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State police report identified two suspects, one who died in Camden house explosion

Family of Washington man seeks justice 43 years after his apparent murder

By Stephen Betts | Dec 10, 2018
Ludger Belanger's 1970 high school graduation photo from Medomak Valley High School.

Washington — Ludger Belanger was a married, 25-year-old father of three young girls when he went hunting off Route 105 in Washington on the morning of Nov. 25, 1975.

That was the last time his family saw him.

Police believe that Belanger died that day following a chance encounter with two local men who were also out in the woods using drugs and possibly hunting. The theory is that the two other men wanted the deer shot by Belanger and killed him when he wouldn't give it to them.

The case has haunted his family for the past 43 years. Maine State Police say the case remains open and active, even though one of the two suspects in the homicide died a year later when he set fire to his Hosmer Pond Road home in Camden and there was an explosion.

The other suspect is still living.

Ludger Belanger's younger brother, John Belanger, said he and his brother's wife, Linda, had been hunting together earlier that morning. The brother, two years younger than Ludger, said there had been a recent heavy snow and that he was soaked after the early morning hunt.

He and Linda decided to leave, but Ludger wanted to continue hunting and they dropped him off about a half-mile from his home.

"He went into the field and that was the last time we ever saw him," John Belanger recalled.

Ludger was born in Poland, Maine, and grew up in Mechanic Falls. His family moved to Washington and he spent his senior year at Medomak Valley High School in Waldoboro, graduating in 1970.

He married his wife, Linda, in 1971. Linda Perkins (she remarried in 2001), had known Ludger since she was 14 because she was best friends with one of his sisters.

He worked as a heavy equipment mechanic at Bridge Construction in Windsor, working on diesel engines. The bigger the piece of equipment -- such as skidders and dump trucks -- the more he enjoyed working on them, she said,

Both Linda and his brother John said Ludger was shy and quiet.

"He went to work. He loved his family. He loved to hunt and fish," she said.

He and Linda were building their home on land given to them by his parents. The house was incomplete when he went hunting that day in November 1975.

His brother said it was no surprise that Ludger wanted to continue hunting that day -- two days before Thanksgiving -- because he wanted to get a deer.

When he did not return home by noon as expected, family members searched the woods in the area between where he was dropped off and his home.

The Maine Warden Service joined in the search later that day and soon began to suspect foul play.

Forty-three years later, the Maine State Police officially list Belanger as a missing person. But a report by a state police investigator in 2001 that was filed in the Knox County Probate Court maintains that Belanger was most likely the victim of a homicide.

Maine Public Safety spokesman Stephen McCausland said Tuesday, Dec. 4, that the case remains open and active.

According to the 2001 report by then-Maine State Police Lt. Timothy Doyle, Warden Richard Hennessey determined that Belanger had shot a deer and dragged it to the edge of a tote road known then as Creamer Lot Road. John Belanger said it was likely a large, trophy deer, based on the drag marks.

Another hunter, Clifton Crummet, found a yellow piece of paper where the tire tracks, footprints and drag marks converged. The paper was a work order, dated Nov. 25, 1975, for repairs done to a 1965 Buick Special. Crummet also found a Master Charge credit slip at the same location with the name of a Camden man whom Doyle referred to in his report as Suspect A.

On Nov. 28, several officers went to Suspect A's home on Hosmer Pond Road in Camden and questioned him. Police also questioned Suspect B, who said he and Suspect A had hunted in the Washington area on the morning of Nov. 25, but claimed they never saw a hunter on the road who was dragging a deer.

Suspect B said they had had car trouble and the vehicle had been in several garages that day.

Police went to the Exxon station in Camden after interviewing the pair and found a green 1965 Buick Special four-door sedan that was registered to Suspect B, who at that time lived on Oxford Street in Portland, according to the police report. Wardens John Marsh and Hennessey examined the vehicle.

They found a single deer hair on the trunk ornament. The interior of the car and windows appeared to have been recently washed. The complete rear seat and a portion of the headliner were missing.

The car was towed to the state police garage in Augusta, but no blood was found.

A search was conducted by state police on the afternoon of Dec. 6 at the home of the Camden suspect. A newspaper clipping about the disappearance of Belanger was found at the home, but nothing otherwise to tie the man who lived there to the case.

The next listing in the state police report shows that on March 23, 1976, a spring from a car seat was found at the Union town dump. The spring was examined at Tri-City Upholsterers in Hallowell, but was determined to have come from a later-model vehicle than the 1965 Buick Special.

There was an extensive air and ground search for Belanger's body by the Maine State Police and Inland Fish & Game. Divers also searched local ponds in Appleton, Union, Washington, South Liberty and Somerville. Nothing was found in those searches.

Additional searches were conducted over the next several months when tips were received. The searches focused on gravel pits, dug wells and along stone walls. A farm pond was pumped dry in an effort to find Belanger's body. Again, nothing was found.

