Amelia Cave's Dream of a New Beginning Ends in Her Murder by a Would-Be Transsexual
Five years ago Amelia Cave moved to Maine. It would be, she imagined, the beginning of a new life. A frugal woman, never married, she had lived all her 56 years with her family on Long Island and had invested shrewdly so that she could take early retirement from her job as an accounting clerk. For her, the rugged Maine coast would be a place to make new friends, to spend lazy days as she chose and, perhaps most important, to be on her own.
Two years later a Vietnam veteran named Glen Robert Askeborn, now 42, went to Maine looking for a change of a different kind. He too wanted a new life, and he had decided to live it as a woman. Soon he would meet Amy Cave.
A longshoreman’s daughter, one of eight children, Amy had lived with her ailing mother after her parents separated and with a brother when the older woman died. Her social life seemed to center on her nieces and nephews, and for 33 years she worked faithfully in the Hempstead, N.Y. school district business office. Then in 1974, while driving through Maine, she bought a plot of land on a pine-studded bluff overlooking Taunton Bay in the little town of Sullivan (pop. 967). Soon she began putting aside money in earnest. “Amy never splurged on clothes or vacations,” says a former coworker, Mari-ann Fearrington. “Everything was saved for her dream house.” Six years later she rented a motel room not far from her property and waited there for the house to be built. Every day she would visit the site to snap photographs for an album. Once settled, she decorated her home with colorful drawings by her nephew’s small children and bought Ethan Allen furniture one piece at a time. “You could feel her warmth just after meeting her,” says a neighbor, Iva Patten. “If a baby were born, she’d take a present. If you had the flu, she’d spend the day with you.”
Cave loved to hike, to pick blueberries in the summer and to drift off to sleep in the sunshine cascading through her front windows, which looked out on the bay. She took up cooking and tested recipes on new friends. In her enthusiasm she was surprisingly guileless. “Amy was naive in country ways,” says her friend Crawford Hollidge. “Once she met a surveyor on the road, talked to him for 10 minutes and invited him in for coffee. I said, ‘Amy, that’s sweet and lovely, but you just don’t do that type of thing.’ She understood, but she didn’t change. That was her nature.”
Unfortunately it wasn’t Sullivan’s. Amy’s comfortable house, though hardly ostentatious, set her apart from neighbors who lived on welfare or found occasional work clamming and digging worms. And some people in the community didn’t warm to outsiders. “Amy expected everyone to be as outgoing as she was,” says one local resident. “But Maine people aren’t that way. They are reserved and loyal to their own.” And though Amy had hoped her relatives would visit her frequently, they found the 10-hour drive from Long Island off-putting. Inevitably Amy was lonely. During her first winter a blizzard snowed her in, her pipes froze and a shrieking animal was briefly trapped in her chimney. “Amy was happy and bouncy before she moved out there,” says a friend, Ruth Kane. “Then she lost some of that. Maybe it wasn’t the dream she thought it would be.” Friends say Amy was hurt when she learned there had been whispers about the source of her money and idle rumors that she had had an affair. “She was like a young girl who had gone away from home for the first time,” says a neighbor. “No one really replaced the family she left behind. She was always reaching out for friends.”
One of them was Glenn Askeborn, who had retired from Long Island to nearby Hancock with her husband, Wesley, a former construction supervisor. Some townspeople considered Glenn domineering and high-strung. Others were impressed by her grand manner. “She was very elegant, not like a Mainer,” says an acquaintance. “Glenn had lovely things and racks of beautiful clothes in plastic bags. She sometimes drank wine from a silver goblet, and when it was empty Wesley would refill it just like a servant.” Glenn told friends she had a son who worked for an oil company in Saudi Arabia. “She’d say things like, ‘He’s too good-looking for his own good. He’s after all the girls,’ ” remembers a dinner guest. “She always built things up.”
Glenn and Amy saw each other often. “We were from the same part of Long Island, and I felt she could be a good friend,” says Glenn. “She was rather a lonely person. I felt pity for her and tried to get her to buy a dog.” When Amy invited the Askeborns to her house for Thanksgiving dinner in 1982, Glenn asked if she could bring along her cousin, Samantha Glenner, who had just moved to Maine following a divorce. The Askeborns never told Amy that Samantha was their son, Glen Robert, and that he had come from a place stranger in its way than Saudi Arabia.
Glen Robert Askeborn’s odyssey began in Freeport, N.Y. As a boy he was fascinated with boating and aeronautics and papered his bedroom with pictures of astronauts. Later he was trained as an engineer and served with the Navy in Vietnam. He was reportedly married to a go-go dancer and dishonorably discharged in San Diego after being convicted of scalding his young stepson in a tub of hot water. Following his divorce he married again in New York and had a son of his own, before he was arrested in connection with a pair of robberies.
