Pictured; Craig Chandler Price (Park Elementary) School-photo taken in his younger years.
On September 4, 1989, Marie Bouchard went to check on her daughter Joan Heaton, 39, and her two grandchildren, Jennifer, 10, and Melissa, 8, at their home on Metropolitan Drive in the Buttonwoods area of Warwick, R.I. She was concerned because she hadn’t heard from them over the Labor Day weekend. Marie’s other daughter, Mary Lou, accompanied her to Joan’s house. It was a visit that would change their lives forever.
Pictured; The Heaton’s at Church – Joan, 39, Jennifer (10) and Melissa (8)
When Marie and Mary Lou went to the house, they found it unusual that no one answered the door when they called. They knew Joan must have been nearby because her car was still parked in the driveway, so they rang the doorbell several more times. Still, there was no answer. They decided to take a look inside the house.
When they entered, they immediately knew something was terribly wrong. The interior was splattered with blood and a putrid smell permeated the air. As they walked further into the house, they made a heart-wrenching discovery.
They saw Joan lying beneath blood-soaked sheets in the hallway. Her oldest daughter, Jennifer, was lying nearby and Melissa was on the kitchen floor. All three had been brutally murdered.
Marie and Mary Lou were horror-stricken. Just days earlier Marie had spent the day with Joan and her grandchildren shopping and enjoying time together. It was hard to imagine that they were all dead.
The mother and daughter called the police soon after they discovered the bodies. Within moments, rescue workers arrived on the scene followed shortly thereafter by detectives. The house was cordoned off and an investigation of the crime scene began.
Detectives were shocked at the savagery of the crime. Even the most seasoned investigators had difficulty holding back tears. All the victims had been stabbed multiple times with kitchen knives. The youngest child, Melissa, was stabbed so fiercely that one of the blades actually broke off in her neck. She also had her skull bashed in with a kitchen stool. Apart from the 57 stab wounds inflicted on her body, Joan was also bludgeoned and strangled. It was believed that they were murdered three days prior to the discovery.
The heinous murders were the worst the city had seen in recent times. News of the triple homicide sent shock waves through the small town. No one felt safe and residents looked to the police for answers. Even though investigators had little to go on, they vowed to find the murderer. It was a promise they would keep.
The Warwick Police Department had their finest working on the case. They were determined to catch the person responsible for the murders and they worked day and night reviewing evidence and interviewing locals who might have information related to the crime. They also enlisted one of the FBI’s top profilers, Gregg O. McCrary, to assist in the investigation.
McCrary stated in his book The Unknown Darkness, that he believed the murderer was likely someone from the Heaton’s neighborhood. Moreover, he suggested the crime was probably connected with another unsolved murder that took place two years earlier in Buttonwoods. The coincidences between the crimes were significant.
In July 1987, Rebecca Spencer, 27, was found dead in her living room. She had been stabbed repeatedly with a packing knife. At the time of her death she was preparing to move to another neighborhood.
Photo of Rebecca Spencer and her son Steven, taken in 1979. Rebecca was a divorced mother of two who lived two doors from Price on Inez Avenue in the Buttonwoods neighborhood of Warwick, RI. The crime went unsolved for more than two years.
In both the Heaton and the Spencer cases, the killer used a weapon that was already present in the house. This presented strong evidence that the killer originally entered the residence for another purpose, such as to burglarize the house. It is likely that the intruder was caught unaware and murdered the eyewitnesses using what McCrary referred to as a “weapon of opportunity.”
Robbers often burglarize houses they know. The more familiar you are with the contents of a house, the more successful your robbery will be. Consequently, burglars regularly choose to rob houses that are close to where they live. McCrary suggested that in both cases the murderer likely entered the residences with the intention of robbing and probably was familiar with the houses and/or residents. Moreover, he believed the murderer lived in the Buttonwoods area because both crimes were committed five houses from one another.
Another similarity between the cases was an unusual display of “overkill.” Joan and Rebecca were stabbed approximately 60 times each, and the children approximately 30 times. Due to the excessive nature of the crimes, it was highly probable that the same person committed the murders.
