A Feud, an Ax, and a Fishing Knife: The Bloody Killing Roiling a Maine Island
The death of a lobster sternman has sparked a bitter upheaval on the remote island of Vinalhaven and left a wealth of questions unanswered.
Ivy LaChapelle was hardly surprised when her 28-year-old son, Roger Feltis, moved from mainland Maine to Vinalhaven, a sparsely populated island of spruce-covered coves and hardened fishermen, accessible only by ferry.
“He loved the water,” she said. “He had a car accident years ago and was in a coma for a while. He was not even out of the hospital for four months and he was back out digging clams and being a sternman. That’s just what he wanted to do.”
The move was like turning a fresh page: He met a girl, Jennie Candage, landed a job as a sternman on a lobster boat with a boss who liked him, and had a circle of friends. But not everyone among Vinalhaven’s tight-knit population of 1,200 was welcoming.
Candage believes that Dorian Ames, 28, had wanted Feltis’ job, and a minor grudge simmered into “a lot of button pushing.” Feltis felt he was being harassed by frivolous calls to the cops, and Ames’ wife, Briannah, posted baseless claims on Facebook that he was a pedophile.
It came to a head on June 14, 2020, after Feltis discovered the brake lines in his truck had been cut and, suspecting it was the Ameses, demanded Candage drive him to their house to confront them. (The Ameses later denied cutting his brake lines.)
The Ameses armed themselves with an ax and a fishing knife and, after a scuffle that lasted mere seconds, Feltis was bleeding out in the back of a car on his way to the island’s medical center. Less than a year after he arrived on Vinalhaven, he died from two large gashes to his left shoulder.
The Ameses claimed self-defense and, three weeks later, a grand jury declined to indict them. But far from that being the end of it, the case has sparked a bitter upheaval on Vinalhaven, left a wealth of questions unanswered, and put Maine’s criminal justice system under a harsh spotlight.
“[What happened that night] has absolutely been covered up by the government... as self-defense,” alleged Amy Fairfield, a criminal justice attorney providing pro-bono assistance to Feltis’ family. “Roger did go to their house but that’s where it ends. The state took that fact and extorted it, exploited it, manipulated it, and ran with it.”
With its candy-striped lighthouses and glistening coastline, Maine appears to live up to its official slogan of “Vacationland.” But its quaint image belies a criminal justice system stuck in another era, independent state Rep. Jeff Evangelos told The Daily Beast.
“Because of its idyllic image, everyone thinks Maine is a peaceful, modern place. But we’ve never had a serious felony exoneration. We’ve never had a police officer held accountable for a shooting, including when they’ve gunned down unarmed people,” he said.
“While reforms are sweeping the nation, Maine is the definition of a police state. It has a systemic problem when it comes to law enforcement that the people are always wrong and the authorities are always right.”
Perhaps it was the climate in the summer of 2020, when protests against police brutality were sweeping the nation after George Floyd’s death, a murder that was initially described by Minneapolis police in an innocuous statement as a “medical incident during police interaction.” Or perhaps it was the Ameses’ reputation as serial troublemakers. But Vinalhaven residents did not take Feltis’ death lying down. They staged protests demanding “Justice for Roger” and even voted to stop paying for the island’s lone deputy, a position funded jointly by Vinalhaven residents and Knox County, the closest mainland county.
Minutes from a July 30 town meeting summed up residents’ frustrations. “Trust between the community and [Knox County Sheriff’s Office] is broken,” the minutes noted, listing other issues like slow response times, complaints going unanswered, and the deputy’s unwillingness to live on the island and have a “pulse” on the community. “Respect has been lost,” it adds.