Sentenced in 1972 to up to six years in federal prison, he was divorced for the second time and released on parole in 1974. Soon afterward he began living on a cabin cruiser docked at an East Haven, Conn. marina. He went into business building fiberglass boats of his own design and was married briefly for a third time. Around 1980 he began living as the woman he had decided he was. He wore makeup, short shorts and high heels, and affected a huge artificial bustline. “It was the saddest thing you could see,” says Susan Gaetano, manager of an industrial park where Askeborn rented storage space. “He would try to talk in a woman’s voice. He’d get upset if you didn’t call him Samantha.” Under a doctor’s care he received hormone treatments and attended transsexual counseling sessions at a Hartford church. “He said he didn’t know what had happened to him, but he liked it,” says Gaetano. “He claimed he was exposed to something in Vietnam. We didn’t believe him, but we sympathized.”
When Askeborn’s business foundered, he allegedly began passing bad checks. Then he told Gaetano he was moving to Florida. “I think he tried hard to make a go of his life,” she says, “but he had emotional problems. Maybe he thought he wasn’t successful as Glen, so he tried being somebody else.”
That September Askeborn phoned his parents, told them of his desire for a sex change and headed for Maine. His mother now refers to him as a woman. “Samantha didn’t want us to know until her sex was decided,” says Glenn. “It was a surprise, but she’s my child and I won’t desert her.” A solidly built six-footer, the newly arrived Samantha took meals with her parents, often slept in a rundown trailer next to their barn and worked on her boat, which had been towed up to Hancock. During the winter she chopped wood and shoveled snow for her mother. “She didn’t want to embarrass us,” says Glenn, “so we told people she was my cousin.”
Naturally Samantha, with her prodigiously exaggerated bosom, did not go unnoticed. “The first thing you saw was her bust,” says an acquaintance, “but she also wore sunglasses, very heavy makeup, nail polish and a little kerchief tied around her throat no matter how hot it was. She had no hips and big hands. I remember thinking that she must be as strong as an ox.” Samantha spoke often of repairing her boat and starting a scalloping business. Amy Cave listened and decided to help, eventually lending her $400. “She liked Sam, and she was interested in investing in a business,” says Glenn. “She never knew her as anything but a female.”
Then last October, just before her 60th birthday, Amy Cave disappeared. When she didn’t answer her phone for five days, Iva Patten alerted the Hancock County sheriff. Deputies promptly broke into the house. “I thought, ‘Oh, my Jesus, suppose Amy’s just away visiting friends?’ ” Patten recalls. But it soon became clear that she wasn’t. Although Cave was known to be an immaculate housekeeper, police found food spoiling in the kitchen, lingerie beside the bathtub and blood pressure tablets near an unmade bed littered with insurance papers. Amy’s Olds-mobile had been left parked askew in the driveway. Bulletins on TV and radio appealed to the public for help.
The next day a teller at a local bank reported that a check signed by Amy Cave had been cashed two days earlier by Samantha Glenner. When investigators learned the check had then been rejected by Cave’s bank as a forgery, they went to the Askeborn house. Samantha told them Amy had dropped by on Oct. 4 to lend her $2,700 but had drunk too much wine and was unable to sign her name to the check. Samantha went on to describe Cave as “eccentric,” and offered police a brief critique of her clothing. “She wore red pants. I was thinking I’d never wear those.” Amy had driven home alone that same evening, Samantha said. The following morning investigators recovered Amy Cave’s body, clothed in red slacks and partly buried beneath a stone wall that Samantha had been building not far from her still unseaworthy boat. Cave’s head was covered with a plastic bag, her wrists tied with nylon cord, her ankles bound with packing twine and her mouth stuffed with an empty birdseed bag. She had been beaten and strangled.
A month after Amy Cave’s death Samantha Glenner was charged with the murder and publicly identified as Glen Robert Askeborn. Hormone treatments were ordered in the interest of forestalling suicidal behavior, and Samantha waived her right to a jury trial. By common consent it was a sensible move. “I’m a country boy,” observed County Sheriff William Clark. “Where I come from the boys like the girls and the girls like the boys. A lot of people up here feel that way. It would be difficult for a jury to make a decision without being subconsciously affected by Samantha’s identity problem.”
Samantha’s own feelings were harder to fathom. She went to trial last spring looking subdued, with her lank blond hair pulled back in a ponytail, her feminine blouses and women’s knit pants clashing oddly with bulky black jail shoes. She sat with her chin propped on a thick fist, and when witnesses were asked to identify her, she waved coyly, like a flirtatious starlet. The courtroom was crowded during the five days of testimony and argument, and after five hours of solitary deliberation Superior Court Justice Eugene Beaulieu returned with his verdict: guilty of murder. Among the critical evidence were the forged check and the location of Amy Cave’s makeshift burial place. The judge did not refer to State Police Detective Ralph Pinkham’s testimony that Samantha had no money and was “having trouble getting hormones.” Without them, she had told Pinkham, her face was “starting to get rough, while before it was smooth and beautiful.”
On the day after the trial a pink nightgown fluttered on the Askeborns’ clothesline as a black cat padded slowly across the driveway toward the tumbledown trailer where Samantha once slept. The Cave house, meanwhile, stood boarded and silent, and a cluster of young birches dipped in the breeze. Several weeks later Glenner’s lawyers filed a motion for a new trial with the Maine Superior Court, attempting to change their client’s plea to not guilty by reason of insanity. In August Judge Beaulieu sentenced Samantha to a 40-year term, and she was taken to the all-male Maine State Prison at Thomaston. There she will reside as Glen Robert Askeborn.