McCrary suggested to investigators that the “frenetic manner of the stabbing,” used to kill the Heatons likely resulted in the murderer stabbing his own hand. He told them that they should look for someone in the neighborhood with a cut or bandaged hand. McCrary’s advice was of great use to investigators because it significantly narrowed the search for a suspect. They had a location in which to begin and a possible characteristic of the suspect. All they needed was some luck.
On September 5, 1989, just one day after the bodies were discovered, investigators got their first real break in the case. According to Denise Lang’s book, A Call for Justice, police detectives Ray Pendergast and Mark Brandreth were driving through a park near Buttonwoods, “when Pendergast spotted a familiar face.” They stopped the car to talk to a neighborhood boy named Craig Price, 15, who Pendergast once coached in a local basketball program.
Pendergast asked the youth if he heard about the murders. Craig responded with concern that he was aware of what had happened and that he had seen the bodies coming out of the house the day before. He lived just a few doors away from the Heaton family.
During the conversation, Pendergast and Brandreth noticed that Craig had a bandage on his hand. Suspicious, Pendergast asked how he hurt himself. Craig claimed that he got drunk several nights earlier and punched his hand through a car window on Keeley Avenue. As the detectives pulled away they could not help but wonder if Craig was telling the truth about his hand. Why would he admit to two police officers that he vandalized a car?
It seemed unlikely that a teenager would commit such ghastly crimes as the Heaton murders, let alone such a good-humored and vivacious kid as Craig. However, the fact that the boy had a cut on his hand and lived on the same street as the Heatons was too much of a coincidence to ignore. It was something both officers felt compelled to follow up on, which they did.
The detectives wrote up a report and began to investigate Craig’s story. They learned that there was no police report of a car window being smashed in the area Craig mentioned. They also went to Keeley Avenue and found no evidence of glass on the street. The two detectives began to further doubt Craig’s story.
Craig became a viable suspect in the Heaton murders. Even though many in the department believed the officers were wasting their time investigating him, Pendergast and Brandreth decided to follow their gut feelings and pursue Craig as a lead. They just needed more evidence to support their theory.
In the meantime, expert blood analyst Dr. Henry Lee was contacted by police and asked to examine the Heatons’ residence for clues. He went to the house and analyzed the blood splatters and trails. During his investigation, he gathered vital clues from the crime scene including a bloody sock imprint. Whoever left the imprint wore a size 13 shoe.
Craig Price was not an average teenager. At age 15, he already had a history of offenses including a record of breaking and entering, theft, peeping into houses and using drugs. He was also known to have a violent temper. Police had been called to his house on more than one occasion to settle disputes in which he was involved.
Investigators working on the Heaton case decided it was time to question Craig more thoroughly. They went to Craig’s house and asked him to come with his parents to the police station, which they did. During questioning, Craig was asked more detailed questions about how he cut his hand. He maintained his story that he hurt himself while trying to break into a car. Investigators were not convinced and asked him to take a lie-detector test.
The following day, Craig submitted to a polygraph. He was asked questions relating to how he cut his hand. The test revealed that Craig was lying. According to Lang, “it was the first big break in the case.”
Pictured; Warwick Police Department Building
Even though the polygraph proved that Craig was dishonest, however, it didn’t prove that he was involved in the murders. Investigators needed more evidence.
During interviews with Craig’s friends and acquaintances, investigators learned that he ran with a gang of juvenile delinquents who were known to burglarize houses. More significantly, they discovered that Craig boasted about killing Rebecca Spencer. It was the first evidence they had connecting Craig to a murder. Investigators were quick to obtain a search warrant for his house.
Detectives Kevin Collins, Arthur Anderson and Tim Colgan organized a search team. They devised a plan to set up overnight surveillance of the house before actually going in to search the residence. They wanted to make sure Craig was there and didn’t leave the premises.
In the early morning hours of September 17, detectives gave the signal to move in on the house. A team of officers led by Collins, Anderson and Colgan rang the doorbell. Craig’s father answered the door and was shocked to see the police on his doorstep. He had no choice but to let them in.
The rest of the family, including Craig, his mother and brother were awakened and asked to sit in the living room during the search. They were all visibly distressed by the drama, except for Craig who dozed off to sleep on the couch. It didn’t take investigators long to find what they were looking for.
