Portland mastering engineer Bob Ludwig could make Grammy history Monday

Bob Ludwig was texting a fellow mastering engineer on a Friday afternoon, exchanging opinions on a recording they both had worked on, when he decided he needed to call his colleague to clarify a few things.

“You’re talking about Peter Frampton? I thought you were talking about Peter Wolf,” said Ludwig, 71, seated behind his 10-foot-long audio control panel in his Portland studio. “Peter’s is great, too. It’s all good except for one track with some sibilance (a pronounced ‘S’ sound.)”

Forgive him the confusion. Ludwig, one of the top mastering engineers in pop music for more than 45 years, has been working on albums lately from both ’70s rock star Frampton and J. Geils frontman Wolf. In fact, he deals with rock legends as regularly and as casually as the rest of us interact with our co-workers or our relatives.

Ludwig’s own name these days is listed alongside music superstars like Frank Sinatra, George Harrison, Paul Simon and Stevie Wonder. At the Grammy Awards on Monday in Los Angeles, Ludwig has a chance to win his fourth consecutive Album of the Year award, for “Sound & Color” by Alabama Shakes. A win would make him the first person in the 58-year-history of the Grammys to win that prestigious award four different times. The above-named musicians, and three producers, each had three albums win the honor.

Ludwig, who spends up to 11 hours a day in his Portland studio and masters some 200 albums a year, just shook his head and smiled when asked to consider the Grammy company he’s keeping these days.

“I can’t even think about that,” Ludwig said when he found out about his Grammys status. “Those artists are iconic masters of their music, while I’m a mastering engineer. I certainly make a contribution to getting my artist’s musical vision out to the public, but, compared to those (artists who create the music) I’m simply not worthy of being mentioned in the same breath.”

While many Grammys are given for an individual achievement – best new artist or best pop solo performance – several are considered more like team awards. For Album of the Year, considered one of the most prestigious, individual Grammys are given to everyone who had a major role, including the artist, producers, mixing engineer, and mastering engineer. The same goes for Record of the Year.

Ludwig has won a total of 10 Grammys in various categories. It’s quite a record considering mastering engineers are only eligible in five of the 80-plus Grammy categories: Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Best Engineered Album Non-Classical, Best Surround Sound Album and Best Historical Album.

MASTER OF HIS CRAFT

Ludwig’s professional resume spans nearly the entirety of the rock era. Beginning in the late 1960s, he mastered songs by Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. His client list includes longtime rock hit makers Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton and The Rolling Stones. His consecutive album of the year Grammys over the last three years were for recordings by Mumford & Sons, Daft Punk and Beck.

Master engineer Bob Ludwig has won a total of 10 Grammys in various categories, and some of the awards are displayed at his Portland studio.

Master engineer Bob Ludwig has won a total of 10 Grammys in various categories, and some of the awards are displayed at his Portland studio.

Mastering is the last creative stop a recording makes on the way to public consumption. After the music and vocals are recorded and mixed, the recording is sent to a mastering engineer, whose job it is to listen with a finely trained ear and make hours’ worth of small adjustments aimed at improving clarity, definition and overall sound. Sometimes it’s removing sibilance from the vocals, or adjusting the sonic distance between the quietest and loudest moments, so that both are as clear as possible.

Often, Ludwig says, it’s looking for sonic anomalies, things that just sound out of place or are even “disturbing” to Ludwig’s well-trained ear. On many albums, he’ll work off and on for two or three months, making changes.

Mastering is a job producers and musicians say can make a huge difference to a finished recording. So when they find a mastering engineer they like, they stick with him.

Ludwig is “unusual for his combination of great skill and great taste, and his love and commitment to what he does,” said music producer Tony Berg, whose work with Aimee Mann, Andrew Bird and others has been mastered by Ludwig. “I send everything I do, and everyone I know, to him.”

Ludwig gets a lot of his big-name clients by word of mouth. Berg started working with Ludwig on the strong recommendation of producer and engineer Bob Clearmountain, who has worked with Paul McCartney, The Who and The Rolling Stones, among others. Those artists are all Ludwig clients as well.

