Going inside the crime lab for a 25-year-old cold case

Blackstone Valley

WOONSOCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — He turned off the lights and laid out the sheets of brown paper.

Detective Anthony Conetta put on his rubber gloves and opened the cardboard box.

The contents inside hold the secrets of a horrible night.

The worst of the packaged items he held in his hands last.

“This was the murder weapon,” he said.

Down On Her Luck

Megeann Paul had been through a lot in life.

The Woonsocket mother was living in a rooming house on North Main Street in 1994.

She had a substance abuse problem, according to Conetta. To fuel the abuse, she was prostituting.

“We have a list of names of people that would frequently visit her,” he said.

Paul kept a diary in her apartment. There’s no entry about her last days but plenty of stories documenting the dark moments in her life.

She wrote about sitting under a table and “screaming bloody murder.”

Nothing was easy.

She kept photos in her room. Some of them document the men who came to her place.

“She was very outgoing,” Conetta said, looking at her photo. “A bit of a risk-taker. She was not afraid to take chances and live life to the fullest.”

In mid-March ’94, something happened.

“No person deserves to have their life taken away,” Conetta added.

Someone She Knew

Days passed until someone called Woonsocket Police because of the smell coming from Paul’s apartment.

On March 17, 1994, detectives processed the scene. She was found with a knife still lodged in her abdomen. Another knife was found in the sink.

“She had some other stab wounds that consisted with fighting off somebody,” Conetta recalled. “She was fighting for her life.”

Newspaper pages were scattered with stains.

Then, a telling clue. Someone covered her face with the sheets.

“That is typical of somebody who doesn’t want to look at the victim after they’re deceased,” Conetta said.

That likely means the killer knew Paul and might have spent some amount of time in the apartment after the murder, according to Conetta.

They know who her clients were but it didn’t lead to an arrest.

“A lot of the leads we had went cold from people just being deceitful and not wanting to be involved at the time,” he explained.

Conetta assembled the pictures from the 25-year-old crime scene on a table and looked over them. He’s done it before. He’ll do it again.

“These are the puzzle pieces,” he said. “Every time we revisit the case and revisit the evidence, a piece of the puzzle gets put together. It’s just a matter of time before we really find out what happened that night.”

The Crime Lab

Conetta sheared off a piece of brown paper to lay out on the surface and then opened the boxes of evidence.

First, he dug through Paul’s diary.

This was Conetta’s first time going through the evidence since he was assigned the case.

“All of these items we find, they’re the only witnesses that we have at this point,” he said while going through newspaper pages found in the apartment.

Some of the pages have stains on them so Conetta took out an Alternate Light Source machine to examine the evidence. Different substances will glow under different colored lights.

“As the years go by, we run out of options, so we have to revisit the evidence to see what else we can do to find new leads,” Conetta said.

Next, he pulled a kitchen knife out of a cardboard box, delicately laid it on the counter and examined it under blue light. The blood on the knife glowed black.

The DNA on the knife has been tested before but it may be tested again since the technology has advanced.

Detectives also gathered DNA under Paul’s fingernails but so far it hasn’t matched up with anyone in the federal database.

The DNA is a significant lead but Conetta is also seeking tips from the public. He added the case to a deck of cold case playing cards. Each card highlights an unsolved homicide or missing persons case in Rhode Island. Anyone with information is asked to call 1-877-RI-SOLVE.

Megeann Paul is the 8 of hearts.

“She absolutely deserves justice,” Conetta said. “Absolutely. No person deserves to have their life taken away.”

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