March 29, 2019: Watch WPRI’s Steve Nielsen’s report with Det. Sgt. Gregg Catlow on the latest information.
July 24, 2019: Get updates on many cold cases (including Smithfield’s) throughout the state with the online series Cold Case Cards: All in from Steve Nielsen on WPRI.com.
Please note that the following article from the Providence Journal is from 2003 – the case remains unsolved.
REFUSING TO GIVE UP: Retired Smithfield police Detective Capt. Gregg L. Catlow, left, was the first to investigate the death of a man found floating in Stump Pond, Smithfield, in 1987. Capt. Kenneth A. Brown, right, is the latest officer to handle the case. Catlow holds an FBI sketch of the victim.
Cold Case: Mystery kept alive
Sixteen years after a weighted body riddled with stab wounds surfaced in a Smithfield pond, investigators are appealing for new clues to determine the man’s identity.
BY THOMAS J. MORGAN
Journal Staff Writer
Reprinted with permission.
SMITHFIELD — When the body was laid to rest, no one knew what name to chisel on the tombstone, and so today the short, slender man who floated to the surface of Stump Pond with 21 stab wounds 16 years ago lies in an unmarked grave, its location known only to the investigators who have kept his case alive.
“We never closed the case. We just ran out of leads,” said Detective Sgt. Kenneth A. Brown Jr.
Gregg L. Catlow was the first detective to investigate the case. Over the intervening years Catlow rose to the rank of captain, and has since retired. The file he started is now several inches thick.
Brown is the latest in the series of officers who have tried to puzzle through a maze of vague clues in search of an identity even as the calendar moves on. He’s optimistic, however. “Time is always on the side of the investigators,” he said.
One thing is for sure: Whoever last saw him didn’t want the body found.
It was on June 18, 1987, on scenic Stump Pond, whose shore, ironically, is home to police headquarters, when a boater came across a decomposing corpse floating near a dam.
The man was festooned in chicken wire and ballasted by 90 pounds of rocks and barbell weights, all fastened by coaxial cable. He had 7 wounds on his head, 14 on his chest. The weapon was thought to have been an ice pick or similar instrument.
Anchored by the weights, he had presumably lain out of sight on the floor of the pond for one to three weeks, according to the state medical examiner’s office. As time went by, the gases of decomposition brought the body to the surface.
Five feet, five inches tall, the mystery man weighed 122 pounds and had a scruffy beard. He was between 25 and 35 years of age.
He had receding, straight hair, brown eyes and a brown mustache.
A black muscle shirt bore the inscription “San Juan” on front and back. He was clad in gray sweatpants, and wore no socks under his size 7 1/2 McGregor Tristar sneakers.
No tattoos adorned the body. There was neither wallet nor identification. There were no scars or jewelry.
The police were looking at a blank slate.
“Other than the physical description, there wasn’t much to go by,” Brown said. “He could be from out West. He could be from Mexico. We don’t know.”
Brown said that in his six years as a detective, the aging mystery “was one of those cases that always sat on the back burner.”
As new technology became available, it was employed at intervals in a bid to find a lead.
DNA samples were available. But DNA, which was only just becoming a tool for criminologists when this man was killed, is useless unless it matches something already in a data bank. The DNA trail was a dead end.
New advances in fingerprint identification were developed in the past 16 years by the FBI. A computerized system now makes it possible to examine fingerprint records across the country.
But periodic checks have turned up nothing to provide a further clue to the man’s identity. Like DNA, fingerprints only work if they have been recorded previously. This John Doe evidently never came to the attention of law enforcement, the immigration system or the military, all of which are assiduous in collecting fingerprints.
Because the body was gruesomely decomposed, Smithfield investigators turned to an FBI artist, who sketched the man’s face as he presumably appeared in life.
Flyers were distributed. No response.
Brown said he decided to try again because so much time was passing, and the chances for a connection were slipping away.
He decided to appeal to the media, he said, before time erases all opportunity.
If the case fails to yield to Brown’s persistence, it presumably will pass into the hands of his successor. If so, the trail can only grow longer, and likely colder.
Anyone with information on this case may contact
Capt. Michael Rheaume at 401-231-2500 or e-mail email@example.com.