Berg, in turn, recommended Ludwig to Blake Mills, the producer of “Sound & Color” by Alabama Shakes. The bluesy rock band is fronted by 27-year-old Brittany Howard, whose vocals can include soulful growls and joyful howls. Mills really wanted a mastering engineer who could make the recording as clear and defined as possible without losing the rough edges.

When the chore of picking a mastering engineer is at hand, Ludwig’s name “is always on everyone’s radar,” Mills said.

“There was some stuff on this record that was a little crazy, and we didn’t want to lose that,” Mills said. “Bob was able to keep in the band’s insanity on certain moments and not water it down. What he does is sort of like a great haircut – you don’t always notice it but it feels just right.”

Mills said part of Ludwig’s job is to make the recording sound as good as it can on all media, so that people listening on their computer, their car radio or their stereo system all get the best possible sound. Even though Ludwig listens to recordings in his specially built listening room, complete with towers of speakers and dozens of acoustic panels, he has to imagine what the song will sound like in many different places.

Ludwig said he listens to a recording, “imagines” what it could sound like, and then proceeds to “move my knobs until it sounds like it does in my head.” His knobs, by the way, number in the hundreds, if not thousands. His control panel looks like a prop in “Apollo 13” or some other movie about NASA and space travel.

On a nearby wall, one of the few pictures in the listening room shows Ludwig accepting the Les Paul Award, given annually for excellence in the use of recording technology, from guitar pioneer Les Paul himself.

But a close look at the award shows it doesn’t name Ludwig. Instead it has “Bruce Springsteen” printed on it.

“When I got mine, from Les, nobody took a picture. When Bruce got his, he couldn’t go and asked me to accept,” said Ludwig.

Ludwig spends up to 11 hours a day in his Portland studio and masters about 200 albums a year. His work attracts some musical legends to the city, including Bruce Springsteen and Eric Clapton.

Ludwig spends up to 11 hours a day in his Portland studio and masters about 200 albums a year. His work attracts some musical legends to the city, including Bruce Springsteen and Eric Clapton.

MAN WITH A HORN, AND AN EAR

Ludwig grew up in the then-rural town of South Salem, New York, near the Connecticut border. His father worked in the family business, a New York hardware manufacturer founded in the 1850s.

But his passion from a young age was music, and sound. When he was 8, in the early 1950s, his father bought him a tape recorder. It was a fairly novel item for a child to have back then. Ludwig recorded “everything” from pop songs on the radio to school concerts and his own voice.

He played the trumpet through high school and college, and he attended the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. He got a bachelor’s degree in music education and a master’s degree in performance.

While Ludwig was finishing his master’s degree and also working in the school’s recording department, music producer Phil Ramone came to the school to give a workshop. He ended up offering Ludwig a job at A&R Recording in New York.

Working first with A&R and then with Sterling Sound, Ludwig quickly established himself by working with the biggest stars in the business. Early in his career, he spent a day “cutting reference discs,” demo versions of songs, with guitar superstar Jimi Hendrix.

“He was already a big star by then, but I actually got the feeling he cared about whether I liked his music or not,” Ludwig said. “Which is so great.”

Ludwig also has in his possession a 1969 test vinyl pressing of “Led Zeppelin II.” Though he didn’t master the band’s song “Stairway to Heaven,” he was standing next to guitarist Jimmy Page the first time he heard it.

“I told him I thought the band would get a few more fans with this one,” Ludwig said.

OFF ON HIS OWN, IN MAINE

After working for others in New York for some 20 years, Ludwig started thinking about owning his own mastering operation, where he could hand-pick the equipment and the location. He partnered for a few years with Dan Crewe, a music business veteran and brother of songwriter and producer Bob Crewe. Ludwig had worked with Bob Crewe on some of his recordings with Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.

At first, Ludwig and Dan Crewe worried that starting a new studio outside of New York City would make clients less likely to work with them. But mastering sessions don’t have to be attended by band members and producers, and they often aren’t. Ludwig’s parents had sold the family business and moved to Maine, so Ludwig began to think of Maine, and Portland in particular, as a place he’d like to live.

