Editor’s note: Matinicus, Maine’s most remote island, has a tough reputation. For two centuries, officers of the law had to travel 20 miles offshore to keep the peace. But for a brief period 18 years ago, the Knox County Sheriff’s Office had a deputy living on the island. Crash Barry was living there, too.
One night in mid-March, 1991, four drunk sternmen, angry there was suddenly law on Matinicus, decided to fuck with the Deputy.
Sternmen, by nature, are strong. A team of four are super-strong. Under the cover of darkness, they walked to the Deputy’s house and easily flipped his truck onto its side.
They didn’t know the Deputy was waiting in the shadows. And they also didn’t know he had installed a motion-sensitive spotlight on his house. So when the truck tipped over, it triggered the light and the Deputy saw them all: Billy, Bobby, Buddy and Alex.
The three Bs escaped. Alex wasn’t so lucky. When the Deputy fired a shot in the air, Alex froze for a moment, which gave the Deputy just enough time to pistol-whip him from behind. He brought his service revolver down hard on Alex’s head. Knocked Alex out. Split his skull open. Then the Deputy cuffed the unconscious Alex, dragged him to the backyard, opened the bulkhead, lugged Alex down the stairs and handcuffed him to a pole in the center of the cellar.
Meanwhile, the other fellas had regrouped in a harborside shack, wondering what happened to their pal. They didn’t know Alex was being held captive in the Deputy’s basement. And they definitely didn’t know the Deputy had called his bosses on the mainland and more cops were en route to the island aboard a 41-footer from the Coast Guard station in Rockland. All they knew was they had a bottle of rum and a bag of good weed, so they sat there drinking and smoking.
An hour and a half later, at low tide, they saw the Coast Guard boat slowly creeping around the breakwater. The sternmen wondered why the Coasties were coming to Matinicus. Was someone sick?
“Jeezum,” one of the fellas said, “those guys are gonna hit the Indian Ledge if they ain’t careful.”
The three sternmen jumped into a skiff and raced out to the Coast Guard vessel, leading them around the ledge and up to the Steamboat Wharf. Unbeknownst to the sternmen, the Deputy had borrowed another truck and was on his way to the wharf with Alex, bloody and hogtied, in the back. The Deputy arrived just as the sternmen and the cops were disembarking.
Pandemonium erupted as the sternmen realized what was going down. The Deputy told the other cops to arrest the three Bs, and the cuffed foursome were hauled aboard the Coast Guard boat and brought ashore to spend some time in the Knox County Jail.
I wasn’t there that night. I was still on the mainland, just about to move to the island. But those four fellas became drinking and drugging pals, and I’d hear this story a dozen times in the coming months. I watched as they struggled to make court dates and pay lawyers over the following year.
A couple weeks after the incident I was in a harborside shack on a stormy night, playing cards, smoking herb and drinking whiskey with Alex, when he vowed he was gonna take care of the Deputy. Gonna get him good.
“How?” I asked.
“You’ll see,” he said, picking up the axe leaning against the wall in a corner of the shack. “You’ll see,” he repeated, then opened the door and headed out into the screeching wind.
The next morning, at dawn, my boss Bert and I were aboard The Dotted Eye, baiting up for a long day of hauling traps. Bert noticed the Deputy’s 20-foot lobster boat aground on a nearby ledge, sitting high and dry with a hole or two in her hull.
I imagined Alex in a skiff, cutting the mooring, maybe giving the boat a little push towards shore. Maybe whacking at it, once or twice, with the axe, knowing this time there was no chance he’d get caught — no evidence to be left behind. And since nearly everyone on Matinicus hated the Deputy, the list of suspects would be long.
This turned out to be the start of a concerted effort to run the Deputy off the island. Within a month, the Deputy quit his job and moved his family to the mainland. There was still law on Matinicus, just not the sort that wore a badge.