Police reopen investigation into 1978 murder of Buddy Cianci aide

Blackstone Valley

PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — The overnight shift was almost over.

A Pawtucket officer went back to Veterans Park one last time on the quiet June night. It was part of his routine.

Just a few hours earlier, he had to tell a few teenagers to stop playing Frisbee and head home. It was 3 a.m. after all.

As he pulled onto the dirt drive he saw a car parked. A white Ford Mustang.

There was no driver.

The officer followed his hunch and got out. That’s when he found John Leatherwood’s body.

The Campaign

Buddy Cianci barely won his first election to be the mayor of Providence. He ran an anti-corruption campaign and the vote margin was narrow.

In 1978, the legendary Prince of Providence was trying to secure a second term. One of his aides was 32-year-old John Leatherwood.

Leatherwood lived in the city of Providence. He was well-liked. No one said anything negative about him in the old police reports.

“He was very polite,” Pawtucket Detective Sue Cormier recalled. “Well-dressed. Most people said the was a very sharp dresser.”

There are only a few photos of him today and even fewer details available about his life.

Cormier said based on what is known, there was no reason for him to be at a Pawtucket park at 5 a.m.

“Did he meet someone here?” Cormier asked. “Did he just happen upon someone in that park?”

Those questions need to be answered to uncover who killed him.

June 11, 1978

As the Pawtucket officer approached the white Mustang in the lot, he noticed something on its roof.

“There was a pack of cigarettes and prescription sunglasses,” Cormier said.

That was the clue that led the officer to search the park. Next to one of the stone fireplaces, he found Leatherwood’s body. He had been stabbed repeatedly.

“It was a gruesome scene,” Cormier added.

Pawtucket police questioned the teens who were playing Frisbee in the park just two hours earlier. They said they didn’t know anything.

What lead up to Leatherwood’s death remains a mystery, but Cormier believes it likely wasn’t random.

“His glasses, his keys, his wallet, his jewelry, everything was still on scene,” she said. “This was definitely not a robbery and it seemed like it was very personal.”

Archived Eyewitness News scripts recovered by the Rhode Island Historical Society reveal detectives originally had suspects in the murder but no one was ever charged.

A 41-Year Mystery

Cormier reopened the case in 2019 to try to uncover why Leatherwood was in the park. The answer will hopefully lead police to the killer.

Even though the case is from 1978, Cormier hopes evidence collected from the scene will still contain the killer’s DNA.

“It’s quite possible,” she said. “Anything is possible. Now, with modern technology, we can look at whatever items we do have in evidence and resubmit.”

Cormier also hopes to learn more about the life Leatherwood lived.

She added the investigation to a deck of cold case playing cards. Each card highlights an unsolved homicide or missing persons case in Rhode Island.

The deck is sold to the public and inmates at the ACI to generate leads. John Leatherwood is the king of diamonds.

Cormier says any information about his life will help.

“Just because the case is old and stalled with some leads, it doesn’t mean we’re giving up,” she said.

Anyone with information is asked to call 1-877-RI-SOLVE.

More Cold Case Cards »

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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