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Third Body Identified As Authorities Seek Suspect In Highway Murders

December 9, 1988 GMT

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (AP) _ The third woman identified Thursday among five murdered bodies found in southeastern Massachusetts was a drug addict with ties to a seedy section of this fishing port, the victim’s mother said.

As the search for more bodies continued, investigators identified Debra Medeiros, 30, of Fall River as the first of five female bodies found at wooded roadsides between July and December in the towns of Dartmouth and Freetown.

Investigators believe she was strangled, said Thomas Gibney, a spokesman for Bristol County District Attorney Ronald Pina. She was reported missing by her family in Fall River on May 27. Her partially clad body was found July 3.

Investigators have yet to establish the identities of two of the victims. The three identified to date all had ties to the Weld Square district, known for the availability of drugs and prostitutes, in this city of 98,000 people.

Gibney said authorities still have suspects not in custody and were leaning toward the notion that the killer is from the New Bedford area, not a traveling murderer who might be responsible for killings in other parts of the country.

Gibney also said investigators were checking reports that a man claiming to be the highway killer assaulted a 22-year-old woman in a pickup truck in Rhode Island Thursday morning.

The woman reportedly told police that she escaped from the truck at 1:30 a.m. on Interstate 95 in Warwick, R.I.

Medeiros’ mother, Olivia, said her daughter, who lived at home all her life, was a drug addict. Gibney also said Medeiros had been addicted to drugs. Fall River Police Lt. Brian Lynch said only that she was ″known to police.″

Mrs. Medeiros said she last saw her daughter in May when she left to visit her boyfriend in New Bedford. The couple was to go on a cruise when, several days later, she said she got a call from the boyfriend asking where Debra was.

Mrs. Medeiros said the boyfriend, Russell Oliveira, told her that they had had a fight on the night of May 27. Oliveira has an unlisted telephone number and could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Gibney would not comment on the details of Medeiros’ disappearance, but, according to Mrs. Medeiros, Oliveira is not a suspect.

Medeiros’ body was discovered in a wooded area off Route 140 in Freetown. Gibney attributed the five-month delay in identifying her to the early emphasis on a list of six missing persons from New Bedford.

Two of those missing persons have turned out to have been among the bodies found by police.

Using dental records, authorities identified one of the victims Wednesday as Nancy Paiva, 36, of New Bedford. Her body was discovered July 30 along Interstate 195 in the town of Dartmouth.

Paiva left two daughters aged 14 and 17. Gibney said she had no record of arrest for prostitution but was known to have a drug problem. The other identified victim is Dawn Mendes, 25, who was reported missing in September.

Investigators suspect one person may be responsible for the deaths because the bodies were found in a 6- to 8-mile radius in dense woods within 25 feet of Interstate 195 and Route 140.

A state police dog from Connecticut knwon for an ability to find bodies returned to his home state Thursday, Gibney said. A trained police dog from Massachusetts, continued hunting along Route 140 outside New Bedford.

Dr. Douglas Ubelaker, a forensic anthropologist with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, is scheduled to arrive Monday to examine the remains of the three unidentified bodies, which are largely decomposed.