New Bedford Highway Killer

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New Bedford Highway Killer
Victims 9-11
Span of killings
Country United States
State(s) New Bedford, Massachusetts
Date apprehended

The New Bedford Highway Killer is an unidentified serial killer responsible for the deaths of nine women and the disappearances of two additional women in New Bedford, Massachusetts, between July 1988 and June 1989. All of the killer's victims were known prostitutes and or substance abusers.


1. Robin Rhodes, 28, last seen in New Bedford, April 1988

2. Rochelle Clifford Dopierala, 28, last seen in New Bedford, late April 1988

3. Deborah McConnell, 25, last seen in New Bedford, May 1988

4. Debra Medeiros, 30, last seen in New Bedford, May 1988

5. Christine Monteiro, 19, last seen in New Bedford, late May 1988

6. Marilyn Roberts, 34, last seen in New Bedford, June 1988

7. Nancy Paiva, 36, last seen in New Bedford, July 7, 1988

8. Deborah DeMello, 35, last seen in New Bedford, July 11, 1988

9. Mary Rose Santos, 26, last seen in New Bedford, July 16, 1988

10. Sandra Botelho, 24, last seen in New Bedford, August 11, 1988

11. Dawn Mendes, 25, last seen in New Bedford, September 4, 1988


Anthony DeGrazia[edit]

In May 1989, a stonemason named Tony DeGrazia, known by New Bedford prostitutes as "flat nose," was arrested for the violent rapes of several prostitutes. DeGrazia posted bond in January 1990, and was subsequently rearrested for another rape. DeGrazia again posted bond and then allegedly committed suicide. Authorities investigated his possible connection to the New Bedford prostitute murders but failed to uncover any evidence linking him to the crimes

Kenneth C. Ponte[edit]

In August 1990, a grand jury indicted New Bedford attorney Kenneth Ponte, 40, in the murder of Rochelle Clifford Dopierala, who had been beaten to death. Ponte had a checkered past, including drug use and a prior incident involving Dopierala. Bristol County District Attorney Ronald Pina suggested that Ponte had murdered Dopierala because she was allegedly planning to expose his drug activities.

Dopierala's mother stated that her daughter had once given her telephone number to Ponte in the event she needed to be reached. Ponte admitted to having represented Dopierala in April 1988, shortly before she disappeared, when she accused another man of raping her.

Ponte, who moved to Florida in September 1988, entered a plea of "absolutely not guilty" and posted a $50,000 bond. In March 1991, the district attorney dropped murder charges against Ponte, citing lack of evidence. The following year, remaining drug and assault charges were dropped and the New Bedford case went cold.

Ponte resurfaced in the news in May 2009 in two separate incidents. Police dug up the driveway and patio of Ponte's former New Bedford home with a backhoe, but were unable to find evidence linking Ponte to any crime.[2] On the morning of May 15, Ponte was arrested for shoplifting and was found with four cans of sardines and a block of cheese stolen from a Price Rite store in New Bedford. On January 27, 2010, Ponte was found dead in his New Bedford home. The Bristol County District Attorney's office has discounted foul play as a cause of death.[3]

Daniel Tavares Jr.[edit]

While in prison for the murder of his mother, Daniel Thomas Tavares Junior sent a threatening letter to one of the prison staff indirectly claiming responsibility for the Highway Killings. He lived in New Bedford, and had knowledge of where another murdered woman, Gayle, had been buried, within a mile from his home. He has been convicted of two recent killings, Brian and Bev Muack.[4][5]

Lisbon Ripper[edit]

Between 1992 and 1993, three prostitutes were slain and disemboweled with an instrument that was not a knife in Lisbon, Portugal, by an unknown serial killer that was dubbed the Lisbon Ripper, while two further prostitutes were shot dead on the opposite shore of the Tagus river in the same time period.[6] In March 1993, two detectives of the Portuguese Policia Judiciaria traveled to New Bedford to gather information on the Highway killings, while two agents of the FBI traveled to Lisbon,[7] following a hypothesis that the string of crimes on both sides of the Atlantic could have been committed by the same individual. New Bedford has a sizable Portuguese community and many of the Highway victims were of Portuguese ancestry.[8] The Lisbon murders were also linked to four similar killings that took place in Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and the Czech Republic (all countries bordering Germany) between 1993 and 1997, the theory being that the Lisbon Ripper had then become a long-haul truck driver.[9]

In 2011, a 21-year-old man named Joel applied to participate in the Portuguese edition of the reality show Secret Story, where participants try to guess each other's secrets while concealing their own. The secret he applied with was that his father, José Pedro Guedes, was the Lisbon Ripper. Guedes, 46, was arrested and confessed to the three slayings, but could not be prosecuted because murder has a prescription period of 15 years in Portugal and the last murder's had ended in 2008. Guedes could still be prosecuted for the 2000 murder of a prostitute in Aveiro, Portugal and similar murders in Germany (or neighboring countries) where Guedes resided in the 1990s.[10] It is unknown however, if Guedes ever resided in the United States. Guedes was tried for the Aveiro murder in 2013, found not proven due to lack of evidence, and released. The sentence noted that several details given by Guedes about the Aveiro and Lisbon murders were inaccurate.[11]