A DNA match has linked a man to the 2013 bludgeoning death of John “Jack” Fay, a grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and Purple Heart recipient who was attacked while jogging through a Warwick, R.I., park, authorities said Wednesday.
Law enforcement officials discussed the DNA evidence during a news conference at Warwick police headquarters, soon after the suspect, Michael A. Soares, 33, was ordered held without bail at his arraignment on a charge of first-degree murder.
Soares, of Pawtucket, R.I., didn’t enter a plea, and the state public defender’s office was appointed to represent him, records show. The office said Wednesday afternoon that Soares hadn’t yet been assigned a lawyer.
Fay, 66, was “ambushed” in Warwick City Park just before 4:30 a.m. on May 17, 2013, with a 2½-pound hammer customized to look like “a war hammer similar to those seen in fantasy games,” Warwick police Captain Joseph Hopkins said.
“Jack was a large, fit man who fought back but succumbed to his injuries,” Hopkins said of Fay, a retired postal worker and father of four who ran in the park twice daily. “He was brutally murdered with two weapons. He suffered blunt force trauma” from the hammer and “numerous stab wounds” when he was attacked on an isolated stretch of a path in the park.
Hopkins said Fay was dragged from the path and concealed, and his body was discovered 36 hours later.
While the case stymied investigators for years, they did have one advantage: DNA evidence the killer left behind underneath Fay’s fingernails, on the hammer discarded at the scene, and in the trash can, police said Wednesday.
Authorities chased down hundreds of leads before hiring Identifinders International, a California-based company that analyzes DNA for law enforcement, in 2018, Hopkins said.
Through that review process, he said, investigators ultimately obtained a search warrant for a sample of Soares’s DNA and determined he “was the source of our assailant’s DNA.”
But though police have their suspect, they still don’t have a motive, and the probe remains active, Hopkins said. He said Soares was homeless at the time of the murder and living out of his truck.
He added that Soares previously lived out of a green 1998 Ford Ranger pickup truck that he spray-painted black around the time Fay was killed.
Hopkins urged anyone with information about the truck or the case to contact Warwick police at 401-468-4236.
“We believe there may be other persons who possibly have knowledge of this crime,” Hopkins said. “We will not stop in this investigation until we come to a complete end.”
Colonel Rick Rathbun, chief of the Warwick police force, said his detectives, who partnered with state agencies and the FBI, never gave up on the case while it remained unsolved.
“Throughout the five-plus years since Mr. Fay’s murder, the Warwick Police Department has remained committed to finding his killer,” Rathbun said. “The case was never cold. . . . While a killer’s in custody, we still acknowledge the loss of one of our residents and a senseless act of violence that has impacted our entire community.”
Often in cold cases, DNA matches come when a convicted felon’s DNA sample logged in the federal CODIS database matches DNA evidence left at a crime scene. But because Soares has no prior criminal history, he wouldn’t turn up in CODIS.
On its website, Identifinders International describes how it helps law enforcement when CODIS can’t connect the dots.
Fay had lived in Warwick since 1972 and, after retiring from the postal service, pursued a mathematics degree and enjoyed high-level math as a hobby, according to his online obituary.
“He was also an avid runner,” the obituary said. “A Vietnam Army veteran, he was a recipient of the Purple Heart.”
Soares is due back in court Feb. 19 for a bail hearing, records show.