Athol Daily News – 1989 murder victim found in Warwick, identified through genetic testing, but some mysteries remain

WARWICK – It took nearly 35 years, but human remains found just off Route 78 in Warwick in 1989 have been identified as belonging to Constance (Holminski) Bassignani, who was 65 years old at the time of her murder.

The Northwestern District Attorney’s Office held a press conference Thursday morning to announce that the victim’s identity became known about eight months after her DNA was submitted to Othram, a Texas company that specializes in using forensic genetic genealogy to solve unsolved murders. to solve disappearances and identification of unidentified persons. deceased or murder victims.

According to the district attorney’s office, Bassignani was born in Hawaii in 1924 — 35 years before the collection of islands became a state — and was living with her second husband, William Bassignani, in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, at the time of her death. William reportedly told the family that she had returned to Hawaii, although investigators found no evidence of this. William, who died in 1993, is considered a person of interest in the case. The State Police Detective Unit, affiliated with the State Attorney’s Office, worked with the State Police Crime Laboratory to submit the genetic material to Othram. This led to living potential relatives, who submitted their own DNA and confirmed the victim’s identity.

“We are all deeply grateful for the dedication, hard work and perseverance in this case,” said Northwestern District Attorney David E. Sullivan. “The search for justice for the unknown victim has been their driving force from day 1.”

Bassignani was found on June 24, 1989, when a passing motorist discovered what appeared to be human remains 10 to 20 feet from the roadway of Route 78, in a lightly wooded area near a small gravel pit, about a mile south of New Hampshire. . line and approximately the same distance north of the Mount Grace State Forest entrance. Sullivan said local police and state police responded to the scene, documented evidence and collected the remains.

First Assistant District Attorney Steve Gagne explained that identifying the victim is the first step in any murder investigation.

“From there, investigators can determine who the victim’s family, friends and coworkers were and try to determine their last known steps and contacts,” he said. “In this case, investigators were stymied from the start in their efforts to solve this murder without identifying the victim.”

Gagne said investigators have learned that Bassignani married and divorced in the 1940s before marrying William in 1945. Authorities have located and spoken to the three grandchildren of a deceased son and a daughter who live on the West Coast. Gagne said the prosecution was assisted by law enforcement officials in Washington state and Hawaii.

“So this study, which is now being revived, has literally covered half the world,” he said.

Gagne explained that Bassignani and her husband lived in an apartment in Woonsocket, about 80 miles from Warwick. The couple previously lived in Franklin, Massachusetts. Sullivan said there is no connection between the couple and Warwick, and it is unknown where the murder occurred.

According to the district attorney’s office, the victim was last seen alive over Memorial Day weekend in 1989. Gagne said William allegedly told family members that Constance had decided to move back to Hawaii “and that they did not want her would see or hear more.”

Gagne said he hopes this news provides some clarity for the victim’s family and “sheds some light on what may have been a looming cloud of doubt surrounding her disappearance for decades.”

Retired Warwick Police Chief Brian Peters, who took the helm of the department in 1989, said it’s refreshing to get some answers.

“It’s a big relief,” he said. “(We) have never experienced anything like this in the city, and hopefully it will never happen (again).”

Paul Marguet, lead state police investigator in the case, said the victim’s relatives initially did not believe authorities, having long believed their grandfather’s story about his wife’s abrupt disappearance. But, he said, their DNA was used to confirm the truth.

Michael Vogen, a representative of Othram, appeared via Zoom and praised the District Attorney’s Office and State Police before speaking briefly about his company’s mission.

“We were purpose-built to do exactly this,” he said. ‘That is to generate a human identity from forensic evidence.’

Gagne previously told the Greenfield Recorder that the decision to contact Othram was made because of the company’s success in identifying the so-called “Granby Girl” as Patricia Ann Tucker, a 28-year-old woman who was shot dead in 1978. but which remained unknown until just over a year ago. Gerald Coleman, Tucker’s husband when she died, is a person connected to that murder. He died in state prison in 1996 and prosecutors say he never reported his wife missing.

Othram also helped identify the “Lady of the Dunes” – a 37-year-old woman found murdered in Provincetown on July 26, 1974 – as Ruth Marie Terry. Her now-deceased husband, Guy Muldavin, was officially named as the killer in August 2023.

David Mittelman, founder and CEO of Othram, previously told the Recorder that his company tests DNA based on hundreds of thousands of markers, while the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) uses 20. He also said victims often don’t appear in CODIS because it was designed about 30 years ago to track the repeat offenses of known criminals. But Othram, which employs 60 people, can work from evidence that is generally considered unusable because it is too old or too poor.

Gagne said authorities hope to bring renewed attention to the Warwick case and generate some new leads that will have a domino effect ending with additional answers. Anyone with information that could be helpful in this case is encouraged to call the state police detective associated with the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office at 413-512-5361. Posts can also be submitted anonymously at

“It’s like we’re trying to solve an age-old puzzle here,” Gagne told reporters, “but every little piece would certainly help.”

Reach Domenic Poli at: [email protected] or 413-930-4120.