- Mark Rein
Rhode Island Wrath: America's Youngest Serial Killer
Welcome to Crime Raven; true crimes, real-life stories from law enforcement and issues crime fighters face. This blog highlights crimes researched by retired Detective Sergeant Mark Rein, using publicly available information, court records and personal recollections. Content may be graphic, disturbing, or violent. Listener discretion is advised. Suspects are considered innocent until found guilty in a court of law.
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Vicious stood in the deep dark, under a copse of trees. He was watching a house, only one trimmed lawn away. It was late, late enough that no one in the neighborhood stirred, despite it being a Saturday morning. The beginning of a long Labor Day weekend. The air was thick. The warmth of summer having only just begun to fade.
As he spied, his gut roiled. Struggling with raw emotion. Anticipation. Excitement, yes, but those harshly tempered by fear. Vicious knew he was standing on a precipice, but he'd been there before.
Two years earlier. He thought back to that time. His emotions had been the same. It was crazy what he had done, but he had gotten away with it. And what he had done had propelled him even deeper into the fantasies that had taken over his life.
Those memories had fueled addiction, and tonight, the promise of new ones broke the impasse. Vicious crept forward from the shadows. The ambient light from a lamp up the street was dim, but he felt exposed nonetheless.
He reached the house and, hugging the wall, he moved window to window, scanning inside and checking the doors. Some windows were clear, others covered by blinds or curtains. What lay inside those, a mystery he was about to dissolve.
At the completion of one orbit, Vicious had not found an unlocked door, but had seen enough to be comfortable with the house's layout. He was drawn back to a kitchen window. Now was the time to move. Swift and silent.
Vicious used his knife to cut open the screen. He popped the window latch and, wasting no time, pulled himself up and through, kicking his shoes off before bringing his feet inside.
He crouched on kitchen linoleum. It was comfortably dark. During the pause, he listened for movement. Sounds of alarm, and hearing none, he stood and slowly moved past the kitchen and the living room and started into the back hall.
The corridor was almost black. Vicious had a plan. Which of them would he visit first? He was trying to orient himself when something bumped into him. He felt the child's hand on his belly just an instant before it pulled away. He sensed more than saw a small figure's retreating movement into the abyss. There was a second of horror and indecision. Then blinding light shocked his eyes.
An instant before a dark mystery, now fully illuminated, Vicious stood in the middle of the hallway. One of the little girls leaning against the wall, her hands still in the light switch. The girl's face was that of a kid who had caught the monster under the bed. Her eyes wide and locked on his mere feet apart. She and Vicious had an eternal breathless moment, recognition, disbelief. Then the girl shifted almost imperceptibly, and the spell was broken. She drew in a breath. Vicious lunged to intercept her scream too late.
The girl's screech echoed through the house as Vicious grab for her. He tried to cover her mouth, desperately trying to put the genie back in the bottle. The door to the mother's bedroom ripped open. The woman in her night closed hair, wild from sleep. Paused in the portal, having the same moment of detachment and disbelief her daughter had experienced just a second before.
Vicious was past that. Adrenaline kicking in, he dropped the girl and tackled the mother hard, driving her to the floor, pummeling her. The mother desperately cried out. To no one. To everyone. Call nine one one! Call nine one one!
Vicious' s rage was growing, but not at the cost of acuity. He was the predator who could eat, while watching his own back. He heard movement down the hall behind him and saw one of the girls moving toward the kitchen.
He jumped off the woman to intercept. There were knives in the sink. Grabbing one as he flew past, Vicious hit the girl with one meaty palm, forcing her to the floor. He began stabbing her on the way down.
There was no time yet to savor. The woman was still behind him. The kitchen knife in Vicious's hand was covered with gore. Swapping it for another, he rushed back to the woman.
He was relieved to find her crumpled, semi-conscious, trying to get up, struggling to crawl down the hallway toward the kitchen, and her daughter. Vicious landed on her, pinning her. The air in her lungs exploding out of her in a reverse gasp.
Vicious was seeing everything through the red hue now. The woman. The girls, one splayed dying on the kitchen floor, the other, he looked around and she was right next to them. Kneeling next to her mother on the hallway floor. She was silent in shock, as if lost in prayer.
