Ten-year-old Christine Cole's murder haunted Pawtucket for three decades, the coldest of cases shrouded in mystery — until a detective's digging and the defining power of DNA unlocked a suspect's identity.
For 31 years, an enduring mystery had lingered in Pawtucket.
Who killed 10-year-old Christine Cole?
With the help of increased attention to the case and advances in DNA technology, Pawtucket police say they have an answer: Christine’s killer was Joao “John” Monteiro, a 59-year-old laborer and Central Falls resident who once lived above the shop where Christine was last seen.
Monteiro had never been on investigators’ radar before they reopened Christine’s cold case. He was a stranger to Christine, his name never publicly linked with her disappearance and death.
That ended Thursday when Monteiro, who police said has lived furtively and moved frequently over the last three decades, was brought into court to face a charge of murder. Monteiro was arraigned and held without bail in District Court, Providence.
Detective Sue Cormier of the Pawtucket Police Department, who reopened the Christine Cole case in August, grew emotional when she discussed what the arrest of Monteiro meant.
“Seeking justice for Christine Cole is long overdue,” Cormier said at a news conference held at Pawtucket municipal court.
Last year, Pawtucket police released a set of playing cards, each featuring a different cold case statewide. They’re being sold at the Adult Correctional Institutions, among other places, in hopes that those who know something about the cases will come forward. The renewed attention has included a series of one case per week on WPRI.
In that deck of cards, Christine Cole was the queen of hearts.
It’s the first case featured on one of the cards that police say they’ve solved, but Pawtucket investigators said the case was cracked with DNA, not with a tip. They also did not describe a motive for Monteiro.
Monteiro’s lawyer, William Devine, said his client denies the charge. Monteiro’s family came to court but left without commenting.
“They’re shocked,” Devine said after Monteiro’s arraignment. “They’re shocked.”
Devine said he had little information about the case in the early hours — he read the police affidavit outlining the case for the first time when a reporter showed it to him — but added that it appeared the case would come down to DNA science.
Police outlined some early details of what led them to Monteiro in that affidavit.
Christine, according to the document, left her West Avenue home and headed to the store on a January day in 1988 to buy some things for her mom. The temperature dipped below freezing and she wasn’t dressed properly. She stopped by Red’s Seafood to buy clams, then went to a friend’s house to play with dolls. Her last stop was Saints Market, at 76 Slater St., to buy milk. Christine left the store in the dark, a clerk said.
Christine never made it home. Her lifeless body washed up on Conimicut Point Beach in Warwick 54 days later.
When Cormier reopened the case in August, she went to the state medical examiner’s office to review the autopsy. Cormier learned that another detective, long since retired, had submitted evidence to the Department of Health in 2008. The results came back in 2010, but the paperwork wasn’t in the original case files.
Male blood, Cormier soon learned, had been found on the inside crotch of Christine’s pants. Forensic testing had gotten what's called a partial Y-STR profile of the suspect’s DNA, based on his Y chromosome. With technological advances just in the past decade, Cormier got more testing with new technology, and got a larger DNA profile.
That was checked against a state Department of Health database. The closest match to the partial Y-STR profile was a man who wasn’t even born when Christine disappeared but had committed a crime that required him to submit a DNA sample, police said.
The suspect they were looking for, police concluded, was related to that person. That man’s father was Joao Monteiro, police say.
When police looked into Joao Monteiro's background, they found he’d moved at least 19 times in the last 30 years, with one address 78 Slater St., directly above Saints Market. Other addresses were right in Christine’s neighborhood.
Police began following Monteiro — who, they said, “lives his life in a very covert manner,” parking his car at a building next door to his Central Falls home, and parking it between two large delivery trucks at work, police said.
This week, investigators got a search warrant for Monteiro’s DNA. At 8 a.m. Wednesday, they brought him to the Pawtucket Police Department to swab his cheeks and get it. By 5:50 p.m., forensic scientist Tamara Wong of the Department of Health contacted Cormier: Monteiro’s DNA was consistent with the sample found in the blood on Christine’s pants.
He was brought into custody after leaving work late Wednesday.
At the news conference in Pawtucket on Thursday, Cormier said she hopes it’s not the last arrest from the deck of cards.
“I hope this is a message to the people responsible for these crimes: We are coming for you,” she said.