ATTLEBORO — It was June 9, 1994, when a woman in her mid-30s was accosted by three men on Pleasant Street near the railroad bridge.
The three men forced her into the stairwell of a nearby building, covering her mouth when she attempted to scream. Two of the men held her down while the third violently raped her before they fled the scene, authorities said.
The horrific crime had gone unsolved until now after state and local police investigating cold cases gained evidence from a rape kit re-tested using modern DNA technology.
After obtaining a DNA match, a nationwide arrest warrant has been issued for a suspect, now a 46-year-old man identified as Eduardo Mendez, Bristol County District Attorney Thomas Quinn III said Sunday.
The arrest warrant charges Mendez, who was 21 at the time and living on Falmouth Street near the scene of the crime in 1994, with aggravated rape.
Mendez, a Guatemalan immigrant, is believed to have fled the state after the rape. He went to New York City where he was sentenced to jail in the 1990s for skipping bail and beating and stabbing another man with a pool cue in Brooklyn, Attleboro Detective Lt. Timothy Cook said.
He was deported to his native country in 2011 and his current whereabouts is unknown. He has used several aliases in the past.
DNA and details
In addition to the DNA match, police say Mendez matches the physical description of the woman’s attacker including a detail the victim distinctly remembers: gold on his teeth. Records from the New York State Department of Corrections confirmed Mendez had gold teeth.
“As an investigator, it’s a great feeling to identity and ultimately charge a suspect in a rape that is 26 years old,” said Cook, who worked on the case with Arthur Brillon of the DA’s Special Victims Unit and a retired Attleboro detective lieutenant.
The work of the two investigators is part of a county-wide project by Quinn’s office and the Unresolved Crime Unit of the Massachusetts State Police, led by Lt. Ann-Marie Robertson. The focus is on unsolved homicides and other violent crimes dating back to the 1970s.
Grant money helps
Quinn’s office sought and was awarded a $2.2 million federal grant to ensure that all untested evidence from old sexual assault cases would be tested using the most modern methods, according to Gregg Miliote, a spokesperson for the DA’s office.
After the attack, the victim immediately reported it to the police, who responded to the area. They found the victim’s purse but were unable to identify any of the suspects, authorities said.
The victim, who still lives in the area, was treated at Sturdy Memorial Hospital in Attleboro and a sexual assault evidence collection kit was recovered.
The recent testing revealed a DNA profile that was then uploaded to the national Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, and matched Mendez’s DNA which was obtained after his New York conviction.
Quinn praised Cook and Brillon for their work in the case, which involved looking through old records — including records in New York — and tracking down individuals.
A sense of relief
When investigators contacted the victim about the recent developments, she indicated she was very relieved to hear the news, stating that even after 26 years she is “still living with it,” according to Miliote.
She also reported that she now feels a sense of relief because after so many years had passed, she had lost hope the case would ever be solved.
“This was an extremely serious and violent assault committed against an innocent victim,” Quinn said. “This type of case shocks the conscience. I am pleased that the victim now knows her attacker has been identified.”
“We will continue to utilize modern technology to try to solve these cases and bring justice to the victims,” Quinn said. “Unsolved cases, in particular homicides and sexual assaults, are a top priority for my office.”
The warrant charging Mendez with aggravated rape has been entered into the National Crime Information Center so that if Mendez is apprehended anywhere in the United States, he will be brought back to Attleboro to answer the charge.
Cook said he understands the frustration of victims of crime, particularly heinous ones, when the crime goes unsolved for a long period of time.
But this instance brings to light that the long arm of the law combined, with new technology, can help solve crimes, he said.
“Even though it takes a long time,” Cook said, “they can have hope to ultimately get justice.”
Help sought in finding suspect
Authorities are appealing for help in finding Mendez.
Anonymous tips can be made by using the DA’s text-a-tip program. Text the word “Bristol” to the phone number CRIMES (274637) and then text the tip.