John Joupert, at the age of just 6, fantasized about killing his baby sitter. When he was 11 or 12, John’s thoughts turned to strangling and stabbing boys, girls and young women.
Joubert acted on his impulses when he was a bookish high school junior in Portland – and got away with it for years. In a four-month period, he slashed a boy’s throat and stabbed a girl and a woman in separate, random attacks that terrorized the city’s Oakdale neighborhood.
Then, on Aug. 23, 1982, John Joubert abducted a boy he didn’t know on Baxter Boulevard and killed, apparently for the first time. He strangled 11-year-old Richard Stetson, stabbed him in the heart and bit him on the leg.
In a telephone interview from death row, Joubert admitted he killed the three boys and injured his three other victims in Portland. John Joubert said the boys he killed reminded him of himself when he was their ages.
John Joubert, 32, told the Maine Sunday Telegram he believes he started having the fantasies after he saw his father choke his mother when he was 4. As a teen-ager and young man, Joubert said, he started acting out his fantasies when he felt stress.
“I would act up,” John said. “And the Richard Stetson case was one such example of acting out.” He did not elaborate on what sort of stress triggered the attack.
Police believe John Joubert is the only serial killer ever to strike in Portland. He spent his formative years in the city developing a taste for sexual gratification through violence, authorities believe.
But John Joubert never stood out to many who knew him, and was perceived as a quiet, intelligent and nerdy youth with few friends. The contrast between how Joubert appeared and what he was actually like doesn’t surprise experts who have studied serial killers.
“They are not the Charles Manson types who people get scared of when they see them on the street,” said Peter Smerick, a retired FBI criminal profile specialist who worked in the agency’s Behavioral Science Unit in Quantico, Va. “They are the type of people who blend in and don’t draw attention to themselves.”
A Disturbing Portrait
It was only after the Nebraska killings that a disturbing portrait began to emerge about John Joubert, his fantasies and his life.
Psychiatric reports noted Joubert was raised in a broken home by a domineering mother who kept him from developing relationships with other children. John Joubert was also taunted about his small build from grade school to high school, according to the reports and interviews with classmates.
After his arrest, Joubert was ultimately diagnosed as having a mixed personality disorder with obsessive compulsive and schizoid traits. Though John Joubert vehemently denied it, psychiatrists also classified him as a latent homosexual. He told them he had never had sex.
No one knew Joubert was responsible for Stetson’s murder until after the Nebraska killings. Only then did police also conclude that John Joubert was the young man who rode around Oakdale on a 10-speed bicycle, prowling his newspaper delivery route for victims to hurt.
Joubert was returned to Maine, convicted of murdering Stetson in 1990 and sentenced to life in prison. But the governors of Maine and Nebraska had agreed he would be returned to Nebraska following his trial in Maine, which has no death penalty.
Now Joubert’s lawyers are making final efforts to spare his life. He has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but Nebraska state officials believe the execution would take place as planned.
“I’m just glad it’s almost over,” said Edward Stetson, Richard’s 67-year-old father, who lives in Portland’s West Bayside neighborhood. “When it happens, I’ll have the knowledge that my dead son’s killer has paid the price and won’t walk.”
Stetson doesn’t understand why John Joubert targeted his youngest son, a lively boy with red hair and freckles who loved playing baseball and basketball with other working-class kids from his neighborhood.
John Joubert said he regrets killing Stetson and hurting his three victims who survived the Portland attacks.
“I’m sorry for the loss of their son and what I did to the family,” Joubert said. “If people can find it in their hearts to forgive me, that’s all I ask for.”
The First Born
John Joubert was born on July 2, 1963, in Lawrence, Mass., the first child of Joseph and Beverly Joubert. Two years later, Joubert’s sister, Jane, was born. She would later become a Lewiston police officer.
Joubert could read when he was 3 and started checking books out of the library when he was 5. He has an IQ of 123, putting him in the superior range.
While Joubert’s parents managed a family restaurant in the gritty mill city, John Joubert attended parochial school and served as an altar boy.
Joubert and Brian LaBrecque, a childhood friend, were the smallest boys in their class and got picked on by bullies. From that bond, they formed a friendship. But LaBrecque said Joubert was a shy, smart boy who never showed any signs that he wanted to get back at the bullies.
It was during this period that Joubert’s disturbing fantasies began, according to three psychiatric reports on Joubert prepared in 1984.
The Fantasies Began
When he was 6, John Joubert started fantasizing about killing his baby sitter. He didn’t seem to have anything against the girl, who lived across the street, describing her to one psychiatrist as “just someone to kill.”
Later, Joubert’s thoughts turned to killing strangers he saw on the streets and people he knew. In the fantasies, Joubert would stab or strangle his victims, tying and gagging those who struggled.
He fantasized victims saying, “If you’re going to do it, do it and get it over with,” one of the reports said.
John Joubert told the Telegram that he now believes he knows what caused his fantasies. Several months ago, Joubert said, he started asking his mother and sister whether he saw or experienced anything that could have caused the fantasies.
