Author recounts search for serial killer in 'Shallow Graves'

Sep 26, 2017

In 1988, 11 women went missing in the greater New Bedford area, victims of a serial killer who was never caught. Nearly 30 years later, author Maureen Boyle believes it’s not too late for justice to be served.

“These families need answers,” said Boyle, who broke the story as a reporter at the Standard-Times. “No one should get away with murder, ever.”

On Tuesday night, Boyle spoke to roughly 50 people in the Wareham Free Library, recounting the case and explaining why she wrote “Shallow Graves: The Hunt for the New Bedford Highway Serial Killer” so many years later.

She said she revisited the case and her original reporting after a college student approached her, asking about one of the victims, an aunt the student had never met. The student wanted to know more, but didn’t want to cause her family any pain by seeking answers. So she contacted Boyle.

Boyle then realized more families were still anguished over the unsolved case, much like herself.

“I have been haunted by this story for years,” said Boyle.

Of the 11 victims, nine of their bodies were discovered off of highways in Westport, Freetown, Marion and Dartmouth. The remains of two others were never found.

Boyle said the victims were similar in age, height and weight. All also led troubled lives and were either involved with drugs, prostitution or dealt with domestic violence.

She said Nancy Paiva was the first victim to be found, discovered on the side of Route 140 in Freetown nearly a year after she was last seen in New Bedford in July 1988.

Boyle said the incident only garnered a few paragraphs in the newspaper, but soon more bodies, all of which were badly decomposed, were discovered.

From there, a wide-ranging investigation was launched. It’s breadth surprised Boyle, who said hundreds of people, including police officers, attorneys, fisherman, accountants and truck drivers, were all questioned.

Of those, only two people were seriously considered as suspects: a stonemason named Tony DeGrazia and New Bedford attorney Kenneth Ponte.

Boyle said DeGrazia was arrested in 1989, charged with raping several prostitutes. Soon after, he committed suicide and police never found evidence linking him to the killings.

Ponte was a lawyer who had represented some of the victims. He was indicted by a grand jury for the murder of Rochelle Dopierala. The case was eventually dropped by a prosecutor who cited a lack of evidence. Ponte died in 2010.

Boyle noted that while the case is cold, it’s still an active one. To this day, she still hears from people who are convinced they have a lead on who is the killer.

She said she believes someone out there has information on the killer or at the very least where the remains of the two missing victims are located.

“Shallow Graves” is available for sale at