March 2, 2003
FIRST IN A TWO-PART SERIES
Cold case file
Twenty-three years ago, a brutal murder shook a Buzzards Bay family. Today, it is still waiting for justice
By KAREN JEFFREY
Twenty-three years later the stark black-and-white photographs tell only a part of the story.
Frances Carriere was found murdered in the upstairs bathroom of this home on Head of the Bay Road in Buzzards Bay.
(Staff photo by VINCENT DeWITT)
A woman, her eyes glazed with death, lies on a bathroom floor. Her hair, thick and wavy, fans out from her skull towards an old-fashioned radiator.
Dark, ugly gashes mar what once was a lovely countenance. Her hands and arms, scraped in what police describe as defensive wounds, repose gracefully like those of a ballerina caught in a dance of death.
Who killed Frances Carriere? The photographs do not tell.
Was it her boyfriend? Her estranged husband? One of her husband's colleagues who was charged with her murder, but later saw the charge dropped?
Or did a stranger walk into Frances Carriere's Buzzards Bay house on Jan. 3, 1980, as she prepared to take a hot bath after a long day cleaning offices and stab her for no easily discernible reason?
All of these people were suspects at one time or another in a case that police insist is still open but has dragged on for years.
A flurry of activity, but no answers
Jan. 3, 1980: Frances Carriere is found stabbed to death in the upstairs bathroom of her home. She sustained three stab wounds to the upper chest. A male friend discovers her body shortly before 8 p.m. and calls Bourne Police. The woman's nude body was found on the floor beside a partially filled bathtub. The bathroom showed signs of a struggle.
Jan. 4, 1980: An autopsy is performed by state pathologist Dr. Ambrose Keeley at the Cornwall Funeral Home in Wareham. The medical examiner reports the murder occurred within a few hours before the body's discovery. The house shows no sign of forced entry. The murdered woman's estranged husband was in Florida at the time of her death and the possibility of robbery as a motive is investigated.
Jan. 5, 1980: No arrests or warrants are issued in the ongoing police investigation. A police source says there is a suspect in the case, an off-Cape resident wanted in connection with another crime.
Jan. 7, 1980: All five officers of the State Police Crime Prevention and Control Unit attached to the Barnstable County District Attorney's office work on the case along with five Bourne police officers. The autopsy done on Jan. 4 confirms the cause of death as a stab wound to the heart and the murder weapon is believed to be a knife. Some cutlery in Carriere's house is examined at the state police crime laboratory in Boston as police try to piece together Carriere's last hours.
Jan. 8, 1980: Police scrutinize attendance at Carriere's Rockland funeral service in hopes of discovering clues to the identity of her killer. A few suspects early in the case don't "pan out," according to Lt. Joseph Arnold of the State Police Crime Prevention and Control Unit attached to the Barnstable County District Attorney's office. They wind up with no suspects.
Jan. 9, 1980: No major break is reported in the case, six days after Carriere's apparent murder, police follow up on registrations of cars parked at the Holy Family Church during the funeral. Investigators continue to work on a time reconstruction of the hours leading up to Carriere's death. In particular, they try to establish whether or not she went directly home after a cleaning job.
1982: Richard Grebauski of Wareham, a friend of Edmund Carriere, is indicted by a Barnstable County grand jury in connection with the murder of Frances Carriere. Grebauski is charged but later acquitted of a lumber theft that Frances Carriere allegedly knew about.
1983: Charges against Grebauski are dropped. Philip A. Rollins, then Cape and Islands district attorney, said there is insufficient evidence to go forward with a trial. Sixteen years later, Grebauski's name emerges again in connection with a new grand jury selected to investigate Carriere's death.
1983 to 1997: Technically the case remains open, but most of the investigators assigned to the original case have retired or died. According to the FBI, in 66 percent of all murder cases, a suspect is in police custody within 24 hours. After that the odds of an arrest and conviction fall drastically.
1999: Sgt. Paul J. White, then assigned to the state police cold case squad begins re-investigating the case. Trooper Chris Mason, assigned to the Cape and Islands District Attorney's Office is also assigned to reinvestigate the case.
1999 to present : Special grand jury appointed to look into the death of Frances Carriere. The grand jury is an investigatory grand jury, and periodically has heard testimony from people connected to the case. Although it does not meet regularly, the grand jury is still empowered to investigate and the case is still considered open.
January 2002: The details in the unsolved murder of Truro resident Christa Worthington echo those of Frances Carriere: her body is discovered by a boyfriend, fatal stab wounds to the chest and, finally, the fear and uncertainty unleashed in a close-knit neighborhood that a killer is still on the loose.
Left with no closure in the case, the question of who murdered Carriere - stabbing her at least once through the heart - has tormented her parents, sister, children and friends for more than two decades.
"Sometimes we've felt that nobody cared but us," says Linda McCraney, one of Carriere's three daughters who now lives in Florida. "They've told us that there is no statute of limitations on murder. But what does that mean? Will evidence improve with the passing of time? I doubt so. I can tell you that the pain does not improve with the passing of time."