Vicious looked at the woman. He had picked her because of the way she had looked at him a few weeks earlier. He had been out on the street. She caught him talking to the little girls as they played in the front yard. She looked at him like a piece of shit she wanted to dis scrape from her shoe. She didn't have to say anything. Her expression spoke volumes.
Vicious had been planning, dreaming about this moment for weeks. It hadn't gone as planned. The bitch had almost ruined it, but he was salvaging that now.
Vicious focused intently on the woman as he pinned her to the floor. Then he began stabbing her, aiming for her neck. He knew from the last time the neck was vulnerable. He liked the feel of the knife as skin and tissue resisted, giving way to being punctured. The blade sliding through flesh. He did it over and over again. And when a blade broke on bone, he went back to the kitchen for another.
When Vicious's rage was spent on the mother, he turned toward the 10-year-old girl. She was still kneeling beside them, quietly rocking and moaning. Her eyes closed, sending a river of tears down her blood-spattered face. Through The Red Haze, Vicious was pleased. This was better than what he had dreamed of. He pulled the girl toward him with one hand as he brought the blade across with the other. Her startled scream broke as the blade entered the side of her throat.
In August 1987, police were called to a home on Inez Avenue in the Buttonwood neighborhood of Warwick, Rhode Island, for the report of a dead woman. The call was an unusual one for the quiet middle class neighborhood, which was mostly single-family homes on small lots.
Patrol officers were the first to arrive. They quickly ascertained that the woman inside hadn't just died. She had been Viciously murdered. The police call quickly evolved into a crime scene processing and a homicide investigation.
What the detectives learned was that the location was the home of Rebecca Spencer, a 27-year-old mother of two, an eight-year-old boy, and a four-year-old girl. Rebecca's body had been discovered by her brother Carl, who'd also lived there. He had returned in the morning from an overnight shift as a security guard. Rebecca was divorced from the children's father and mercifully they'd been with him the night before.
The scene was unusual. The house was a rental, and the family was in the process of moving out. Most of the furniture was already gone. What remained was strewn about some items in boxes, some sorted in preparation. Detectives thought they could rule out theft as a motive because there were valuables lying around. A woman's pocketbook was found near the body, seemingly undisturbed.
The killing had been brutal. Rebecca was lying on her side on the living room floor. Her blue nightgown was drenched with blood. Stab wounds to her body were so numerous, at autopsy, they were difficult to count. The official number was 58. Her head, face, neck, torso, and arms had all been targeted with no place on her upper body spared.
She had clear defensive injuries. Several of the wounds would've been fatal by themselves. She suffered damage to her lungs, heart, liver, and major blood vessels. The attack had been done with such ferocity that pieces of the knife had broken off and remained in the body. One surprising result from the autopsy, there was no sign of sexual assault.
Aside from the bloody mess in the living room, the rest of the house was fairly clear of evidence. There were a couple of blood smears that indicated the killer had come and gone through an unlocked back door.
A search of the surrounding yards turned up a kitchen knife in the grass. It was later determined to be the murder weapon. A frying pan was found in some nearby bushes. Both items had been taken from Rebecca's kitchen.
Investigators looked at the victim's life. They found that she was an ambitious woman on the rise. Rebecca worked at a job at a jewelry store and studied at night, having recently received a G E D and had plans to start college courses the following semester.
Rebecca spent the day before her murder, packing and running errands. She had her ex take the kids overnight because the move was in a chaotic stage. According to Becky's brother, Carl, the prior evening had been normal. Becky cooked dinner for Carl and a couple of her friends, who were helping with the move.
When police spoke to them, they repeated Carl's description of the evening. Nothing unusual had happened. The friends left her alive and well around midnight.
As word of the murder spread, the usually quiet neighborhood streets became clogged from residents, media and onlookers as they flowed past. Even the mayor of the city made an appearance.
Investigators were initially confident that they could close the case, but as each successive lead was processed without an arrest, they were eventually left with no viable suspect. The arc of the investigation mirrored the scene. Furious initial activity and a crowd of investigators slowly dwindled to nothing. The sad case of Becky Spencer's death languished as it became an increasingly distant memory.
