Chewing Gum and Cigarettes: Solving the Case of Blanche Kimball

He approached the man leaning against a building on the 4200 block of University Way Northwest in Seattle, Washington. To anyone casually glancing over at the interaction, it would’ve appeared random. Inconsequential. Nothing to note. It was an area known for criminal activity, but this was benign. Just a simple cigarette and chewing gum survey – any takers would earn $5 for their participation.

Except the survey had ulterior motives, and the man armed with three packs of cigarettes and three packs of gum didn’t work for any distributor of the two products. He was a plainclothes detective executing a creative plan to collect the evidence authorities needed to close out an unsolved Maine homicide case from 35 years in the past. He only hoped that the sole participant in the survey was game to make 5 bucks. 

The murder of 70-year old Augusta resident Blanche Kimball in 1976 remained a cold case for decades until a new tip, new DNA technology, and a clever idea brought all the loose ends together.

About Blanche Kimball

70-year old Blanche Kimball lived in Augusta, Maine in 1976. She was three years retired from her job at Togus Veterans Administration Center, where she worked as a dental technician and practical nurse. 

Much of Blanche’s life is a mystery. She was born in Albany, Maine to her parents Elliott and Fannie Bell. Blanche never married and had no children. I get the sense that Blanche had a small family – a sibling who passed away in 1916, a half sister born when Blanche was 10 years old, and two aunts with a handful of cousins who lived out of state as of the 1970s.

Blanche lived on State Street in Augusta, a stretch that is now lined with gas stations and car dealerships and a few apartment buildings on either side of the four-lane road. The Kennebec Journal described Blanche Kimball’s home as a large two-floor wooden frame house, though it was leveled years ago and the land paved into a parking lot. But in 1976, Blanche lived alone in that big house, though she was known to rent rooms to temporary boarders on occasion. 

The neighbors kept an eye on Blanche’s comings and goings, as neighbors do. In mid-June of 1976, those neighbors started to realize they hadn’t seen the retired woman who lived next door for days. Maybe even weeks. In fact, the last time anyone saw Blanche Kimball was Memorial Day weekend. It had been nearly two weeks since Blanche had come or gone from her State Street home. Concerned, the neighbors called police to check in on Blanche.


It was June 12, 1976 when Augusta Detective Sergeant Kerryl Clement knocked on the front door of 352 State Street in Augusta, announcing himself to whoever might be inside. Knock-pause-listen. He repeated the pattern several times, but with each knock came the same response. Silence. 

He jiggled the knob to see if it had been left unlocked – an unlocked front door in central Maine in the mid-70s would not have been unusual. But with just a quick half-turn of the handle, Detective Clement found the door locked from the inside. He knocked one more time before deciding that force was the only way into Miss Kimball’s home. 

The home was in what he described as general disarray. Messy, unkempt maybe, but it was impossible for him to tell if that was out of the ordinary for Blanche Kimball. But as he wound through the first floor rooms and into the kitchen and living space, Detective Clement knew he wasn’t dealing with just a messy house.

70-year old Blanche Kimball had been dead for several days when Detective Clement found her there on the floor, shards of glass scattered around her and blood spatter on the kitchen cabinets. She’d apparently been stabbed, but investigators would have to wait for the autopsy to confirm exactly what happened to Miss Kimball. One thing was clear, though. They had a homicide investigation on their hands.

Blanche Kimball’s story continues on Dark Downeast. Press play on the episode wherever you get your favorite podcasts.

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