PAWTUCKET — Thirty-one years later, it’s still a memory that haunts Monica Benoit. She calls it the “worst nightmare I’ve ever had in my life.”
Benoit, then 26 years old and nine months pregnant, was in the car with her boyfriend when she saw Christine Cole out walking on a cold January afternoon in 1988.
“I saw her walking. I said, ‘We should pick her up,’” Benoit, now 58 and living in Cumberland, said last week in an interview with The Times. However, she was not sociable with Cole’s parents, so she did not know how they would react to her and her boyfriend giving a ride to this 10-year-old girl. “It’s the worst nightmare I’ve ever had in my life. We let her walk and she didn’t come back.”
After that day, Christine Cole would not be seen again until 54 days later on Feb. 28, 1988, when her body was found washed ashore at Conimicut Point Beach in Warwick.
Cole had just turned 10 years old two days prior to Jan. 6, 1988. On that chilly afternoon, Cole left her home on West Avenue around 4 p.m. to walk to the store to purchase seafood and milk. Along the way, she stopped at a friend’s house nearby to play with dolls for about an hour. Her last stop was at Saints Market at 76 Slater St. around 7 p.m., where she purchased milk and left the store.
Benoit lived on Cedar Street, while Cole and her family lived on a side house on West Avenue just next door to her. She still has vivid memories of Christine, the girl she described as “Cinderella,” because of the fact that she was “cute as a button” despite her tattered, raggedy clothing.
“She needed a lot of love or attention or something,” Benoit recalled. “She seemed like a sad child. She’d walk by, we’d say hi, she’d give a little wave of her hand and just walk by. We knew something wasn’t right.”
“She lived a really hard life, she didn’t have anything,” Benoit continued. “She used to go to the store a lot and she used to hide her candy bag by the gas tank. Maybe she was hiding it from the kids, maybe she wasn’t supposed to bring it home. As time went by, we saw she lived a hard life.”
On Jan. 6, 1988, before they last saw her walking in the cold, Benoit said she remembered seeing Cole walk by her house on Cedar Street. She can still remember exactly what the girl was wearing – a long gray coat, boots that may have been a little too big for her, and a single red mitten on her left hand.
“She just walked by, she had no friends, she’d look at you with her little smile and just walk by. She was a good-natured kid...” Benoit said. “Christine Cole was such a darling girl, just a sweet, sweet kid … When she was in front of my house, she used to sit there and I’d say maybe one day we’ll take her to the beach. She said ‘I don’t like to go to the beach ‘cause I can’t swim.’ And the saddest thing to me is that she died in f***ing water.”
Joao B. Monteiro, 59, of a last known address at 234 Central St. in Central Falls, was arrested on July 17 in the 31-year-old cold case. He was charged with first-degree murder for his alleged role in Cole’s killing. Now, some 31 years later, Benoit is convinced that the police have arrested the man responsible for Cole’s death, and she doesn’t mince words when discussing how she feels about Monteiro.
“I’m pissed off how this guy got bail, I don’t get it...” she said. “I’d like to ask him what the f*** he was thinking. What were you thinking, you piece of s***? This was a child and somebody took her life and threw her in the water like a dog.”
“She suffered...” Benoit later said. “She was a child, an innocent cute little child who got destroyed. It bothers me that I didn’t step up to say we need to call the state on this because something isn’t right. She was worth it, any child is worth it. A child is a child.”
While she lived two houses over from Monteiro on Slater Street for a period of time in the 1980s, Benoit says she does not recall ever interacting with the man. She said, however, that his face “looked familiar.”
“I believe he is (the girl’s killer), he has to be the one,” she said. “My question is why did it take 30 years for DNA. Don’t tell me we didn’t have this five years ago. What took so long? … There’s so much. Thirty years? I’m wondering what took so long.”
According to the affidavit and arrest warrant, during an Oct. 16, 2018 meeting between Pawtucket Police and the Rhode Island Department of Health, it was learned that Cole’s pants had a man’s blood on the inside crotch. Forensic testing of the blood resulted in obtaining a partial Y-STR profile (Short Tandem Repeat for the male Y-chromosome). Further testing produced a larger Y-STR profile and a check against a database maintained by the Department of Health revealed a closest match to a man who was in the database due to an unrelated conviction but had not yet been born when Cole was killed.
A full background check on this man and his sister revealed their father to be Monteiro. Police said Monteiro has moved at least 19 times in the past 30 years, with one of the addresses being 78 Slater St., directly above Saints Market where Cole was last seen. Several other addresses he had were also in the immediate neighborhood of where Cole lived on West Avenue.
Quoted in a 1988 Times article, Benoit said: “Christine was a good kid, a quiet kid, the kind of kid you want your children to hang around with. She wasn’t a girl who smiled a lot, but when she got comfortable with you, she’d smile.”
Still, to this day, Benoit says she’s not done asking questions about the death of the little girl she last saw walking in the cold.
“I just loved her so much, it bothers me 30 years later that you find someone and set him free,” she said. “This is something that’s embedded in my brain forever. When they brought it up, it was like yesterday that it happened.”