For the first time, Joubert said, his mother told him that he saw her being choked by his father until she passed out when he was 4. John Joubert does not remember such an incident.
He said he and a therapist believe the fantasies were an escape valve for him to forget the episode of family violence and other family arguments that he apparently saw. From that point, Joubert said, he began to have the fantasies when under any sort of stress.
“I would think these thoughts, and that would relieve the tension,” Joubert said. “I have learned that it made me feel better, and as I grew up it became a habit.”
Joubert’s mother lives in Alaska, and his sister also lives outside Maine. Neither responded to interview requests made through Joubert’s lawyer. Attempts to reach Joubert’s father, still believed to live in the Lawrence area, were unsuccessful.
After the fantasies began, Joubert’s home life became more tumultuous. His parents divorced when he was 8, and he moved to Portland with his mother and sister when he was 11. The family settled in a two-family home in the middle-class Oakdale neighborhood. Joubert’s mother worked as a bookkeeper.
The parents continued to argue about where John Joubert would live, according to a psychiatric report prepared by Dr. David Kentsmith.
Joubert told psychiatrists he rode his bicycle to visit his father in Lawrence several times because his mother would not give him travel money. Kentsmith also wrote that Joubert’s mother belittled him, spanked him until he was 12, ridiculed his father and never approved of Joubert’s friends.
He had little success with relationships in school. John Joubert told another psychiatrist that he “was a small kid with a funny last name.” Some of his classmates called him “Jujube,” a former teacher told the Telegram in 1990.
Joubert said that he believes the ages of the boys he killed was significant, because he was an unhappy child between ages 11 and 13. Targeting boys of that age, he said, was in a way like targeting himself.
“I was repressed, I felt like I had no control of myself, and I imagine I was very angry at myself for allowing this to happen,” he said.
The Paper Route
At age 12, John Joubert started delivering newspapers in his neighborhood, a job he would keep until he was 17. With that money and cash earned from summer jobs, Joubert paid his tuition at Cheverus High School, Portland’s all-boys Catholic secondary school.
Joubert was in a scouting troop, went on camping trips and briefly played trumpet in a school brass ensemble. But he spent much of his time alone, listening to his stereo in his room or building model airplanes. He never dated.
John Joubert took honors courses, excelling in English and history, said Stuart Tisdale Jr., one of his teachers at Cheverus. He maintained a 2.75 grade point average and ran indoor track.
But he was constantly chided for being one of the smallest members of his class, said James Ciampi, a former classmate. Joubert took the taunting personally and became defensive. “It must have been a painful experience for him to go to school every day,” Ciampi said.
Escalation of Rage
Classmates had no idea of the escalating rage that gripped John Joubert during a four-month period in his junior year. It would be years before police would identify Joubert as the man responsible for a series of random attacks in the same neighborhood where John delivered the Telegram and the now-defunct Evening Express.
At 4:05 p.m. on Dec. 12, 1979, 6-year-old Sarah Canty dropped a football outside her house at Oakdale and Dartmouth streets. As she bent to pick it up, a young man on a green, 10-speed bicycle rode behind her and stabbed her in the back with a pencil or a screwdriver. Then he rode on, according to police reports. Crying, Sarah ran inside her house. Underneath her jacket, shirt and undershirt was a quarter-inch puncture wound.
About six weeks later, on Jan. 24, 1980, Vicky Goff, 27, was walking on Deering Avenue at 7:15 p.m., heading to a creative writing class at the University of Southern Maine. When a young man walked by her, Goff said ‘Hi’ to him. Moments later, a hand came over her mouth from behind and Goff felt like she’d been punched in the side.
Goff recalled falling down, standing up and yelling, “Why’d you do that?” to the young man as he ran away. Goff saw blood and realized she had been stabbed with a knife. She had surgery for a punctured kidney at Maine Medical Center and spent a week recovering in the hospital.
Two months to the day after Goff was stabbed, on March 24, a third-grade student was walking on Deering Avenue when a young man with a 10-speed bicycle beckoned the boy to come closer. The man asked Michael Witham, 9, who he was and where he was going. Then Witham looked away for a moment and was slashed in the throat with an X-acto knife. Michael ran home bleeding. It took 12 stitches to close the 2-inch wound.
The crimes shocked the normally peaceful neighborhood. School officials told children not to walk home alone. One parents’ group considered offering a reward for information leading to the arrest of the man who stabbed Michael Witham.
Goff, who had recently moved to Portland when she was stabbed, left the city with her husband four months after she was attacked.
“I really did like Portland a lot,” she said. “But I didn’t want to stay after that.”
The Attacks Stopped
The attacks stopped as suddenly as they had started.
John Joubert graduated from Cheverus in 1981. In the fall, he attended Norwich University, a small military college in Northfield, Vt.
Joubert, studying engineering, didn’t do well at school but appeared to make friends for the first time. He also experimented with alcohol and marijuana but told psychiatrists that he didn’t like how they made him feel.
Enjoying his new-found college freedom, John Joubert completed only 10 credits at Norwich. Then he couldn’t find work in the summer of 1982. So he enlisted in the Air Force in August – the same month that Richard Stetson’s body was found near Tukey’s Bridge.
