Pawtucket police make arrest in 30-year-old cold case

Blackstone Valley

PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — Pawtucket police on Thursday made a massive break in a January 1988 murder of a 10-year-old girl and arrested a suspect in connection to the death, according to multiple sources.

Joao Monteiro, of Central Falls, was arrested overnight and charged with the murder of Christine Cole. She went missing more than three decades ago after her mother asked her to leave their West Avenue home in Pawtucket to get milk and clams for dinner.

Monteiro was arraigned Thursday afternoon and ordered held without bail. A bail hearing is scheduled for Aug. 1.

Target 12: What we know about Joao Monteiro »

Police said DNA testing led to Monteiro’s arrest. When the case was reopened in 2018, police found a blood sample of the suspect from inside the victim’s pants. A DNA test resulted in a partial match to Monteiro’s son, who was incarcerated in 2014 and submitted a DNA sample for an unrelated conviction.

But police quickly dismissed the possibility that the son was a suspect because he was born four years after Cole was found dead. The match, however, pointed police to his relatives.

“That would indicate that the suspect for the blood found on the victim’s pants was in the close male lineage of [him], such as his father, grandfather, uncle or brother,” according to a police affidavit.

Police ultimately discovered the son’s father, Monteiro, was living above the market where Cole was last seen at the time of her disappearance. The two did not know each other, police said during a press conference on Thursday.

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In an attempt to get Monteiro’s fingerprints and a DNA sample, police rummaged through his trash and mail, which ultimately failed. Investigators then turned to Dr. Colleen Fitzpatrick, a genealogist, and founder of Identifiers International, who provided an additional analysis showing a stronger connection between Monteiro and the DNA sample.

That was enough for police to apply and receive a warrant for Monteiro’s DNA on Tuesday. He submitted a sample to the R.I. Department of Health on Wednesday and a warrant was subsequently issued for his arrest after a match was made, according to the affidavit.

“It was DNA that linked the suspect,” said Pawtucket Det. Susan Cormier, who headed the cold-case investigation that began in 2018.

At the time of her disappearance, detectives confirmed Cole had made it to the market where she bought the milk and some gumballs. Later, she walked to a now-closed seafood market to pick up the clams, which was the last place she was seen.

Cormier said officers scoured the state for Cole, hoping to find her alive. After 54 days, a man walking his dog on a beach at Conimicut Point Park in Warwick noticed what he thought was a mannequin or doll in the sand.

“Sadly, that was little Christine Cole that had washed up onto the beach,” Cormier said.

Video Now: Pawtucket police news conference

In 2018, Cormier spearheaded a project to print a deck of cards with the faces of cold case victims on each card. She and other detectives hoped the cards would draw interest in the cases and uncover new leads.

Cole is the queen of Hearts.

“It’s very personal to me,” Cormier added. “I’m a mom. She’s a little girl. Her life was taken too soon.”

When Eyewitness News spoke to Cormier in 2018, she said she hoped to solve Cole’s case.

“There’s a lot more we can do with this,” Cormier said. “Testing evidence. Retesting evidence. Talking to more people. I’ve spoken to many people already but I’m going to continue with those interviews. This is a solvable case. We still have a lot to work with.”

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