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A most unusual murder weapon — a conch shell — used to solve 2001 New Bedford murder, Bristol DA says

Rose Marie Moniz, 2001 New Bedford murder victimBristol District Attorney

In March 2001, a disabled woman named Rose Marie Moniz was found bludgeoned to death inside her New Bedford home, her body violently beaten with a trio of weapons — a conch shell, a fireplace poker, and a cast-iron fireplace kettle.

For two decades, her murder went unsolved.

But now prosecutors say the unusual weapons used in her death are what led them to a charge her half-brother, David W. Reed, with her killing.

Reed, 53, who had once been close to Moniz despite having different mothers, is facing a first-degree murder charge in the brutal slaying, allegedly committed so he could steal some cash she had in her purse on March 23, 2001.

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He was arrested Sept. 10 at a shelter in Providence and indicted in the murder last week, Bristol District Attorney Thomas M. Quinn III said Thursday.

An attorney for Reed could not be reached.

The prosecution of Reed — which rests in part on the recovery of his DNA profile from inside the large conch shell — was welcomed by Alfred (Fred) Cunha III for two major reasons: His sister’s alleged killer is now in custody 20 years later, and the cloud of suspicion that hung over Moniz’s son, Bobby Moniz, since his mother’s murder is now, finally and forever, dispelled.

“It’s been 20 years now, that kid hasn’t been able to grieve the way he wanted to because he always had it hanging over his head, that they could come and arrest him any time because they suspected him,” Cunha said of his nephew, Bobby Moniz. “My goal for the rest of my life is to make everybody realize that if they had that in their head, it wasn’t him. He didn’t do it. They have the person now.”

David W. Reed is facing a first degree murder charge for brutally murdering Rose Marie Moniz, his half-sister.Massachusetts State Police

According to Cunha and court records, Moniz’s son was a suspect for decades for one simple reason. When Moniz’s battered body was found by her father in her bathroom, the conch shell and cast-iron kettle next to her, then-19-year-old Bobby was asleep in his second-floor bedroom.

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That suspicion persisted not just with law enforcement but in the New Bedford area where Cunha and his extended, and close-knit family still live. An example? For the past 40 years Cunha has been going to the same restaurant for a cup of coffee and a bite to eat. Bobby has often joined him over the past 20 years, he said.

“Just the other day, after we left the cemetery... [I] told them they have a suspect in my sister’s death” and the staffer replied, “ ‘Oh I thought it was the son that did it.’ And my nephew is sitting right there, beside me, and I said, ‘No. This is her son.’ “

According to Cunha, Bobby has been repeatedly questioned by police over the last 20 years. And this suspicion persisted even though he was with friends in Fall River and Providence before he returned home around 4:30 a.m., some five hours after when authorities concluded Moniz was killed. He snuck in that morning because he knew his mother would be upset at his getting home late.

Cunha also said that a man his sister briefly dated around the time of her murder was also a suspect, especially because he came into the restaurant where she was then working part time and vowed to kill her for ending their relationship.

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Cunha never doubted his nephew’s innocence. But he also never suspected Reed, not even after Reed was prosecuted in 2003 for the violent attack on a New Bedford woman so he could steal her purse. And not even after he stopped hiring him for part-time work years earlier, because of his propensity to act violently and to enjoy doing so. He smashed a man’s face in a bar fight and gloated how the man lost an eye, Cunha recalled.

Cunha said he is the oldest of a blended family of six. He has three brothers, two of whom are half-siblings — Reed and a second man who were born to his father and another woman. He had two sisters, but now only one.

His half-brothers were born at a time when his parents had grown apart, Cunha said. But his mother treated the two boys born outside her marriage well, and the family followed suit, he said.

“We treated them like they were equal to us,” Cunha said.

And as an equal, Reed, Cunha, and Moniz’s four other siblings served as pallbearers, each one using their hands to hold up the coffin, as they moved it from the hearse toward the grave recently dug for the 41-year-old Rose Marie.

Cunha said a television news crew and newspaper photographers were visible behind a stone fence recording the scene. As the oldest, he turned to the five other men and told them to make sure to look in the direction of the cameras.

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“When we got out of the pallbearers car, I told the boys, the six of us, I want you to look into the cameras like you are looking at the killer so wherever he is, and he’s probably watching this on TV, I want him to know that some day, some time, we’re going to get him,’’ Cunha recalled. “Little did I know that the killer was sitting in the car with us the whole time. He was one of the pallbearers.”

Reed was tied to the murder by Quinn, whose office since 2019 has been reviewing case files, physical evidence and forensic evidence from some 70 unsolved homicides dating to 1975.

Spokesman Gregg Miliote said one investigative technique Quinn’s office uses is to search for the Y chromosome in biological evidence, which can generate a DNA profile used to identify males with a similar genetic profile. Moniz fought for her life, investigators concluded, and they were able to develop a Y-STR profile tied to the males in the Cunha line from biological evidence recovered from her dominant right hand.

Reviewing crime scene photographs, investigators noticed a pattern of indentations on Moniz’s face that matched the spines on the back of the partially broken shell, one of two displayed next to the fireplace in her beach-themed home.

Her injuries were so extreme, investigators reasoned the killer must have had to put a hand inside the shell in order to grip it.

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Looking at the men in the Cunha family, investigators focused on Reed, who allegedly attacked a woman with a tire iron and left her for dead two years after Moniz’s murder. He then started stalking the woman at her home, according to court records.

In one wild spree, Reed was spotted in his pickup truck outside the victim’s home, before he gave chase to a minivan driven by the woman’s nephew. Reed eventually hit parked cars and then drove head-on into a New Bedford police cruiser, injuring an officer, court records show.

Before his trial for that incident began in 2004, Reed went on the run and spent the next 11 years living in Hawaii, Florida, and for 10 years in Alabama where he was captured as a fugitive 2014.

Reed was prosecuted and convicted of attacking police. He was sentenced to state prison and ordered to provide a DNA sample — which allegedly matched the genetic profile recovered from the conch shell, Quinn’s office alleges in court papers.

Reed, who is also now being prosecuted for the attack on the woman even though the victim has since died of natural causes, is currently being held without bail and is due back in Bristol Superior Court Dec. 8 when he may be arraigned for the murder of Moniz.

“The terror, the terror she must have felt that night really really bothers me, makes me physically sick that terror she must have felt that night,” Cunha said. “My sister was the most loving, most gentle person you could ever meet.”

Correspondent Jeremy C. Fox contributed to this story.



John R. Ellement can be reached at john.ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.