Fast forward two years to September 1st, 1989. It had been three days since anyone had heard from Joan Heaton, a 39-year-old single mother, living with her two daughters in a house, just a couple hundred yards from where Becky Spencer had been killed.
Joan's mother, Marie Bouchard, was worried as the long Labor Day weekend came to a close
with no word from the family. On September 4th, she dropped by their house to check on them. She was puzzled to find Jones' Car was in the driveway, but no one answered the door. She used her key. Police then received a frantic call from the Heaton residence. Marie Bouchard was reporting a murder.
Once again, patrol officers were the first to arrive. The unfolding call was eerily similar to the one two years before, except for the number of victims. Unfortunately, the kids had been home for this one.
Investigators determined that sometime, probably on September 1st, someone had broken into the house and brutally murdered Joan and her daughters. The bodies had been left to decompose over the weekend.
Joan Heaton was found in the hallway just off the kitchen. She had suffered numerous stab wounds, 11 just to the face where she had also been bitten. It wasn't just a stabbing. The beating had been brutal. Her skull and ribs fractured with corresponding blunt force trauma to her head and torso.
10-year-old Jennifer lay in the hallway beside her mother. She suffered 62 stab wounds during the attack, which seemed focused on her neck. One of the knives lost a three and a half inch piece of the blade that was left embedded in her body. Like her mother, Jennifer Skull had been crushed.
Joan's youngest, seven-year-old, Melissa, was found on the kitchen linoleum, ringed by an enormous pool of dried blood. Like her mother and sister, the little girl had been stabbed repeatedly and mercilessly beaten.
During processing, the crime scene yielded several clues. Joan Heaton bought a set of kitchen knives on September 1st. Some of those knives were missing from the house. The killer had left a bloody sock print on the floor. The print was big, somewhere around a men's size 13. Another interesting feature at the scene was a blood trail that led away from the bodies. The trail ended at a pile of bandage wrappers. Apparently, the suspect had cut himself.
Like the attack up the street, there was no evidence of sexual assault, but there were signs of active resistance. Items were disturbed. Some broken. The kitchen table was on its side. One of the legs splintered off. A large palm print on the tabletop seemed to indicate that the bad guy had fallen backward onto the table, leaving the print as it collapsed under his weight.
Detectives noticed other signs at the scene that pointed the to the killer's state of mind and motive. The bodies had been haphazardly covered with blankets and area rugs. This wasn't done in an effort to hide the crime, as the bodies would've been immediately obvious to anyone entering the house. Also, as with other murder, valuables in the home had been left undisturbed.
The discovery of the bodies had a profound effect on the police department and the community. Openly acknowledging links with the Rebecca Spencer murder police command assigned 26 officers to a task force. They were joined by three F B I agents. Those investigators began combing through the crime scene, the neighborhood, and the Heaton's background.
The victimology would lead nowhere. Joan Heaton's husband committed suicide in 1983. She was described as a shy, quiet, religious woman who worked as a research assistant in the biology department at the university, and she enjoyed quilting. No one in the family circle could think of anyone who would want to hurt them.
Nothing in the house indicated a threat that had preceded the attack. A search warrant for Joan's safe deposit yielded no clues.
Investigators recognize that the blood trail leading from the bodies might be their route to identify the perpetrator. Roadblocks were set up in the area. Police talked to people about the crime while closely examining men for injuries. Subpoenas were served on area clinics and hospitals in search of suspicious wounds.
Several men were immediately made persons of interest by the dragnet, but most were easily eliminated with cursory follow up.
The community was horrified as the details of the crime leaked out. Gun sales went through the roof. One gun merchant credited the spike to the Vicious nature of the murders, saying of the residents "They're scared. Scared to hell." Other security related sales went up as residents upgraded their doors, window locks, and purchased alarm systems.
One of the people police contacted the day after the murders were discovered was Craig Price. A 15-year-old African American boy who lived in the neighborhood. One of the task force officers stopped out on a group of neighborhood kids on September 5th, and Price was among them.
The officer knew Price through a youth sports program. The boy was large for his age, just under six feet and around 260 pounds. He didn't have major history, just some petty thefts and was rumored to have done some break-ins with friends from the hood.
