A Suffolk County grand jury on Wednesday indicted an Alabama inmate on charges of rape and first-degree murder in the death of 19-year-old Wendy Dansereau in Boston in 1980, District Attorney Rachael Rollins’s office said.
In a statement, Rollins’s office confirmed the indictment of Steven Jerome Fike, 60, who’s currently serving prison time in Alabama for a separate rape and murder that occurred in 1982.
Fike now stands accused of killing Dansereau at the Hotel Diplomat in Boston’s South End on March 18, 1980, according to Rollins’s office. An arraignment date for Fike hasn’t been set. It wasn’t immediately clear whether a lawyer had been assigned to represent him as of Thursday.
“Ms. Dansereau was 19 years old when she was murdered, and her family has waited nearly four decades to know what happened to her,” Rollins said in the statement released by her office. "Today, we have not only the advances in forensic testing necessary to identify her killer, but a team of dedicated professionals — including Boston Police Detective Jack Cronin and SCDAO Civilian Investigator Emily Wood — who have worked to find answers for Ms. Dansereau’s loved ones, especially her daughter, who was only four weeks old at the time of her mother’s death and has waited her entire life for accountability.”
Cronin, a 29-year veteran of the police force who’s retiring next month, said in a brief phone interview that it’s “very rewarding” to be able to provide answers to families that have gone decades without knowing what happened to their loved ones.
“We never give up, and there’s other cases that we’re all working on,” Cronin said.
His comments were echoed by Wood, who said in a separate interview that “losing a loved one is something no one should ever have to go through, and then not having justice for years and years on end is just unimaginable. So getting answers for these families is unbelievably rewarding.”
According to prosecutors, a Hotel Diplomat employee discovered Dansereau’s body, and investigators determined that she had been sexually assaulted and strangled. A DNA sample collected from the crime scene during the initial stages of the probe was later entered into the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, and matched to Fike’s DNA profile, prosecutors said.
Fike’s DNA sample was entered into the CODIS system as a result of his conviction for a separate rape and murder in Alabama in 1982, for which he’s serving a life sentence with the possibility of parole, according to Rollins’s office.
Fike was convicted in November 1982 in the beating death of 20-year-old Patricia Ann Culp, whose body was found on Feb. 2 of that year along Interstate 59 in Tuscaloosa County. Culp was last seen entering a Birmingham, Ala., motel with a man on Jan. 30, and her car was found Feb. 2 in the parking lot of a different Birmingham motel.
An employee of the motel where Culp’s vehicle was discovered testified that he spotted Fike, who had scratch marks on his chest, changing clothes in a restroom.
Suffolk prosecutors said that in addition to DNA and physical evidence, police reports place Fike in New England the day before Dansereau’s body was found in 1980.
"We have not forgotten Wendy Dansereau, and we haven’t forgotten the hundreds of victims whose murders remain unsolved or the families who are still waiting and praying for answers and accountability,” Rollins said. “I have prioritized unsolved homicides and the needs of survivors. No matter how much time has passed, my staff and I will never forget your loved one and that they mattered. We are here to help you and connect you with the support and services you deserve.”
In September, Rollins announced the Project for Unsolved Suffolk Homicides, or PUSH, an initiative to review unsolved killings.
"We may not be able to provide every family with the answers that we have found for Ms. Dansereau’s loved ones, but we can let every survivor of homicide know that we remember their loved one and we remain committed to solving their murder,’’ Rollins said. “We will continue to work on their behalf. And we will not rest. There is no statute of limitations on murder.’’
Fike, who stands 5 foot 6 inches and weighs 141 pounds, is currently incarcerated at the Elmore Correctional Facility, a medium security prison in Elmore, Ala., according to the Alabama Department of Corrections website.
His next parole consideration date is March 1, 2023, the site says.
The Globe reported at the time of Dansereau’s death that she was found nude from the waist up and lying face down beside a bed in the hotel room. The Worcester native’s father, William R. Dansereau, told the Globe in a story that ran the day after the murder that he couldn’t identify his daughter.
“I could not [identify her] because her face was so bloated by being strangled,” William Dansereau said at the time. “I haven’t seen her for a while and they can do it [identify her] through fingerprints.”
He added that his daughter was the second of his six children to suffer an untimely death — her brother William Jr. had died at the age of 21 after falling off a porch two years earlier.
Wendy Dansereau’s sister, Brenda Haslam, told the Globe in a separate interview soon after the killing that she couldn’t believe her sibling had been murdered.
“She was street-wise,” Haslam said. “She knew how to take care of herself.”
William Dansereau said during that second interview that the state had taken protective custody of all six of his children about 11 years before his daughter’s murder, and that their mother was institutionalized.
Another sister, Amy, 15 at the time of the murder, told the Globe the birth of Wendy Dansereau’s child had brought joy into Wendy’s life.
“She really loved that baby,” she said at the time.
Haslam said she had a far easier time in foster care than Wendy, who lived in several different homes.
“I stayed at the same place. It was very stable and I finished high school,” Haslam said at the time. “I wasn’t exposed to the things Wendy was.”
Material from prior Globe stories and the Associated Press was used in this report. Jeremiah Manion of the Globe Staff contributed.