Here, he said, he doesn’t feel like he has to “look over your shoulder” on the street as he did during years of living in New York. He has a 10-minute commute from his home in Scarborough to his Portland studio, where he works with his wife of more than 30 years, Gail, who is the company’s chief financial officer. His hobbies include photography and listening to music, particularly contemporary classical music, which he doesn’t get to hear much while working. On a recent Friday, the playlist on his phone was full of jazz artists – Art Blakey, Art Tatum, Bill Evans and Billie Holiday – plus Al Green and some Chinese opera.

Ludwig has two grown daughters, Erika Ludwig, a string instrument teacher, and Alexandra Ludwig, an associate professor of music at Springfield College in Massachusetts, both of whom have attended the Grammy ceremonies as his guest in past years.

Ludwig opened Gateway Mastering in 1993 in a building attached to a parking garage at the corner of High Street and Cumberland Avenue in downtown Portland. Ludwig credits Crewe, who is no longer involved with the business, with coming up with a solid business plan that helped the company survive.

Gateway Mastering is barely noticeable from the outside, with a single door with the business name on it. But as soon as one enters, one sees framed records, posters of rock superstars and a bookcase topped with a dozen or so Grammy Awards. Besides his album of the year awards, Ludwig has won Grammys for Best-Engineered Album and Best Historical Recording, among others. His mastering colleague Adam Ayan, who started as Ludwig’s assistant and is now a mastering engineer with his own clients, won a Grammy for Best Historical Album. Ayan also has won four Latin Grammys.

CELEBRITY FRENZIES IN PORTLAND

Ludwig spends his whole workday in the listening room. The space has one couch, a granite counter with a couple of stools and some magazines. He sometimes comes in around 8 a.m. and often doesn’t leave until 6 or 7 p.m. Appointments, billing and other paperwork are done by Ludwig’s staff, working in other parts of the facility.

When a local construction company was doing some work on the studio a few years ago, the subject of Rush came up in conversation. Ludwig heard Rush mentioned, so he told the workers that Geddy Lee, the lead singer of Rush, had just been in the studio.

This information made no impression on them whatever. The construction guys, it turns out, weren’t talking about Rush, the Canadian rock band known for a string of big songs in the ’70s and ’80s, including “Tom Sawyer” and “New World Man.”

They were big fans of conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh.

Ludwig’s clients range from unknown, unsigned artists to major stars, all paying an hourly rate. When the studio first opened, Ludwig said about three out of five sessions were attended by either an artist, or a producer or engineer. But now, when digital audio can travel by itself on the Internet, only about one out of five sessions are attended.

Over the years, Gateway Mastering’s allure has helped create some celebrity frenzies in Portland. More than a decade and a half ago, Eric Clapton was spotted eating a hamburger at Ruby’s Choice, a former Commercial Street eatery. Springsteen is a regular at Gateway, coming to town to master all his major recordings. One place to see the in-shape Springsteen when he’s in town is working out. He’s been spied at the Bay Club in One City Center.

Ludwig has known Springsteen since the early 1980s and considers him a “poet” who is intensely focused on his work. When they master a recording together, Ludwig said Springsteen is “constantly evaluating if there could be something better than what we are hearing.”

Ludwig has gone to the Grammys in the past, but he won’t be at the ceremony Monday. With recordings piling up every day, he said he’s “just too busy” to go. He is also nominated this year in the category of Best- Engineered Album, Non-Classical, also for “Sound & Color.”

Berg, the producer, said anyone who works with Ludwig can tell he loves his job. Even though he’s been mastering since the late 1960s, Ludwig said he still can’t wait to get to work each day.

“What I love is hearing a new piece of music and figuring out what it might need, how it might sound,” he said. “Every day it’s like this huge puzzle I get to work on.”

 

Lucie McNulty’s long solo ended sadly in Wells mobile home

From time to time, Edie Clouse wondered what became of her old friend Lucie McNulty.

They used to talk on the phone in the years after Lucie retired in 2001 from a three-decade career teaching music, sold her house in Amherst, New York, and moved 500 miles away to Maine.

“If she felt like talking, she would talk for an hour,” Clouse said. “If she didn’t … well, you wouldn’t get much.”

The calls soon grew less frequent, then stopped altogether. Clouse’s messages went unreturned. She couldn’t remember the last time she and Lucie spoke, only that it had been years.

