This case is a another local case, taking place not far from where I live but it’s not technically a murder because Jennifer disappeared into thin air on November 14th, 1989 and was just never seen again. This case is from the City of Brockton, where there is more distrust of the police than in some of the suburbs but it’s clear that a lot of someone’s know something in this case. It’s just waiting for that one piece of information that brings everything together.
While I had heard the case before, likely from some of the vigils that have been held, what it leading me today to want to share today is a podcast I listened to called, “The Vanished”. If you have not listened to the podcast before – I invite you to give it a listen, and hear Jennifer’s Story.
Hopefully, this case will be solved. For myself, I am particularly interested in whether the abuse of the disabled person in this story was part of the reason that Jennifer disappeared. It was an aspect of the case I had never heard before and it could certainly speak to a motive.
Matthew Cote was born to parents, Paula and Michael Cote. He had a brother, a sister and two step sisters. He grew up in the small New England town of Middleboro, MA. He had moved out, and was living in Kingston with his girlfriend, Jessica Brunell, and her young daughter. He was a flooring contractor that worked for his father’s business.
According to court records, August 13, 2003, around 2 pm Matthew Cote received a call from Russell Freitas at home, and Freitas asked him to come to his house to help him with some random tasks, like starting a dirt bike. Freitas also stated he had pills that he wanted Matt to sell. Matt broke his wrist in 2002 and was struggling with an addiction to Oxycontin, which he reportedly purchased from this Freitas character, a friend Matt had known for a long time. Freitas, involved in an accident in 1997 that left him a quadriplegic, was prescribed Oxycontin pills to control his pain. It is believed he used only a small amount of these pills and sold the rest.
Matt left home in his green pick-up for Russell’s house about 2:30 pm. Arriving reportedly, around 3pm, because he spoke briefly to Jamie Peterson, who was Freitas’s girlfriend and caregiver before she left to cash her check. When he had not returned home in time for dinner, Jessica began calling him, but could not reach him. She continued to call him throughout the night but was unable to reach him.
On August 14, 2003, Matt did not show up to meet his father for work when he was scheduled to arrive at 8:30 am. Later, his girlfriend went to the Kingston police station and filed a missing person report. Over the course of the next couple of days, Jessica reportedly also went around putting up “missing person” fliers in the entire surrounding area in the businesses and at the train stations. I went to school with Matt, and seeing these fliers was when I first became aware he was missing and started following this case.
Sunday, August 17, 2003, at approximately 10:00 a.m., charred remains were discovered by fisherman. They noticed the completely burned and unrecognizable body inside the backseat of a burned out truck, face down.
Autopsy would later find that the victim reportedly died of three to five wounds directly to his heart, one to the left lung, and two to his stomach area by a blunt item like a screwdriver before the truck was set on fire. It is said that Freitas kept pictures of the burned pick-up truck where Cote’s body was found, and sometimes used it as a screensaver on his computer. It is believed Matt owed Russell Freitas $300, which was the motivation for the murder. Seriously… just $300. Matt Cote was just 26 years old at the time of his death.
After Matt’s remains were discovered, a witness who watched the news reports came to police to report rather strange interactions with Freitas at times surrounding the case. He stated that 8:00 p.m. that evening that Matt went missing, he received a telephone call from Freitas, who wanted him to help him pick someone up. Freitas instructed him to drive through backroads, while Freitas was repeatedly calling someone. During the telephone call, Freitas told the person on the phone to “Make sure the duck is cooked well, well, well done.” This witness reports that after some time, Russell asked his friend to stop the car and they picked up Darren Caswell, who was dressed all in black. Caswell was picked up close to the spot where the victim’s body was later discovered. Police had evidence that placed Caswell’s cell phone within a quarter mile of the crime scene.
On July 14, 2007, Freitas died at 39 years old. The case became a cold case despite the evidence. Freitas may have been a driving force in this case but he could never physically have struck the fatal blows himself due to his physical condition, so at this point, the murderer was still free and Frietas could not be held responsible for his role in the crime. The State Police Fusion Unit reviewed the collected evidence and were able to put together a case against Darren Caswell.
