CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — The rocky, bayfront beach at the end of Ocean Avenue in Cranston is a perfect spot for an afternoon stroll.
As spring stretches to summer, Rhode Islanders can spend the day there, soaking up the sun and taking photos. The rock wall next to the Rhode Island Yacht Club is the epitome of relaxing.
But 25 years ago, two men were taking in the snowy February scene and noticed something bobbing in the water.
“Just about 15 feet out from the shoreline,” Cranston Detective Robert Santagata said.
It was a body.
Just hours earlier, the Providence Police Department began to search for a missing man. As the medical examiner arrived at Ocean Avenue, it became clear the search was over.
Chansay Sayavong was dead.
The investigation to uncover who killed him was just beginning.
The Man From Laos
Sayavong moved to Rhode Island from Laos with his brother a few years before he died.
“He was only in the country a short time,” Santagata said. “His interactions and friends are pretty much a small group of people.”
His brother, Oudom Soudannarath, spoke to Eyewitness News in 2015 when Cranston police first reopened the investigation.
“He tried to make money and send it home to my mother, that’s all,” Soudannarath said.
The two worked together at the same store near their Providence apartment.
On Feb. 3, 1990, Soudannarath said his brother left during snowfall.
“He said, ‘I’ve got to go out tonight’,” Soudannarath recalled. “I said, ‘OK. You want to go out? Go out.'”
Sayavong never came home, so Soudannarath called Providence police to report him missing.
Hours later, a Cranston detective knocked on his door.
“He showed me his wallet and I start crying,” Soudannarath said.
The Last Night
Police believe when Sayavong left his apartment, he likely went out to a club.
Uncovering where he went after that is a challenge.
“A lot of the places he frequented are no longer there,” Santagata said. “It’s been very difficult. To even know where he was the night before and who he was with has been a challenge.”
Somehow, it ended on the seawall.
How he was killed—the detective won’t reveal. He said they do have the murder weapon, however.
“The manner in which he died was very brutal. I’ll leave it at that,” Santagata said.
The clues at the scene lead Santagata to believe there is more than one person who killed the 29-year-old.
“I would imagine there were multiple people involved in this,” he said.
The night Sayavong died, Johnston firefighters responded to a car engulfed in flames on the side of Route 6 near Killingly Street.
It was Sayavong’s car, and any evidence inside was destroyed in the fire.
“From Route 6 to Ocean Ave. is quite a distance,” Santagata said.
Who drove it there and lit it on fire?
Those questions remain unanswered, even after 25 years.
Reopening The Case
In 2015, Cranston police wanted a fresh look at old, open cases to see if new technology would lead to more answers.
Sayavong’s case was among those publicized and it brought in a new tip.
But Santagata won’t say if it’s led anywhere.
“I can’t really comment on that at this time,” he said.
Hoping to bring in new leads, he added the case to a deck of cold case playing cards. Each card highlights an unsolved homicide or missing person case in Rhode Island. Sayavong is the 8 of spades.
Soudannarath said in 2015 that his family deserves to know what happened.
“The people that did that to him, it’s not human,” he said.
Santagata said anything will help.
“There are family members out there that grieve this every day,” he said. “I do believe there’s somebody out there that knows something or has heard something that hopefully comes forward.”
Anyone with information is urged to call 1-877-RI-SOLVE.