TREMONT, Maine (AP) — Lamenting that society would never forgive him for his crimes, Thomas Varnum shot himself to death — just two days after authorities told his neighbors he was a convicted sex offender.
Varnum’s New Year’s Eve suicide at age 31 came as Maine’s Legislature prepared to consider proposals that would strengthen the state’s sex-offender notification and registration law.
Sally Sutton of the Maine Civil Liberties Union hopes lawmakers include Varnum in their discussions.
“Our public officials need to think about the implications of these laws,” said Sutton. “When we talk about public safety, we’re talking about the safety of these offenders as well.”
Hancock County Sheriff William Clark, who made the decision to tell the public about Varnum’s past, holds a different view.
“It’s too bad it ended this way, but I would rather have Tom Varnum as the only victim in this case than three or four or five boys in the town of Tremont,” Clark said.
Varnum was convicted in 1993 of molesting two 9-year-old boys in the Bath area. He served almost four years of a 12-year sentence, and was released in June 1996 to begin a six-year probation.
After living in the Bangor area, he got a construction job last summer in Tremont, 25 miles south of Ellsworth, and rented a one-bedroom garage apartment in October.
Later that month, state officials notified the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department that he was a convicted sex offender.
Clark recalled at least eight other cases in which his department has learned a convicted sex offender was living in the county.
The department had never before taken the extreme step of notifying the community, but in this case, Clark said, the ages of the two victims and Varnum’s lack of ties to the community “truly jumped out at us.”
On Dec. 29 a deputy began knocking on doors along Varnum’s road.
Varnum learned about the notifications from his landlord, Timothy Butler, and drove to Ellsworth to buy a 12-gauge shotgun and a bottle of rum.
In a tape-recorded suicide note left at Butler’s door, Varnum talked about not being able to live in a world where there was no forgiveness. Butler said he rushed to Varnum’s apartment, but was too late.
Maine’s notification law, like most others, is rooted in the rape and murder of 7-year-old Megan Kanka in Trenton, N.J., in 1994 by her neighbor, a convicted child molester.
Maine is now one of 41 states with versions of Megan’s Law permitting community notifications of a convicted child molester’s whereabouts. All 50 states have enacted laws requiring registration of sex offenders.
Portland Police Chief Michael Chitwood, a vocal supporter of the notification laws, doesn’t get too worked up about Varnum’s death.
“My role is to protect the children,” said Chitwood, whose officers have notified residents seven times in the past three years that a convicted child molester was living in their neighborhoods.