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‘My heart sank’: RI woman’s relative buried beneath Route 37

Target 12

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) – A Rhode Island woman said she spent three years searching for her relative’s gravesite before learning the remains were buried under a local highway in Cranston.

“Now, when I drive over Route 37, I can’t help but think that Abbie’s still buried here,” Cindy Thibodeau said.

Thibodeau said she saw Target 12’s investigation which revealed Route 37 was built on top of nearly 1,000 bodies, and wanted to share her own experience to possibly help others still searching for their relatives’ gravesites.

She said she started researching her cousin Abbie Warfield in 2009 and quickly learned she had died at a state institution in Cranston 100 years prior.

After searching for Warfield’s gravesite at several historic cemeteries, she said she got in touch with the state archaeologist.

He told her that Warfield — originally buried in grave 02336 — was still buried beneath Route 37.

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“My heart sank,” Thibodeau said. “My ancestor went through life and then was buried in a pauper’s grave. A highway was built over her grave — to me, it’s very upsetting.”

She said her family was shocked when she shared the news. She said she drives over Route 37 roughly four times a week.

“You look at that person’s life, and you feel really sad that this happened,” Thibodeau said.

She told Target 12 she wants to see the state acknowledge the people who were paved over in the 1960s, like a roadside memorial that includes a list of their names or in a more prominent location, like the State House.

Lisbeth Pettengill, a spokesperson for the R.I. Department of Transportation said in an email, “we are most sympathetic to the families of all the people who long ago were buried in unmarked graves.”

“It was during a time when regulations were far more lax than they are now. This would never happen now,” Pettengill said. “The road was inadvertently built over part of the cemetery.”

Tolly Taylor (ttaylor@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook

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