While searching the shed behind the house, a trash bag was found full of incriminating evidence. Within the bag were several bloody knives from the Heaton household, along with bloodied articles of clothing, gloves and other objects. Investigators woke up Craig and arrested him for the murders of Joan, Jennifer and Melissa. Surprisingly, he seemed unaffected.
Pictured; Craig, 15, being arrested at his home in Buttonwood’s as he smirks for the camera-crew.
Craig was ushered from his house to the police station with his parents in tow. He was booked, then interrogated about the murders. The detectives hoped Craig would come clean about his crimes. They got more than expected.
During the interview, Craig amazed detectives when he immediately confessed to the Heaton murders. He described in detail the events of the fateful night, although his story periodically changed. Eventually, he became worn out and decided that it was easier to tell the truth. According to Lang, “what came out of his mouth next stunned even the most experienced and jaded listeners and sent his father, John Price, to the men’s room to vomit, rendering him unable to return.”
Craig’s horrified mother stood by her son as he recounted the events that took place at the Heaton residence approximately two weeks earlier. He told his interrogators that his primary intention was to burglarize the house. He said that he found an open window in the kitchen, which he crawled through. He accidentally landed on a table, which broke but, despite the noise, he continued in the burglary.
He claimed that he walked through the residence looking for items to steal. He didn’t realize that the noise had awakened Joan. She walked into the kitchen and spotted Craig when she turned on the light. In a state of panic, Craig said that he grabbed Joan, then beat and strangled her. Joan’s screams woke up the children who stumbled out of their beds to the hallway. Melissa ran to the kitchen to call the police but Craig overpowered her.
Craig tackled the girls to the floor, then went to the kitchen, grabbed some knives and began to stab them all. During the attack, one of the girls bit Craig’s hand. In a fit of rage, he bit the girl back on the face. Craig also bit Joan. Moreover, he smashed the youngest girl over the head with a stool, when she continued to struggle against him. Craig didn’t expect that the three would put up such a fight, but they did. They fought until they succumbed to their injuries.
Craig said that during the murders he had accidentally stabbed his hand. He removed the gloves he was wearing and tended to his injuries in the bathroom. He didn’t realize that he left a trail of blood and sock prints behind him.
Evidence collected from the crime scene was later found to support Craig’s story. The blood analysis conducted by Dr. Lee showed that some of the blood samples matched Craig’s blood type. Moreover, Craig’s shoe size was the same as the sock prints. There was no doubt he was telling the truth.
Craig further admitted to covering the Heatons’ bodies with blankets, probably out of shame for what he had done. He then tried to clean up the crime scene with towels but he feared that if he stayed too long police would catch him. He quickly gathered the knives, gloves and some of the bloodied towels and sprinted from the scene.
Craig said he immediately returned to his home several doors away. He confessed that he hid his blood-soaked clothes in a bag in the attic. Detectives were alerted to the evidence and later found the bag in the precise location where Craig said it could be found.
Following Craig’s detailed account of the Heaton murders, he surprised detectives again. When asked about Rebecca Spencer, Craig admitted that he also killed her. He was just 13 years old at the time.
Craig had no difficulty remembering his first murder. He provided investigators with details of the night in question, while showing little remorse for what he had done. After his confession, a wave of disgust mixed with relief passed over the detectives. Four murders solved within the space of several hours was a rare break.
Investigators working on the case were glad they finally had their man. They just hoped Craig would get what he deserved for the atrocities he committed, preferably a very long prison sentence. They would have a long wait.
Craig Price had the law on his side. Despite the brutal murders he committed, Craig would never have to face a trial or serve prison time because he confessed to his crimes just weeks before his 16th birthday. According to Rhode Island state law, all the courts could do was hold him in a training school until his 21st birthday and no longer. Thus after five years, Craig would be a free man with a clean record.
The thought of Craig serving only five years for four brutal murders enraged the citizens of Rhode Island, especially the families of the victims. It was obvious that the law was working against them. However, at the time of Craig’s offense, teenage serial killers below the age of 16 were a rare phenomenon. In fact, Craig was considered to be one of the country’s youngest serial killers.
