NEWS CENTER Maine is dedicating a week of coverage to Portland's unsolved homicide victims. In the last ten years, nearly half of homicides in the city have gone unsolved. That's a lower clearance rate than the state and country.
PORTLAND (NEWS CENTER Maine) - Matt Blanchard had a rough go. He was rebellious, and got in trouble with the law as a kid, but had turned his life around after meeting his girlfriend, Casey.
“First year they were together, he started going to college,” he half-brother John Howard said. “[He] got a full-time job. Living in South Portland, paying rent.”
Then – Matt was driving, and Casey was in the passenger seat – when police say he fell asleep at the wheel, sending the car into a tree.
Casey died, and Matt was charged with causing a fatal accident and operating without a license.
“Mentally, he was…you know...going through some things,” John said.
Weeks later – Matt was dead, shot on an open road in Portland just after 1 AM.
The night began as a late-night walk to take Matt’s mind off things - four brothers, a trip to the grocery store, and a bottle of Captain Morgan’s.
“I’ll take care of my brother as best as I can, especially when he’s going through losing a girlfriend of 5 years,” John said. “Yeah it was late, but I don’t care. That’s my brother.”
The night ended when shots rang out.
“I just saw a figure with the hands up,” John remembers. “So I turned around and I took off.”
In the heat of the moment, John thought it was fireworks – until he felt the bullet in his arm. “It didn’t hurt. It was just hot. It was warm,” he remembers.
He ran – worried for his life. He remembers lying in ambulance, and seeing a crowd of people standing over his brother’s body. But he didn’t register what happened until his family told him at the hospital. “My mom told me I lost it, I guess. The doctors put me under again,” he told NEWS CENTER Maine.
What happened in the hours leading up to the shooting? That’s where the details get fuzzy – and where the police and the victims disagree. “The words that come out of [Police Chief] Michael Sauschuck’s mouth were, ‘We do believe it was provoked.’ Absolutely not. Not one bit. If sitting on the side of the road eating a bag of chips is provoking someone to shoot you, that’s crazy.”
Portland Police Assistant Chief Vern Malloch doesn’t use the term ‘provoked’ – but says the department believes something must have happened to lead up to the fateful end. “We don’t believe it’s random,” he said. “We believe that there was an exchange earlier in the evening between two groups, and a shooting is what bled out of that…I hope that isn’t taken to mean that it is in anyway justified. Because it’s not.”
It’s been almost 6 years, and Matt’s case is now considered “unsolved” – the term Portland Police use instead of “cold case.”
John feels like his brother’s death is on the back burner because of the lack of communication from the detectives. The last letter he says he got from the detectives came in January 2017 from Detective Chris Giesecke. It read, in part, “even though this case remains unsolved, I do believe we are close to bringing someone accountable.” But the assistant police chief didn’t echo that confidence when we asked him about the progress made on Matt Blanchard’s murder. “We’ve had very little development in that case,” Malloch said. “We have spoken with some witnesses and some people that have information, [and] they have been reluctant to cooperate.”
That lack of communication, John says, drives him crazy. Matt Blanchard is one of 11 unsolved homicide victims in the last decade in Portland.
Matt Blanchard leaves behind three young children – with whom he had recently reconnected before his death. His brother John is healed physically, but doesn’t think the emotional wounds will ever close. “It’s changed me a lot,” he said. “For the better. But it didn’t have to take my brother to be murdered.”
Police say any details from the public can help them solve murder cases. Do you know anything? If so, call (207) 874-8533 or submit an anonymous tip here.