Tensions boiled over when Dorian, who had fled the island after Feltis’ death, returned home to collect some belongings and was met by 30 protesters. He was arrested for allegedly giving the crowd the finger, and police found he had an expandable baton, which violated his bail conditions for a 2019 incident in which he got into a fight at a house party, threatened to kill a man, went home to get a gun, then shot at the man’s car as a woman was inside. (That incident violated his parole from a 2015 incident in which he slammed his girlfriend’s face into a car dashboard, punched her and threatened to kill her. And that incident violated his bail conditions from another domestic assault, according to court records obtained by The Daily Beast. Police eventually dropped the disorderly conduct charge for allegedly giving the crowd the finger.)
When a grand jury declined to indict anyone, the case was closed and a police account of the night was finally released at the request of a local newspaper. The Maine State Police affidavit explained it in the following way:
Briannah Ames, 30, told police she returned home on June 14 from a weekend away to find their door kicked in. She reported it to the island’s deputy, Daniel Landers, via a private Facebook message at 8:41 p.m. and he came around to take photos. She then put her son to sleep on a couch in the living room and got in the shower. Her husband then arrived home and told her there was someone outside in a RAV4-style car yelling about something, but he’d hit the car’s tail light with an ax and they’d driven off.
A short time later, as she was still in the shower, she heard Dorian yelling at someone to get out of the house, the affidavit said. She messaged Landers on Facebook at 9:37 p.m., asking him to return. “WHERE THE FUCK ARE U when I need u dude,” said one. “THESE PEOPLE ARE HERE HELLLOOOO U SAID NOT TO LET DORIAN GET IN TROUBLE BUT UR NOT ANSWERING.”
She said she came out into the living room naked and saw Feltis inside challenging her husband, who was still holding the ax, to a fight. She said she began to fight Feltis and, as the struggle moved outside to the porch, she grabbed a knife from the kitchen. At some point, she realized her hand was badly cut. The next thing she knew, Feltis was running away. She didn’t know if Feltis had a weapon, and she didn’t know if it was her or her husband who cut Feltis, she told police. Dorian gave largely the same version of events, the affidavit said, but denied ever swinging the ax or hitting Feltis with it.
The affidavit said Candage told police she’d been drinking at an island bar with Feltis, who was “yelling” at her to take him to the Ameses’ house because he was upset about his brake lines. From her car, she saw Briannah come out of the house and start fighting Roger on the porch. Dorian then came out and swung his ax, hitting Roger. An autopsy concluded Feltis died of blood loss from two incised wounds on his left shoulder.
What The Daily Beast has found is that the case is substantially different, and far more complex, than what the police affidavit described. A litany of alarming issues has emerged: contradictory stories, witnesses whose statements were never taken, unusual messages between Briannah Ames and at least two investigating officers, different opinions on the weapon that inflicted the fatal wounds, and a case file with strange omissions.
In 2018, Landers took over from Knox County Sheriff’s Deputy Rob Potter as the island’s sole cop, whose beat covers Vinalhaven and the neighboring island of North Haven.
For 16 years, Potter said, he had the easiest job in policing. He was even-handed and forthright, essentially “playing referee” between residents, seven days a week, when back-up is often hours away.
“Not only was I law enforcement, I was a pastor, a social worker. I was somebody people trusted to go to for problems or just to talk,” he told The Daily Beast. “My style of policing seemed to have worked on a hardcore fishing community where anything could happen at any time.”
But after taking time off for a minor stroke, he said, his superiors seemed to turn on him for reasons that still mystify him. He was repeatedly written up for minor paperwork issues before being dismissed—and his vice deputy, Landers, took over. (Knox County Sheriff Tim Carroll did not respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment.)
“It seemed like he wanted the title of Vinalhaven deputy but really didn’t want anything to do with it,” Potter said, noting that Landers did not live on the island and would instead travel by boat from North Haven. “I think he meant well, deep down I think he’s a nice guy, but once he got his feet wet, things started to change.”
Karen Doughty, a lifelong Vinalhaven resident and Candage’s mom, said deputies often assume the island is an easy gig but they need a particular skill set. It’s also a demanding job: Vinalhaven is only Knox County’s 14th most populous district but ranks second for arrests. She described Landers as someone who “wanted to be friends with everyone,” and “thought he wouldn’t have an issue with anybody.”
