Discovery leaves many questions unanswered for family of missing Maine priest
The apparent discovery of the body of retired Rev. Clement Thibodeau of Caribou over the weekend has brought his family some closure, but what brought him to a remote Hancock County lake likely will remain a mystery, a family member said.
Officials with the Maine Warden Service said Saturday that they believe they have found the 85-year-old Catholic priest’s body next to his gray 2013 Chevrolet Equinox near Upper Pistol Lake, south of Springfield.
Lynn Jones of Connor, Thibodeau’s niece, said Caribou police notified her and other family members of the discovery Saturday afternoon, but they were given few details.
“At least now we know that he’s going to be brought back home and buried properly, so we have closure there. But there’s still the not knowing what he was doing in that area,” Jones said Saturday night.
“That’s probably a question that we’re never going to get answered. Why was he down there? What was his need to be down there? Those are questions I’m always going to have,” she said.
“As a matter of fact, he lived on the same spot that he was brought up on,” she said, adding that while his apartment was in a building for older adults, it was not part of an assisted living facility.Jones said she visited Thibodeau three or four times a week at his apartment in Caribou, where he grew up and returned after he retired from the priesthood.
“People keep speaking of his having dementia. In my opinion, they’re making a bigger deal out of that dementia than it really was because he was 85 years old and he was getting his days [of the week] confused,” she said.
Jones said that Thibodeau used to hunt and fish when he was younger, but hadn’t done either for several years.
A man clearing trails near a remote road near Upper Pistol Lake, south of Springfield, found Thibodeau’s vehicle stuck near a remote road shortly before noon Saturday, according to Cpl. John MacDonald of the Maine Warden Service.
The man called the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office, which sent game wardens to the area.
Shortly after they arrived, wardens found the body of a man believed to be Thibodeau. The Maine medical examiner’s office has been asked to identify the remains, which MacDonald said could occur as early as Monday.
MacDonald said that the warden service does not suspect foul play.
Thibodeau had been missing since July 15, when the Caribou Police Department sought the public’s help in locating the missing priest. He was last seen a few days earlier in Caribou.
Thibodeau’s disappearance over the summer triggered several search efforts that included investigating cellphone pings produced by his phone. That information led searchers to the Lee area, about 12 miles northwest of where Thibodeau’s vehicle was found.
Orono-based Down East Emergency Medicine Institute continued the search for the missing priest after the warden service suspended its efforts, bringing its volunteers, drone technology and other assets, including aircraft equipped with high-resolution cameras and ground searches using ATVs where possible.
Richard Bowie, DEEMI operations director, said DEEMI’s analysis of aerial images and cellphone pings by signal analysis experts with the U.S. Air Force who volunteer with the group had concluded that Thibodeau was near Upper Pistol Lake.
Over the years, Thibodeau also served as pastor at St. Mary’s in Eagle Lake, Notre Dame in Waterville, St. Mary’s in Bangor and St. Joseph’s in Gardiner. He attended Caribou High School, St. Francis College in Biddeford and the Grand Seminary at the University of Montreal.
He spent 17 years as a teacher at St. Ignatius High School in Sanford and taught religious studies at Nason College in Springvale. He retired in 2001 and moved back to the Caribou area.