The New Bedford Highway Killer is an unidentified serial killer responsible for the deaths of at least nine women and the disappearances of two additional women in New Bedford, Massachusetts, between July 1988 and June 1989. The killer is also suspected to have assaulted numerous other women. All of the killer’s victims were known prostitutes or substance abusers. While the victims were taken from New Bedford, they were all found in different surrounding towns, including Dartmouth, Freetown, and Westport, Massachusetts, along Route 140. The main detective that pursued the case was John Dextradeur.
- Robbin Rhodes, 28, last seen in New Bedford, March/April 1988. Body found March 28, 1989, along Route 140.
- Rochelle Clifford Dopierala, 28, last seen in New Bedford, late April 1988. Body found December 10, 1988, along Reed Road, two miles from Interstate 195.
- Debroh Lynn McConnell, 25, last seen in New Bedford, May 1988. Body found December 1, 1988, off Route 140.
- Debra Medeiros, 30, last seen in New Bedford, May 27,1988. Body found July 3, 1988, on Route 140.
- Christine Monteiro, 19, last seen in New Bedford, late May 1988
- Marilyn Roberts, 34, last seen in New Bedford, June 1988
- Nancy Paiva, 36, last seen in New Bedford, July 7, 1988. Body found July 30, 1988, alongside Interstate 195.
- Debra DeMello, 35, last seen in New Bedford, July 11, 1988. Body found November 8, 1988, alongside Interstate 195.
- Mary Rose Santos, 26, last seen in New Bedford, July 16, 1988. Body found March 31, 1989, along Route 88.
- Sandra Botelho, 24, last seen in New Bedford, August 11, 1988. Body found April 24, 1989, along Interstate 195.
- Dawn Mendes, 25, last seen in New Bedford, September 4, 1988. Body found November 29, 1988, alongside Interstate 195.
All of these bodies seem to be found at random times in specific places, but never in the order they went missing. So that alone was confusing for law enforcement, considering we didn’t have extensive DNA testing at the time. It could take weeks for them to identify some of these missing/ murdered women. Some of the bodies were also badly decomposed, left in ditches to rot for months before someone would stop on the side of a busy highway to see them. As seen above in the list of victims, you can see # 4 and #5 were never found. Either they were hidden well, or placed somewhere no one has ever searched. They went missing around the same time as all the other women so I guess everyone was assuming the worst.
In May 1989, Anthony DeGrazia was identified by a locally known New Bedford prostitute by means of a picture provided by a young, inexperienced detective, Loraine Forrest. The prostitute, who described the assailant as having a “flat nose,” never named DeGrazia as a positive suspect, but stated that he looked like the man who assaulted her. Anthony DeGrazia was later accused of 17 rapes and assaults on several prostitutes. Based on allegations, DeGrazia was questioned, arrested, and charged with the 17 rapes and assaults, while also being investigated as a suspect in the nine murders along area highways. After 15 months of incarceration and 18 court appearances, DeGrazia was released on bail in January 1990. He was then briefly rearrested for allegedly uttering threats to the DA Ronald Pina for wrongful prosecution and imprisonment. DeGrazia again posted bond, but was then later found dead at his girlfriend’s house, under a picnic table. His death was ruled a suicide. Authorities investigated his possible connection to the New Bedford prostitute murders.
Kenneth C. Ponte
In August 1990, a grand jury indicted New Bedford attorney Kenneth Ponte, 40, in the murder of Rochelle Clifford Dopierala, who had been beaten to death. Ponte had a checkered past, including drug use and a prior incident involving Dopierala. Bristol County District Attorney Ronald Pina suggested that Ponte had murdered Dopierala because she was allegedly planning to expose his drug activities.
Dopierala’s mother stated that her daughter had once given her telephone number to Ponte in the event she needed to be reached. Ponte admitted to having represented Dopierala in April 1988, shortly before she disappeared, when she accused another man of raping her.
Ponte moved to Port Richey, Florida, in September 1988. He was arraigned on a single count of murder on August 17, 1990. Ponte entered a plea of “absolutely not guilty” and posted a $50,000 bond. On July 29, 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.
Daniel Tavares Jr.
While in prison for the murder of his mother, Daniel Thomas Tavares Junior sent a threatening letter to one of the prison staff indirectly claiming responsibility for the Highway Killings. He lived in New Bedford, and had knowledge of where another murdered woman, Gayle Botelho, had been buried, within a mile from his home. He was convicted of two recent killings, those of Brian and Bev Muack. Additionally, he was convicted in 2015 of the murder of Gayle Botelho, who went missing in 1988, later found to have been under a tree in his backyard.
Was it really him? Was it any of them? or just another case of someone already in deep shit just taking the blame to make a name for himself. Either way all these men could’ve contributed to some or all of the murders but in reality we truly don’t know who did it or where those two other women’s bodies are located. Those families will never know who killed their family members or friends involved in this crime spree. Circumstantial evidence can only go so far in any case really. Unfortunately for these women involved and being who they were (mostly sex workers or drug addicts) the media wanted nothing to do with it. Just because they were prostitutes or doing drugs or homeless even, is not a good reason to ignore so many women getting murdered. I understand that not everyone wants to hear about it, but either way the media at the time should’ve been more involved. Even if just to warn other women about this perpetrator, instead many women lost their lives that year.