On that day, what drew particular attention to Price was that one of his hands was wrapped in gauze. When asked about it, Price said that he had cut his hand on glass. He showed the officer the wound, which was a significant injury to the left index finger. Price gave specific details as to where and how the cut happened. But looking at the wound, the officer was suspicious. He made notes and submitted a request for a follow-up investigation.
Price was not immediately a prime suspect, but developed over time. The hangup was his age. He would have been 13 when Becky Spencer was killed. No one believed that was possible. No one wanted to believe it. Still. He had the cut. He had big size 13 ish feet. He had been living there for more than two years.
The investigators went out and tried to backstop his injury story. They found no glass on the ground and other details didn't match. The inquiry intensified. Casual conversations with Price's friends didn't corroborate any of his details.
The investigators invited Price and his parents to the Warwick Police Station on September 9th. When they interviewed him, they pointed out the discrepancies in his account and Price expanded his story. He admitted a crime. He said he did it breaking into a car and gave a more detailed explanation of how his hand was cut. The investigators thought that the kid was smart. He made an admission against self-interest, but they still didn't believe him. The discussion was fruitful because it allowed investigators to more closely inspect the wound.
The September 9th interview bumped Price up the list of active suspects. He went even higher as they looked at specifics of his new story. He was clearly still lying. They brought him back in on September 16th for a more pointed conversation.
When Price arrived at the police station, they took additional photographs. They took finger, palm and footprints. They hooked him up to a polygraph. The interview transitioned into an interrogation. Price denied knowing the Heatons. Denied ever going to their house and denied killing them. Price left, thinking he had beaten the cops.
What he didn't know was that one of his friends told the detectives that Price was asking people to lie about how he got his cut. The following morning, police entered the Price home at 7:30 AM with a search warrant. Eventually, they made it to the shed in the backyard. In an interview with a reporter, years later, Price said he watched from a window as a detective came out of the shed, holding up a bag that contained the still bloody knives used to kill the Heatons.
At that moment, he fantasized about attacking one of the cops, disarming him, and shooting his way out. In reality, detectives rushed back into the house and slapped handcuffs on the 15-year-old killer.
By the time he made it to the police station, Price had calmed down. He knew they had him and decided to tell them everything. He wanted to put his own spin on the killings, justifying them in a way that he thought would garner sympathy from some.
He had one ace up his sleeve. He knew that a 15-year-old could not be charged as an adult, and he was guaranteed freedom by the time he was 21. With a little luck, he might even be out earlier.
In a recorded confession, Price told the whole story with his mother sitting beside him crying. He talked about how he had brief contact with Joan Heaton and the two girls the day before the murders.
He described how on the night it happened; he took a knife over to the Heaton house, cut a window screen, and slipped inside. Price claimed that his intent was only to kill the mother, Joan. He didn't want to hurt the little girls.
To keep everything quiet, Price said he had slipped off his shoes as he went inside. From there, he moved toward the back bedrooms. In the dark hallway, Price bumped into one of the little girls. To keep the situation from spinning out of control, he tried to grab Melissa before she could scream, but was unsuccessful in silencing her. Joan Heaton came out of the bedroom and confronted Price who in turn attacked her.
Price was afraid Melissa was going for the phone, so he ran back, intercepting her in the kitchen. He grabbed a knife from the sink and stabbed her. Without pausing, he returned to Joan and stabbed her, too. Price turned and stabbed Jennifer. With all three Heatons and silent, dead or dying on the floor, Price said he bolted.
He ran back to his house to hide, but the gravity of what he had done had started to weigh on him. He worried about evidence he'd left behind. What had he touched? What had he forgotten? As his mind continued to spin, Price said he crept his way back into the house. The bodies had started to give off an odor, confirming that they were really all dead. He didn't like looking at them, so he covered the bodies with blankets and rugs and then collected the knives.
He retreated to his house, hid the knives in the shed and his bloody clothes in the attic. In response to detective's questions, Price said he didn't remember exactly when he cut himself, just that it was during the stabbings. He only noticed it later.
When asked why he did it. Price described an incident recently. He was talking to the little girls from the street. When Joan Heaton approached, he said she looked at him with disgust. He was sure she was a racist. In essence, Jones Gaze had enraged him and made him wanna kill her.
