Investigators crack 44-year-old cold case, identify ‘Granby Girl’

By JAMES PENTLAND

Staff Writer

Published: 03-06-2023 8:48 PM

GRANBY — Recent advances in DNA technology and dogged police work have confirmed the identity of a woman who had been known only as “Granby Girl” since her extensively decomposed body was found in the woods off Amherst Road in November 1978.

The woman, who had been shot in the left temple and dragged by a belt around her neck, was Patricia Ann Tucker, investigators announced at a press conference Monday morning.

Her identity was confirmed after Othram, a forensic laboratory in Houston working on behalf of Massachusetts authorities, on Jan. 23 found a possible family match for the woman’s DNA in a woman living in Maryland.

When authorities contacted her, First Assistant District Attorney Steve Gagne said Monday, the woman told them her aunt had gone missing in 1978, and that she had two sons. She put them in contact with one son, Matthew Dale. Dale had already submitted his DNA to Ancestry.com and it turned out to be a 100% parent-child match with the unknown woman.

Dale, his wife and two other family members traveled up to attend Monday’s announcement. They declined to speak to reporters, but Dale issued a short statement thanking everyone involved “in trying to identify my mother and wrapping your arms around her, especially the community of Granby. Thank you for never giving up on her.

“At least I have some answers now after 44 years. It’s a lot to process, but hopefully, the closure can begin now.”

Gagne acknowledged that it had been a difficult time for Dale and his family.

“We’ve turned some lives upside down in the last few weeks,” he said.

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When investigators interviewed Dale, he told them he remembered his mother dating a man named Gerry at the time she disappeared. It was learned that Tucker had married Gerald Coleman in 1977 in Middletown, Connecticut, and they had bought a house in East Hampton, about 20 miles southeast of Hartford.

Further investigation uncovered a key detail: Tucker had dropped off 5-year-old Matthew, her son from a previous marriage, at the home of an acquaintance named Laura Holmes in Chicopee on Aug. 8, 1978. Tucker had said she would be back soon to pick Matthew up, but after two days had gone by with no sign of her, Holmes notified the Department of Children and Families. Not long afterward, Matthew was reunited with his birth father.

Holmes told the Department of Health of Tucker’s disappearance, the district attorney’s office said, and it was unclear why no report of her was ever turned up during investigators’ yearslong search of missing persons databases, including the National Crime Information Center and the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. Investigators have not been able to find Holmes and do not know if she is still living.

They do know that Tucker was never seen again and that Coleman never reported his wife missing.

Coleman, who died in state prison in 1996 of natural causes while serving a sentence for rape and armed assault in Hampden County, is considered a person of “strong interest” in Tucker’s killing, Gagne said.

He stressed that naming Tucker is only a partial solution to the mystery of her death.

“We hope to generate additional leads to help identify her murderer,” he said.

He acknowledged, though, that investigators have limited forensic evidence, such as hair, which even if identified would fall short of proof of the crime.

Tucker was known as Patricia Coleman at the time of her death, and also had gone under her previous married names of Heckman and Dale. Gagne said investigators referred to her as Patricia Tucker at the family’s request.

“We’re looking to speak to anyone who knew Patricia at any time in her life,” he said, as well as anyone who may have known Coleman.

Gagne paid tribute to the work of Granby police and the Massachusetts State Police throughout the years.

Granby Chief Kevin O’Grady extended thanks in particular to Detective James White of his department and Capt. Jeff Cahill of the State Police, both of whom attended Monday’s announcement, for their work on the case.

Tucker’s grave in Granby’s West Cemetery for a long time was marked with a simple wooden cross. Community members eventually set up a fund to pay for a proper gravestone, which O’Grady said was put in place in September 1998 with the inscription “Unknown, In God’s Care,” and the date of her burial.

Anyone with information related to the case is encouraged to contact Granby police at (413) 467-9222, Detective White via email at jwhite@granbypd.org, or to submit a message to the website at granbypd.org.

“This investigation has spanned decades, and will continue until each and every possible lead is explored,” Gagne said.

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