Nearly 20 years after Rose Marie Moniz was found dead in a pool of blood on the bathroom floor of her home in New Bedford, Mass., DNA recovered from a conch shell has led authorities to crack the case, officials said.
Forensic DNA analysis and a careful review of evidence helped prosecutors identify David Reed, 53, Moniz’s half brother, as the prime suspect. Reed was indicted last week on charges of murder and armed robbery, the Bristol County District Attorney’s Office said.
“This case highlights what we are doing in regards to Cold Case homicides and rapes in our effort to bring justice to the families of victims and the entire community,” District Attorney Thomas Quinn said in a written statement Thursday.
Quinn added that thanks to the efforts of the cold case unit, the state and New Bedford police, they were able to “bring some sense of relief” to the victim’s family, who for two decades “suffered through the trauma of her horrific death and the pain of not knowing who committed this extremely violent attack on her,” he wrote on Twitter.
The case is the latest in which recent developments in forensic technology have allowed investigators across the country to collect DNA from evidence in circumstances where doing so was not previously possible to solve cold cases.
The Bristol County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement that its cold case unit is currently reviewing “every item of evidence from every homicide over the last 45 years” to determine whether new leads can be developed from employing these new methods.
Reed was previously charged in a 2003 assault and robbery of another New Bedford woman, Maribel Martinez-Alegria. But prosecutors say he fled the state before trial, living in Florida, Hawaii and Alabama while on the lam for almost 10 years. He was eventually caught, but those charges were dismissed.
Nonetheless, Reed was indicted on a felony bail jumping charge and faced other charges for attempting to flee from police and a resulting police cruiser crash. He was convicted and sentenced to up to four years in prison, and also required to submit a DNA sample to a state database.
It was unclear Saturday whether Reed had retained an attorney.
The case began on the morning of March 23, 2001, when Moniz’s father entered her home to take her to a doctor’s appointment. He found her body, along with multiple items strewn around the single mother’s house and her purse emptied out in the living room. Money was also stolen, prosecutors said.
New Bedford police concluded she had been bludgeoned to death with a conch shell, a fireplace poker and a cast-iron kettle.
An autopsy showed Moniz had “multiple skull fractures, gaping lacerations and other injuries that resulted in bleeding from both ears, broken nasal bones and a broken left cheek bone,” prosecutors said. She also had multiple contusions resulting from blunt trauma all over her body.
The police noted that there was no sign of forced entry into her home. But after the police ruled out two suspects and having no other leads to pursue, the case went cold.
Moniz’s murder devastated her close-knit family, a relative told WCVB. She was one of six children, and Reed had been a pallbearer at the funeral, her brother Paul Cunha told the news station. Her parents later died before the case was solved.
“My mother and father aged overnight, you could see it,” Cunha said. “It was really tough.”
It was not until 2019 when investigators from the district attorney’s cold case unit and a lieutenant from the Massachusetts State Police were reviewing dozens of cold homicide cases that they began to reexamine evidence from Moniz’s murder.
Investigators reviewed autopsy photos that showed she had numerous abrasions and contusions on her face that could possibly have been caused by the spiny exterior of the conch shell.
This finding indicated that the killer would have likely put his fingers inside the opening of the conch to strike Moniz “with extreme force,” leading investigators to ask the crime lab to test the inner areas of the shell, prosecutors said.
The tests revealed a full DNA profile, which was then entered into CODIS, the FBI’s national database that includes samples of convicted offenders. It discovered a match with Reed.
DNA evidence from underneath the victim’s fingernails also helped determine that Reed and Moniz shared a family connection, authorities said.
Reed was captured in September while sleeping at a shelter in Rhode Island, shortly after being indicted in the Martinez-Alegria assault case after investigators obtained new evidence.
In recent years, new developments in the field of genetic genealogy and DNA analysis have helped investigators catch notorious serial killers, including Joseph James DeAngelo, known as the “Golden State Killer,” sentenced to life in prison for committing more than a dozen murders in California in the 1970s and ’80s.
Most recently in Massachusetts, the technology led Bristol County prosecutors to the arrest of Ivan Keith in connection to at least four unsolved rapes in the 1990s. Keith had evaded the authorities for more than 20 years, and was arrested in Maine, where he was living under a false name, prosecutors said. He has since been convicted in those rapes and is serving a 50-year state prison sentence, prosecutors said.