Bristol officers dig into cold cases and tired station

With crime on the decline, officers are being put to other good uses

By Christy Nadalin
Posted 10/8/20

When the Bristol police station on Metacom Avenue was dedicated 42 years ago, it was lauded as one of the most up to date in New England. Of late, it’s just dated. With old linoleum floors and …

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Bristol officers dig into cold cases and tired station

With crime on the decline, officers are being put to other good uses

Posted

When the Bristol police station on Metacom Avenue was dedicated 42 years ago, it was lauded as one of the most up to date in New England. Of late, it’s just dated. With old linoleum floors and acoustic tiles that had long been painted over to hide years of cigarette smoke stains, the station was in dire need of some attention.

Fortunately, the department had talent in-house: Greg Silvia and John Mlynek, both senior patrol officers, were reassigned temporarily from regular patrols to painting, refinishing doors, and modernizing the office spaces.

According to Capt. Brian Burke, the Department’s chief of administration, through collective bargaining the chief can temporarily reassign officers for 90 days. It’s done routinely, primarily in the detective division, which allows patrol officers to spend time doing a different kind of police work.

“If these officers weren’t officers, they’d be craftsmen,” said Chief Kevin Lynch. “Calls were down, crime was down, establishments were closed … we were kind of bumping into each other here, to be honest. So we put their talents to work.”

“When you walk into more modern departments with softer color palletes, and carpets, it’s more soothing,” said Capt. Burke. “The carpets and ceiling tiles absorb sound so it doesn’t travel though the building. It’s a much better place.”

“With these upgrades, we can better meet the needs for both the officers and the people we serve,” said Chief Lynch. “For the taxpayers, it was just a matter of buying some materials. All the work was done in-house.”

 

Hot tips and cold cases

Occupying one of those newly-renovated office spaces is George Lefebvre, a patrolman who has currently been reassigned to dig into cold cases. They date from last year all the way back to 1975.

There are plenty of reasons a case might be put away as cold, according to Ptlm. Lefebvre. “If there’s no suspect, if there’s not enough information, or leads come up short. Sometimes it’s due to an overturned conviction.”

“Lots of cases are solved later with new advancements in technology,” said Capt. Burke. “Evidence can be resubmitted for testing.”

“I want to leave a paper trail showing that we have applied all the modern-day technology,” said Chief Lynch. “Even if we don’t solve the case, I still want to leave the framework there for the next guy.”

Sometimes the break comes from an advancement in technology, and other times it is because a clue, like a fingerprint, was not in the database at the time of the initial investigation — but is now.

Evidence is sometimes held by the FBI, but in most cases is returned to the storage at the original investigating department. Here in Bristol, Det. Julie Veader is the evidence custodian in charge of the basement vault, which lies behind a large metal door. “When she took over she reorganized the evidence vault, and she’s taken a fresh look at some of the things we have down there, so she is working closely with Ptlm. Lefebvre,” said Capt. Burke.

“There are a lot of interesting things down there,” said Det. Veader.

“We’re applying modern-day policing to cold cases,” said Chief Lynch, citing three new cases and three old ones that he’s hoping to unravel. “Just before I became chief there was a shooting into a house on Bradford Street, there was the theft of the poor box from Mt. Carmel Church, and there was the incident of the white powdery substance found at the school administration building. Those are three cases that, as new chief, I wanted to take a second look at.”

One piece of new technology Chief Lynch is hoping might deliver a break in any of these cases is Tip 411,  an app that allows the BPD to push a message out, as well as solicit anonymous tips.

“We are going to tell the public we are taking a second look,” said Chief Lynch. “Somebody knows something about every one of those crimes that were committed, and we’re asking for the community’s help.”

Bristol’s Tip 411 app recently led to the arrest of Francisco DaCosta of 42 Mt. Hope Ave. by members of the Rhode Island State Police High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force (HIDTA), after receiving a tip of a person suspected of cultivating marijuana.

Chief Lynch stressed that Tip 411 is completely anonymous. “No matter the court order, the source will not be given up,” he said.

 

Police hoping for breakthrough in Morris case

Some of the oldest cases are the toughest ones — the three that Ptlm. Lefebvre will be working on in the coming weeks include a 1975 murder of a Hope Street woman. “Her husband was an attorney, she was strangled with dowels and wire, and he was charged and acquitted,” said Det. Veader. If new evidence is uncovered that indicates he is guilty, he is protected by double jeopardy. “But we still want to solve the case,” she said.

Det. Adam Clifford recently spoke to the husband, who is remarried and not living in town. They aren’t saying much about specifics, beyond the fact there is some evidence that remains, which Det. Clifford swabbed and sent to a lab about two weeks ago. Det. Clifford is also actively investigating the assault of a clerk at the Midland Farms convenience store on Wood Street from a couple of years ago. He recently posted a surveillance video on the Bristol Police Department Facebook page, and is hopeful that a tipster might see something familiar in the unidentified suspect.

There’s the case of Bryan Nisenfeld, the Roger Williams University student who went missing in 1997 and whose foot was later discovered on Hog Island. It was ruled a suicide, a finding which remains disputed by Mr. Nisenfeld’s family. “We want to follow up every lead, with a fresh set of eyes,” said Chief Lynch.

And then there’s the case of Lauren Morris, who in 1988 at age 18 was found murdered at Spectacle Pond in Cranston. The Bristol and Cranston police departments have worked together on this case for more than three decades, and Chief Lynch was on the Cranston force at the time, so has firsthand knowledge about the early days of the investigation.

“We have a lot of attachment to this case,” he said. “Was it a person from Bristol? We don’t know. But new technology has been developed, a new suspect could have been arrested and matched to existing evidence. Maybe someone has even heard something new.”

“The smallest stone that you turn over, you don’t know what it might lead to,” said Det. Veader.

“So many people have collaborated on this case over the years, between Bristol and Cranston, and we would really like to solve this for Lauren’s family.”

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