On the morning of August 8, 1943, three gunshots rang out across Clear Lake, a wilderness pond in Maine’s Allagash region. Members of the posse combing the dense surrounding forest stopped in their tracks. They were game wardens, state troopers, sheriffs’ deputies, rangers, and guides, and they knew that three rifle reports in the Maine woods usually meant a hunter was lost or in distress.
For more than two months, the men had been hunting the “Phantom of the Allagash,” a bearded bogeyman who haunted the north woods carrying a pack basket, an ax, and a shotgun he wasn’t afraid to use. Officials believed the man was, as a state-police bulletin put it, “a nervous, high-strung type who may be close to insanity . . . a very dangerous character [who] will shoot on sight.”
The search had been a slog through some of the most remote, blackfly-infested reaches of the eastern U.S., the wild lakes country where the southeastern sweep of the Allagash River drainage melds into what’s now the northwest corner of Baxter State Park. The men had spent weeks away from their families, clawing through thickets, plagued by unrelenting heat and bugs, scouring the forest floor for clues. All the while, they looked over their shoulders, knowing the phantom had already killed once and had fired shots at others.