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Eyewitness News goes into the archives to shine light on 42-year-old murder case

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TIVERTON, R.I. (WPRI) — In June 1977, Lyla Poitras vanished.

“It was like she disappeared off the face of the Earth,” Tiverton Police Detective Michael Miguel said.

The search for her consumed Tiverton.

“This was really, at the time, a whodunnit,” Miguel added.

Poitras had a good life. She was two years removed from a divorce. She had an insurance job in Fall River while living at her Cynthia Avenue home.

Miguel said she was outgoing, loved and had a lot of friends. He added that she was an animal lover.

“She would pick up any stray animal or cat and keep them,” he said.

Poitras was a reliable friend who always showed up on time. That’s what made it so strange when she didn’t show up for work.

“That was key to the case,” Miguel said. “She never called out sick. She always show up to work on time.”

Neighbors peered into her home to check on her. They didn’t see her but called police to check it out.

Miguel said the front porch light was on, which was odd because it was the middle of the day. The front door was locked.

Once police got inside, it only got stranger.

“They did find Lyla’s pocketbook was in the house,” Miguel recalled. “Her car keys, her car was in the driveway. Her TV was running.”

Detectives called in the Rhode Island State Police to search the area with K-9s. They found nothing.

Later, detectives said they learned Poitras watched the Red Sox game with her boyfriend that night. They said he left and is not a suspect.

It was after her boyfriend left that something happened.

“We believe she left the house with someone she knew,” Miguel said. “She took the time to lock the door. We believe she expected to return shortly after with the lights still on and TV running.”

Weeks later, a worker cutting grass along Canning Boulevard smelled something. According to archived Eyewitness News video recovered by the Rhode Island Historical Society, reporter Lisa Schmidt spoke to that worker.

“I smelled something,” the man told Schmidt. “I thought it was a dog or something. I was going to put it in the truck or back in the woods farther. I looked and I saw the body there.”

The detective on the case in 1977 told the reporter that Poitras was killed from a gunshot wound to the head.

“I don’t really know about suspects,” the detective told Schmidt. “We are talking with people we have talked with before. Our investigation is continuing around the clock. We are working together with the Rhode Island State Police and we have teams out following leads that we do receive.”

Forty-two years have now passed.

Miguel said they have a person of interest but need more. 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.

Poitras is the ace of clubs.

He said the killer needs to be behind bars.

“You took an innocent human life and there was no need for that,” Miguel said. “It’s time to come forward. It’s time to pay the price for the crime.”

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

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

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