Feltis had tried to speak to Landers about being harassed by the Ameses but, according to texts he sent a friend that were provided to The Daily Beast, Landers told him he was busy, then told him he couldn’t do much about it, then “show[ed] me pictures of his dog.”
“Should Roger have gone to the house that night? No,” Potter said. “But I think he was so frustrated with the lack of help he was getting, he decided to take it into his own hands.”
In a phone call with The Daily Beast, Landers said Feltis had no evidence to incriminate the Ameses and his brake lines didn’t even appear to be cut. He defended his work on Vinalhaven, which he described as an “insular community” of mostly related people who don’t like outsiders and “have a hard time being policed.”
“Do you think it’s a reasonable response… to go get drunk and go find that person at their house to see if they’ll fight you at 9 at night after earlier kicking in their front door looking for them? Is that a reasonable adult response?” he said. “I’m not saying that makes it completely wrong but I certainly can’t say I would do it. And now you want the legal system to justify it?”
Far from giving largely the same account of what happened, the Ameses’ stories contradict each other, diverge on key details, and seem to morph as time goes on, according to video footage, a filmed walkthrough with police, interviews with investigators, Facebook posts, and an expletive-laden Facebook Live video they posted in an attempt to quell the island rumor mill.
The case file has never been released and the family was only able to view it at the Maine attorney general’s office if they agreed verbally to not disclose anything. However, some people in the room recorded the six-hour viewing (Maine is one-party consent state) and The Daily Beast obtained the audio, allowing police interviews and verbal readouts of evidence to be reviewed.
The Ameses declined an interview with The Daily Beast, saying through a lawyer that they were “just trying to move on with [their] lives.” Over Facebook, Briannah added that she has “severe PTSD from the night roger stabbed me” and her family “lost everything,” like their rental home. Any support for Feltis was “just a big smoke screen to mask all the fucked up shit the island people did to us.”
Briannah’s first account of what happened that night came via Landers’ bodycam when he arrived at the medical center. There, he encountered Briannah with a partially severed left hand and a gash on her left thigh, and a group of Feltis’ friends who had coincidentally crossed paths with him on the way to the Ameses and had followed him because, as they later said, they were wary of the Ameses. The friends had witnessed most of the melee from their car and had rushed Feltis to the hospital after. Dorian and a friend, Morgan Robinson, who happened to drive by the Ameses’ house after the melee, had dropped off Briannah and left.
In the footage played during the evidence hearing, Feltis’ friends can be heard yelling that Dorian killed him, while Briannah tells Landers, “I didn’t kill him!” She says Feltis “came in my house and tried to stab me” and was “punching me in the fucking face.” Landers tells dispatch that the suspect, Dorian Ames, has fled in a silver station wagon and he tells Briannah “he’s gotta turn himself in right away.” She responds, “For what? He didn’t do anything, that was me and him.” Landers, sounding confused, asks who hit Roger, and she says she grabbed a knife. The camera then switches off. (Landers told The Daily Beast he wasn’t sure why.)
In an interview at 1:15 a.m., summarized by an officer and read aloud during the evidence viewing, Briannah said she came out of the shower to see Feltis “two feet away from their kid on the couch.” A fight began in the doorway and spilled onto the porch. She said she grabbed the kitchen knife after Feltis stabbed her while she was trying to pull his hands off her head. Dorian, holding an ax, was trying to “pull Roger off her,” she said. She admitted she never saw Feltis’ knife, theorizing it must have been “cupped in his hand.”
However, when Dorian was tracked down and interviewed at 1:30 a.m., he said Feltis only ever reached the doorway of the house. When he grabbed the ax, Feltis backed out onto the porch. He said Briannah then charged out of the shower and “went at Roger,” while yelling at Dorian that he was a “pussy” for not hitting Feltis with the ax. “[Dorian] indicated that Briannah doesn’t think about things, she just reacts,” a police summary of the interview said.
