PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — Sneakers hit the pavement, stroller wheels glide along the asphalt, and walkers take in the scenery all summer long down the Ten Mile River Greenway.
The paved Pawtucket trail winds through trees and snakes past a river.
Sue Anthony has only been here a few times.
“It’s either down here or one of these other paths,” she said to herself.
She is one of few who knows the scars this trail holds.
After 10 minutes, Anthony spotted the dirt path off the trail. She walked through the brush and branches with her cousin Rick Bouchard.
As they got closer, Rick said his stomach started to hurt.
“It’s upsetting but I feel like I am honoring her,” Anthony said.
Finally, at the base of the tree, they both paused.
Two feet off the ground, the bark in the oak is torn off. It’s sliced. Chopped. Axed.
Sue and Rick’s aunt was killed in this place hidden from the trail.
It was 72 years ago.
A Mill Town
Rita Bouchard had a difficult childhood. She and her three siblings became wards of the state after their parents died from tuberculosis.
Rita and her sister Mildred lived together and were best friends.
“They were very close,” Anthony said. “Very, very close. My mother [Mildred] named my sister Rita after her sister.”
“She was a good, sweet girl,” Anthony said about her Aunt Rita. “She worked hard.”
Both women worked at the former Rhode Island Fabrics.
One morning in 1947, Rita left work early. She said she was sick.
According to Anthony, Rita told Mildred a secret the night before she was murdered.
“She was afraid,” Anthony said. “She was afraid but didn’t elaborate why she was afraid.”
The next morning, a hiker found Rita’s mutilated body.
“A horrific, brutal murder,” Anthony said.
The tree Anthony and Bouchard were looking for is the tree where Rita died.
“It’s horrible the way she died,” Bouchard said. “It’s unacceptable for anyone to die, but the way she died. How somebody could do that to a person is beyond me.”
There was a suspect. A man told police he was with Rita that night and blacked out. He said he woke up next to her body.
In 1947, investigators interviewed him for 72 hours straight.
According to old newspaper reports, the man’s story kept changing. Eventually, they let him go. He wasn’t charged.
Pawtucket Detective Sue Cormier has now reopened the case.
“She was 17 years old,” Cormier said. “She had her entire life in front of her. This is kind of a scary place for her life to end. Seeing the ax marks in the tree tells the story of what happened here.”
Sue Anthony and Rick Bouchard never met their Aunt Rita. They were born years after her murder but the stories they heard from their parents haunt them.
“I just want closure,” Rick said. “I want her to rest in peace.”
“It’s all [my father] talked about,” he continued. “It bothered him so much. Hopefully, we can put an end to it.”
“My mother couldn’t even go to her sister’s grave,” Anthony added. “She is never forgotten. Never ever forgotten. It’s always an open wound. Always.”
Cormier knows the odds of solving a 72-year-old murder. The person who killed Rita is likely dead at this point but she remains committed to solving it.
“Speaking with the family members and how much that means to them, I wanted to look at the case and see what we could do, if anything, about it,” Cormier said. “Somebody got away with it.”
Cormier added the investigation to a deck of Rhode Island cold case playing cards. Each card highlights an unsolved homicide or missing persons case in the state. Prisoners at the Adult Correctional Institutions can buy the decks. The public can as well. Rita is ace of spades. The oldest investigation in the deck.
Anyone with information is asked to call 1-877-RI-SOLVE.
Rick Bouchard had never seen the tree before. He talked softly about the person who made those scars in the tree.
“They got away with her murder,” he said. “Hopefully they’re suffering like she did.”