Jon Pownall.

“I just want you to know this is supposed to be somber,” her daughter, Erin Pownall Burns, said through her own laughter.

The moment was one of silliness, joy and the ease of being with the people closest to oneself. But the event that brought the mother and daughter to the strip of sidewalk across from Monument Square on Thursday evening was one of deep loss, pain and horror.

They were there – along with other family members, friends and loved ones – to remember Pownall-Carlson’s father, Jon Pownall. Fifty years ago Thursday, Pownall was shot to death in the Congress Street office building they stood in front of. He left behind Pownall-Carlson, her two siblings and their mother. His slaying was never solved.

Like many events of mourning, the vigil was shaped by the pain of grief and loss, and the unfairness of life. But it was also filled with the joy of being together and remembering those loved and lost, and the peace of having moved forward with life but never past the loss of a loved one and the absence of justice served.

Lynda Pownall-Carson, left, shares a lighter moment with family members and supporters during a vigil to mark the slaying of her father, filmmaker Jon Pownall, in a Portland office building on Aug. 31, 1973. Lana Cohen/Staff Photographer

Jon Pownall’s body was found in his Portland office on Aug. 31, 1973. He had been shot in the back of the head and the back, and stabbed in the throat. The slaying took place 10 days after he was issued a $400,000 life insurance policy. It was a key person life insurance policy, meaning that if a key person in a business dies, the business collects a benefit. At the time Pownall worked for Planet 3 Films, which was listed as the policy’s sole beneficiary.


In the aftermath of Pownall’s slaying, the state twice charged Herbert Schwartz, a financial backer of a film Pownall was working on, and Truman Dongo, a salesman, with charges related to Pownall’s death. The state charged them first with murder and then with conspiracy to murder, alleging Schwartz planned the murder in order to access the insurance policy money and Dongo carried it out. The two were found innocent both times. Their defense insisted that Joseph A. Castellucci, who at the time was president of Planet 3 Films, was the killer.

In a later civil trial deciding whether the insurance company had to pay out on the policy, the insurance company claimed Castellucci, Schwartz and Dongo were all legally and morally responsible for Pownall’s death. A jury, however, found them not guilty and no one ever received any money from the insurance policy. The jury found that the company did not have to pay because Castellucci misrepresented information so they could obtain a policy on Pownall’s life.

Pownall-Carlson was nearly 17 when her father was killed. Her siblings were 14 and 8. His killing turned their lives upside down. Her father had been the sole breadwinner in the family. With him gone, her family was thrust into poverty. Pownall-Carlson left her family home. She went to high school during the day, worked at night and rented a small apartment. Eventually, the family left Maine and went to the hometown of Pownall-Carlson’s mother in New York. Pownall-Carlson followed. They believed they knew who killed their father and that they were at large in Portland.

Pownall’s killing also left an emotional hole in the family.

Pownall-Carlson described her father as an exuberant and creative man who loved to share his passions and bring people together. He taught her how to create animated films so she could turn her drawings into animations, took her to forage mushrooms in the summer and laughed a lot, she said.

Although she never knew him, Erin Pownall Burns, who grew up in the wake of her grandfather’s killing, said he left a void in the family. “It has never been filled,” she said. “Not even 50 years later.”

Today, Pownall-Carlson still struggles with her father’s death. Tears welled in her eyes as she touched one hand to her heart to describe how it felt to be back in Portland, back in front of the building where her father’s life was cut short.

But she also has moved forward and found peace in her life.

“After the trials I thought, ‘I can choose to be sad, or I can choose to be not sad. I can choose to be a victim or choose not to be a victim’,” she said. “Even though terrible things happen to you you can choose what to do with them.”

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