It was in this picturesque crossroads of northern New England that the waitress was born, and here she spent her first 23 years. She worked in a small cocktail lounge until the summer of 1970, when Paul Lawrence walked into her life.
Lawrence, 32, is a former state police undercover narcotics agent who is now serving up to 10 years at the Vermont State farm for perjury. State officials have concluded that his fraudulent reports resulted in the arrest and conviction of 177 "legally innocent" persons on drug-related charges over the past eight years.
Thursday, 71 people, including the waitress, are scheduled to receive pardons for those convictions from the Vermont Department of Corrections. (The other 106 cases involving Lawrence have already been dismissed.)
At least $4 million worth of civil suits against Lawrence, filed by those he wrongfully sent to prison, are still pending.
"He walked into the lounge and asked if there was 'action' in the area," the waitress recalled. "He said he was looking to buy some marijuana. He came back again the next day, and I told him I'd heard a lot of people in town had it, but I didn't know who they were."
One week later, two Vermont state troopers walked into the bar, and arrested her for selling marijuana to Paul Lawrence. In court, Lawrence produced a cocktail napkin from the lounge, with marijuana folded inside it. The St. Johnsbury woman was convicted of a felony, and fined $500. Most of the community's 8,409 residents knew of the court decision by nightfall.
"My friends were afraid to be seen with me," she said. "I lost my job, and because of my record, I couldn't find another one here. I had to move out of town."
She settled in Barre, 35 miles from this northeastern Vermont town. "I'm happily married now," she said, "and we have a little son."
The pardons, signed by Gov. Thomas Salmon, are an attempt to "wipe the state clean, as if the events leading to the pardons had never happened," in the words of a special state committee formed to investigate the Lawrence convictions. But for the waitress, the gesture may have come too late.
"I've put it behind me," she said. "The damage can't be undone. My husband works for the public. If they're going to publicize the name. I don't even want the pardon now."
Other victims share her sentiments. That is why the governor signed the pardons in private and why they will be delivered without fanfare. Although the convictions are a matter of public record, the expunging of the records will be done quietly, Vermont officials say. The victims interviewed for this story asked that their names not be used.
Lawrence's career as a Vermont narcotics agent began in 1966. That's when he was hired by the state police, who did not know that he had been recently discharged from the Army for character and behavior disorders. He became chief of police of Vergennes, a town in south central Vermont, 89 miles from here, in 1973. He later joined the police force in the 8,000-population community of St. Albans where he arrested 106 persons on drug charges in less than a year before he himself was arrested on July 12, 1974.
He claimed to have bought heroine, cocaine, LSD, amphetamines and marijuana in the course of compiling his impressive array of drug convictions.
Lawrence was convicted of perjury in May, 1975, and sentenced in December. No motive was ever established for his unjustified arrests.
In March of this year, Gov. Salmon ordered an investigate panel formed to discover how the Lawrence affair happened.
"It is tempting to think of the Lawrence affair as the case of the 'bad apple,'" said Vermont Supreme Court administrator Michael Krell, who chaired the investigate panel, "but we don't go along with that. Many lives were tragically affected by the activities of Paul Lawrence," Krell said, "and those who were wronged by him cannot be made whole again, especially for the time they spent in jail."
Two persons who voiced agreement are a father and son from Brattleboro. They are both bartenders in this bustling southeastern Vermont town. The son had just returned from the service, and they looked forward to operating their own tavern together.
The father was tending bar one evening in August, 1970, when Paul Lawrence came in and asked for a beer. "I never saw Paul Lawrence until he came in the next day and stuck a .38 on me and said, 'You're under arrest'," the son explains. "My father and I were separated. I was charged with possession and sale of amphetamines; he was accused of selling Lawrence $10 worth of heroine across the bar. I served six months in the Woodstock correctional institution; my dad did nine months and 22 days at Windsor State Prison. He had never been in trouble before in his life."
For the father and son, Lawrence's testimony meant the end of a family. Five younger brothers and sisters.
Despite their personal tragedies, and the fact that they lost the option on the tavern they had hoped to buy; father and son expressed joy at news of the pardon. "That pardon is worth a million dollars to me," the son said.
One summer Sunday in 1969, a man and his wife were playing badminton with another couple on the lawn of the husband's parents home, where they lived. The quiet of the green, rolling northwestern Vermont countryside near Fair Haven, population 2,777, was suddenly broken. Looking down the road, they saw the approach of what appeared to be a parade.
"There were police and camera men from the (nearby) Burlington television station," the husband remembers. "The man I learned later was Paul Lawrence was at the head of the march."
Lawrence led a drug raid on the home, having previously notified both the local television station and a radio station of his plans. The husband's parents were home at the time, and they protested the ransacking of bureau drawers and up-ending of furniture.
"The police had helmets on. It looked like an invasion. They searched the bedrooms, the living rooms, the entire house, but they wouldn't let us watch while they were searching."
Lawrence produced two marijuana cigarettes, which he claims to have confiscated from the home. The husband was arrested for possession of marijuana.
"Lawrence said my wife had sold him $20 worth of hashish," the husband said. "Of course, it wasn't true, but it didn't do our reputation any good. Word got out that I was a big drug dealer in Fair Haven. There wasn't a person in town that didn't know about it."
The wife, 19 at the time, served six moths in a state correctional institution. The husband, 18, was given a suspended sentence.
The governor's investigate panel's report was sharply critical of the methods used by many local police departments in the Lawrence drug raids.