On October 5, 2009, Darren Caswell was officially charged with first degree murder. The jury rejected the charge of murder in the first degree and later convicted Mr. Caswell of murder in the 2nd degree. He lost his bid for appeal in 2014, a second appeal in 2020 and is currently serving out a life sentence for the murder in the state correctional facility in Milford, MA.
I remember this case well. I think it was the smiling photo that was released when Jeffrey Curley first went missing and the overwhelming feeling that it was not going to end well… but I am not sure anyone was prepared to the depths of depravity that this case dove into.
Jeffrey Curley was born June 9, 1987, a third son to Robert, a fireman in Cambridge and Barbara Curley. The lived in East Cambridge on the outskirts of Boston, MA. Jeffrey liked to play outdoor sports in the neighborhood; such as basketball, baseball, hockey. He enjoyed ice skating and riding his bike.
October 1st, 1997, Jeffrey was last seen by his mother going to his grandmother’s house to wash the dog. As planned, He made it to his Nana’s house. After she saw him, he said he needed “to do something and would be back in ten minutes”. That was the last time Jeffrey was seen alive.
Jeffrey was reportedly lured into the car by 2 men he knew from the neighborhood, who had promised him a new bike…It was just after 3 pm. Charles Jaynes reported that Jeffrey stated, “You guys are my best friends” shortly after this ride began. You see, the reality was Jaynes and Sicari had been grooming Jeffrey for months taking him to McDonalds and the Museum of Science, and other places. To Jeffrey, these men were not strangers but people he felt like he knew and was comfortable with. He likely did not realize he was in danger until those last few minutes.
The family reported the boy missing when he did not return home that evening and police searches began the next day. Like many other cases, by the time the searches began, it was already much too late.
Very soon after Jeffrey was in the car, the suspects, Salvatore Sicari and Charles Jayne brutally murdered Jeffrey by smothering him by Jaynes sitting on him with his disgusting, extensive body weight after stuffing a gasoline soaked rag into Jeffrey’s mouth. Jeffrey fought hard but was no match for Jayne’s size. Charles Jayne then went to work at the Honda Village in Newton, with the victim’s body in the car, on the floor near the backseat where Sicari secured it and put in the trunk . After work, Jaynes and Sicari drove to Jayne’s Manchester, NH apartment. Jeffrey’s dead body was then raped by the men. When they were through, they stuffed Jeffrey into a plastic tote with lime and concrete and tossed him off a bridge into the Great Works River in South Berwick, Maine where his body was found on October 7, 1997.
During the search for Jeffrey, Salvatore Sicari, was interviewed 4 times after saying he saw Jeffrey the day he went missing, which culminating in his admission of being involve. He admitted to the kidnapping and subsequent murder with an accomplice, Charles Jayne. Sicari claimed to be a witness to the crime with Jayne committing the actual murder.
Both men were convicted in this disgusting crime and given life sentences. Jayne finally admitted his role in the crime just this year, but in some screwed up twist Jayne has the possibility of parole on his conviction of second degree murder.
For the sake of the family, and other family’s of small children, I am hoping that neither man ever sees the outside of prison walls again. I hope every moment they spent in prison, they suffer for what they have done. After a story like this, it feels like they could never suffer enough.
Here are a few more articles if you are interested in this case:
Jeffrey Zaccardi, 43, was the father of the family. He was from Foxborough and a graduate of Foxboro High School. Joseph reportedly wrote children’s books that he sold online on Amazon although he had reportedly posted his employment status on Facebook as “unemployed and going crazy”.
Mother of the clan was Deirdre, who was 40 years old worked in Boston as an office manager at EMI Marketing Strategy. The couple had met in college at UMASS Dartmouth and been married for more than 10 years. Dierdre volunteered with the children’s school and was elected to the school board. She was involved with Keeping Pace with Multiple Miracles that assists mothers who give birth to twins, or other multiples where she participated in support group for parents of multiples.
They had 3 children. The oldest child was 11 year old Alexis who was followed by 9-year old twins – Nathaniel and Kathryn. All 3 children attended Abington public Schools.
