Police: DNA led to murder suspect

‘Case was never cold,’ new chief says

Warwick Beacon ·

John “Jack” Fay was a “man of habit,” according to Warwick Detective Capt. Joseph Hopkins.

A 66-year-old father, retired postal worker and Vietnam veteran, Fay’s routine included jogging along the path in Warwick City Park twice each day.

On his last day, May 17, 2013, Fay was “ambushed” during his morning jog in the park, Hopkins said. He was beaten with a hammer and stabbed repeatedly. His body was dragged off the path and concealed in a trash barrel, where it was discovered 36 hours later.

Now, years later, authorities believe they have the man responsible in custody – and while the motive in the killing remains unclear, they are crediting the use of a California-based company specializing in genealogical research for having led to the arrest.

“Throughout the five-plus years since Mr. Fay’s murder, the Warwick Police Department has remained committed to finding his killer,” Warwick Chief of Police Col. Rick Rathbun told members of the media during a Wednesday press conference at the department’s headquarters. “The case was never cold and has been actively pursued since the day of the crime.”

Michael A. Soares, 33, of 455 Lonsdale Ave., Pawtucket, was arrested Tuesday and charged with first-degree murder in Fay’s death. He entered no plea and was ordered held without bail at his arraignment Wednesday morning in Third Division District Court.

In preparation of Soares’ appearance before Justice Joseph Ippolio Jr., several sheriffs entered the courtroom, stationing themselves at the bar and in front of the judge.

In preface to the hearing, Ippolio said this is an “emotional matter,” adding that there would be “no outbursts.”

“Let’s do this professionally and purposely,” he said.

Soares, head bowed, was brought into the room by a side door.

Assistant Attorney General Timothy Healey briefly described the murder scene and how, through working with the Rhode Island Department of Health, police had been able to identify the suspect though DNA. He said the cause of death was “blunt trauma.”

The hearing was over in a matter of seconds with Ippolio setting a hearing for Feb. 19.

Most of those in the courtroom, including about six detectives and at least an equal number of members of the Fay family, left quickly. Several family members, some with tears, hugged detectives in the corridor, leaving quickly before news crews caught up with them.

Hours later, several members of the Fay family were on hand as police held a press conference to disclose additional details of the investigation and arrest.

Police cited two specific steps taken last year as having led to this week’s developments.

Rathbun said in 2018, in cooperation with agents from the FBI, Warwick Police assigned additional personnel a task force “to focus on the case and supplement the detectives already assigned to the investigation.”

Hopkins said the department also hired IdentiFinders International, a genealogical research company in California. The company, he said, was provided with DNA from the scene of the crime belonging to the assailant, which had been found “on a trash barrel, from the body of Mr. Fay and [on] a weapon that was discovered next to the victim.”

“We determined that the defendant, Michael Soares, was the only male in his lineage that matched the DNA profile,” Hopkins said. “With that lead, the team developed other evidence to obtain a search warrant for a sample of Soares’ DNA. The [Rhode Island] Department of Health examined Soares’ DNA sample and came to the scientific conclusion that Soares was the source of our assailant’s DNA.”

He added, “Without this line of investigation, we would not be solving this case any time in the near future.”

Neither Hopkins nor Rathbun would confirm whether the match was made due to a family member of Soares having taken part in a genetic testing service such as Ancestry or 23andMe.

Hopkins said the database against which the assailant’s DNA was tested is “open source” and “open to the public.” He also said Soares’ DNA was not in the database.

Hopkins said investigation remains ongoing, and police “still do not have a motive for the crime.” The lack of a motive, he said, has been a “major problem” for investigators.

Hopkins said Soares had “numerous police contacts” in the year surrounding the murder, but those “all were non-criminal related, and focused on him being homeless, living out of his truck in various lots and parks throughout the city of Warwick and surrounding towns.”

Police shared another detail of Soares’ life in 2013 that they hope produces additional information. At the time, Hopkins said, Soares’ vehicle was a green 1998 Ford Ranger pickup truck. Sometime around the date of the murder, he said, it is believed the vehicle was painted black with spray paint. He called the vehicle “very distinct,” although he added that police do not know its present whereabouts.