Last month, the news reached Clouse in western New York that her friend had died. Her remains were discovered inside her cluttered mobile home in Wells. She had been dead for an estimated 2½ years.

“She was an amazing person … a complicated person,” Clouse said recently from her home, where she and her husband, Joseph, run an instrument repair shop. “To think she had no one in her life in the end is just … it’s just unbelievably sad.”

Lucie’s death saddened and outraged many, including people who didn’t know her at all. Mostly, people wondered: How could this happen?

How could the death of a woman described by friends and co-workers as outgoing and funny, a woman remembered fondly by students even decades later, a woman who inspired beautiful music and was a gifted musician herself, go unnoticed?

The seclusion that defined Lucie’s final years was no accident. Interviews with roughly two dozen people who knew her at various points in her life, a visit to the community where she spent most of her adulthood and a review of court documents revealed that her isolation from the world was gradual and deliberate.

Lucie McNulty systematically structured her life to be solitary, shutting out friends, leaving the community where she was well known for a private home on a wooded street where neighbors mostly left her alone.

Perhaps one of the most remarkable things about Lucie’s slow retreat was that she appeared to abandon the one constant in her life, the thing that gave her joy and purpose: music.

Dawn Cavaretta, a former colleague and friend, once asked Lucie if she planned to teach private music lessons or join any community bands or orchestras once she moved to Maine.

“Why would I do that?” she replied, as if the question was absurd.

At some point for Lucie McNulty, the music just stopped. But the exact reason remains a mystery. She was an intensely private person and there was a sense that her one-time friends don’t want to betray that privacy by sharing her secrets.

Or perhaps, Lucie remains a mystery to them, too.

Joseph and Edie Clouse, who run a music repair shop in East Amherst, New York, were friends with Lucie McNulty but, like many, lost touch with her over the years. They were saddened to hear that she had been for so long inside her house before anyone realized.

Joseph and Edie Clouse, who run a music repair shop in East Amherst, New York, were friends with Lucie McNulty but, like many, lost touch with her over the years. They were saddened to hear that she had been for so long inside her house before anyone realized.

•••••

She was born March 14, 1946, the only child of Leo and Lucy McNulty. They named her after her mother, but changed the spelling.

She was raised in Seaford, New York, a small town on the South Shore of Long Island. Her father worked quality control for a major airplane manufacturer. Her mother stayed home. The family had a boat and spent weekends on South Oyster Bay.

Lucie did well in school. She participated in Girl Scouts and took an early interest in music. A black-and-white photo in her middle school yearbook shows a freckled-faced girl with a warm smile.

Mark D. McNulty, Lucie’s first cousin, lived in a nearby town. He was two years younger. They often spent time at each other’s homes in the 1950s and early 1960s.

“My aunt and uncle were so proud of Lucie and her musical abilities,” said McNulty, who now lives in California. “Every time we went over for dinner they would tell Lucie to play her flute for us.”

Mark said he and his cousin were friendly but not close. His lasting impressions of her as a young girl and teenager were of a sarcastic sense of humor that belied her age and a profound sensitivity.

“When the adults went off and did what they did, we would talk,” he said. “I feel like there was never a time I was at her house that she didn’t break down in tears. She had these real feelings, even at a young age.”

McNulty said Lucie was insecure as a teenager, slightly overweight and likely teased by her peers. But music gave her a sense of confidence.

At Seaford High School, Lucie wasn’t popular but she wasn’t an outcast either, classmates said. She continued to excel in band and dreamed of being a music teacher.

Karla Held, who graduated with Lucie in 1964, said she remembers Lucie’s distinctive red hair and her musical acumen.

“She was always the best, first chair,” Held said, referring to the traditional post in a concert band for the most skilled player within an instrument class.

Lucie’s senior portrait showed a young woman with a closed-mouth half-smile, her hair cut short and up in a 1960s style, with a single strand of pearls around her neck. Above the picture, she listed her likes and dislikes.

“Lucie likes boys with black hair, fast cars, beach parties, green sweaters, band trips, Fredonia College and Chanel No. 5.

“She dislikes school gym suits, marching practice, all math, carrying books and short skirts.”

