Robert “Bobby” Desmond’s case is the oldest on the Maine State Police Unsolved Missing Persons case list but his story has never been told. Detective Steve Borst of the Kennebunk Police Department is reigniting the decades-old investigation for an 11-year old boy gone missing in 1964 and nearly forgotten.
Through interviews with surviving family members, limited archival news sources, and other investigative resources, Detective Borst is learning more about the life of Bobby Desmond and what could have happened to him all those years ago.
Someone, somewhere may have that one key piece of information that inches this case closer to closure than it’s ever been.
I’m Kylie Low and this is the case of Robert “Bobby” Desmond on Dark Downeast.
If you have any information on the disappearance of Bobby Desmond, please contact the Kennebunk Police Department at 207-985-6121 or the Maine State Police – Major Crimes Unit – South at 207-624-7076.
This episode contains descriptions of child abuse. Please listen with care.
At the time of this episode’s original release date in September 2022, no one has been charged or convicted of any crimes as it relates to the 1964 disappearance of Robert Desmond.
A Case Almost Forgotten
It was 2018 when a local woman approached Kennebunk Police Chief Robert McKenzie with a faded old newspaper clipping from the 70s. On the front of the page was a story about her father and his athletic excellence at Kennebunk High School, but that’s not why she was contacting the police.
“On the reverse side of that newspaper article there was a headline about, more or less, whatever happened to the missing kid from Kennebunk?” Detective Borst continued, “And she didn’t know anything about it. And she read about it through that article and then reached out to the chief and just said, hey, there’s not a lot of people that talk about this in town. Maybe with the advancement of technology and things like that today, maybe you guys should take a fresh look at it.”
Detective Steve Borst has worked in investigations for the bulk of his 27 years in law enforcement. He started his career as a summer cop during college in 1991 and knew it was exactly what he wanted to do with his life. He’s investigated burglaries and assaults, worked with the Maine State Police Drug Enforcement Agency on narcotics investigations, and most recently, Detective Borst was tapped for a secret service task force that looks into cyber fraud and related crimes.
Though he’d been an investigator for nearly three decades and spent that time in Kennebunk and surrounding communities, Steve was not immediately familiar with the case of Robert Desmond. But he wasn’t alone on that.
“My chief didn’t know about it. I mean, we have two other cold or unsolved cases here in town that do have a lot more notoriety or a lot more awareness on it — and those are Mary Olenchuk and Mary Ellen Tanner — but nobody in town really seem to know about Bobby Desmond,” Detective Borst explained.
He chuckled as he told me, “The Chief asked me to take a look at it, so when the chief asks you to take a look at something, that’s what you do.”
The Early Investigation
With that, Detective Borst dove into the case, beginning just like he would on any other.
“Normally, I think when you get a request like that, if you were to ask to take a fresh look at some other case, the first stop would be to get that case file from whoever did it, whether it be in your own agency, outside agency, state agency, and look to see what was done, what wasn’t done, what could we do differently today?” Detective Borst explained.
But his renewed investigation started way further behind than he could have anticipated.
“I reached out to somebody from the Attorney General’s office only to find out, I mean, it kind of crushed me when she said that the case had been closed, archived and destroyed,” he continued, “There was no case file to go over. There were no notes, no interviews, no idea of what they had or didn’t have for evidence. So it’s starting from square one.”
Nothing. It’s frustrating to hear, but it’s also not unheard of for case files to be destroyed after an investigation has been closed. Low solvability, low chance of prosecution, all key parties deceased… Whatever the reason, the files were gone.
So where to begin when you have nothing and over 50 years have passed?
“You start from scratch,” Steve said matter-of-factly. “It would be almost like if had happened today. So it was, who is he? Who are his parents, who are his siblings, who were his neighbors, and the things that you would normally today, I’m trying to take that for something that happened in the sixties. So it was extremely discouraging because there was nothing to help me.”
The First Steps
One of Detective Borst’s first objectives was to assemble a family tree in hopes of understanding who was in the home when Bobby lived there and if any of those family members are still alive today. Speaking with family would be key to understanding what the home life was like and if anyone remembered anything that could set the renewed investigation off in any strong direction.
Detective Borst sent me the stack of newspaper clippings that served as the sole information source at the beginning of his investigation. There are a handful of stories printed in the Biddeford Saco Journal and Portsmouth Herald, among other publications, a majority of which were from 1976 – 12 years after Bobby apparently disappeared without a trace.
Although the articles were limited in detail and largely repeated the same few case facts, they did provide Detective Borst with the first key names in Bobby’s family tree: His mother, Alice Marden, and step-father, Chester Marden, called Chet.
With those two names, Detective Borst was able to identify several siblings of Bobby Desmond’s who were still alive. He found their contact information. And he picked up the phone.
That first call was challenging. I cannot begin to understand what that might have been like for the sibling on the other end of the line, picking up a call to hear a Detective speaking the name of your brother, missing some 55 years at that point. Steve told me he knew that the call struck a nerve and possibly resurfaced trauma that had long since been filed away.
The sibling gave Detective Borst his first clues as to what life was like for Bobby and the other kids in the home. How this sibling enlisted in the Air Force as soon as she was able and moved far away from home and the chaos there, never to look back.
After that first connection, Bobby’s sibling connected Detective Borst to another of Bobby’s relatives – a sister living in New England. She has a different name now, but I’ll be using her birth name at her request. Her name was Dawn Marden.
Episode Source Material
- Digging for youth’s body proving fruitless by Peter Kingsley, Biddeford Saco Journal, 14 July 1976
- Dig for missing boy will end, Biddeford Saco Journal, 11 Aug 1976
- Other sources were provided to Dark Downeast by Detective Steve Borst, including original investigative documents.