Even though Craig could not be tried for the murders, he still had to undergo a court hearing before he could be placed in the training school. On September 21, 1989 Craig appeared before Judge Carmine R. DiPetrillo at the Kent County Courthouse. During the brief proceedings, Craig was presented with the murder and burglary charges against him, to which he pleaded guilty.
WPD escorting Price to Kent County Court House
Craig was ordered to serve five years at the Rhode Island Training School’s Youth Correctional Center (YCC), a maximum-security detention facility. He was also ordered to undergo intense psychological examination and therapy. However, Craig refused treatment. Moreover, he refused to officially discuss the murders at all by pleading the Fifth Amendment.
Craig withdrew from the diagnostic and treatment program arranged by the judge on the advice of his lawyers. According to court documents, the reasoning behind the decision was based on fears that the psychiatric examination might, “result in his being placed in a psychiatric facility for commitment beyond his twenty-first birthday.” Despite court intervention, Craig stuck to his guns and refused to submit to any psychological measures.
In the meantime, Craig carried on with life within the institution. He completed his high school equivalency test and began taking satellite college courses. He believed he needed to improve himself academically so that he could get a good job when he was let out of the YCC.
By 1993, Craig developed a reputation for good behavior within the training school, despite the fact that he refused treatment. In fact, he was in such good standing that his superiors granted him permission to counsel other youths at the facility. Moreover, Gina Macris suggested in a 1993 article in The Providence Journal that Craig also performed light security duties, which included patrolling the school’s hallways. Craig was even allowed to make a rap video at the school, which included threatening lyrics.
When the news broke of Craig’s special treatment at the facility, Rhode Island citizens and the families of the victims demanded that it be stopped. After much protest it ended, but the bigger problem still remained. Time was running short and Craig’s release date was steadily approaching. There was less than one and a half years to work out a way to prevent him from being freed.
Four figures were instrumental in the campaign to stop Craig’s release. They were Joan Heaton’s mother, Marie; her sister, Mary Lou; Capt. Kevin Collins, who led the Heaton investigation; and Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Pine. From the beginning, they lobbied the Rhode Island legislature to institute new bills to prevent Craig’s release and others like him. Moreover, they went out of their way to inform the world of Craig’s crimes and his upcoming release. Together, they tried every possible avenue to prevent Craig from having the chance to murder again.
In 1990, Pine and Collins were key figures in instigating the passing of the O’Neil bill, which toughened sentences on teenage murderers. In 1993, Pine introduced a controversial bill that would give the Office of the Attorney General the power to civilly commit a mentally ill individual to a mental institution if the person posed a danger to society. Many thought the bill would discriminate against the mentally ill and give those with psychological problems a bad name. It was also argued that the bill specifically targeted Craig and could be used to prevent him from ever being freed.
Pine stood his ground. His main interest was making sure Craig stayed locked up for as long as possible. Lang quoted Pine as saying, “I will do everything I can to prevent another tragedy.” Much to his delight and that of the families of the victims, the Craig Price Bill was passed that same year. It was a huge step, which they hoped would result in Craig being forced to submit to a psychiatric diagnostic and treatment program.
In October 1993, Collins organized Citizens Opposed to the Release of Price (CORP). The nonprofit organization concentrated on raising funds that would be used to increase public awareness about Craig’s crimes and assist with lobbying efforts. The goal was to get critical bills passed that would prevent Craig from being released.
Marie and Mary Lou also helped lead the growing campaign. They traveled throughout the state alerting the general public about Craig’s upcoming release. According to a Time article by Jill Smolowe, the group worked endlessly, rallying to get funding, petitions signed and information to the public, hoping to “make Price’s name a household word.” Within months the organization attracted hundreds of volunteers, raised tens of thousands of dollars and gained national attention.
In the interim, Craig was preparing himself to begin a new life. By the end of the year he had already been ordered on six occasions to adhere to mandatory psychiatric evaluations and therapy. Nonetheless, he continued to refuse for fear that he would be forced into a mental institution after his five years at the training school. However, his days of hiding behind the Fifth Amendment were numbered.