But there has been a quiet rekindling of the investigation since 1999, for reasons authorities are reluctant to reveal. After 23 years of little progress, police are once again sifting through the evidence and interviewing witnesses.
"Nobody cared but us"
In some ways, Carriere's murder reflects a more recent Cape case that garnered international attention.
Like Christa Worthington, the fashion writer found stabbed to death on the kitchen floor of her Truro home in January 2002, Carriere, 44, was a single mother, petite with brown hair and brown eyes.
And like Worthington, Carriere's lifeless body was discovered by a male friend. Police never recovered a murder weapon in either case.
But there was no stampede of reporters and television cameras pressing for information on Frances Carriere's life and death. There was no rush for book deals. No one has ever suggested Carriere's story could be fodder for a television movie. No reward has been offered for evidence leading to her killer or killers.
Not a day passes without Carriere's parents, sister and four children thinking about her. Her death has shaped their lives. Her children ranged in age from 14 to their early 20s at the time of her murder. Over the years, members of the family have pleaded with police and the district attorney's office to continue the investigation.
About three years ago, there was a faint glimmer of hope when state police began knocking on doors and telephoning people with questions about Carriere.
Sgt. Paul White of the state police cold case squad met with Carriere's parents. He made no promises except to do his best while investigating their daughter's murder, according to her parents.
State Trooper Chris Mason, an investigator assigned to the district attorney's office, soon began working with White. And last year, Terry O'Connell, a former Sandwich police detective who now works as a defense attorney and a private investigator, took an interest in the case as a result of his knowledge of some of the original suspects, according to police.
None of them will talk about the case, but family members say they were profoundly grateful that at least these people listened to their story.
According to other sources, a special grand jury was appointed more than a year ago to look into this case. Two of the original suspects - whom police will not name - are among those who were scrutinized.
Sources said the grand jury expressed interest in Edmund Carriere, 68, who was estranged from Frances Carriere and was visiting one of their daughters in Florida at the time of the murder. A week after Frances Carriere was killed, he moved back into their home where he continues to live today with a girlfriend, police say.
Edmund Carriere refuses to say much about the case and claims that solving it is of little interest to him.
"Do I care about that murder? Hell no. Why should I care? Why should you care?" he says.
"Sure I was a suspect at first. Husbands are always the first suspect, but I had a good alibi. You can't bust that alibi. I was in Florida," he says. "And, no, I didn't kill my wife."
Whether new evidence has been discovered or whether new witnesses have come forward is information investigators are not willing to share at this point.
"We continue to have an interest in this case, and, yes, there have been investigators taking another look," says Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O'Keefe. "But that is all I can say at this time."
"Parents should not outlive their children"
Family photographs provide a glimpse of Frances Carriere as a wide-eyed young girl coming of age during World War II; as a smiling young woman wearing a modest one-piece bathing suit; as a smiling mother in her living room at a family gathering.
For 23 years, the unsolved stabbing death of Frances Carriere has haunted her sister Sally Wilson, left, stepfather Jim Dearnley and her mother, Minnie Dearnley. Wilson and her husband gave the Dearnleys a painting of Carriere after her murder.
(Staff photo by MATT SUESS)
She was born in Rockland, the oldest of three children. She had a brother, Ralph, who died of a heart attack five years ago, something family members believe was hastened by the ongoing stress of his sister's unsolved murder.
Sally Wilson, the youngest of the children, still lives near her parents' home in Rockland.
The three kids were raised by their mother and stepfather, Jim Dearnley, a Rockland police officer, after their biological father deserted the family.
Now in their 80s and living in a senior citizen complex in Rockland, the Dearnleys have already buried two of their children.
"Parents should not outlive their children. It just isn't natural," says Minnie Dearnley. "But that is the road our lives have taken."
On the wall of their small living room, above the television, are school pictures of Frances, Ralph and Sally. From the vantage point of their easy chairs, flanked by folding TV trays where they eat their dinners, Jim and Minnie Dearnley look upon these pictures daily.
"Frances was my firstborn daughter, a very sweet and quiet little girl," says Minnie Dearnley, squeezing her hands tightly together as though to drive away the painful thoughts while in pursuit of happier memories.
Jim Dearnley turns his eyes toward his wife, his forehead creased in concern. They want to talk about Frances, he says. "It keeps her alive. It gives us the hope that someday someone will pay for killing her."
Their daughter Sally, who was visiting for the afternoon, leans forward and touches her mother's hands. Minnie takes a deep breath and continues.
"Frances was no scholar," she says, allowing herself an affectionate chuckle. "But that isn't because she was wild or out all the time. Frannie was a quiet little girl. She never made a fuss. She liked to help people and hurt when they hurt."
Frances had a favorite toy, a doll that most children would have tossed aside, Minnie Dearnley says.
"It had a broken leg. Oh, she loved that doll and never wanted to get rid of it. She said no one would love the doll like her because it had a broken leg. Fran was like that."
"I adored Frannie when I was a kid," says Sallie. "She was a teenager when I was a kid and I wanted to hang around her all the time.
"She was such a nice person," whispers Sally, her eyes downcast. "She didn't swear. She didn't smoke. I don't think people today really remember how polite and nice teenagers were expected to be back then."