From the Heaton murder confession, the detectives pivoted to Becky Spencer. Price, in the same emotionless tone he described killing the Heatons, confirmed that he had murdered Rebecca Spencer and proceeded to describe how it happened. Price said that he was motivated by another act of racism. On the night prior to the murder, he and some friends were playing in the street. A man drove up in a car and before he went inside Becky's place, he directed a racial slur towards Price.
The incident enraged Price and made him wanna kill Rebecca. He went on to give details of that crime that were, corroborated by evidence, talking about details that only the killer should know.
Price said he went in through an open back door. The place was in disarray because of the move. He Found Becky sleeping on the floor of the living room in front of the television, which was turned to, one of the music video channels.
Price left his weapon back at his house, so he searched the kitchen. He thought about beating her with a frying pan, but it seemed unwieldy. He chose a knife instead. After killing Rebecca Spencer Price said he threw the knife in the high grass in the backyard, just as he would in the second murder Price stew about the evidence. So he returned to clean up what he could. He touched the frying pan, so he threw it in the neighbor's bushes.
One of the details that Price brought up repeatedly was that he had been high on marijuana and LSD for both murders. He indicated that the drug use wasn't just prior to his crimes, but a regular, even constant feature of his daily life, going back years.
After the confession, several of the detectives reflected publicly on Price's demeanor. They were stunned that a suspect his age could talk about the barbaric crimes with which seemed like the complete detachment. He spoke in horrific detail how he bit Joan Heaton's face as he stabbed her. The sounds his dying victims made. The lack of a defense from Jennifer as he turned his rage against the little girl.
During the whole horrible account, he never faltered. Never expressed regret or remorse. His only complaint was the injury to his hand. One of the local papers quoted police Captain Collins saying " I think if he was concerned about anything, it was cutting his finger," and summing it up said "this is not your garden variety of juvenile delinquent. This is a bright sociopath who, in my opinion, has enough sophistication to control his behavior because he knows exactly what the consequences would be. He's a monster."
The investigators wanted to know what kind of environment could spawn a boy killer? John and Shirley Price met in 1967 at the Concord Baptist Church in Boston. They were married the following year. Their first child, Kimberly was born August, 1968, followed by John Junior in 1972, and Craig in October, 1973.
In the family, both parents worked. Shirley was a clerical worker in an office while her husband was a manager at the Pepsi plant. Their combined income put them comfortably in the middle class, which allowed them to buy the house in Buttonwood in 1978.
Price was considered the family jokester. They said he liked to tell stories and do impressions. He played baseball and football seriously, and the rock and roll electric guitar. Not seriously. His teachers thought of him as a very intelligent, habitual underachiever.
Price had what police would consider more normal brushes with law enforcement, getting into trouble for low level criminal violations. He smoked, drank, used drugs, went to parties, and had been charged for petty theft.
One family incident caught the investigator's attention. In July 1989, an enraged Price attacked his sister. Their father tried to intervene, but Price wouldn't back down. Police were called, and he fought with them too. When they were finally able to force Price into handcuffs, he was taken to juvenile detention on domestic violence assault charges.
Overall, the investigators looking at Price's backstory were amazed at how normal it seemed. He was the baby in a traditional nuclear family of five. They lived in a middle class home in the suburbs. His father and mother were responsible and respectable. There were no signs of the kind of chaos and upheaval so commonly found in the biographies of other young killers.
The relief and celebration following the capture of who the media called the Warwick Slasher was short-lived. The facts of Price's crimes shocked the citizens of Rhode Island. Then came the realization that under current law, Price would be released on or before his 21st birthday. Just five years away. Shock and fear turned to outrage. Citizens demanded action from public leaders.
Price didn't help himself during this tense time. In one public appearance, he was being led from the courthouse and called out to the nearby newsy, smiling and taunting, "When I get out, I'm gonna smoke a bomber." Price was initially sentenced to be held at the state juvenile training facility until his 21st birthday on October 11th, 1994.
Efforts began almost immediately to keep Price locked up for longer. There was an action on a legislative fix. In 1990, state law was changed to allow juveniles under 16 who commit the most violent crimes to be moved to adult court. Because of the constitutional prohibition on ex post facto laws, the change would not affect Price's case.