Richard told his parents at 7:45 p.m. on Aug. 23 that he was going jogging around Back Cove. “Be careful,” his father told him. “Don’t go too far.”
Witnesses saw Stetson running around the cove’s jogging path. They said he appeared to be accompanied by a young man riding a 10-speed bicycle.
Here We Go Again
The next morning, a woman discovered Richard’s bloody body in a patch of grass off Baxter Boulevard. He had been strangled and stabbed once in the chest. Slashes on Richard’s right calf covered a bite mark.
A Westbrook man was indicted on a charge of murdering Stetson, but prosecutors dropped the charges against Joseph W. Anderson, then 24, because the bite mark on Richard’s leg didn’t match Anderson’s teeth.
Joubert was long gone from Maine by then. He went into the Air Force four months after Stetson was murdered, trained as a radar technician and was stationed at Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, Neb.
In Nebraska, he pored over pictures in True Detective magazine, fascinated by pictures that showed terrified women.
John Joubert soon started setting his alarm for 6:30 a.m. daily, waking up to decide whether he would go look for a victim. Most mornings he shut off the alarm and went back to sleep.
But on Sept. 18, 1983, John Joubert abducted Danny Joe Eberle, 13, as the boy started his Sunday morning paper route in Bellevue. Joubert tied the boy’s hands and feet, put tape on his mouth and drove him to a rural area a few miles from the Air Force base. John stabbed Danny Joe 11 times. His body was found three days later.
On Dec. 2 of that year, 12-year-old Christopher Walden, another Bellevue boy, disappeared on his way to school. The boy’s body, also stabbed repeatedly, was found in a grove of trees three days later.
The killings horrified local residents, but John Joubert wasn’t caught until he almost struck again. On Jan. 11, 1984, he accosted a church nursery school director and threatened to kill her. The woman ran away and memorized the license plate on Joubert’s car. Officers found Joubert at the base. He confessed to the killings of the two Nebraska boys.
John Joubert told authorities that he was glad police caught him, because he probably would have killed again.
Joubert said that he now knows he would never kill again, even if he could get out of jail, because he has found the reason for his fantasies. He said he finds comfort in finding a reason that explains why he killed, but is amazed at how “trivial” that reason is compared with the horrific nature of the crimes.
He said he fears dying and periodically imagines himself being led to the electric chair, but tries to put those thoughts out of his head.
“I suppose I’m dealing with it in the way that anyone would deal with a death before their time, like a 32-year-old terminally ill person who is hoping for a transplant,” Joubert said.
He said he spends his time reading, lifting weights and helping his lawyers with the legal efforts to have his sentence changed to life in prison with no chance of parole.
John Joubert said, both his mother and sister visited. He said his mother has decided not to witness the execution and that he hopes his sister won’t watch it either.
John Joubert’s Criminal History
John J. Joubert IV, scheduled to be executed in Nebraska, terrorized Portland’s Oakdale neighborhood 16 years ago with a series of random attacks. Then he murdered a Portland boy. Joubert joined the Air Force and was stationed in Nebraska, where he killed two more boys before he was caught. Here’s a history of Joubert’s crimes:
Dec. 12, 1979: Sarah Canty, playing outside her parent’s home at Oakdale and Dartmouth streets, is stabbed in the back with a screwdriver or a pencil by a bicyclist who rides on. The 6-year-old is treated for a quarter-inch puncture wound.
Jan. 24, 1980: Vicky Goff, 27, is walking on Deering Avenue to the University of Southern Maine when a young man attacks her from behind, putting his hand over her mouth and stabbing her in the side with a knife. The man runs away. Goff, bleeding, gets medical assistance at USM. She has surgery for a punctured kidney.
March 24, 1980: Michael Witham, 9, is beckoned to a wooded area along Deering Avenue by a young man with a bicycle. The man asks Witham a few questions, then slashes his throat. Witham runs away bleeding and receives 12 stitches to close the 2-inch wound.
Aug. 23, 1982: Richard Stetson, 11, goes jogging on Baxter Boulevard. He is strangled, stabbed and bitten on the leg. A woman finds his bloody body the next morning in a patch of grass near Tukey’s Bridge.
Sept. 18, 1983: Danny Joe Eberle, 13, is abducted as he starts his Sunday morning paper route in Bellevue, Neb. The child is driven to a rural area and repeatedly stabbed.
Dec. 2, 1983: Christopher Walden, 12, disappears on his way to school in Bellevue, Neb. The boy’s body, repeatedly stabbed, is found in a grove of trees three days later.
Jan. 11, 1984: A church nursery school director is accosted in Bellevue by a man who threatens to kill her. The woman runs away but memorizes the license plate number of the man’s car. Police trace it to Joubert. He confesses to the Nebraska killings and admits years later to killing Stetson.
John’s final words to the world – “Again, I am sorry for what I have done. I do not know if my death will change anything or if it will bring anyone peace. I want to ask the families . . . to forgive me.”
John Joubert was executed on July 17th in 1996 in the state of Nebraska.