The Thayne Ormsby I knew

By John Frary | Jul 14, 2010
Courtesy of: John Frary John Frary (center, in hat) and Senator Susan Collins (right) at a campaign event. On the left, in front of the open flag, is Frary's aide, Thayne Ormsby.

I've given shelter to a number of strays over the years, not all feline. Some had pretty exotic personalities. All the same, I was surprised to learn last week that an individual I'd sheltered under my roof had been charged by police with having butchered two men and a 10-year-old boy up in the County.

During my campaign for Congress in 2008 I acquired three live-in aides, all of whom qualified as homeless. Adam had been a cop in Prince Georges County, Md., until he left to escape chronic depression. Anyone who has watched "The Wire" on TV will understand this. He couldn't watch the series because it was too reminiscent of his experience in uniform.

He had taken a construction job in Baltimore, but found the promiscuous use of the N-word by his redneck colleagues intolerable. His mother, who was visiting me at the time, suggested he quit and come to Maine for the campaign. So he abandoned his apartment in inner-city Baltimore, turned his meager possessions over to a girlfriend, and found shelter in one of my spare bedrooms between August and November 2008.

Chris had been sleeping on the kitchen floor of his sister's apartment in Old Town when his father suggested that he might be interested in my campaign. He gave me a call. I had him checked out and then added him to my household. The lad was practically an anthropomorphic computer peripheral and spent most of his life in cyberspace, but when he was given a concrete assignment he performed brilliantly and was capable of working 10 hours straight.

Then there was Thayne Ormsby. Being an old guy, senile and confused, I can't remember exactly how he came into the picture. He had been living with some people over in Industry until he had a falling-out because he was way behind on his share of the rent. He had a home of sorts in Ellsworth, but it was not a happy one. He sometimes spoke with disdain of his "two mommies."

Their fondness for the bottle, their chaotic style of life, and their friends all seemed to disgust him. Yet when I visited their household, there seemed to be ties of genuine affection.

Anyway he qualified as fully homeless: no money, no job and no home. I provided room, board and a little pocket money. He, in return, performed his campaign duties willingly and skillfully — handing out literature, "introducing" the candidate, driving me around without incident or accident. He took orders readily, bore a certain amount of sarcastic correction calmly and got along with the other two aides without friction.

When the campaign ended, Adam moved to Kentucky to complete his college education; Chris moved home to Auburn to enroll in college and Thayne resumed a life without direction or purpose. He lingered on at my place, moved out, returned. I put him in my brother's study back in the woods, Joseph having settled permanently and year-round in the Philippines. He mostly stayed out from underfoot, rendered some useful services from time to time, and made plans. These plans were not essentially impractical, but they took on the aspect of fantasy because he never acted on them.

One recurrent idea was joining the Marine Corps and eventually becoming an officer. Tired of his futile fantasizing, I persuaded him one day to let me drive him to the Marine recruiting office in West Farmington. The office was closed. Afterwards, he came up with a number of excuses and objections to joining up. So I let it drop. A pity. The Marine Corps might have known how to give his life direction.

He was polite to the point of obsequiousness. Mostly, he did what he was told without objection. Got along well with my cats. I took him along to St. Stephen's Traditional Anglican Church. He even officiated as an acolyte on several occasions. Some women described him as downright "chivalrous."

I detected no homicidal tendencies. Whenever he said something weird, I attributed it to the natural goofiness of the adolescent male entering manhood. I have no therapeutic talent or ambition. Angst bores me. When you are rapidly advancing on age 70, a realistic view of your future features senile decay and death. So when he spoke despairingly of his present and future, I felt bound to point out that his possibilities were far greater than mine.

He was in good health, had an excellent physique and was absurdly good-looking. His life was not such a blank. He had acquired some useful skills, was far less ignorant than most high school graduates, read quite a lot and was far from stupid. If, at the end of any given year, he could look back and see that he knew more, understood more and had developed some new skill then he could say he was progressing, even if he had no permanent job or residence.

In sum, I advised him to experiment with at least another 25 years of failures before giving up. Good advice. Useless advice.

We parted ways when I reprimanded him for overloading the washing machine for the second or third time. He brooded over this for some hours, then confronted me in my study, demanding to know whether I wanted him around. Silly question. Why would I want to have an 18-year-old around? Naturally I said no.

He mistook my frankness for a decree of expulsion and departed huffily. His absence was no great loss, his presence had been no great burden, if only he had learned not to overload the damn washing machine. In truth, I found him less annoying than most adolescents.

Perhaps if I were more empathetic and emotionally warmer things would have taken a different turn, but that is empty speculation. My personality took shape years ago. Empathy, when it does come, always catches me by surprise.

He needed a better friend than I, and he had two. Both worked harder to straighten him out and both had a clearer sense of the dark undercurrents. I had little more to offer than shelter and cold logic. As to the former, he gave about as good as he got — worked hard on the campaign and did the heavy lifting around the house.

I've spoken to some others who knew him since I wrote the account above. Two, independently of each other, pointed out some parallels with the movie, "The Talented Mr. Ripley." I had to think about that a bit before it made sense to me. Thayne once told me that he had had his first experience of sleeping between the sheets at my house. Even discounting for self-dramatization, this fit in with other bits and pieces he disclosed about his upbringing.

Yet he mingled easily with University of Maine, Farmington students and educated, affluent, middle-class people and displayed excellent manners. This ready adaptation to the people around him is the "Ripley" parallel. I begin to wonder if that cold, matter-of-fact confession Janet Mills told me about was not a new persona he was trying out.

I have no knowledge at all about the crowd he got into up in the County. The confused story emerging from that place suggests some pretty sinister influences.

The story coming out of Aroostook gets weirder and wilder. There's talk of a drug connection. I can supply a little testimony on that. There was never any weed smoke around my house. He didn't have the time, the money or the mobility to acquire narcotics while he was under my roof. If he developed any kind of addiction, it could only have been after we parted. The other details leave me completely baffled. The fact that I found Thayne so manageable makes me wonder if there wasn't some third-party management involved. But I can only wonder.

My last contact was a Facebook exchange a couple of weeks ago when I learned that he was living in the village of Orient and corrected his spelling of "Zeus." His other Facebook friends are departing in haste. Don't blame them, but I'll let the connection stand. I knew a mixed-up, immature adult named Thayne Ormsby. The alleged murderer Thayne Ormsby is a complete stranger.

If he is indeed guilty, I see no grounds for clemency. He didn't "make a mistake" or "make a bad decision."

He reportedly murdered two men in cold blood, then hunted a frightened 10-year-old down in his hiding place and slaughtered him. I've heard from our attorney general that his confession was cool and matter-of-fact. If remorse ever overtakes him, then he will have to recognize that a life sentence is just.

Given the average American "life sentence," he could face 25 years of constant direction. In that event, he will eat, sleep, exercise, consort with a bunch of lowlifes and fend off unwanted advances. The latter may involve mayhem of some kind. Suicide is a possibility. The only productive purpose in this empty existence is the making and re-making of Thayne Ormsby. He can read, think and, perhaps, write. I expect I'll send him some books.

Professor John Frary of Farmington, Maine is a former congressional candidate and retired history professor, a board member of Maine Taxpayers United and an associate editor of the International Military Encyclopedia, and can be reached at: jfrary8070@aol.com.

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