At 11 a.m. the day after Feltis’ death, Dorian did a video walkthrough with police, which was played during the evidence viewing. Again, he said Feltis was “standing there with his foot in the door” and he retreated “two steps back out onto the porch” when Dorian brandished the ax.
Once on the porch, “Briannah approaches him right here, next think you know, just, they fucking stabbed each other,” Dorian said. “I don’t know if Roger stabbed her first, I don’t know if she stabbed him first, all I know is Briannah fucking turned around, she was bleeding.” Curiously, he said, “nobody ever threw a punch.”
Under Maine law, a person can use deadly force if he believes someone is about to use deadly force against him or a third person, is inside their house (not just on their property) and about to inflict serious injury, or is about to commit a crime inside the house after defying an order to leave. However, Maine has a “duty to retreat” clause, meaning deadly force is usually unjustified if you can safely escape from the encounter.
“Roger never even made it inside the house to be able to commit a crime,” Fairfield said. “And he never became the aggressor after he retreated. Their self-defense claim is done.”
Fairfield said she viewed crime scene photos that showed no blood in the living room or doorway, which calls into question Briannah’s claim that she was cut before grabbing a knife from the kitchen. And police found no evidence that Feltis had a weapon, raising the question of how Briannah was wounded if Dorian, in his words, never swung an ax.
On June 16, Maine State Police Detective Jason Andrews, the lead investigator, interviewed the Ameses together. Dorian now insisted Feltis came “inside the threshold of the living room and kitchen area” while Briannah said he grabbed her hair and punched her head “next to her son’s red chair.”
Dorian maintained Feltis had a knife but he “suddenly remembered [one of Feltis’ friends] Heidi coming up on the porch after everything happened,” the police summary said. “He thought it was odd. While he didn’t see it, he now suspected Heidi was there to take the knife.” Briannah seemed less certain. “After looking at the injury on her hand, Briannah expressed that it very well could... have happened from Dorian swinging the ax,” Andrews wrote in case notes that were read out during the evidence viewing.
Three weeks later, Briannah filmed a Facebook Live video of herself applying makeup and hitting back at the “small-minded fucks” of Vinalhaven. Feltis was even further inside the house “standing right over where my son was sleeping” when she exited the shower, she said.
“He grabbed me by the hair of the head, started dragging me out, punching me in the head, I went up to defend myself and he damn near sliced my finger off,” she said.
As Dorian came under attack on Facebook from residents, he wrote that Feltis had tried to run him over three times in his driveway and was “threatening to kill us” when he entered the house—both new claims. He insisted Feltis’ knife had gone mysteriously missing. “There’s no way he came empty handed after trying to run me over and me hitting his vehicle with a hatchet,” he said.
The weapon used to kill Feltis still vexes his family. According to case notes read out during the evidence viewing, a paramedic and a doctor who treated Feltis said his wounds appeared to be caused by an ax, but medical examiner Margaret Greenwald told investigators two days after the killing that it was most likely a knife. (Her autopsy then didn’t specify a weapon. A spokesperson declined to explain the discrepancy.)
The size and location of Feltis’ wounds raise further questions. Previous jail records list Briannah’s height as 5-foot-3 to Roger’s 5-foot-10, requiring her to reach considerably, and with incredible force, to make two cuts that were so large Candage could fit her hand in them as she rushed him to the hospital.
“The state is trying to stick to the fact that Briannah knifed Roger,” said Rep. Evangelos, who said Greenwald’s findings should be scrutinized because she admitted getting a knife wound wrong in another case and she admitted during a civil deposition that she oversaw a macabre, unethical scheme two decades ago in which her office sold brains without families’ consent. (The feds ultimately found no criminality but multiple families settled civil suits.)
