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An American Outrage

Main Street in Quillifarkeag, Maine

Night falls up here to the haunting call of unseen loons on the lakes and ponds that are everywhere in this part of northern Maine. It is a lonely sound, as though nature had worked hard to define sadness and had come close in the unforgettable cry of that bird. Nearby, the careworn homes of St. Antoine de Plupart bear human witness to that sadness. This is a rough town of good people who are not strangers to desperation, though it is safe to say that the events of last night will test their fortitude.

Some miles from here is the home of one Ellen DeLay, a reclusive woman in her forties, about whom, so it is said, there were always stories - tales of a sort that led people to question her sanity, or just tales of a woman who'd had enough of life in its conventional sense, who opted out and took to the woods.

Last night this Ellen DeLay was shot and killed by four police officers who stormed her small house. Early police reports have it that she, herself, fired a weapon at some fishermen who were near her home. As the officers, responding to a complaint from the fishermen, approached her house they were met with gunfire. Nearly two-hundred rounds of ammunition were expended in the gun battle ....

Corky Crepiter, Maine Public Radio, August 13, 1994

A little west of downtown Quilli.

"...the saddest thing I think I've ever seen."

Joe DeLay in a letter to his wife, Ellen

"So I stretch myself thin atop dirty dreams, which of course aren't all that dirty even though they keep coming out, just hold me, feel me, love me, talk to me, be right here beside me when I wake and let's have coffee at three in the afternoon. I only wish I could say this really pretty because I think my thoughts right now are up there with the great people.

"Maybe you just don't want to hear my words anymore, you're beyond words and that's dangerous, and you're beyond me, which is probably not hard to do, so all right, Ellen, all right I suppose. Maybe I'm not the jewel I could think I am. I am certainly not the success I always wanted to be, and I even used to be better-looking, so I'm not sure what compelling promise I could lay before you other than saying there isn't anybody on the earth who has been with you longer than this Joe here (me), who truly knows you and knows all the things you're always trying to break out of and why it's good that you try to do that and I think that's something, honestly I do, something of value in a world gone cheap to where it seems like every single thing that's done is planned and plotted and scripted and a man's instincts and a woman's intuitions have been laughed away, a person, one link to other links, to other times and good times, where it's the people who are with you who carry you into tomorrow and without them you hang and all the days are like all the days. I think to myself I'm the fantasy, I'm the dream and I can do it for you because there isn't anything else I'm here for and you don't want it, Ellen, you don't want me and you don't want tomorrow and today doesn't seem all that wonderful and all of that's a sad thing, the saddest thing I think I've ever seen."