In the yearbook’s class will section, Lucie wrote, “I hereby leave my thanks to Mr. Harrington, Mrs. Lieberman and Mr. Mech for putting some music in my life.”

Lucie McNulty attended Seaford High School on Long Island and graduated in 1964.

Lucie McNulty attended Seaford High School on Long Island and graduated in 1964.

•••••

After high school, she attended college at State University of New York – Fredonia, on the eastern edge of Lake Erie. Fredonia was, and still is, a well-regarded school for both music education and teaching.

Lucie graduated in 1968 and started teaching two years later. She was hired by the Williamsville Central School District, a large district that serves Amherst, Buffalo’s biggest suburb, and a few smaller surrounding towns in western New York.

By that time, the district already had become well-known for its music program, in large part because of Frank Del Russo, the longtime band director who was also a renowned musician before becoming an educator. Del Russo didn’t hire McNulty but supervised her for many years.

“She was a hard worker and her bands always did really well,” said Del Russo, now 84. “A little gruff at times, but the students responded to her.”

Gary Stith, a high school band director in Williamsville who taught with Lucie, had the same impression.

“I could always tell which students were hers once they reached high school,” he said.

Stith said teaching music is different from teaching other subjects. “In band, every student has to do well or you notice. It’s not like math, where if 90 percent of students get it 90 percent right, that’s pretty good. If that were to happen in band, it would be a disaster. (Lucie’s) bands were never like that. They were always on.”

She was a tough teacher. Demanding at times. But she was funny, too. She used to tell students the “5-second rule” didn’t apply to food that fell on the band room floor because there was too much spit there. If a pencil rolled off a desk to the floor, she would shout out of the blue, “Gravity!”

She loved Garfield, the lazy, lasagna-loving cat from Jim Davis’ comic strip, and thought actor Tom Cruise was gorgeous. Her concerts always ended in standing ovations.

Sara Bevilacqua, a student in the early 1990s, said she remembers Lucie started each class with a “seemingly irrelevant piece of information” that served as an icebreaker.

“She was the one who told me I wasn’t serious enough about playing the flute if I didn’t want to cut my nails down to nothing,” Bevilacqua said. “She gave us a challenge, but only so we could rise up to meet it.”

Melinda Saran, now a vice dean at SUNY Buffalo Law School, was a student of Lucie’s in elementary school in the 1970s.

“I wanted to play clarinet but she convinced me to try alto saxophone,” Saran said. “She was so enthusiastic about music. She was tough with students but never critical. She just wanted us to try harder.

“You know, there are very few teachers I remember, but she was definitely one of them.”

•••••

Outside of school, Lucie was enigmatic. Social at times, a loner at others.

As she had done as a teenager, she found confidence in what she knew best, music. In addition to teaching, she gave private lessons on wind instruments, such as the clarinet or flute. She also played in several orchestras and philharmonic groups in Greater Buffalo, including the Erie County Wind Ensemble.

Yvonne Rivers Michaels played French horn in several of those bands with Lucie, including the Erie County group. She said Lucie’s music skills stood out, even among accomplished musicians.

“She was very skilled,” Michaels said. “And you could tell she enjoyed playing.”

Stith, her former colleague, also heard Lucie play flute numerous times over the years in different concert bands.

“She had this tone, it was big and beautiful and really stood out,” he said. “Not everyone can do that.”

Cavaretta called Lucie’s playing remarkable.

“It would make your hair stand up,” she said. “She had such a command of the instrument and there was this emotion in her playing.”

With people, though, she maintained her distance. Stith said the music department in the Williamsville district would often have get-togethers a few times a year, holiday parties or spring barbecues. Lucie was always invited but she never came.

Once, only because her principal asked, Lucie posed for a picture for the 1988-89 school yearbook. But then never again. In fact, nobody who knew her could produce a photograph of her as an adult.

Not long after the deaths of her parents, Lucie McNulty sold her brick bungalow in Amherst, N.Y.

Not long after the deaths of her parents, Lucie McNulty sold her brick bungalow in Amherst, N.Y.

For most of the 1970s and early 1980s, Lucie lived in an apartment complex, Foxberry Village, on the outskirts of Amherst. It was close to the schools where she taught – Maple West Elementary, then Heim Middle School, then Casey Middle School.

