LOWELL – About four decades ago, 19-year-old Brenda LaCombe moved out of her grandmother’s apartment in Lowell.
She was never seen alive again.
On June 4, 1982 – about three weeks after teenager Lowell left her grandmother’s apartment – LaCombe’s partially naked and badly decomposed body was found in a wooded area off Route 111 in Harvard. Her clothes had been shredded and she had been beaten up.
The condition of LaCombe’s body was so poor that an autopsy could not determine the cause of death, only that his death was “unnatural”, according to his death certificate.
No one was ever charged with LaCombe’s murder.
Lacey Kearns, LaCombe’s niece, hosted a candlelight vigil which took place outside Lowell Town Hall on Saturday evening. The event was used as a way to shed light on the now 40-year-old mystery surrounding LaCombe’s death.
Several relatives of LaCombe, as well as Mayor Sokhary Chau, Councilwoman Rita Mercier and Acting Lowell Police Superintendent Barry Golner addressed attendees from the steps of City Hall.
“She was a beautiful, kind person,” said Melissa Economakis, LaCombe’s childhood friend. “We remember you and always will.”
Kearns points out that the 40th anniversary of the tragedy has stirred emotions in his family. Kearns said that was especially true for his mother, Barbara Sullivan, who for years after her sister’s death knocked on doors and searched for newspaper articles looking for answers.
“It makes her think about everything in life after so much time has passed,” Kearns said of the tragedy’s 40th anniversary.
Lacombe was a single mother raising a 9-month-old baby boy at the time of her disappearance and death.
On the day of her disappearance, Lacombe was supposed to have a double date with her sister. While visiting her grandmother, Lillian McAneney, Lacombe received several phone calls, but never disclosed who called. At 12:45 a.m., she left her grandmother’s apartment at 735 Broadway St. to visit an ex-boyfriend in Lowell. What happened next continues to baffle investigators and the grieving family.
The family says Lacombe had no known reason to be at Harvard.
With LaCombe’s body discovered at Harvard, the Worcester County District Attorney’s Office took the lead in the investigation. Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan provided a statement for the vigil. She offered her support in the investigation and to the family who deserve answers after “four decades of painful waiting”.
“As we mark 40 years since the tragic murder of Brenda LaCombe, we know her family continues to grieve over her loss,” Ryan said in the statement. “Tonight’s vigil is an important reminder that Brenda is not forgotten, and as district attorney for Brenda’s hometown, I join you in mourning.”
LaCombe’s tragic death 40 years ago came on the heels of another case that rocked the region.
The day after LaCombe’s body was found at Harvard, Chelmsford teenager Judith Chartier disappeared after leaving a party in Billerica.
Kearns pointed out that Lacombe was a close friend of Chartier, who was only 17 when she disappeared.
Like LaCombe’s murder, Chartier’s disappearance has been shrouded in mystery for decades. However, the case got a breakthrough last November when the teenager’s 1972 Dodge Dart Swinger was found in the troubled waters of the Concord River in Billerica. Human remains discovered near the submerged vehicle have been identified as belonging to Chartier.
“It’s very promising,” Kearns said of the finding. “It brings a lot of extra emotion to the process. Everyone is happy to have some kind of response.
When Golner addressed those attending the vigil on Saturday night, he mentioned Chartier’s name and the subsequent investigation that moved forward even after decades of uncertainty.
“My message here today is to never lose hope,” Golner said.
Anyone who might have information about what may have happened to LaCombe should contact the Worcester County District Attorney’s Anonymous Hotline at 508-453-7589.
Kearns said the family was raising funds for the exhumation of her aunt for a new autopsy and DNA testing. For those who want to contribute, visit gofundme.com/voiceforbrenda.
For more information on the case, visit facebook.com/avoiceforbrenda.
Follow Aaron Curtis on Twitter @aselahcurtis