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‘It’s been 35 years too long’: Family seeks closure in 1984 Cranston killing

West Bay

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Lisa Taylor answered the knock at her family’s front door on January 21, 1984. Detectives were there with the news that her elder brother, Vernon Anthony Lomba, had been hit by a car.

His body was discovered lying in the snow near the Sunburst Lounge, a nightclub on Elmwood Avenue. It wasn’t until an autopsy revealed that Vernon had been badly beaten that detectives realized they weren’t dealing with a car accident, but a homicide.

Cranston Police Captain Vincent McAteer said detectives believe Vernon was killed in a robbery-gone-wrong, pointing to $300 that the 19-year-old reportedly had on him. The money was missing when his body was found.

“I mean, there is somebody out there who knows exactly what happened, and he or she might have talked to somebody,” McAteer said. “And we’re just hoping that that small crack in the case will lead to something bigger where we can find justice for Vernon and certainly some closure for his family.”

Vernon’s sisters, Lisa Taylor and Vonda Lomba, were only teenagers at the time.

“At that time I thought of him as an adult, as a grown person,” Taylor said. “And it didn’t hit me until my son turned 19. That’s when I was like, ‘Wow he was a baby. He still had a whole lot of life to live.’ It hurts still.”

Vonda was supposed to meet Vernon at the Sunburst Lounge the night of his death, but a snow storm kept her home. She’s heard multiple theories in the years since her brother’s murder about what might have led up to it, including the possibility of fights over a spilled drink or a girl.

“There’s so many conflicted stories, we don’t know which one to go with,” she said.

Vonda and her family believe multiple people know the truth about what happened that night, and wonder how those people can live with the secret.

“You not only left my brother on the side of the road, you left my entire family there,” she said.

Donna Priestley, Vernon’s mother, believes race might have been a factor.

“Nobody cares,” she said. “Thirty-five years ─ nobody cares about what I’m missing. For 35 years. He was a Black man found in the middle of the road: ‘Toss him aside.’ Back in ’84 there was racism just like there is today.”

McAteer said there was movement in the case in 2004 involving a suspect already incarcerated at the ACI, but it turned out to be a case of mistaken identity involving another fight at the Sunburst Lounge where the victim survived. There is no DNA evidence to be tested, so McAteer said it’s up to someone to provide new information that could crack the case.

Vernon’s family is hopeful someone will find it in their heart to come forward and help them get justice for their brother and son.

“It’s been 35 years too long,” Vonda said. “All I want is closure for my family and justice for my brother.”

If you know anything about Vernon’s murder you’re urged to contact Cranston Police by calling (401) 942-2211 or by clicking here.

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