Bessie Kay’s granddaughter was missing. Dora Jean Brimage, 19, hadn’t come home from a party the night before and now Kay was in her Ruggles Street apartment with a Boston police officer filling out a missing person report when the news came: A body had been found in a vacant Grove Hall building.
Kay identified the badly beaten body. But Boston police detectives had no suspects and no leads in the gruesome slaying.
On Tuesday, nearly 29 years after Brimage’s body was discovered by construction workers, James Paige of Manchester, N.H., was charged with killing Brimage in 1987.
The crack in the case came after Paige, 50, was ordered to submit DNA to authorities following a felony conviction, according to Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley. His DNA profile was entered into a national database known as CODIS.
DNA evidence obtained from Brimage’s body had also been entered into CODIS sometime after Massachusetts joined the database in 1998. In 2014, Paige’s DNA was determined to be a match, officials said.
Investigators then reinterviewed witnesses and retraced Paige’s steps. They learned that Brimage had just left a party near Prentiss Street in Roxbury when Paige pulled up and offered her a ride, Conley said. Brimage accepted.
Investigators now believe that Paige took the teenager to a vacant building on Warren Street that was undergoing renovations. When the construction workers discovered her body, it was partially undressed. According to Conley, the teen had been sexually assaulted, severely beaten, and strangled to death.
Kay died four years ago, but had held out hope that the person responsible for her granddaughter’s death would be caught.
“I was hoping we would all be around to see it,” Doris Brimage, Dora’s younger sister, said Tuesday.
Doris Angela Brimage, who goes by Angie, described her older sister, a former cheerleader at Madison Park High School, as her best friend. The two shared a room and wore each other’s clothes. Dora Brimage was into cosmetics, liked to style hair, take photos, and would not leave the house without her eyeliner. Doris Brimage was the opposite — a star basketball player at Brighton High School — but still she adored her older sister, she said.
Brimage was born and raised in Boston and was active at the Zion Fire Baptized Holiness Church of God of the Americas, where Kay was a deaconess. She sang gospel in the church’s youth choir and aspired to be a nurse.
“But all of her hopes and dreams and accomplishments came to naught when she got into a car with the man who, we believe, took her life,” Conley said.
Paige, who has a criminal record that includes felony convictions dating back to the 1980s for robbery, assault and battery, and receiving stolen property in Massachusetts, is currently being held at Hillsborough County House of Corrections in New Hampshire. He will be brought to Massachusetts in the coming weeks, Conley said.
In September, Paige was arrested in Manchester after police allegedly found a small amount of crack cocaine on him, according to media reports. Paige, who police say struggled with officers as they tried to arrest him, was charged with resisting arrest and possession of a controlled drug.
Resolving cold cases has been a priority for the Boston Police Department and prosecutors, officials said. In the last seven years, authorities identified suspects in 17 cold homicide cases, Conley said. Five had died, a sixth was determined to be unfit for trial, and the others were convicted, Conley said.
Last year, DNA helped investigators solve the 1992 killing of 21-year-old Lena Bruce. James Witkowski, 42, was indicted on a first-degree murder charge in her death.
Doris Brimage said detectives told her in 2014 that they were reexamining her sister’s case. She said her brother called Monday with the news of the charges against Paige. Now, she and her slain sister have closure.
“I don’t have to walk around wondering who did it,” she said. “She wasn’t resting in peace. Last night, I told her to rest in peace.”
Brimage’s mother, who is also named Doris, who on Tuesday was recovering from heart surgery, cried when she saw her daughter’s photo on television
“I waited so long to hear that news,” she said. “I lived it all over again, but it’s such a relief.”