“Let’s face it, if the attorney general and prosecutors want to get an indictment, they can make it happen. But for some reason they didn’t want to make it happen.”
Grand jury proceedings are one-sided presentations by prosecutors, without defendants or their attorneys present, hence the famous saying that prosecutors could indict a ham sandwich if they wanted to.
They’re highly secretive so it’s impossible to know how the Feltis case was presented. But Candage, who was called to give evidence, offered one clue: She only saw one other person arrive to testify, Detective Andrews. “Jennie was their key witness but she has a 30-second span where she doesn’t even remember what happened that night,” Doughty, her mom, said. “Her brain shut down. They had to give her Valium to calm down.”
Even Dorian’s lawyer was taken aback when the grand jury issued two “no bills,” meaning a majority of jurors didn’t find enough evidence of a crime. “I was surprised because I’ve been doing this for 15, 16, 17 years, and I have never had a ‘no bill’ for a client. Generally, in my experience, it’s a rubber stamp,” Jeremy Pratt told The Daily Beast, though he added he thought it was a clear case of justified self-defense.
Six of Feltis’ friends witnessed most of the altercation. Five wrote their own follow-up statements after speaking with police; two wrote in their statement that they had to offer to give police a statement initially, two wrote they were in shock at the time they gave theirs, and one told a local newspaper that he felt police were trying to put words in his mouth.
In their own statements, provided to The Daily Beast, they explain they were out for a drive when they ran into Feltis and Candage shortly after Dorian had smashed the tail light. Feltis wanted to go back to tell Dorian to “stop fucking with me and leave me alone,” Isles Blackington said. The friends followed because “we were concerned for his safety there,” Heidi Guildford wrote.
All five said that as they pulled in, they saw and heard Feltis yelling at Dorian to come outside. Three said they only ever saw Feltis on the porch; two said Feltis made it just inside the door before backing up. All five said they saw Dorian come outside brandishing an ax, and Feltis raise his hands while saying words to the effect, “Put the ax down and fight me like a man.”
All five said they then saw Briannah charge out of the house and attack Feltis, while yelling words to the effect, “Dorian, hit that bitch.” Candage ran towards the porch to get Feltis and one witness, Hannah Jo Moody, said she saw Feltis begin to walk towards her but he was pulled back into the scuffle. “Briannah then pushed Roger against the house,” Guildford wrote. All five saw Dorian swing the ax but none saw it connect with Feltis.
“[Dorian] tried to swing the ax at Roger in a way that he was trying to reach around Briannah’s hands that were around Roger,” Moody wrote. Seconds later, Feltis stumbled off the porch and his friends pulled him into their car and sped off.
The Ameses’ neighbor, Devin Walker, said in a recorded conversation with Fairfield that he walked out to his driveway when he heard the commotion and saw the car speeding off. He said he walked toward the Ameses property and saw Dorian and a woman “cleaning stuff up,” and Dorian’s friend Morgan “smashing out the windows” of a red RAV4. He said he was never interviewed by police.
“I saw him, doesn’t matter if it was dark or not, I saw him clear as day,” Walker said. “My story wasn’t good enough, I guess.”
Fairfield described the six-hour evidence viewing at the Attorney General’s Office as “unbelievable,” not just for what was there but what wasn’t. For reasons that are unclear, there were no photos of the ax and no lab results from blood and other samples taken from the scene. She said there was one tiny photo of the knife, and it had no blood on it. Audio files wouldn’t play and there was passing mention of an old-school answering machine retrieved from Robinson’s car, covered in reddish brown stains, that Robinson said belonged to the Ameses—but there was no explanation for it.
The Maine State Police declined to answer The Daily Beast’s questions because the case is closed. In a statement, Marc Malon, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said the police “conducted a thorough investigation” and the AG’s office “evaluated the case and recognized that the issue of self-defense would be generated.”
