• Tracking the New Bedford Highway Killer: The Murder of Debra DeMello

    By: Bob Ward

    Updated:

    NEW BEDFORD, Mass. -- To this day, it bothers me that the New Bedford Highway Killer has never been caught.

    From the Spring of 1988 to the Fall of 1989, the bodies of nine women were found along highways in the New Bedford area. Two more women are still missing and are presumed victims of the Highway Killer.

    At that time, I was a reporter for a Rhode Island TV station. 

    For a time, the Highway Killings case took over my life. In November 1989, on a bitter cold day, I was in Dartmouth where the body of victim Rochelle Clifford Dopierala was discovered near a gravel pit. 

    Later, I covered the saga of Kenneth Ponte, the New Bedford lawyer who was arrested in the case. I traveled to Florida where I was the first to interview Ponte after his release from a County Jail. 

    For months, I covered the lengthy Highway Killings investigative grand jury proceedings that made headlines all around the world.

    MORE: New England's Unsolved: New book details case of New Bedford highway killer

    That grand jury would eventually indict Ponte for the murder of victim Rochelle Clifford Dopierala, but a year later, a new District Attorney dropped that murder charge for lack of evidence.

    Kenneth Ponte is now dead.

    And the New Bedford Highway Killer, whoever it was, has never been brought to justice.

    It's an incredible case with many twists, but there is no ending to this.

    Recently, I met Wayne Perry and Chandra Gregory. They are the brother and daughter respectively of Highway Murders victim Debra Greenlaw DeMello.

    When I was covering the New Bedford Highway Murders case, I never met Wayne and Chandra.

    But here we are, decades later, talking about this mystery that just won't let go. 

    Chandra was a teenager when they found her mother along Route 195 at the Reed Road exit. At the time, Chandra remembers no one had heard from her mom for months.

    And she remembers the increasingly regular TV stories of how police were discovering the bodies of murdered women along area highways.

    "I actually watched them pull my mother out of the woods. I didn't know it was her at the time," Chandra told me. 

    Wayne Perry deeply cared for his sister.

    MORE: Documentary crew delves into mystery of 'The Highway Murders'

    He saw the toll addiction took on Deb's life when she was just a teenager. And Wayne remembers well how the pain of Deb's addiction hurt the entire family.

    But beneath it all, Wayne Perry tells me his sister was a good person who, like so many others, got tied up in something she couldn't control, something that would destroy her.

    Thirty years later, Wayne and Chandra are still looking for answers. They never thought Kenneth Ponte was the Highway Killer. But they want to know who it was.

    Like me, they are still troubled by the fact the New Bedford Highway Killer is still out there.

    "If they (the victims) were daughters of police officers, or judges, or lawyers, I think this case would have been solved," Wayne told me. 

    If you have any information about the New Bedford Highway Killer, call the Bristol County DA's office at: 508-997-0711.

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