From April to September of 1988 a serial murderer hunted New Bedford, Massachusetts, dumping his victims alongside the highways outside of the city. The slain women consisted of prostitutes and drug addicts, the last of which was not found until April of 1989. All told eleven women are believed to have perished at this elusive slayer's hands, two of which are still missing.
Debra Madeiros, 30, was the first victim found. She was last seen on May 27, 1988, after walking out on her boyfriend and was found on July 2, 1988, by a motorist who stopped to urinate near an exit ramp on I-140. Her partially clothed skeleton was not identified until February of 1989. On July 30, 1988, Nancy Paiva, 36, was found dead near an I-195 exit ramp but her remains were not identified until December. She had been missing since July 11. Though seven more bodies would be found in the coming months, police were now at this point chasing a ghost. The killer had already finished his spree and apparently moved on.
For the time being authorities were busy recovering the killer's victims. 34-year-old Deborah DeMello was found on November 8, 1988, near spot along I-195 where Paiva's remains were discovered. Interestingly, DeMello reportedly was last seen on July 11, the same day Paiva went missing. Dawn Mendes was next to be found slain. The 25-year-old was found by a road crew working along I-195 just three days after DeMello was discovered. Mendes was last seen just a week before. On December 1, 1988, yet another body turned up, this time just of I-140. This victim was Deborah mcConnell, 25, missing since May. Police found her fully clothed skeleton during an extensive roadway search.
The finding of Rochelle Clifford, 28, on December 10, 1988, only increased the tension in the city. Clifford had been missing since April and was found by hunters at a rock quarry near I-195 which was close to the location of DeMello and Paiva's dump sites. Robin Rhodes' corpse was the found On March 28, 1989, along I-140 directly across the road from the spot where Madeiros was located months before. Mary Santos was the only victim not found alongside or near an interstate (she was found along Route 88 several miles from New Bedford), but the similarities between the crime and the other murders made it obvious it was the work of the same man when her body was discovered on March 31, 1989. She had last been seen in July of 1988. Finally, on April 24, 1989, 24-year-old Sandy Botelho's remains were found along I-195. She had been missing since the previous August.
Also making this unfortunate list are two women that are missing but presumed murdered by the same perpetrator, Christine Monteiro, 19, and Marilyn Roberts, 34. Monteiro went missing in May of 1988 and Roberts was last seen a month later.
Adding to the mystery was the fact that several of the victims could be linked to one another, though how unusual that is considering their similar lifestyles and the smallish population of New Bedford is a matter of conjecture. Rhodes, for instance, was aquainted with Clifford, Paiva, Mendes, and Santos. Clifford was last seen in the company of Paiva's boyfriend, who was cleared of suspicion in both deaths. Also, Monteiro and Roberts were neighbors.
Two major suspects were pursued. One was Tony DeGrazia, known by New Bedford prostitutes as a violent rapist they had nicknamed "Flat Nose". DeGrazia was arrested in May 1989 for the rapes of several prostitutes and held until he posted bond in January of 1990. Authorities could find no evidence linking him to the murders in any was, though he was later arrested again in connection with another prostitute rape. DeGrazia committed suicide soon after posting bond in the second arrest.
The second suspect was a troubled attorney named Kenny Ponte. Ponte had a history of drug abuse and occasional run-in's with the law, including an incident involving another man, future murder victim Rochelle Clifford, and a gun. Ponte suspiciously closed his office and moved to Florida in September of 1988, about the time women stopped disappearing from the streets of New Bedford. In August of 1990 a grand jury indicted Ponte in Clifford's murder but in March of 1991 special prosecutor Paul Buckley announced that Ponte would never be tried in the case because no evidence existed and the charge was withdrawn.
In an interesting note, there has been speculation that the New Bedford slayer and Europe's "Lisbon Ripper" may be the same man. The Ripper is a Portuguese serial slayer suspected of the killings of prostitutes and drug addicts in Portugal, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark and The Netherlands that started about the time the New Bedford killings ended. New Bedford does have a very sizable Portuguese immigrant population.