Attracted to an outgoing guy
In June 1953, Frances married Edmund Carriere, a neighborhood boy who had grown up down the street from her in Rockland. Like other young men of his generation, he slicked his hair back with hair cream and wore the cuff of his blue jeans rolled up. He worked in the construction trades.
The couple lived in Rockland for a few years. Frances Carriere began having children - four before the marriage disintegrated.
Over the course of the marriage they moved more than a few times, around Rockland, to Florida and back, and finally to a two-story wood frame house on Head of the Bay Road in Buzzards Bay only five years before Frances Carriere was killed.
No one is quite sure what originally drew the pair together, but Edmund was a neighborhood boy, good looking and assertive.
"Frannie was shy," says her mother. "She wasn't someone who had a lot of boyfriends. I don't think she ever knew how pretty she was."
"She wanted to be a good wife and mother," says Jim Dearnley. "And she was. She was."
Carriere never hesitated to stop for a cup of coffee with friends who needed to talk. Her children's friends often confided in her when they couldn't communicate with their own parents and she surprised her daughters by making clothes for their dolls, and encouraged all her children to love and care for animals.
She volunteered as a 4-H leader, giving as much encouragement and support to other children as she gave to her own.
"My mother was a sweet and loving woman," McCraney says. "Her life was more than the fact of her murder, but sometimes I've had to wonder if any of the police realized that."
But for all that was good in her world, there was a dark side to Carriere's life - troubles in her marriage that she tried to hide from her family.
Her children are hesitant to talk about the problems between their parents, but acknowledge they had suspicions of physical abuse, though no charges were ever brought against Edmund Carriere.
Their father, say two of Carriere's daughters, had a propensity for yelling when things didn't go his way.
Still, the couple seemed happy in the early days of their marriage.
"Oh, at different times you'd hear him bellow at Fran, but that was about it," Minnie Dearnley says. "Now, that wasn't how he (Jim) treated me. He's a kind fellow."
She pauses and then continues. "Back then it was different. People didn't think so much if a husband was yelling at his wife, even if they didn't like it. My first husband, now he was bad. He hit me a couple times and that was it. I left him. I wouldn't put up with it. I just didn't see it coming with Ed."
Jim Dearnley takes a deep breath before talking about his former son-in-law.
"Ed was a neighbor kid. I was never too impressed by his father. His father was a mean sort of fellow and there were some problems in that house. But Ed was never that way. He always treated Fran all right around us. I thought he was all right."
The Dearnleys moved to Maine after Jim retired from the Rockland Police Department, but now they believe the miles from their daughter may have prevented them from getting a clear picture of what her life was like. Minnie and Jim Dearnley returned to Rockland a few years ago to be closer to their daughter Sally.
"Letting her hair grow out"
Frances Carriere filed for divorce in 1978 and at one point got a restraining order against her husband, according to her parents.
When the pair separated, Carriere began to blossom. She got a job. She began laughing out loud and marveling that she could now chose what television programs to watch, according to her children.
"After he left she started letting her hair grow out, she started wearing jeans once in a while. She laughed a lot and started talking freely. She started singing in a church choir. It was like she got a second chance at life, and then she was murdered," says daughter Ginger Kirby, who was 14 when her mother was killed.
In 1979, Carriere joined Parents Without Partners and eventually began a romantic relationship with Rodney Burrill, a Yarmouthport resident she met there. Burrill is the one who found Carriere after she had been killed.
But there were still difficulties. In 1979, while she was in Barnstable Family and Probate Court for a hearing on divorce and custody, someone smashed the windshield of her car with a brick.
That same year, she bought a camping trailer. It was burned to the ground while parked outside her house. The state police arson squad investigated and determined the cause of the fire to be arson, but no one was ever arrested in the case.
Minnie and Jim Dearnley say Frances acknowledged Edmund was angry about having to provide child support and did not want her to get the Buzzards Bay house.
"Ed always said 'If she tries to divorce me, she's getting nothing. Nothing of mine,'" Minnie Dearnley says.
"He had it in his mind that the house was going to be worth a lot of money because it was on the Cape," says Jim Dearnley. "I'm not sure that's the case."
However, he was never charged in connection with any of the incidents that plagued their daughter during the divorce proceedings.
Jim and Minnie Dearnley made frequent trips down from Maine to accompany Frances to court during the divorce case.
The divorce never became final, which is why Edmund Carriere got the house and all of Frances' belongings after her death.
"It got postponed so many times. Ed always brought friends with him and one time he lost it and threatened us - he threatened to come after us," Jim Dearnley says.
The last time Jim and Minnie Dearnley accompanied Frances to Barnstable Probate and Family Court, they were once again told the hearing would have to be rescheduled.
"The case was postponed because Norman Mailer's divorce case was going to be heard," Jim Dearnley says. "I remember standing outside the courthouse watching all these reporters and all these cameras and Mailer walking up to the courthouse with all that attention. There we stood, nobodies."
(Published: March 2, 2003)
Copyright 2003 Cape Cod Times. All rights reserved.