The Jon Pownall Story: Murder in Monument Square

Jon Pownall was a visionary. His photography and commercial work had been featured all over the world and in the summer of 1973, he was about to expand his creative career even further with a feature length film set and shot in his home state of Maine.

But just months into production of the new and exciting project, Jon Pownall was found dead in his Monument Square office in Portland. Why would anyone want him dead? As the investigation into his murder began, the motive for his death emerged, but the question of who was behind it all is one that still hasn’t been answered 50 years later.

Lynda Pownall-Carlson was only 16-years old when her father was killed. She’s on Dark Downeast to share her father’s story, all the complex and layered and shocking pieces of it. But most of all, she’s here to tell you the parts that were left out of the narrative back in 1973, the stories and memories that she holds onto all these years later.

About Jon Pownall

I first stumbled upon the story of Jon Pownall while researching another Maine case from the same year. I wrote his name down on my ever growing list of cases that I want to dig deeper into and a few weeks later, I started my initial research, combing through newspaper archives, searching for court documents, and trying to locate any surviving family members.

I was immediately surprised at just how much information I was finding in old copies of the Portland Evening Express and other local publications. Where I normally would find 20 or 30, maybe 40 articles published about a case from the 70s, I encountered hundreds of stories containing the name Jon Pownall and the details of his murder in Monument Square. I’d worked in Monument Square for years, I’d lived in Portland for even longer, and yet, I’d never heard of Jon’s case before.

From the get-go just looking at the source material I had, I knew this was going to be a complex case to cover. I also felt strongly that this particular story shouldn’t be told without speaking to a family member, if I could find one. Though I was flooded with details about the investigation and the trial proceedings, what the source material lacked was a full picture of who Jon Pownall was to the people who loved him most.

I learned through my research that Jon has a daughter named Lynda, and through some dare I say expert level social media sleuthing, I actually found Lynda. This was in early 2021. Dark Downeast was a little baby podcast at the time, but I messaged Lynda and she answered my message and was open to speaking with me further. And then life happened. Timing was never quite right for either of us, and though I checked in with Lynda periodically and she was always kind and responsive to my messages, literal years went by until suddenly it was the summer of 2023, and the 50 year anniversary of Jon Pownall’s murder approached.

In July of 2023, Lynda and I got on the phone together. I shared more about what I do and why I do it and Lynda shared with me how important it is to her to keep her father’s story and memory alive, even five decades later. She was ready to share his story, and hers, too. So, we put a time on the calendar for an interview. When we sat down and finally hit record, Lynda introduced me to her father, Jon Pownall, through her precious memories.

“Well, my father was a very outgoing character,” Lynda began, “You know, when he came into a room, people were aware of his presence, you know, he had just a robust presence in a room.”

“He was highly creative. He was not a guy that was sitting watching endless amounts of TV and not doing anything, you know, he was always thinking about something, how to create something, how to build something,” she told me.

When Jon was a pre-teen, he received his first camera as a gift from his mother. That camera gave way to his future talent and passion as he pursued a creative career in photography and filmmaking. He graduated from Sanford High in 1952 and pursued his associate degree in photographic chemistry at the Rochester Institute of Technology. That’s where he met the woman who became his wife, the mother of his children, and his teammate as they launched their own studio in Chicago.

“After they graduated from RIT, they went to Chicago and they were on their own, it was just the two of them. In 1954, my dad went to the University of Chicago to finish his degree and my mom worked. They were highly ambitious.”

After Jon completed his studies at the Institute of Design in Chicago, he actually couldn’t find a job. But always the self-starter with an entrepreneurial spirit – he’d even run his own fruit and vegetable truck business as a teenager – Jon open his own business with Jean and never worked another day for anyone but himself.

The pair setup shop in a three story brick building on West Armitage Avenue in Chicago, Illinois. The growing Pownall family lived on the third floor, and the basement, first, and second floors was where the creative magic happened. It was in that multi-use live-work space that Jon and Jean held their first big shoots for Life Magazine and Look Magazine.

Jon also shot photos for Playboy, even photographed a layout with centerfold model Avis Kimble, Miss November 1962. His photos were featured on the cover of Rogue Magazine. And soon, his still photography work evolved into directing TV commercials for big name clients like McDonalds, Wishbone Salad Dressing, Pabst Beer, Xerox Company, Oldsmobile, and more. Sometimes, the photoshoots and commercials required kids to model products and clothing.

Lynda smiled as she said, “And of course he used his kids for models. So we were always incorporated in some magazine or book.”

I asked Lynda if this unique upbringing – her father a director, their home a studio – ever struck her as unusual.

She explained, “See, I don’t know anything different than that, but it affected all three of us children. None of us really work well in the nine to five job routine. But when you live that, you don’t really know that that is so very different than the mainstream. Until you move to Maine, of course.”

Back in Maine

Jon’s creativity knew no bounds. He had endless ideas, and in the early 70s he expanded his work even further into feature length films. He directed and shot his very first movie titled “Goodbye Fat Larry” in 1970 and 1971.

It was never widely released, but Lynda is very familiar with the plot and characters her father dreamed up. It was about a woman who was trying to make her way in life, but didn’t like the one she was leading in Chicago, so she rented a big truck, packed up all her things, and moved out west to find herself and something new.

In order to make Goodbye Fat Larry, Jon Pownall had to put his commercial business on hold, which Lynda says created a sticky financial situation. On top of that, a separate business partnership with his brother in law wasn’t panning out the way he’d hoped. Living and working in Chicago didn’t fit into the plan anymore, and money aside, the Pownalls wanted a different, safer life for their kids. The family had to make some changes, and Jon and Jean decided to move back to Jon’s home state of Maine. Maine had always been a part of Lynda and her family’s summer ritual.

“My parents had a cottage there and we stayed there every summer,” Lynda reminisced, “So, every summer we’d go to Maine, Square Pond, we had a sandy beach front. It was great. Chicago in the winter, all those activities you could do, my friends for my whole life…and then I would have a friend come [to Maine with us] for the summer or however long they were allowed to come. You know, it was fun. But then one summer, we didn’t come back to Chicago.”

The family’s place of summer respite became their permanent home, much to teenage Lynda’s displeasure.

Planet 3 Films Ltd.

When you think of Jon Pownall’s line of work – Playboy photoshoots and producing commercials and making movies – Maine isn’t the first place that comes to mind. Although today the Maine Film Office and the Maine State legislature encourage film production with tax breaks under the Maine Visual Media Incentives, the Pine Tree State wasn’t exactly Hollywood’s up and coming rival in the 70s. Still, Jon Pownall’s dream persisted after he left Chicago, and he continued to pursue his filmmaking dreams once back in his home state.

“So he had experience with that one film. He realized what parts of it he didn’t want to do and what parts he did want to do from that experience. He did not want to run the company of finding financial people to back the movie. He wanted to be the creative part of designing the film, directing the film,” Lynda continued, “So his idea when he moved to Maine was that Portland would be a good hub for a movie company. New York City was not that far away, so his idea was to start a movie company, but not be part of the movie company.”

With his creative spirit and dreams intact, Jon set about finding the right people to fund his projects. Among those people was Joseph Castellucci. Castellucci would become a central figure in Jon Pownall’s silver screen ambitions, as well as Jon’s untimely death just as those ambitions were taking off.

Episode Source Material