In May 1994, President Bill Clinton flew to Providence, where he was scheduled to meet and discuss state affairs. Thousands of demonstrators and a circling airplane that carried the banner “Alert! Killer of 4 Craig Price Moving Here!” greeted Clinton as he arrived in the city. It was clear that the citizens of Rhode Island wanted something done about the Craig Price matter, and they were not going to give up until the problem was solved.
In a televised interview, Clinton expressed his dismay about Craig being let out in approximately six months. He suggested that the records of juvenile offenders should not be sealed but publicly accessible. He also mentioned that the laws needed to be changed to prevent juveniles with a violent history from purchasing firearms.
Just 15 days after Clinton aired his comments, Rhode Island lawmakers reviewed bills concerning public access to juvenile criminal records and juvenile gun laws. However, the problem concerning Craig’s release was still unanswered. Craig’s luck was about to change.
On June 8, 1994, Rhode Island residents were shocked to learn that Craig was indicted on one count of simple assault and extortion for threatening to injure Officer Mark Petrella, a training school employee. One week later, Craig was arraigned and bail was set at $500,000. His trial was scheduled for later that fall.
That same month Craig faced another problem. His refusal to submit to psychiatric examinations and therapy had gone on too long. He was warned that he was in danger of being held in contempt of court if he failed to undergo treatment. Yet, he would not sway.
Craig’s hearing took place on June 27 at the Providence County Family Court before Judge S. Jeremiah Jr. During the proceedings, Craig was again ordered to undergo a psychiatric exam but his answer remained the same. The judge found him in civil contempt and added an extra year to his incarceration to be served at the Adult Correctional Institution in Cranston, Rhode Island. The only way that Craig could reduce the sentence was by submitting to the court order.
After almost five years, Craig finally complied with the order and agreed to undergo a psychiatric assessment. Dr. Barnum, a forensic psychiatrist and former head of the Boston Juvenile Court Clinic, led the evaluation. Even though Craig participated in the assessment, he didn’t do it whole-heartedly. In fact, it was discovered that he lied about many of the events concerning the murders. It was a matter that would later be addressed by the Family and District Courts. In the meantime, all eyes were focused on the upcoming trial.
On October 3, 1994, Craig’s trial began at the Superior Court in Providence. It was a long-awaited showdown that held the media and country in suspense. A majority of those who packed the courtroom were anxious to see if justice would finally prevail. They wouldn’t have to wait very long.
Overhearing the case was Judge Thomas Needham. Attorney’s Robert Mann and Katie Hynes led the defense team. Prosecutors Patrick Youngs and Mike Stone represented the state’s case against Craig.
The hushed courtroom listened intently to the opening statements made by Stone, as he ushered in one of the state’s most highly publicized trials. He told jurors that they would learn how Craig verbally assaulted Petrella, after he was given a disciplinary report to sign for possession of contraband material (cigarettes and a lighter). Moreover, they would hear how Craig threatened the officer if he continued his job at the facility. The prosecution planned to introduce five witnesses.
Mann’s statements followed those of the prosecution. When he addressed the jury, he didn’t deny that Craig was angry at Petrella’s report or that he used inappropriate language during the confrontation. However, he stated that he would introduce witnesses who would prove that Craig never assaulted or extorted Petrella.
After the opening statements, the prosecution called their first witness, Mark Petrella. For two hours Petrella gave a detailed account of the confrontation and how Craig verbally attacked him using profane language and then threatened to “snuff” him if he ever returned to work. He also said that several officers witnessed the incident and tried unsuccessfully to calm Craig’s increasingly volatile behavior.
Jurors also heard the testimony of four other witnesses who worked at the training school. Their stories agreed with Petrella’s account. Author Lang claimed that at the end of the day the state rested its case, pleased that it, “had gotten their point across and the facts had not been contradicted.”
The next day as the proceedings were set to continue, Mann asked to excuse the jury so that he could address the court alone. Once the jury had left, Mann asked the court for an acquittal based on insufficient evidence. The judge denied the request and ordered the continuation of the proceedings.
