|New Bedford Highway Killer|
|Number of victims:||9-11|
|Span of killings:||1988–1989.|
|State(s):||New Bedford, Massachusetts|
The New Bedford Highway Killer was an unidentified serial killer authorities believe responsible for the deaths of nine women and the disappearances of two additional women in New Bedford, Massachusetts, between July 1988 and June 1989. All of the killer's victims were known prostitutes or substance abusers.
30-year old Debra Madeiros was last seen by her boyfriend on May 27, 1988. On July 2, her partially clothed skeleton was discovered by a motorist who stopped to urinate near a Mass Rte 140 exit ramp. She would not be positively identified, however, until February of the following year. Likewise, the remains of Nancy Pavia, 36, were discovered on July 30, 1988 near an I-195 exit ramp, and she would also not be identified until December of that year.
Pavia had gone missing on July 11, 1988. On the same day, 34-year old Deborah DeMello disappeared and her remains were not found until November 8, close to where Pavia had been dumped.
On November 11, a road crew working along I-195 stumbled upon the remains of 25-year old Dawn Mendes, who had been missing for a week. On December 1, 1988, an extensive roadway search led to the skeletal remains of Deborah McConnell, also 25, dumped off of Rte 140. McConnell had been missing since May.
Not far from where DeMello and Paiva had been found, the body of 28-year old Rochelle Clifford Dopierla, missing since April, was found by hunters in a rock quarry, on December 10, 1988.
On March 28, 1989, the body of Robin Rhodes was found off southbound Mass Rte 140, directly across the highway from where Madeiros had been found the previous July. Rhodes, 28, was last seen in April of 1988.
26-year old Mary Rose Santos was last seen on July 16, 1988. On March 20, 1989, her remains were found off Route 88.
On April 24, 1989, the remains of Sandy Botelho, missing since the previous August, were found along I-I95. Botelho was 24 when she vanished.
In addition to the victims whose bodies were found, 19-year old Christine Monteiro and 34-year old Marilyn Roberts both went missing in May and June, respectively, of 1988. Neither woman has been seen since. Their lifestyles, and the fact that both women went missing from the same general area as the other victims, suggest a link to the above homicides.
In May 1989, a stonemason named Tony DeGrazia, known by New Bedford prostitutes as "flat nose," was arrested for the violent rapes of several prostitutes. DeGrazia posted bond in January 1990, and was subsequently rearrested for another rape. DeGrazia again posted bond and then allegedly committed suicide. Authorities investigated his possible connection to the New Bedford prostitute murders but failed to uncover any evidence linking him to the crimes.
In August 1990, a grand jury indicted New Bedford attorney Kenneth Ponte, 40, in the murder of Rochelle Clifford Dopierla, who had been beaten to death. Ponte had a checkered past, including drug use and a prior incident involving Dopierla. Bristol County District Attorney Ronald Pina suggested that Ponte had murdered Dopierla because she was allegedly planning to expose his drug activities.
Dopierla's mother stated that her daughter had once given her Ponte's telephone number in the event she needed to be reached. Ponte admitted to having represented Dopierla in April 1988, shortly before she disappeared, when she accused another man of raping her.
Ponte, who moved to Florida in September 1988, entered a plea of "absolutely not guilty" and posted $50,000. In March 1991, the district attorney dropped murder charges against Ponte, citing lack of evidence. The following year, remaining drug and assault charges were dropped and the New Bedford case went cold.
Ponte resurfaced in the news in May of 2009 in two separate incidents. Police dug up the driveway and patio of Ponte's former New Bedford home with a backhoe, but were unable to find evidence linking Ponte to any crime. On the morning of May 15, Ponte was arrested for shoplifting and was found with four cans of sardine and a block of cheese stolen from a Price Rite store in New Bedford.