By Marilyn Young
Sue Cormier wasn’t on the Pawtucket Police Department when Wendy Madden was brutally raped and murdered in March 1991.
But 22 years later, Cormier reopened the case when some unexpected information came in.
A detective from another department was interviewing someone about a case he was investigating. The man couldn’t help with that case, but said, “I do know something about this girl Wendy who was killed.”
The investigator matched the information to Madden’s murder and contacted the Pawtucket Police Department in Rhode Island.
In the nearly five years that have followed, Cormier has practically been living the case, mostly around active investigations.
And the veteran detective believes she’s a couple of months away from presenting her findings – and a suspect – to the Attorney General’s Office.
It took a painstakingly, meticulous process to get there, one anchored in old-fashioned police work that benefited from modern advances, such as DNA technology and social media.
Cormier joined the Pawtucket department as a police officer two years after Madden was strangled. But she knew the basic details of the case, which started with Madden’s March 11, 1991, disappearance – five days after her 23rd birthday.
Madden left the home she shared with her mother at about 11 p.m. to walk five or six minutes away to a store to buy cigarettes. She made it there, Cormier said, and was later seen talking to people closer to her house that night.
But that’s where the trail ends.
Two days later, a neighbor that lived next to a bar that Madden sometimes frequented, was taking her trash out and saw a woman’s body behind the establishment.
It was Madden. A horrific ending for the young woman whom Cormier said had a rough upbringing. The bar was just an eight- to 10-minute walk from Madden’s home.
After reopening the case in 2013, Cormier pulled five boxes of evidence and the original reports – which were handwritten in the 1990s – from the evidence room.
None of the photos were there. But two weeks later, she found the negatives that had been misfiled in the archives at City Hall, then had prints made. She also had old VHS tapes digitized.
Then came the slow, deliberate process of piecing together what happened to Madden.
“I started reading and reading and reading the reports over and over, like a novel,” said Cormier, who’s been a detective for 14 years.
Knowing those reports so well is very important in cases like Madden’s.
“There’s a saying with cold cases that your suspect is somewhere in the original case files,” she said. “It’s rare it’s not there as a witness.”
She did research online, found witnesses and interviewed the people named in the reports. She also traveled to other states to follow leads.
As expected, the years that passed took evidence away, as well. The bar has been knocked down and its manager has died, as has Madden’s ex-boyfriend and some of her colleagues.
But Cormier found a way to bring in other people to talk to.
In a move she learned from the detective who shared the tip with her in 2013, Cormier started a Facebook page for Madden’s case.
“From there, I got more leads and information and people who reached out to me,” she said.
She also received a lot of photos of Madden, which she didn’t have before.
Cormier routinely asks people to share the Facebook page, which has helped her connect with many of Madden’s friends and family members.
“I want to reach that one right person,” she said.
And Cormier will talk to anyone, including a couple of psychics who reached out to her. One had information that piqued her interest.
“Sometimes I don’t believe in that stuff. Sometimes somebody has a gift,” Cormier said.
She’s willing to take any step necessary to find Madden’s killer.
“I want to give Wendy justice and her family justice,” Cormier said.
John Madden is definitely waiting for that justice for his baby sister. He vividly remembers the night he was told Wendy, the youngest of the family’s three children, was gone.
His stepmother called and said he needed togo to his uncle’s house. “It’s about Wendy,” she told him.
Madden said he figured the news was one of two things: “Either she was in the women’s correctional institution or she was in a body bag.”
He said his sister’s use of drugs and alcohol led to a split between the two long before her death. Madden said he was involved in his church and trying to get his own life together. He and his sister weren’t on speaking terms when she was killed.
But the family did share good times, he said.
There was the nightlyritual of the threesiblings – John, Wendy and Charlotte – giving each other hugs and kisses before bedat 7 p.m.
He said they took trips with their father, including to a Massachusetts beach “where the surf was big” and to an amusement park where they rode everything from the roller coaster to the Tilt-A-Whirl.
Madden said he paid for his sister’s gravesite marker, which includes a quotation from the Old Testament: “Love is as strong as death.”
Madden has talked with Cormier several times and is thankful for the work she has put in on the case.
“She even has a picture of my sister on her smartphone,” he said. “She showed me.”
Cormier also has a picture of Wendy Madden on her desk, serving as a consistent reminder of the work she’s done and still needs to do. So much so that her family knows who Wendy Madden is.
She works on the case nearly every day, often at night on her own time. She tries to go on the Facebook page every day.
There she talks with Madden’s friends, cousins, aunts and other family members, who routinely thank her for keeping the investigation going. And she does media interviews for stories marking the anniversary of Madden’s 1991 death.
Cormier spends so much time working on the case and reviewing the files that she said it feels like the “Cold Case” television show, “where she (the detective on the show) goes back in time in her mind and flashes between the future and the past.”
“I get so deeply involved, I almost feel like I was there,” Cormier said.
She is bothered that Madden’s parents have passed away.
“I can’t give them that answer and that peace of mind and that justice,” she said.
In a recent interview, Cormier said she wants to sit down one more time with the Rhode Island Department of Health and the crime lab to see if there’s evidence to submit that hasn’t had modern-day testing.
She started submitting evidence in 2014 and 2015 and learned the turnaround time for DNA submissions is about 280 days. Cold cases fall to the end of the line behind active investigations.
Cormier keeps working to find “a little bit more, then a little bit more. One more piece of that puzzle.”
And, she said, “I think I’m almost there.”
It’s a matter of squaring up some details, then presenting the case – and her suspect – to the Attorney General’s Office.
“It truly will mean everything to me to solve this,” Cormier said.
Then she’ll be eager to start the next cold case. The next search for justice for another family.
If you have ANY information about Wendy Madden’s life or any circumstances surrounding her homicide, you are urged to contact Detective Susan Cormier at: 401-727-9100 ext. 756 or via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org. There is also a Facebook page in the name of Wendy Madden if you would like to follow this case or send a message to Det. Cormier on that page.
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