On Monday, October 7th, 2019, a family member arrived to take the children to school. Instead they found Deidre unresponsive and bleeding in the downstairs on the couch and called the police. The police searched the house and quickly found the remaining family members. The case of death for all 5 family members was gunshot wounds. All were believed to have been killed sometime the previous night. A neighbor recalled hearing 4 noises that prompted her to get up at approximately 1 am Monday Morning to investigate but thought it might have been the dumpster door blowing in the wind. She now believes it was likely the gunshots she heard.
The investigation quickly lead to Joseph Zaccardi becoming the main suspect – It is believed he shot his wife, then each of the children and then himself. This was confirmed in the medical examiner’s report. I am hopeful that if the shots were what the neighbor heard, then the children were asleep and not aware of what what happening.
The real question is why? What leads a children’s book author to kill his entire family? There were no known known domestic issues and the police were never called to the residence. There is no stories of a violent temper or abuse. There were no restraining orders. Deirdre had reportedly taken the Wednesday before the murders off to celebrate the Twin’s Birthday by taking them to the movies and in a support group the week before, said everything was “good”.
If you follow this case, you will read a lot of speculation in articles that depression and inability to support the family can drive this type of family annihilation but we really have no idea what the family finances looked like for the Zaccardi’s. There is also speculation that it is perhaps due to the role reversal of his wife being the main breadwinner that caused the strife, but this doesn’t seem like it was a new situation for the family with Dierdre working her job for at least 2 decades. Sadly, it’s doubtful that we will ever know for sure what happened in the last moments that caused this tragedy.
13 year old Melissa Benoit was a resident of Kingston,MA. She lived in a home with her mother and an 11 year old sister. The family had recently been through tragedy when the year before, Melissa’s father had passed away unexpectedly at just 41 years old leaving the family devastated.
Melissa was last seen on a path near her home about 2:30 pm on Saturday, September 15, 1990 where she went to visit her father’s grave. Melissa frequented this path, visiting her father often, a feat made easy by the proximity of the cemetery to her home.
The FBI asked neighbors to search properties and undergo polygraph testing related to the case. By September 19th, suspicion had fallen on a neighbor who had lived in the area for 30 years. After failing the polygraph, this man, Henry L. Meinholz admitted to prior lewd acts including sexual assault at knifepoint and public masterbation.
The disappearance was immediately taken seriously and the search for Melissa was extensive, involving 1000 law enforcement officers and volunteers. After Meinholz’s wife consented, a search was executed on his home and Melissa’s body was recovered during that search.
Her body, clad only in a tshirt, was found in the basement of the Meinholz home 11 days after she went missing. She was wrapped in plastic sheet which was fashioned as a cord around her neck . There was a cord around her chest, and a cord around her left wrist, and evidence there had been cords around other limbs while she was alive. She was naked from the waist down and had multiple blunt force contusions on her body. She had contusions on her bilateral inner thighs consistent with sexual assault. Cause of death was asphyxia and blunt fore trauma to the head.
Meinholz, 52, a bookkeeper at a lumber yard and church deacon ,was charged and convicted with kidnapping and killing the young girl . He claimed the voices in his head taunted him that he was not a man if he did not have sex with her. Meinholz was not charged with sexual assault because it could not be proven due to decomposition, however he did testify to sexually assaulting her but stated the sexual contact with the 13 year old was consentual, which only shows what a true abomination this man was. Of course, no one believed any of his sick lies any way, I just hate that her mother and sister had to sit there and listen to that after all they had been through.
Meinholz was given life in prison without parole, and he started his time in prison in Walpole but after many threats and one an assault, he was moved to the prison in Concord. I didn’t need to add that part but it made me feel good to think he suffered some after what he did.
Meinholz died in prison in 2000. The judge in the murder trial discussed that it was unfortunate the days where defendants like Meinholz could be hanged in front of the courthouse had passed.
Melissa is buried next to her father in Evergreen Cemetery in Kingston.
