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  • Maureen Boyle

Behind the headlines, a small box held a life

The box was small. That's what I remember. It was during the height of the police investigation into the 1988 disappearances of eleven women from New Bedford and I was at the Massachusetts State Police barracks on Route 6 in Dartmouth. The building was an old white clapboard house renovated, sort of, into the headquarters for Troop D. It was quaint, cramped and completely inadequate for the troop. I was there to talk with Trooper Kathleen Barrett, whose specially trained dog was helping in the search for the victims along the local highways.

Rochelle Clifford Dopierala had been found Dec. 19, 1988 in an old gravel pit along Reed Road in Dartmouth, Mass. by people riding ATVs, roughly two miles from Interstate 195 where three other victims had been found earlier. Trooper Barrett planned to search that area again for additional evidence - and possibly additional victims. Trooper Barrett, a single mom, was always looking to do her job better. She trained her dog well and this case, a serial killing case, put her side-by-side with one of the best - if not the best at the time - dog handlers, Connecticut State Trooper Andy Rebmann. His dogs found the dead. Barrett and Rebmann had searched the highways, along with others, for victims in 1988 and, later, in 1989. Some they found. Some victims were found by happenstance.

I was there at the barracks to talk with her about her part in the search for the victims.

What I didn't know was, in what is best described as the attic of the building, the remains of another victim in another horrific murder was carefully and respectfully kept.

Karen Marsden was killed in 1980. Her partial skull was found in Westport, Massachusetts. Some claimed she was killed as part of a satanic ritual. Others said she was killed because she witnessed another murder.

Her skull was evidence. It was kept after a jury convicted one man of first degree murder and a second person plead guilty to second degree murder as the case was appealed.

State Police Lt. Paul Fitzgerald kept the 20-year-old woman's remains safe at the barracks.

Karen Marsden was a woman who once lived. She was a woman whose life mattered.

The stories of how she died, what the killers did to her, were horrific. The stories overshadowed who she was, what she could have been.

On the day I was at the barracks to interview Trooper Barrett, the lieutenant was bringing the small box downstairs. It held the remains of a life.

He was waiting this day for someone from a Fall River funeral parlor to arrive. This was the day Karen Marsden was to be laid to rest at a Fall River cemetery, finally.

As a new documentary series called Fall River detailing the so-called Fall River Cult Murders airs on Epix, renewing attention to the case, remember the young woman who was killed in 1980.

Think about what she could have become.

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