In 1978, her father retired from a career in the aviation industry and he and his wife moved upstate to be closer to their only child.

Ron Shubert, an attorney in Buffalo, was neighbors with Leo and Lucy McNulty for nearly two decades in Ransom Oaks, a sprawling community of condominiums and townhouses in East Amherst, and got to know Lucie well.

“She was always at her parents’ house,” he said. “They were very close.”

Shubert described Lucie’s mother as “jittery.” Her father, he said, was a “drunk.”

As for Lucie, “she certainly was gruff, not someone you could warm up to, but at the same time, I never had any problems with her,” he said.

Lucie bought her own home in 1985, a two-story brick bungalow on a street with a grassy, tree-lined median, in the rapidly growing city of Amherst, less than 10 miles from her parents’ condo.

Michaels remembers Lucie hosting a few parties at her house for some of the band groups they were in together, a detail that seemed at odds with her persona.

“It was a lovely home,” Michaels said. “And she seemed very comfortable hosting people.”

Shubert remembers two giant oversized couches in the living room of Lucie’s house, which was otherwise sparsely furnished. She turned one of the downstairs rooms into a music space, with an upright piano, where she gave private lessons.

Cavaretta, her former colleague and friend, said Lucie kept in the house cassette tapes of every concert she ever conducted. Dozens and dozens of them.

“I said to her once, ‘Lucie, do you really listen to these?’ ” Cavaretta said. “But she did.”

•••••

In early 1997, Lucie’s mother was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, said Shubert, the former neighbor. The disease progressed quickly and she died later that year.

Lucie was devastated but responded to her mother’s death in an unusual way. She didn’t plan a memorial service. There was no will, no obituary. On the day of her mother’s death, she went to work.

“I remember her telling someone sort of matter-of-factly that she called the funeral home to ‘come take the couch and my mother,’ ” Shubert said.

Less than two years later, her father got sick, too. In June 1999, he suffered a heart attack and died. He was living with Lucie at the time of his death, according to his death certificate.

There was no service or obituary for Leo McNulty, either. His will, filed in Erie County Surrogate’s Court, left everything to his only daughter.

The condo in East Amherst was sold in February 2000. Four months later, Lucie bought a 750-square foot mobile home on Atkins Lane, just off Route 109 in Wells, Maine. She had visited the state many times with her parents, both as a child and as an adult, and fell in love. It was a place where people could be left alone.

About one year later, Lucie sold her home in Amherst and retired. She was just 55 but had 31 years of experience and her pension was fully vested. Her monthly payout was $4,432.68, about $53,000 annually, according to the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System, and it was deposited directly into her bank account beginning in June 2001. Those payments continued even after her death because the retirement system didn’t know she died.

Cavaretta helped Lucie move to Maine in 2001 and said her friend seemed happy about the decision.

She said Lucie had been on dates in her younger years but never had any lasting relationships. She was resigned to being single and childless.

“She was OK with it,” the friend said. “She used to say, ‘I’m alone, but I’m not lonely.’ ”

Clouse, Lucie’s other longtime friend, wasn’t as sure.

“I think she was lonely,” she said. “I can’t say for sure why, but I think she had a broken heart.”

•••••

Lucie didn’t go out of her way to avoid her neighbors in Wells, but she didn’t embrace them either.

Lois Martin, who lives two houses away, remembers early conversations with Lucie as pleasant but said she kept people at a distance.

It didn’t take long for Lucie to burn bridges, though. As part of her deed, she was expected to split the cost of plowing the road with other residents, since it was not town-owned. Lucie objected and refused to pay.

Sometimes, neighbors would knock on the door. Lucie never answered. Sometimes, they would try calling her. She never picked up the phone.

For several years, she seemed to live in complete anonymity. Neighbors never saw her, except when she drove to the end of the road to retrieve packages that came daily.

Clouse still talked to Lucie on the phone in the early years after she moved to Maine. Even after the calls ended, she would still send cards at Christmastime and even got some in return. Once, she received a card from Lucie postmarked from Hawaii, but that was at least a few years ago, she guessed.

