Media Archive

State 'CSI' founder retires

Article from Bangor Daily News, Saturday, February 28, 2004

By Diana Bowley
of the NEWS Staff

Former detective has vivid memories of cases

DOVER-FOXCROFT - A small folded bill of sale that was tucked inside the bureau drawer of a murder victim was all it took for Maine State Police Detective Joe Zamboni to find the victim's killers.Until his retirement last month, Zamboni, 52, of Milo had spent 22 years using his persistence and his nose for details to ferret out criminals and bring them to justice. He will now use those attributes as a private investigator.

One of Zamboni's biggest accomplishments was formation of the state's version of "CSI" - the state's Evidence Response Team. It's a group of professionals who work at major crime scenes, from burglaries to murders, in the manner of the characters in the top-rated CBS-TV series "CSI."

"He pushed hard for that and got the team started," Lt. Dennis Appleton, Zamboni's former supervisor at the Criminal Investigation Division, said Friday.

Zamboni recognized the importance of the proper collecting of physical evidence in the field, he said.

Appleton said that the more difficult the case, the better the challenge was for Zamboni.

"I had a front row seat at the greatest show on earth," Zamboni said Friday of his investigative career, which began in 1982 after he saw a recruitment advertisement for the Maine State Police.

Three years after he entered the state agency, the former U.S. Navy pilot was made a detective and advanced into the Criminal Investigation Division, where he remained until last month.

"It's been very interesting work," Zamboni said. "I think the state police has a tremendous reputation and it's been an honor to be part of that."

Zamboni said he was presented with some strange cases.

In the case involving the bill of sale, Zamboni said, he found a "little folded up piece of paper" in a drawer in the victim's bedroom during his search for evidence. That paper happened to be a bill of sale for a stereo with two male names written on it. Zamboni tracked down the two men and found that they were responsible for the killing. "That's how that case broke, that little piece of paper," he said.

Possibly the most bizarre case involved a former Parkman man who was severely beaten by his elderly father because the father could no longer tolerate his son's sexual relationship with the family dog. The father later pleaded guilty to attempted murder and elevated aggravated assault and was sentenced to eight years in prison with all but nine months suspended on each count.

"I think if the father had gone to a jury trial, he never would have been convicted," Zamboni said.

Since he has children of his own, Zamboni said the most difficult case to investigate involved the murders of a toddler and his baby-sitter in Dexter. "It's just unbelievable somebody could kill a baby. That went beyond anything I had seen before," he said.

Zamboni was known to befriend some suspects to get them to confess. When James Hicks of Etna was suspected in the disappearances of two young women in 1982 and 1996, his only connection to their disappearances was the fact he was the last person seen with both.

Zamboni said he developed a relationship with the man, which eventually led to a confession.

"You just have to be honest and straightforward and you try to convince them to do the right thing," Zamboni said.

Some criminals take the initiative to report their own crimes, Zamboni found.

He recalled that one man, who had killed his wife in his workshop, ran to the local police department to report the crime. Asked why he ran more than a mile to notify police, he said his license was under suspension and he could not drive.

Then there was the 1998 escape of Michael Chasse, which was made for television, according to Zamboni. "That was the most chaotic, craziest day of my entire career," he said.

Chasse, who was in a Dover-Foxcroft court for robbery, burglary and assault, had been returned to jail for the noon recess. When police failed to show up with Chasse for the resumption of the trial after lunch, Zamboni was sent to find out why. Stepping outside the courthouse door, Zamboni saw some white powder on the ground and a deputy standing nearby. When he asked where Chasse was, the deputy pointed toward town and said: "He went that-a-way."

"That case would make a great movie, it had so many incredible elements in it," Zamboni said. After escaping on foot, Chasse crashed through a window into a local bakery, commandeered a vehicle, led police on a chase and, after eluding authorities for several hours, was arrested at gunpoint in a canoe on Sebec Lake.

Not all cases have an ending, Zamboni has found.

He said he could not piece together enough information to determine what happened to a missing lawyer in the Blanchard area or what happened in an unrelated case to an elderly woman who disappeared in Monson. He said he found both to be peculiar cases.

Looking back, he said he believes the disappearance of the Monson woman may have been a scam. It made no sense that the woman would move to Monson, where she had no relatives and no car. She opened a checking account and when the money ran out, she disappeared, he said.

As for the lawyer's whereabouts, Zamboni said only that the man had "issues" in his personal life that could have caused him to assume another identity.

The intrigue the cases held over the years made his job interesting, Zamboni said.

"It's such a huge part of your life 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it's going to take a while to disconnect," he said.

NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.