“We believe there may be other persons who possibly have knowledge of this crime,” the captain said.

Anyone who might have known, or know of, Soares around May 2013 is asked to contact police at 401-468-4236. Information can also be provided by messaging Warwick Police on Facebook or submitting a tip through the department’s website, warwickpd.org.

No criminal history

Hopkins said there is no indication Soares was living in Warwick City Park around the time of the murder or that he assaulted anyone else. He also has no previous criminal history.

He said Soares has not made any statements to police, and he declined to discuss Soares’ mental state.

Rathbun and Hopkins also declined to discuss what was found during a search of Soares’ Pawtucket apartment.

“That is part of the ongoing investigation,” Hopkins said. “There is lots of evidence to go through.”

Hopkins did say the weapon used to inflict blunt-force trauma on Fay during the attack was a 2.5-pound hammer that had been “customized to appear like a Nordic hammer, or a war hammer similar to those seen in fantasy games.” He declined to answer when asked if fingerprints were found on the weapon.

Police reflected on the length of the investigation and spoke of the various agencies and personnel that have been involved in the last five years. Rathbun praised detectives under the leadership of Hopkins and Lt. Scott Robillard for their “exhaustive and methodical work.” He also offered thanks to the FBI, the office of Attorney General Peter Neronha and the Center for Forensic Sciences at the Rhode Island Department of Health.

“By cooperating with these agencies, we were finally able to bring justice, in the form of an arrest of Soares, to Jack’s family,” the chief said.

He added, “Today is a bittersweet day, for our agency as well as the city. While the killer is in custody, we still acknowledge the loss of one of our residents and a senseless act of violence that has impacted our entire community.”

Hopkins said detectives on the case “vigorously followed every tip, lead and line of investigation” despite the challenges posed by the case.

“We will not stop in this investigation until we come to a complete end, and I can tell you these detectives here have worked tirelessly throughout these years,” he said.

Hopkins at one point apologized to members of Fay’s family for not having solved the case sooner.

“I’m sorry for that, and I promise you one day we will tell you every detail,” he said.

Members of Fay’s family said the apology was unnecessary.

“We want to thank the Warwick Police and the men and women of the attorney general’s office, everyone involved, for their diligence,” said Dan Fay, Jack’s son. “They stayed with it, and it’s not an easy case…They worked with it from day one, they never quit, and we appreciate it…They always stayed in contact, and all the questions we had, they always got right back to us.”

Dan Fay called his father a “good, really smart, intelligent guy” who would “talk to anybody.”

“He was a good man…He has been missed,” he said.

Dan Fay said he felt a “little bit of disbelief” when he received the call about Soares’ arrest. He said the last several years have been “tough” on the family, but that they held onto a “little glimmer of hope, tried to hang in there.”

“It’s not over yet, so we’re kind of treading lightly…It’s nice to know they’re pretty sure this is the guy, so it’s definitely a good feeling,” he said. “But there’s still a lot more work.”

Jack Fay’s daughter Meagan Fay said she remains sad over the loss of her father but is glad that a suspect has been apprehended. Unfortunately, she added, “It doesn’t change what happened.” She said there is no connection between her father and Soares.

She said Warwick Police stayed in contact with her family, especially on the anniversary of the murder. Soares’ arrest was as much a surprise to her as it was to the news media. She said the family learned of it about two hours before police issued a press release Tuesday afternoon.

Over the course of the five years, Detective Sgt. Mark Canning reassured Meagan Fay that the investigation was active. She said she is “very happy with Warwick Police” and that they stayed on top of the case.

Meagan Fay said she remains convinced that more than one person is responsible for the murder.

Reached by phone, retired Warwick Chief of Police Col. Stephen M. McCartney, who named the murder of one of those unfinished investigations he wished to see resolved, said, “I’m very happy for the department and for the Fay family. I hope it gives them closure.”

McCartney said he never doubted that a suspect would be found.

“I always had the feeling [they would make an arrest], they put so much time and effort into it,” he said.

McCartney credited the full department, citing Hopkins in particular. He said Hopkins came up with a plan that he and others in the department reviewed.

With that plan, he was “very confident with the detectives and that we’re going to break this.”