Mary Lou Arruda was born on September 8, 1963 to Joanne and Adrian Arruda, and she was the oldest of the Arruda children, with 2 brothers Joseph and Tony; and a sister, Karen. They lived in Raynham, MA – a small, suburban town on the outskirts of the City of Taunton, about 32 miles south of Boston.
On her Birthday – September 8, 1978, late in the afternoon, fifteen year old Mary Lou Arruda was abducted while riding her bike in her neighborhood, near Church Street. Her bike was found a short time later by a neighborhood boy and returned it to her mother, who called the police.
The call touched off a search with police, dogs and volunteers that lasted for days but there was no sign of the 15 year old cheerleader. It seemed as if she simply disappeared. There were witnesses that placed an unfamiliar green vehicle in the area, and the police worked with the witnesses and even developed a sketch.
A full two months later, November 11, 1978, Arruda’s body was found in Freetown State Forest by a dirt bike rider. She was fully dressed and tied to the tree in a standing position. Experts believe that she was alive when she was tied to the tree, head to foot, and cause of death was ruled by the medical examiner as strangulation by ligature or positional asphyxia. There were several reports as I was researching indicating decapitation in this case – I did not see that in the official records that I went through – but due to the body being out in nature for 2 months, it’s safe to say that she was likely in advanced decomposition.
James Kater, 31, who worked at doughnut store in Brockton, quickly became the main suspect in this case. He was apparently married the day after Mary Lou was kidnapped to his 18 year old fiance and left the country for his honeymoon.
Kater’s alibi was that he was running errands all over town when Mary Lou went missing, which the police were able to summarily dismiss his alibi throughout their investigations by proving he wasn’t where he stated, or he wasn’t there at the stated time. Kater was also seen by witnesses driving his green car in the neighborhood where Mary Lou went missing from and also in the vicinity where Mary Lou Arruda’s body was found shortly after the kidnapping. He was arrested in December of 1978.
In February of 1969, Kater pled guilty to a amazingly similar crime, the 1968 abduction of Jacalyn Bussiere. The afternoon of June 22, 1968, the thirteen year old was walking her bike in her neighborhood when she was kidnapped. She was forced into a car and driven 20 minutes away into some woods. Kater hit her on the back of the head with an iron bar while making her to kneel at a stream, forcing her face into the shallow water. Jacalyn resisted and knocked his glasses off. It’s unclear if he was attempting to torture her or drown her. She tried to escape, but Kater forced her back into the car and drove further into the woods. He tied her to a tree at the ankles, knees and torso and then waited. After about twenty minutes where Kater reportedly did nothing but pace, he pulled a last tie tight around her neck and then strangled her with his hands. When she awoke, Jacalyn managed to untie herself. Kater was convicted and spent most of the years in between this attack and Mary Lou’s abduction in prison, having been released in January of 1976.
Kater fought hard to fight the Arruda murder conviction, having four separate trials, and many, many appeals on this crime. He was serving his life sentence at MCI Shirley when on January 9th he was transferred to Shattuck Hospital for treatment . Fortunately, He died of cancer on January 23rd, 2016, 38 years after the murder. Finally, giving the family a small peace.
Mary Lou was laid to rest in St Joseph’s Cemetery in Taunton, MA .
This is the other case of local lore I referenced in an earlier blog post. This case is one of the stories around town where every fact I ever heard was completely wrong. When your sources are other 4th graders, I guess that’s to be expected.
Leann Ryba was born December 10, 1968. She lived with her mother and her 14 year old sister in downtown Middleborough. She was a junior at Middleborough High School. She had boyfriend, and many friends. She enjoyed music, singing and the fine arts; participating in the school and community theater programs.
The story I always heard involved her walking home from work through the woods at night. The truth from what I could research is that on May 15, 1985 Leann spent the evening having dinner with friends at Middleborough House of Pizza, and then reportedly hanging out behind the police station in the parking lot with friends. The was a typical hang-out for kids her age.
Leann was last seen at midnight of May 16th walking through town the short distance to her home, but she never made it. One article reported she was last seen just 5 houses from her home. Her body was found by her 14 year old sister and two of her friends on their walk to school. It would be horrifying to find anyone in this condition, but finding your sister would be particularly traumatizing. Leann’s body was nude from the waist down , brush pulled over the top half of her body.