“Under Maine Law, when the issue of self-defense is generated by the defense, the State must disprove self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt. As has been reported, the State presented the case to the Knox County Grand Jury and the grand jury no billed the case. No-bills are not common but certainly have occurred in other cases.”
In a meeting with the family in November, that was recorded and provided to The Daily Beast, Detective Andrews and Assistant Attorney General Megan Elam reiterated the same story: Roger was inside the house and was ultimately killed by Briannah in self-defense. Witnesses’ follow-up statements only had “minor differences” to their original statements and actually strengthened the self defense case, Elam said in the recording. “In fact, we have two people who were in the car who said Roger went into the house,” she said. ”That’s why we say Roger went into the house.”
In one final slight, Candage hoped someone might be charged for destroying her car but was told no because Dorian and Morgan had blamed each other.
Knox County District Attorney Natasha Irving told The Daily Beast they didn’t think they could prove anything beyond reasonable doubt due to “conflicting witness statements.”
But the question lingers: If authorities tanked the case, as Fairfield and Feltis’ family believe, why? Would it have been incompetence that was then covered up to save face? Or would it have been something more?
Text messages and emails, some of which were provided to The Daily Beast and others that were read out during the evidence viewing, only raise more questions.
Twenty-four hours after Feltis was killed, Briannah again messaged Landers on Facebook.
“I’m still in shock,” she wrote. “But thank god I reported my door bein [sic] kicked in because i usually hesitate to call cops.”
Landers replied: “Like we said, it worked out… and only could have worked out better if I had stayed another 20 minutes.”
He told The Daily Beast his reply was likely an attempt to be empathetic, and he often told Vinalhaven residents to Facebook him with concerns that didn’t warrant a 911 call. “Briannah probably messaged me 500 times,” he said, adding that having a casual channel of communication was part of community policing. “Is that a good idea? I don’t know. I’ve debated that quite a bit.”
Briannah and Andrews had shared some email exchanges, too. According to a verbal read-out of one dated June 20, a week after Feltis’ death, she wished him a happy Father’s Day. “I’m at my mom’s trying to rest and she’s got the baby out swimming and having a good time so you can have either phone to contact me. If I don’t hear back from you I hope you have a wonderful Father’s Day and we’ll talk Monday,” it said.
Another email was read out from the day Dorian was arrested for antagonizing protesters outside his home, two weeks before the grand jury convened. “Dorian got arrested for giving the middle finger, you gotta be fucking kidding me,” Briannah wrote. Andrews replied he “just heard about the situation” and confirmed Dorian was still in jail. Briannah said he was “on bail for that stupid gun shit, hopefully his lawyer will be able to get him out tomorrow,” to which Andrews replied, “yep, I have a call into the DA’s office, I have a staff meeting.”
Briannah has a long record of run-ins with the cops, including multiple assault convictions and a conviction in a major heroin and cocaine trafficking bust, so it’s not a stretch to assume she’d be familiar with many cops. But Doughty insisted it was “not normal” for most Vinalhaven residents to message police on Facebook and Briannah had a closer relationship with law enforcement than most residents.
“I’ve never been one of those people who are wary of the police but I am now,” she said.
After Feltis’ death, Landers left Vinalhaven for a military tour in Washington, D.C., the Ameses moved to the mainland, and residents eventually agreed to pay for a new deputy. Calm may have returned to the spruce-covered coves, but the pain for Feltis’ family continues. Last month, they finally notched a win when a judge ordered that the case file be made public by an as-yet unspecified date. Then, three days later, Dorian’s felony charges were dropped for the 2019 incident in which he fired his gun into a car and he pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor. Two witnesses had decided they couldn’t identify him as the offender.
LaChapelle, Feltis’ mom, said she can’t stop fighting because one day she’ll have to tell his daughter, Paige, what happened to her dad.
“Roger was like Paige, an old soul with a really strong confidence. He was the life of the party,” she said. “Some days I’m starting to accept he’s gone but Paige keeps me fighting. And the fact that he deserved so much more.”