WINTER HARBOR — Phil Torrey’s house has been much quieter the past couple of weeks since his dog Franky died.
“You don’t get over it. The thoughts don’t go away. Every day you get to your door and he’s not running up to meet you. Every night he used to sleep on the bed with me. Now he’s not there,” says Torrey.
Franky, Torrey and the town of Winter Harbor are at the heart of a bizarre case involving a burglary, a car theft and, ultimately, the death of a beloved pet.
It began on Aug. 24 when Torrey, in New Hampshire for a concert, became aware of some suspicious activity at his house. Torrey’s sister told him his Hummer looked vandalized and his dog Franky was missing.
When Torrey returned to Winter Harbor, he couldn’t find his dog. He alerted police on Aug. 26. Four days later, the body of a dog wrapped in several layers of plastic washed ashore 15 miles away, on a private beach that just happened to belong to Hancock County District Attorney Matt Foster.
Within 48 hours, arrest warrants had been issued for two men, Nathan Burke, 37, of Hancock and Justin Chipman, 22, of Steuben and Winter Harbor.
The two men turned themselves in to the Hancock County Jail on Sept. 4. Burke was released on $1,000 bail, while Chipman, already on administrative release for a terrorizing conviction earlier this year, remained in custody.
Burke and Chipman were no strangers to Torrey. In fact, he had considered them to be his friends. Both had worked on his lobster boat, Burke as his sternman.
“It’s hard to fathom,” says Torrey. “It’s such a heinous, evil thing to do, and the fact that it’s two people you know really blows your mind.”
While there has been some speculation that both Burke and Chipman may have had issues with Franky, Torrey says he saw no indication of this in the days leading up to Franky’s death.
“We had hauled our traps a couple of days before this happened, and the day before Nate was asking if we needed to work on our gear,” says Torrey. “He offered to come down and hang out while me and my son Simon hauled his traps. It’s just such an odd thing, you know?”
Torrey first saw Franky as a pup six years ago.
“My girlfriend at the time was showing me pictures of these dogs,” says Torrey. “They were ‘bugs’ — half pug, half Boston terrier. That’s what Franky was.”
For three years, Franky lived with Torrey and his girlfriend, as well as Torrey’s English bulldog Budget. When that relationship ended, Franky ended up with his former girlfriend, but Torrey soon saw a picture of his dog on the Facebook page of a local animal shelter. He wasted no time in picking up Franky.
“When I first picked him up he was a little skittish. When he saw the Hummer he started getting a little excited, and when I put him in the back seat he saw Budget and was going nuts,” says Torrey.
From then on, Franky was often by Torrey’s side, whether it was on his couch watching a movie or in his yard working on fishing gear.
Winter Harbor Police Chief Danny Mitchell says that the incident has touched a nerve in the town.
“Overall, the reaction here has been disbelief that someone could do this,” Mitchell says. “A lot of people consider pets family, so this is like taking a family member out of their home.”
Those reactions aren’t just confined to Winter Harbor, though. The incident quickly gained notoriety through social media. People contacted Torrey from across the country.
“It became such a huge thing,” says Torrey. “For a while I was getting 60 to 70 messages a day. It’s pretty touching, that this dog has brought that many people together.”
In addition to the outpouring of condolences, Torrey says he’s also received offers from breeders for a new dog. For someone not used to being in the spotlight, it can feel a little overwhelming.
“If you’re working on the water all day you can manage to get it off your mind, then you come into the harbor and there’s a couple of camera crews waiting and you’re back in the reality of it,” says Torrey.
Still, Torrey says he hopes to set up a fund to honor Franky. Perhaps a cookout or a lobster bake to collect donations for local animal shelters.
For law enforcement, the case is ongoing.
“Right now we are working pulling our evidence together and working closely with the District Attorney’s Office,” says Mitchell.
For Torrey, he says he simply wants to see justice for Franky.
“You look for the day to be over, but its stressful thinking about what the outcome will be,” Torrey says. “You just want to get some closure and move on.”