Leann had severe injuries and her time of death was believed to be not long after she was last seen. Autopsy found her neck had been gashed open and she had been stabbed in the abdomen. She had blunt force trauma to the back of the head and bruising, which is believed to be from her being dragged. She had been sexually assaulted. Her cause of death was blood loss from the stab wounds. Her body was found on a dirt road called Woodlawn Ave just about 100 ft off South Main Street which is one of the main roads through the small center of town, and the street Leann lived on.
I am not certain exactly what first brought 20 year old Gary Plant of Freetown to the police’s radar but several witnesses had seen him in the area. Plant was a former Lakeville resident who graduated from Apponequet High in 1984.
Plant was arrested 3 days later at a baseball game after his house was searched. On a long, videotaped interview he admitted to facts that lead police to believe he was the murderer.
Hair matching Leann’s was found on Gary’s boot, and her bloody underwear was found at a place called “Mello’s Market” where Gary was known to be during that time period just after her murder. Two knives and some clothing were seized from the Plant home during the search.
Gary F. Plant was convicted of murder and aggravated rape. His attempt at appeal failed and he is still incarcerated at MCI Norfolkprison in Massachusetts.
Leann was laid to rest in St Mary’s Cemetery in Middleborough. It is clear from posts I read while researching this article that she is still missed to this day.
Lakeville is small town, MA. There is barely even a center to the town. Blink, and you will surely miss it. Violent crime is almost non-existent in this town but tragedy still struck 51 Hill Street on a quiet Saturday. In this case, there seem to be more questions than answers…mainly, why?
The family home was locked with the deadbolts from the inside when the authorities arrived to the home in order to do a wellness check. The last confirmed sighting of the family was Friday, when the family returned from vacation. Once the authorities entered the home what they discovered was a terrible tragedy.
Paul Riley was a 52 year old Lt firefighter who worked out of Brockton, Ma. He was married to his second wife, Alicia (Frawley) Riley, who hailed from Brockton. He was said to have a good relationship with his first wife, with whom he also had a son.
Paul was known to be a good guy to family, friends and coworkers. There was no evidence of stress or domestic strife that any friends or family were aware of. There were no records that the police were ever called to the home for any issues other than false alarms from the home security system.
Alicia (Frawley) Riley, was just 37 years old. Alicia was formerly of Brockton, and was a volunteer at the Lakeville Animal Shelter. Alicia came from a big family, with 4 brothers and three sisters. Alicia and Paul had lived in the home at 51 Hill Street for 8 years, and were in the process of building a large, new home on Calthrop Drive in Bridgewater, MA, in a small subdivision of about 10 homes. The couple were their own contractors on the project. This project was reportedly running over budget – but the couple did not show the normal signs of financial hardship. Could this have really been the cause?
The Riley family had just returned from a vacation in Disney World on Friday, which was the last day they were seen alive. Relatives did not hear from them, and called the police Monday night to check up on the family. The police arrived at approximately 6 pm and made the discovery of the tragedy after breaking into the house through a window. The house was secured from inside with the deadbolt. Alicia was found fully clothed, and deceased in the bathtub, and investigators stated it was unclear if she was shot there, or moved there afterwards but there was never any indication they found a secondary site in the house where she would have been shot.
The children, Matthew, 6, & Erin, just 2 years old were found in bed. The children were wearing their pajamas. Autopsies for all 4 individuals in the home showed that each of the victims was shot just once, and that they had likely been dead for 48 hours, putting their deaths at sometime Saturday. Police indicated there were no signs of a struggle in the home. Authorities believe Paul killed his wife and two small children before killing himself.
Paul’s body was found in his son’s bedroom with a .380 semiautomatic pistol underneath his body. Authorities said he purchased the gun in 1989, but that his firearms license expired in 1992. All indications were that his gun shot wound was self-inflicted.
There were no answers I could find on this case. No definitive reason, only a theory that the house they were building being over budget was just too much stress for him. Is that enough to drive a family man to become a family annihilator? Did something happen between the couple on vacation that caused a rift ? What drives a man to shoot his small children? In this case, they didn’t seem to find anything in the investigation that made sense, and I don’t think we will ever truly know.
