New Sharon Domestic Violence Killing Was Third For Family
Groups working to prevent domestic violence in Maine hope that the recent murder-suicide of a couple in the Franklin County town of New Sharon — and two other similar killings that happened in the couple’s family over the last 11 years — will serve as a reminder for residents to look out for signs of abusive behavior, particularly amid a pandemic that has only made it harder for victims to seek help.
After police found Robert and Jessica Dapolito dead in their home around 9:40 a.m. Monday, authorities concluded that Robert shot his longtime partner before turning the gun on himself. She was 42. He was 55.
It was hardly the first time that domestic violence contributed to a killing in the state. For years, close to half of Maine’s annual homicides have come at the hands of a relative or domestic partner.
What made the New Sharon domestic violence homicide especially shocking was that it wasn’t the first, or even second, to happen in that particular family.
In 2010, Robert’s younger brother Patrick fatally shot his own wife, Kelly Winslow, at their home in the York County town of Limington and was sentenced to 55 years in prison, according to the Press Herald. An attorney who has represented Patrick Dapolito, Jed Davis of Augusta, confirmed that Robert was his brother, but declined to discuss the multiple cases.
Then, in a 2018 case with an eerie resemblance to this past week’s, Jessica’s parents died when her father, Thomas Masse, shot his wife Michelle and then himself, according to the Sun Journal. It happened just 20 minutes away, at their home in another part of Franklin County.
While there are lessons to be drawn from the death of the Dapolitos, advocates are cautioning people against making broad conclusions from the uniquely troubled history of their family.
It’s possible for “multiple people in a given family” to use abusive behavior and for that behavior “to go from one generation to another,” said Regina Rooney, education and communications director for the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, which represents nine resources centers across the state.
But “it’s also frequently not the case,” Rooney continued. “When we see a case as rare and terribly tragic as this case, we should be cautious about then drawing conclusions about patterns overall.”
By contrast, Rooney noted that “suicidality” has emerged as a strong indicator that people who are in abusive relationships in Maine and across the country may go on to try to kill their partner, as was the case for both Robert Dapolito and Thomas Masse.
“When we see those signs or hear those signs about someone who is abusing their partner, or who we worry is abusing their partner and their family members, also thinking about suicide, we should be very concerned, both for that person’s sake, of course, and for their partners and family members,” Rooney said. “It’s an absolutely, unfortunately common theme across domestic abuse homicides in Maine over many years.”
The Maine State Police have not released any information about the circumstances leading up to Robert Dapolito shooting Jessica and himself, and friends and relatives of the couple have either declined to comment or not responded to social media messages.
But the organizer of an online fundraiser to cover the couple’s funeral expenses wrote that “It was a shock to all who knew Jessica and Bob, especially their children.” They had two sons, a grandson and “a beloved Newfoundland named Athena,” according to the fundraiser.
According to their Facebook pages, Jessica attended Biddeford High School, while Robert went to Telstar High School in Bethel and studied at the University of Maine in Farmington.
They both worked for the social service agency Spurwink, according to the Sun Journal. A Spurwink representative didn’t respond to questions.
Their deaths came amid a pandemic that has increased the overall stress on families and forced many people to stay home to avoid catching the virus, according to Rooney. That has made it harder for victims of domestic abuse to go to places such as a friend’s house, a workplace or a doctor’s office where others may recognize the need to intervene.
In Maine, there has been an uptick in survivors of domestic abuse seeking help from the state’s nine resource centers during the pandemic. Those centers saw a 24 percent uptick in calls and a 22 percent uptick in the length of those calls between 2019 and 2020, according to the annual report from the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence.
However, the portion of Maine homicides that were attributed to domestic violence actually dipped in 2020 compared to previous years, to 6 out of 22 of them, or about a quarter.
While it may be difficult for people to acknowledge that someone they know could be abusing a domestic partner or family member, Rooney said that it is important for communities to “grapple with the reality that people who use abusive behaviors against their partners… are our friends. They are our colleagues and our loved ones.”
“If we’re going to address this problem of domestic abuse, we have got to get real about the fact that people who do this thing that we feel so horrified by really are the people we care about,” she said.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence and would like to talk with an advocate, call 866-834-4357, TRS 800-787-3224. This free, confidential service is available 24/7 and is accessible from anywhere in Maine.