On the night of July 29, 1976, Suspect A died after he set fire to his Hosmer Pond Road home in Camden, causing an explosion, according to law enforcement officials who investigated the fire.

The man who died as a result of burns from that fire and explosion was 31-year-old David Svenningsen.

Svenningsen had set multiple fires to the home, using gasoline to fuel the fire while his wife was upstairs, according to a statement issued at the time by John Atwood, who was then with the Maine attorney general's criminal investigative division.

The explosion at the Hosmer Pond Road house propelled Svennningsen through a door and into the front yard. His wife, Susan Svenningsen, then 25 years old, survived by climbing out a second-floor bathroom window. She suffered burns, but was released from the Camden Community Hospital after three days.

David Svenningsen was initially taken to the Camden hospital, then Central Maine General Hospital in Lewiston, and finally Brooks Army Hospital's burn center in San Antonio, where he died 11 days after the explosion.

Svennningsen had attended school in the Waldoboro area and was a vice president of his sophomore class, according to the school's yearbook. He joined the Marines and served three tours in Vietnam from August 1965 until his discharge in September 1970.

After leaving the service, he was employed by the Maine State Prison as a guard. His tenure at the state prison was a tumultuous one, according to an Associated Press report.

Svenningsen was fired in 1973 after being charged with assault resulting from an off-duty incident. He appealed and was reinstated. But the prison warden reassigned him and attempted to get him to quit.

According to a workers' compensation claim with the Industrial Accident Commission by his estate after his death, the stress of the prison job had caused Svenningsen to suffer from depression. He sought a leave of absence to deal with mental health issues in October 1974, but his prison supervisors rejected his request. He quit shortly after that denial.

The Industrial Accident Commission ruled in October 1976 that Svenningsen's widow was entitled to $9,300 in damages because of the actions of his supervisors.

In October 1976, an aggravated assault charge against Svenningsen from the Exeter, N.H., area was dismissed because of his death.

The report by Doyle next notes that on Jan. 30, 1978, Detective Arthur Carter interviewed a Charles Christiensen Jr. of Washington. Christiensen told the detective that he had been drinking with the man known as Suspect B in the summer of 1976, and that Suspect B admitted that he had shot Belanger the previous November.

Suspect B told Christiensen that he and Suspect A (Svenningsen) had been doing drugs in the car and picked up Belanger, who was coming out of the woods with a deer. There was a confrontation over the deer, and Suspect B said he shot Belanger with a shotgun, killing him, according to Christensen. Suspect A was driving the car, Christiensen quoted Suspect B as saying.

A meeting between the state police and Maine Attorney General's Office was held Jan. 22, 1985. The consensus was that there was not enough information to present the case to a grand jury for possible charges.

Detectives began re-interviewing people involved in the case. Christiensen had died by this time, according to the police report.

On March 20, 1985, a search warrant was executed on the Buick Special that Suspect B had earlier owned. Door panels from the rear doors, rear door and window handles, and the speaker cover from the rear seat were tested by the Maine State Police crime laboratory for the presence of blood. None was found. Those car parts remained with the state police as of the time the 2001 report was filed with the Probate Court.

"New efforts are underway to work on unsolved homicides. As time permits Detectives are re-interviewing witnesses, and applying new technology to old evidence. This case is among the unsolved cases that we anticipate reviewing as resources allow," Doyle said in the 2001 report.

He said the passage of time and the death of several key players made this a difficult case.

Maine State Police, in a Facebook posting last month on the anniversary of Belanger's disappearance, encouraged anyone with information on this case to contact Maine State Police Major Crimes Unit-Central, 36 Hospital St., Augusta, ME 04330 or call them at 207-624-7143 or toll-free at 1-800-452-4664.

The family established a Facebook page seeking justice for Ludger. The page identifies someone they call a "person of interest" in the case.

State police have never named who the suspects were. But the second suspect, according to multiple sources, is a Waldoboro man who has a criminal history that includes being charged with stabbing a man during an altercation in Thomaston in 1978 and later a burglary, theft and possession of a firearm by a felon.

Perkins said the family has not spoken to the person of interest about the case. Police, however, have questioned the man, who is now in his early 70s.

John Belanger said the disappearance of Ludger traumatized the family.

A headstone was erected for Ludger next to his parents' cemetery plot in Sand Hill Cemetery in Somerville. He said his mother never got to have closure from the loss of her son.

"He was a young man. He had a lot of life left in him," John Belanger said.

His daughters were 4 months, 23 months, and 3 and a half-years-old at the time of his disappearance.

Perkins said she would like to be able to bury Ludger. She said she would also like to see the remaining suspect who killed her husband arrested, but said that probably will never happen.

"We would really like to lay him to rest with love and dignity. He was thrown away like a bag of trash. He deserved so much better," she said.

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Dec 11, 2018 15:03

Safe time's are no more for small town America. Sadly! Blessings to the family.

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