Clouse said the card from Hawaii gave her some comfort, a sense that her friend was OK. Maybe she imagined Lucie with a lei around her neck sipping a drink at a poolside bar or with her feet in the Pacific’s blue water.

The music room at Casey Middle School in East Amherst, N.Y., looks almost the same today as it did when Lucie McNulty taught there in the 1980s and 1990s. Former colleagues and students said she was a passionate music teacher.

The music room at Casey Middle School in East Amherst, N.Y., looks almost the same today as it did when Lucie McNulty taught there in the 1980s and 1990s. Former colleagues and students said she was a passionate music teacher.

In Maine, though, there were signs that the isolation may have been getting to Lucie.

In June 2011, she called police complaining that someone was spraying an unknown chemical into her window air conditioner unit. The police log call indicates that the responding officer noted possible mental health issues.

About a week later, Lucie called police to say that someone had come onto her property without permission and disconnected her garden hose.

In September 2011, Lucie reported that someone had pounded on her door in the middle of the night. She also told the dispatcher that someone sprayed something into her house that was irritating her skin.

In January 2012, she called police twice, once to say that a plow truck had plowed in her driveway and another time about the plow truck damaging her mailbox.

Her next call to 911 was for an ambulance. She complained of right leg pain and was taken to a local hospital. That was July 22, 2013, the last time neighbors recalled seeing her.

A hospital staff member told police investigating her death that there was a note attached to Lucie’s hospital file from that visit. It said that the hospital has staff members who assist older patients like Lucie who have no family or support system.

The staff member said someone was supposed to contact Lucie after her release from the hospital to walk her through the process of securing a regular physician and building some sort of support system. The staff member tried to call Lucie, according to police, but the phone was disconnected. That was the end of it.

One of the neighbors called police on Aug. 6 to report that Lucie had not been seen since she left in the ambulance more than two weeks earlier. Police contacted the hospital and discovered that she had been released. No one followed up.

It wasn’t until the next summer that police got another call from an unidentified party, wanting someone to check on Lucie. Police encouraged the caller to check with local hospitals but it doesn’t appear they did anything more.

In January 2015, police got yet another call from out of state. Lucie had not been seen or heard from in several months. Could someone check on her?

Police went to the door and knocked. No one answered, but nothing was obviously amiss. They didn’t pursue her whereabouts further.

A full year later, on Jan. 8, 2016, just after 10 a.m., Detective Joseph LaBier and Sgt. Chad Arrowsmith went to 43 Atkins Lane one more time. The property taxes had not been paid for the last two years and the town had begun foreclosure proceedings.

Inside the music room at Casey Middle School in East Amherst, N.Y., there are still items with Lucie McNulty’s name on them. She taught in the school district for three decades before retiring and living in near-seclusion in Maine.

Inside the music room at Casey Middle School in East Amherst, N.Y., there are still items with Lucie McNulty’s name on them. She taught in the school district for three decades before retiring and living in near-seclusion in Maine.

•••••

When the officers arrived, the driveway was unplowed and there were no footprints or tire tracks. The skirting on the mobile home was collapsing and there was mold on the blinds and curtains. The oil tank was empty.

This time, they were determined to enter the home.

The door was locked and the detectives didn’t want to damage the lock. They noticed a duct on one of the windows that had previously served an air conditioner, and were able to open the window enough for LaBier to climb through. He announced his presence but got no answer, so he made his way to the front door to let his partner in.

The house was filled with “belongings stacked up from the floor to the ceiling in many areas,” LaBier wrote in his police report, obtained by the Maine Sunday Telegram through a public records request. “There was only one small path approximately 18 inches wide to navigate from the front door to the bathroom.”

The officer searched the living area and kitchen but saw nothing. When he tried to open a bedroom door, though, it opened only a couple of inches. Something was blocking the door.

Rather than force the door open, one of the officers put his hands in and took pictures with a digital camera.

When they looked at the pictures, they saw Lucie’s body, badly decomposed on the floor, wedged against the door and a bureau.

The officers had to take the bedroom door off its hinges to allow the medical examiner’s office investigator access to the body.

Lucie’s cause of death was ischemic cardiovascular disease, a narrowing of the arteries that results in decreased flow of blood and oxygen to the heart.

