LINCOLN, R.I. (WPRI) — It was hard to talk about anything else.
The rain was hitting the windshield of the car so hard it was tough to hear.
The three men didn’t know her name. They had just picked her up on their way out of town.
As they went up I-95 North, they simply talked about the weather. The young girl asked to be dropped off in Attleboro. The men were going in a different direction.
The let her out under an overpass so she could stay out of the rain.
They didn’t realize they would be the last people to see Rosanne Robinson alive.
A Big Family
It was a loud house.
The family home was filled with eight kids. Rosanne was the youngest.
“She could do no wrong,” one of her sisters joked. “She was a free spirit. Funny.”
The sister didn’t want to reveal her name. After everything Rosanne went through, she said it’s too much.
Rosanne took up a few interests. She loved playing the guitar. The family still has a few photos of her strumming.
“When she was little, she put on her tutu and danced around the house like a ballerina,” her older sister recalled.
As the young ballerina grew into a teenager, she still got all of the perks of being the youngest child.
“She had no curfew like everybody else,” the sister joked.
After Rosanne finished high school, she moved from the crowded Massachusetts home to Providence when she was 17 years old.
Just a week into living in the capital city, she was headed back home celebrate her sister’s one-year wedding anniversary.
It was June 1980.
There was a problem. Rosanne’s phone wasn’t set up so no one could call to tell her the party had been postponed.
The Rainy Night
Lincoln Detective Sean Gorman said Rosanne went everywhere by hitchhiking.
“She hitchhiked quite a bit,” he said. “That was her primary way of getting around.”
As the rain fell over New England, Rosanne caught a few rides to get to Millis, Mass.
Eventually, those three men picked her up.
After a conversation about the rain, they let her out in Attleboro along I-95 North. It was under the Route 152 overpass.
“They saw in the rear-view mirror another car immediately pick her up,” Gorman said. “That was the last time she was seen alive. Probably had hundreds of people give her rides throughout the years and she just got in the wrong car with the wrong person at the wrong time.”
The next day, a few kids were playing along Albion Road in Lincoln, behind the Lincoln Mall.
They found a body in the brush. She had been strangled.
“That was just lucky that they found her as quick as they did,” Gorman said.
Lucky, because her body still held key clues that detectives in 1980 hoped would lead to the killer.
One of the clues: despite the rain, her body was dry.
“Whoever dumped her there, it must have been done relatively soon,” Gorman said.
It took weeks to confirm it was Rosanne’s body. Sketches were sent out over the news.
The three men who dropped her off under the overpass contacted police. They knew it was the girl who was talking about the weather.
Gorman said detectives tried to jog their memories about the car that picked her up. Eventually, they turned to hypnosis.
“After he was put under hypnosis, he said he believed it was a Pinto because of the way the lights fell in the grill,” Gorman said.
“She Fought Back”
One of the other clues Lincoln police found at the scene was DNA. They collected it from under her fingernails.
“She definitely fought back,” Gorman said. “She didn’t go quietly, that’s for sure.”
Detectives tested the DNA but there wasn’t a match.
Years went by and the case went cold.
“The pain that she must have gone through,” Rosanne’s sister said. “You try to figure out what she would have done. We still talk about her. There’s three of us left. We just want closure now. It’s been 39 years. It’s too long.”
Gorman said he is now taking the investigation in a new direction but won’t reveal too much.
He needs more to solve it. The investigation was added to a deck of cold case playing cards to generate new leads. Each card highlights an unsolved homicide or missing persons case in Rhode Island.
Rosanne Robinson is the jack of spades.
Gorman said it’s another tool to find a killer.
“No one’s forgotten about her,” he added. “Rosanne’s on everyone’s mind. It would be amazing to be able to give them closure and finally put someone away who did this awful thing to a young girl.”
Anyone with information should call 1-877-RI-SOLVE.