LEWISTON, Maine – A man who died this month at age 80 took a secret to his grave — a secret that was discovered only after his family went through his belongings in a storage unit.
Inside an unplugged freezer, they found a set of human remains that investigators believe may be those of his girlfriend, who disappeared in 1983, when she was 29. Now investigators are trying to confirm the identity of the body, the cause of death and who may have been involved.
State police were awaiting results of an autopsy on Monday. DNA tests were under way to determine whether the body was that of Kitty Wardwell, who was last seen with boyfriend Frank Julian.
The gruesome discovery came as a shock to Lewiston residents including Jane Child, who knew Julian as a kind shop owner who'd allow customers to put items on layaway when they were short on money. It's difficult to reconcile that image with a potential killer who stashed a body in a freezer, she said.
"It just gives me the creeps," Child said Monday while shopping at Blackie's Fruit Stand, near the store where Julian worked with one of his sons.
The storage unit was rented in 1992 by Julian, who died on Oct. 1. Back in 1983, Julian occasionally lived with Wardwell 100 miles away in Holden.
Julian told police in New Hampshire that he last saw Wardwell after an argument that June, when he dropped her off at a motel in Salem, N.H., before returning to Maine, police said. She was reported missing the following month by a close friend.
A state police investigation indicated she was likely a victim of foul play in Maine. Because of that, the investigation officially remained open.
The freezer was inside a 10-by-10-foot storage unit at a Moore Self Storage Facility in Lewiston, where Julian dutifully paid in advance for the unit, coming around every three months to pay in person, owner Gary Boilard said. The last payment was made on Sept. 6, so the unit was rented through November, he said.
The storage company's previous owner kept good records, indicating Julian rented the unit 19 years ago on Oct. 6, Boilard said.
Boilard described the situation as "bizarre."
"How do you keep a secret that long?" he said.
The family was going through boxes inside the storage unit when the remains were discovered Friday, and half the unit was still filled with boxes when state police alerted Boilard.
"There were boxes on tops of boxes. From front to back, from top to bottom, it was full of boxes," he said.
Other than the freezer, there was little else of interest stashed in the unit — mostly household items, said Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.
Before Julian's death, he was working at a variety store with his son after closing his own store on Main Street. Before that, from 2001 to 2007, he'd run the One Stop Shop in a space he rented from Hubert Nadeau, selling T-shirts, Christmas decorations, knives and "just about anything," Nadeau said.
Nadeau said he was surprised by the news of the body's discovery.
"He was a very nice guy," Nadeau said Monday. "I had no idea what it was all about."
Both Wardwell's and Julian's families are being kept in the loop on the investigation, and both families are cooperating, McCausland said. Dwight Collins, Wardwell's brother, said the family was awaiting further word on the body but declined to comment further. Other family members either couldn't be reached or declined to comment.
The process of determining the victim's identity could be time-consuming because of the condition of the body. Wardwell's family members have donated DNA samples that will be compared against DNA from the body, McCausland said.
Julian was 52 when Wardwell disappeared. An obituary in the Bangor Daily News described him as a former restaurateur and novelty salesman who played on John Bapst High School's 1948 championship football team.