2014-07-11 / Front Page

A walk for remembering

By Alex Acquisto
Staff Writer


More than 30 friends, family members and acquaintances of Mary Ellen Tanner gathered in Rotary Park Monday, July 7 to remember the 36th anniversary of Tanner’s murder. Tanner, who was 18, was last seen on the evening of July 7, 1978 near the park after spending a night with friends. It is believed she tried to hitchhike home. 
(Alex Acquisto photo) More than 30 friends, family members and acquaintances of Mary Ellen Tanner gathered in Rotary Park Monday, July 7 to remember the 36th anniversary of Tanner’s murder. Tanner, who was 18, was last seen on the evening of July 7, 1978 near the park after spending a night with friends. It is believed she tried to hitchhike home. (Alex Acquisto photo) KENNEBUNK — “We were going to be seniors together,” Kristen Parker said while standing under the gazebo at Rotary Park Monday, July 7. “We grew up together.”

Parker and more than 30 others gathered in the park under dissipating storm clouds to remember the last time 36 years ago to the day, their friend, sister and student, Mary Ellen Tanner, was seen alive.

Walking Mary Home was a way to symbolically take the journey Tanner attempted to make nearly 40 years ago. It is believed that near Rotary Park, on the bridge that carries the road across the Kennebunk River, Tanner, who was 18 in 1978, attempted to hitch a ride to her family’s home on Cat Mousam Road after socializing with friends.


Walking Mary Home participants fastened lilac ribbons to trees on the property where Mary Ellen Tanner used to live with her family on Cat Mousam Road in Kennebunk. Tanner was murdered at 18 in 1978 and her killer(s) were never apprehended. As a symbolic gesture to walk Tanner home — the place she was trying to get on July 7,1978 — friends and family took the journey for her on Monday, the 36th anniversary of her death. 
(Alex Acquisto photo) Walking Mary Home participants fastened lilac ribbons to trees on the property where Mary Ellen Tanner used to live with her family on Cat Mousam Road in Kennebunk. Tanner was murdered at 18 in 1978 and her killer(s) were never apprehended. As a symbolic gesture to walk Tanner home — the place she was trying to get on July 7,1978 — friends and family took the journey for her on Monday, the 36th anniversary of her death. (Alex Acquisto photo) Her body was found July 9 in Gracie Evans Airfield, partially clothed and beaten. Her murderer(s) are still unknown.

Participants were each given a lilac ribbon — Mary’s favorite color — to tie to a tree at the family’s old property once they completed their journey.

As friends and family gathered, some wearing their Justice for Mary T-shirts, they shared memories they had of Tanner. “I lived at the top of the hill and she lived at the bottom. We used to sit on our stone wall and watch cars go by,” Parker said. “We did baton together. Her family had a screen porch on the front of their house and we used to sleep out there in the summer.”

“It’s just very hard to believe, still,” Parker said, shaking her head. “It’s not that I think about her every day, but she’s always there. When I drive to visit my mom, I pass by where Tanner’s old house used to be. I look at my old yearbooks and see her writing.”

Parker was with Tanner on the night of July 7, 1978. It was just like any normal summer night, she said. “We went to the dump quarry, to the beach. But she didn’t make it home.”

Tim Ames, a longtime family friend of the Tanner family, spoke to the crowd before the walk began. He said the dictionary defines home as one’s place of residence, a place where something normally or naturally lives or is located, or the social unit formed by a family living together. “Home is where the lilacs bloom ...” Ames said. “We will walk as if it’s 1978 and we are walking Mary to the safety of her home.”

Tanner’s older brother, Charlie, who lives in Portland, told the crowd, “I knew she wasn’t forgotten, but this really proves it.”

The former site of the Tanner family home is at the bottom of a hill, nestled at the base of where Cat Mousam Road begins to rise over the Maine Turnpike. The house was torn down several years ago. All that remains are thickets and young trees, the only physical reminders that indicate a structure stood there in the not-toodistant past.

Some walked the one and a half miles quietly, to reflect, others continued reminiscing about happy memories.

Francine Tanguay, a family friend of the Tanners, remembers when she was younger, she and her friends used to hang out everywhere around Kennebunk with ease. “Everyone looked out for everyone, and all the parents knew the kids. There was no reason to be scared.”

The walk was made more difficult by the muggy weather. Many residents emerged from their houses to say hello to people they knew walking, or to hand walkers water and popsicles.

The walk to the property on Cat Mousam Road took about 40 minutes. Friends and family were greeted by a bagpiper who stood at the edge of the Tanners old property. Each person walked quietly into the woods and tied their ribbon to a tree or a branch while the music played. Some cried, some stood quietly and looked at the sky, others smiled and exclaimed that Tanner would have loved this.

Both of Tanner’s parents have now died. The only family members present were Charlie and Tanner’s younger sister, Gail Tanner. Parker said that when Tanner’s father, Charles, died in 1996 and then her mother, Shirley died in 2011, it was heartbreaking to think that both of them passed away without ever having known who killed their child.

“My saving grace,” Parker said, “is that her mom and dad are both with her in heaven, and that now they finally know.”

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