Friday, April 9, 2021

Before the memory fades: The police car caper that happened in North Windham, 20 years before the movie

By Walter Lunt

One of many local hangouts in Windham in the early 1960s was the business and entertainment district in North Windham.

Convivial groups of youths, mostly teenagers, would gather along the busy corridor between Boody’s Corner (Route 302 and Route 115) and the Lakeland roller skating rink located approximately on what is today the western edge of the Hannaford parking lot.

Rowdiness, hot rodding and sportive mischief were the rule on Friday and Saturday nights, especially during the summer and fall months.

A humorous artist's conception of the North Windham 'police car
scene' -- early 1960s.
Occasionally, the pranks became creative and were the result of payback, settling a score or just sending a message.

In those years, there were three police agencies patrolling Windham: state police, sheriff and local part-time constables known as reserve officers. Officers from all three departments became well-known for their individual policing style and personalities, and the young mischief-makers had their own opinions of each patrolman. The stern, no-nonsense officers were well known for displaying little tolerance of youthful shenanigans.

One officer, in particular, was the object of much ridicule.  The youngsters would often complain about the officer’s supposed harassment and abusive behavior.

One among the assembled youth, we’ll call him Johnny Doe, decided it was time for payback; he’d carry out a creative stunt that would send the surly officer a serious message and make him change his ways.

One evening, according to sources who remember the event, the “offending” officer parked his police vehicle at the Lakeland skating rink parking lot. It was left locked and unattended while he rode with another patrolman. It was this situation that gave the knavish Johnny Doe a chance to exact his creative revenge.

As the story goes, the young Doe wrapped a heavy chain around the parked police vehicle’s rear axle, and attached the other end to an immovable object, possibly a tree. Then, Doe and an accomplice waited for the officer’s return. When this occurred later that night, Doe, driving his own car along with his companion, hot rodded past the Lakeland parking lot (laying down rubber all the way) as an enticement to draw a chase.

Now, at this point, the reader may be reminded of the 1973 movie American Graffiti, which portrayed a similar incident. The cinematic portrayal shows the police car being upended and its rear wheels ripped from beneath the vehicle. The Lakeland caper, however, ended in a slightly less dramatic way when the officer’s police car merely cinched up on the chain and was unable to proceed.

Whether or not the young Doe and his friend escaped apprehension for their police car escapade is not known, or not revealed by those contacted for this story.

But one thing is certain. According to those anonymous sources, the incident DID NOT change the personality or policing style of the victimized officer.  <

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