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By Gerry Boyle '78
The place: Mayflower Hill. The month: November. The fictional crime: a kidnapping. The piece of evidence that caught the attention of real-life police? A ransom note containing a child's tooth.
It all started when Associate Professor Julie Millard (chemistry) decided she needed some authenticity in the preparation for a lab on the use of DNA evidence in a crime investigation. The crime (concocted in Millard's imagination) was the kidnapping of a child in Waterville. Real DNA would be extracted from chewed gum, a cigarette butt and the child's tooth using Colby's state-of-the-art DNA sequencer.
The lab was one of Millard's trademark efforts to show real-life uses for science (See "How We Teach"). To set things in motion she mailed the ransom note on campus in U.S. mail. It was addressed to Jean-Paul Greenbriar, a pseudonym for Professor Paul Greenwood (biology). The return address, neatly printed, was "Kidd Nappah, Mayflower Hill." The Chemistry Department was informed; the mailroom at Colby was not.
"I didn't tell Dan [Quirion, Eustis Service Center supervisor]," Millard said. "I didn't tell Bert [Therrien, mail receiving supervisor]."
And when the envelope came through, bells went off (figuratively, not literally). With the nation in the grip of the anthrax scare, the envelope was designated as suspicious and Colby security was called. Security called the Waterville police. An officer came to campus and took it downtown for examination. He found the tooth, read the ransom note. Though there is no Jean-Paul Greenbriar at Colby, a detective was quick to make the leap to Greenwood, who was in London but not beyond the long reach of the law.
"Paul called," Millard said. "He said, 'I just had a call from a Waterville detective asking me about my daughter's whereabouts.' Right away Paul thought, 'Oh, it's Julie's lab.'"
Sure enough, it was. But before that had been established, the investigation was rolling. "I took it very seriously," said Waterville Detective David Caron. "I actually put out a national teletype."
The teletype caught the attention of the U.S. Marshal's Service, which eventually was notified about the apparent misunderstanding. Millard, usually the lecturer, was on the receiving end of a lecture from Waterville police. She was informed that mailing teeth falls into the category of mailing body parts, which, not surprisingly, is illegal. Waterville Deputy Police Chief Joseph Massey told Millard her academic thoroughness had serious implications.
"He said, 'I hope this is going to be a learning experience,'" Millard said. "I said, 'Oh, yes sir.'"
But the police chief had one more gnawing question: "He said, 'Are they real teeth?' I said, 'Yes. I have a six-year-old daughter. We have teeth all over the place.'"
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