But also listed in the ME’s report, under “other significant conditions,” was chronic alcoholism.

Asked how the medical examiner made that determination, a spokesman for the office said all cases involved a thorough review of someone’s medical history. All of those medical records are confidential, even in death, but excessive alcohol consumption and heart disease are linked.

LaBier wrote in his police report that they found seven 1.75-liter bottles of vodka in the refrigerator and freezer.

Neighbors in Wells seemed to be aware of Lucie’s alcohol consumption. One neighbor remembers talking to Lucie on her front steps and seeing a roomful of empty bottles beyond the partially open door. Another neighbor remembered Lucie asking what she drank and then producing a bottle of it the next time they met. It was 10:30 in the morning.

Cavaretta knew about Lucie’s drinking, too. During some of their last phone calls, she remembers Lucie slurring her words significantly.

“It sounds horrible to say it this way, but didn’t the guy at the liquor store wonder where she was?” she said.

•••••

Mark McNulty found out about his cousin’s death in an unusual way. It was mid-January and he received a letter from a company in New York that researches unclaimed assets.

“At first I thought it was a scam, so I called my attorney,” he said. “Then, once he convinced me it was legit, I started brainstorming who it could be. I thought of Lucie.”

McNulty didn’t have her phone number but remembered she had moved to Maine. On Jan. 19, he opened a Web browser and typed “Lucie McNulty Wells Maine,” into the search bar.

“The stories came up and I thought, ‘Oh, my word,’ ” he said. “I was beyond shock. I just couldn’t believe how long she was in there alone.”

Cavaretta was similarly shaken.

Wells police called her after they found a copy of Lucie’s will inside the mobile home and saw Cavaretta’s name listed as executrix. Cavaretta knew that, of course. They talked about it back in 2000 before Lucie moved.

“She said, ‘I don’t want my property to go to the state,’ ” Cavaretta said.

But as with so many others, Lucie had pushed her away, too. Cavaretta wouldn’t say what happened, only that she knew that the fracture in their friendship would never be repaired. She assumed Lucie had changed her will.

“It was awful, thinking that she died in that way,” she said, struggling to hold back tears. “She was my friend.”

Frank Del Russo talks about his former colleague Lucie McNulty at a coffee shop in Amherst, New York, recently. Del Russo was the longtime head of the music department in the district where she worked. He said Lucie was "a little gruff," but a good teacher to whom students responded well.

Frank Del Russo talks about his former colleague Lucie McNulty at a coffee shop in Amherst, New York, recently. Del Russo was the longtime head of the music department in the district where she worked. He said Lucie was “a little gruff,” but a good teacher to whom students responded well.

Students whose lasting memory was an enigmatic woman with an unrivaled passion for teaching music said they hoped that would be her legacy, not her unusual death.

Old friends and co-workers wondered if more could have been done to prevent Lucie from dying all alone, but they also understood that she possibly wanted it that way.

Neighbors were concerned after she disappeared but never pushed to find out what happened, partially because she was not friendly to them. Police and medical professionals pushed only so far because no one was pushing them.

Everybody just assumed Lucie had up and left, not that she was still inside the home, dead.

“It’s hard thinking about whether people should have done more,” said Shubert, the Buffalo attorney who knew her for nearly 40 years. “I think that’s why her death is so hard. She died feeling like there was no one in her life, no one who cared. There’s nothing sadder than that.

“And at the same time, it seems like that’s what she wanted. How do you reconcile that?”

So maybe Lucie McNulty lived – and died – exactly the way she wanted.

But maybe not.

When police finally entered her house on Jan. 8, they noticed the electricity was still on. Lucie had set up automatic payments, so even though she had been dead for more than two years, there was never a reason to have the power shut off.

Two things were on in the house: the ceiling fan in the living room and a laptop computer on a small table.

On the computer screen was a Web browser opened to the travel site Expedia. It was a confirmation and reservation for a trip to Hawaii for Dec. 7, 2013.

 

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Jonah Hill will host Saturday Night Live on March 5 with musical guest Future

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Meanwhile, Future will be making his debut SNL performance, likely performing a track from his new album EVOL

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Churchill helps Washburn girls outlast Katahdin

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