Tara Gillon was born July 27th, 1976. The 20 year old college sophomore who was studying at the University of Indiana student that was back in Middleborough, MA to visit her family during winter break from classes. Tara was home with her sister until 10:00 pm, when her sister left. I would like you to keep this in mind, since her parents returned home just around 11 pm. All of the following story happened when Tara was home alone for less than one hour. If that doesn’t scare you after reading this, nothing will.
On New Year’s Eve 1996 , 18 year old Ryan Burgess had been drinking and taking Tylenol with codeine. He had left a party early after having an argument. His girlfriend reportedly left the party with him around 9 pm and walked with him for a little while, but turned back to the Ash Street party as it was cold outside.
Around 10 p.m., Burgess saw a car leaving the house on Old Center Street – a place that Burgess likely saw as a target due to the way the home is set off the road, with woods to the side and rear of the one family home. He likely intended to rob the home, since Mr. Burgess, despite his young age, had a long criminal history including breaking and entering charges and juvenile delinquency. Reportedly, Burgess had over 20 convictions by 15 years old.
After making his way around the home, Burgess broke into the back porch where he was reportedly confronted by the victim. The reports indicate the victim, Tara asked him what he was doing on the back porch. He said he was a friend of her sister, she screamed and he grabbed her by the neck and choked her extensively. He then left her on the couch while she struggled to breathe and went to the kitchen, grabbed a knife, returning to the victim. He then proceeded to stab her. Her autopsy indicated that this was a brutal attack. She was stabbed approximately 21 times, 11 of these wounds were said to be deep enough to be fatal. Extensive defensive wounds on her arms showed Tara tried hard to fight. In addition to the stab wounds, she suffered a fractured hyoid bone and hemorrhaging in her voice box, larynx and neck. She also had a bite mark on one of her nipples.
This sick jerk then dragged her out of sight of the windows, removed clothing from her bottom-half and raped her. There is no way to know whether she had already passed away or was dying while this assault took place. I have a hard time with this, what the hell was wrong with this guy?
He then smoked a cigarette and ransacked the upstairs but did not appear to actually take anything. Reports indicate that drawers were just sort of pulled out and disheveled. Burgess stated he left shortly after 11 pm when he heard a car pull into the driveway. This lines up with reports from Tara’s father and Stepmother, who were coming home from a New Year’s Eve Dinner. They believe they heard someone exit as they arrived. They found Tara naked from the waist down with extensive, gaping wounds. It was too late to save her, she was already gone
No stolen items were present when the police caught up with him shortly after the murder, and they caught him pretty fast since they were able to follow his initial track right back to the party.Police questioned the people at the Ash Street party. Soon after, they arrived at the Elm Street home that Burgess was staying at with friends. He no longer lived with his parents.
At that time the police questioned Burgess, He consented to a search of his room. in that search, they found visible bloodstains on Mr. Burgess’ pants from the night before, a pair of sneakers that matched the footprints outside the crime scene, and Burgess himself had injuries from the Gillon resisting the attack, including scratches on his arms and lips. The blood on the pants was a DNA match to Tara’s when tested. Additionally, DNA from a cigarette butt found in the Gillon home was a match to Burgess.
Police have never found the murder weapon, believed to be a long, thin, steak knife that was removed from the Gillon kitchen. He confessed to his crimes and later tried to suppress his confession, based on a myriad of factors and evidence found in his possession when he was first questioned. His attempts were thankfully unsuccessful.
In 1998, Burgess was sentenced to 2 life sentences in prison without the possibility of parole. In 2001, the court rejected Burgess’ appeal and upheld the conviction.
Tara has been laid to rest in St Francis Old Cemetery in Taunton, MA.
This show explores some of the more difficult to solve cases in the Southern Ontario (Canada) area, which remain unresolved to this day. Join your host as she explores the community and facts surrounding each case. Each case features a unique site visit description and various interviews with either friends, family members, law enforcement or specialists.