Detective: 1986 murder of Cranston mom ‘close to being solved’

West Bay

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — Bobby Fisher’s boss rushed him to the hospital.
The 18-year-old was preparing to say goodbye to his mother Donna.

The healthy, loving mother suddenly fell unconscious at home. The doctors said it was likely a brain aneurysm.

And just like that—she was gone.

It was hard enough for the teenager to navigate a new world without his mother. But it got worse.

Days after her death, the autopsy report came back.

It wasn’t an aneurysm. Donna was murdered.

“My Confidant”

Bobby said he had the “cool house” growing up. The place all his friends wanted to go after school. A big reason was because everybody loved his mom.

“She was my best friend. She was my confidant,” Bobby said. “I could go to her with anything and she would understand and listen. She would take all my worries away.”

Bobby and Donna were inseparable. He said for a long time it was just the two of them taking on the world. Mother and son.

Donna and Bobby Fisher

The two loved to spend their weekends at Beavertail State Park in Jamestown. Other weekends they would go camping. Or maybe just hiking. Anything to be outside.

“She just got into life,” Bobby said. “She loved life.”

As the boy grew into a teenager, they still spent all their time together. 
Bobby said she was funny and had a great laugh.

“She taught me by experience,” he added. “She was more of my friend than a parent.”

Bobby said his mother didn’t have any enemies. No one would speak ill of her. She was loved by more friends than he can count.

The Autopsy

Right after Bobby’s 18th birthday, he left for his job. Nothing was unusual about the morning.

Donna had plans to go out with her neighbor for the day but she never showed. Cranston police said the neighbor called 911.

EMTs arrived before police but they couldn’t get in. The family dog was blocking the door.

In hindsight, Bobby said that was unusual for their dog. It was the first indication something nefarious had taken place inside.

Donna was found unconscious upstairs. No one suspected foul play at that point.

“It just came out of the blue,” Bobby said. “I left for work that day and I gave her a hug and a kiss and I didn’t realize that…nobody could have told me that was the last time I would have seen her.”

Before the autopsy would reveal what really happened, Cranston Detective Robert Santagata said officers started to piece together that something was off.

“By the second day, there was something that became suspicious and detectives got involved,” Santagata said.

He won’t specify what was so suspicious but according to Eyewitness News archives, officers in 1986 noticed something strange with the phones.

The detective in the archived video said the kitchen phone was pulled off the wall and the bedroom phone line was pulled out of the jack.

Then the autopsy revealed Donna was strangled.

“It hit me like a punch to the stomach,” Bobby recalled. “I couldn’t imagine anybody doing that to her.”

Behind the Eight Ball

Detectives often talk about how important the first few days are to any homicide investigation. Evidence is fresh. Memories are fresh.

Donna’s investigation didn’t begin until after those days had passed.

“Now you’re behind the eight ball,” Santagata said. “We’re trying to get in there to investigate what had happened.”

He called it a “severe” disadvantage. But after 32 years, Santagata said there is new hope.

Donna Fisher

“We have substantial scientific evidence that I think will break the case,” he said. He wouldn’t specify what the evidence is exactly.

He also added that tips could also lead to a break.

“There’s a small group of people that would have information to know what happened and just don’t want to say it,” he said.

Santagata is also investigating several other cold case homicides in Cranston. They have been added to a deck of cold case playing cards. Each card highlights an unsolved homicide or missing person in Rhode Island. Detectives hope the cards will bring in new tips.

Donna’s investigation isn’t in the deck, but Santagata said he is close to solving the case.

That’s welcome news to Bobby. All he wants is an answer to the question that’s haunted his entire adult life.

“The strongest person that I had growing up has missed birthdays, and my own wedding, the birth of my two daughters. She’s just missed a lot,” he said. “We were a happy family for many many years. Then she passed away and that all changed.”

Anyone with information on Donna’s investigation is asked to call Detective Santagata at (401) 477-5169. For tips on any investigation in the deck of cold case playing cards should call 1-877-RI-SOLVE.

The Cold Case Cards » | Cold Case Cards: All In »

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