Another strategy was to have the murderer evaluated for possible commitment to a mental institution. So psychiatric evaluation started. The first psychologist noted that Price was articulate and superficially affable, but showed a lack of empathy for others, and clearly had inner conflict that he kept hidden.
He wrote, "he appears to be a young man limited in the available resources for coping with stress and vulnerable to being overwhelmed by stimulus demands, both from his own emotional pressures and from the environment. Predicted as a result would be disorganization and a loss of control." Other documentation read, "this teenager believes that past degradations may be undone by provoking fear and intimidation in others. He is rarely able to submerge the memories of past humiliations and this resentment may break through his controls in impulsive and irrational anger."
A second psychologist wrote that Prices, instances of racism, were vivid, but seemed exaggerated and possibly fabrications. And "the possibility exists that Price possessed a preexisting paranoid trait, which then caused him to perceive maltreatment that was non-existent."
When Price's public defender caught wind of the state's plan to keep him locked up using
the psychological evaluation results, the lawyer advised Price to stop cooperating. The state's response to this was to obtain a court order requiring his cooperation. The legal fight over the order and Price's lack of cooperation would go on for years.
The outrage over Price's short sentence grew. Volunteers gathered signatures for petitions demanding that Price be locked up or exiled from the state. At a public rally, Mary Bouchard, Joan Heaton's mother, presented Governor Bruce Sunland with petitions bearing tens of thousands of signatures demanding changes in laws to allow for indefinite psychiatric hold for violent offenders.
The Rhode Island State Attorney General consulted a Massachusetts psychologist and specialist on serial killers to look at case facts. He found that Price was a serial killer, that he was in a psychotic rage during the murders, and he was in "dire need of extensive treatment," adding, "and even then may not be in a position to be safely placed in the community."
In many ways, Price turned out to be his own worst enemy. His refusal to cooperate with ongoing psychological evaluation and treatment brought him a 1994 contempt of court charge. Price was enraged and threatened to kill a corrections officer. The verbal exchange brought extortion and assault charges. This had never happened before. Charges based on words alone. Price's case was clearly being treated as special.
At trial in 1994, the State Attorney General said, "we are dealing with a quadruple murderer who has threatened to kill again, and we are going to prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law."
When found guilty by a jury Price railed about racist prosecution and, "the media has once again done a good job of creating a monster." He said, his voice thundering through the stunned courtroom, "not just a boogeyman, but a black boogeyman." When the judge heard Prices, angry, unrepentant, ranting, it hardened his resolve. He gave Price a 15-year sentence with eight suspended. Price would not be released on his 21st birthday. Instead, he was transferred to an adult prison. The state came up with creative ways to extend the prison term. The contempt of court for not cooperating on psychological evaluations added a year to the sentence. All of Price's appeals went before the state's Supreme Court, and he lost every single one in succession. At each hearing, the defense asked the court, "can the state hold this man forever for crimes committed when he was 13 and 15?" the retort given each time by the state, in effect, was always, can we afford not to?
At some point, Price was transferred to the custody of the Florida Department of Corrections due to overcrowding in his home state. Price was involved in more altercations while in prison, and they were always prosecuted. In 1996, he fought with officers. In 1998, he assaulted an officer. In 2001, he assaulted an inmate.
In each instance, Price claims, self-defense, and lost. From those, he received sentences that put his release date as February 17th, 2022 and 48 years old.
Then on April 4th, 2017, Price added more time in an attack that was captured by security cameras. Price entered another inmate's cell and stabbed him repeatedly with a homemade knife. The victim tried to escape by running out of the cell, but Price caught him and continued the attack. Price later plead guilty to the assault and took a 25-year sentence to be served consecutively. He agreed to a 10 year probation term and classification as a habitual violent felony offender.
The Rhode Island Attorney General thanked Florida in a public statement saying, "we are grateful for the excellent work by the third judicial circuit of the Florida State Attorney's Office on this case. It has been clear from the beginning that our Florida colleagues knew how significant this case was to Rhode Island. We are also grateful that for the purposes of public safety, Mr. Price has been sentenced to a long sentence based on his latest acts of violent criminal misconduct."
Marcy: Bringing Mark in for the discussion, let's talk about the narrative, which you fleshed out a little bit more than you did