As the trial commenced, the defense team introduced Antwyon Carter as their first witness. Carter was an employee at the training school who witnessed the argument first hand between Petrella and Craig. During his testimony, he claimed that he never heard Craig use the word “snuff” against Petrella. Moreover, he suggested that he didn’t take any security measures during or after the incident because he didn’t believe the dispute was a life-threatening situation.
However, during cross-examination by the prosecution, Carter contradicted himself by indicating that Craig’s actions were threatening. The defense’s case was weakened by Carter’s statement. They decided it was time to bring on another witness who worked at the facility. Yet, when the man took the stand, he also suggested that Craig acted in a threatening way towards Petrella. The defense’s case began to fall apart.
The next day, Mann decided to let Craig testify on his own behalf. It was the moment everyone waited for. All eyes turned their attention to Craig when he recounted the argument he had with Petrella.
Craig told the jury that after the cigarettes and lighter were found in his possession, Petrella gave him the impression that he would not report the incident. He suggested that he was surprised and then angered when Petrella presented him with the disciplinary report later that day. He admitted to shouting profanity at the officer but denied having ever threatened to “snuff” him out. Craig believed that Petrella’s report was part of a conspiracy to keep him locked up.
During cross-examination by the prosecution, Craig flew into a rage, claiming that everyone lied to get him in trouble. He told awed listeners that he was the only honest person who had taken the stand during the trial. In fact, he accused prosecutors of being at the head of the conspiracy to put him behind bars permanently.
Craig’s outburst marked the end of the trial. Both the defense and prosecution teams prepared to present their closing arguments for the following day. By the time the news of Craig’s testimony hit the stand, many believed that his hope of attaining freedom was a lost cause. It was only a matter of time.
On October 6, 1994, the defense and the prosecution teams presented their closing arguments. Following brief but powerful arguments, the jury retired to deliberate on the case. It would take them a day to reach a decision.
The next afternoon the jury returned their verdict. Craig was found guilty on both counts of extortion and simple assault. According to Lang, when the verdict was read, “those listening seemed to feel that what he was really found guilty of was the long-ago murders.” Relief spread throughout much of the courtroom as fears of Craig returning to society rapidly diminished.
That December, a hearing was held to determine Craig’s punishment. Judge Needham sentenced him to 15 years, eight of which were suspended, at the Adult Correctional Institution in Cranston. Craig’s problems weren’t over yet.
According to a 2004 article in The Providence Journal, Craig bit a correctional officer’s finger during a brawl in February 1996. The article stated that prosecutors took “the uncommon step” of charging him for probation violation, even though he was still imprisoned. He was also charged with assault. Craig was found guilty of the accusations and sentenced to an additional year in prison.
The next year, Craig was placed on trial for criminal contempt because he failed to comply with the psychological evaluations ordered by the state. The charges against him stemmed from complaints from psychiatrists who claimed that he lied about the events surrounding the murders. During the trial, Craig admitted to the charges and he was eventually found guilty. According to court records, Craig received an additional 25 years on top of his other sentences. Ten of the years were to be served outright with 15 years probation.
In October 1998, seven more years were added to Craig’s sentence for assaulting a correctional officer. It would not be his last time. In February 1999 and again in October 2001, Craig was sentenced to a total of four more years for again verbally and physically assaulting correctional officers.
In 2011 Craig went up for parole and was denied yet again. 2022 will be the next time he is eligable.
Pictured; In 2011, Craig Price, 38, flew in from Florida where he is currently incarcerated to attend a court appearance to see if he would be eligible for parole. He was denied.
Craig Price’s parents look on during oral arguments before the Rhode Island Supreme Court as the four-time killer seeks a reduction in his 25-year contempt-of-court sentence. Pool photo by Kathy Borchers/The Providence Journal
To date, there is no telling exactly when Craig Price will ever be released from prison. His projected release date is scheduled for February 2022. However, some don’t expect Craig will be released until well after the date, because of his continuing volatile behavior towards prison guards. Many Rhode Islanders prefer it that way.
Craig Price is 39-years-old as of 2012.
Source: Trutv/Crime Library
Years later, the family of Spencer and the Heaton’s speak about life before and after their loved ones brutally murder(s) – http://www.teenkillers.org/index.php/memorials/rhode-island-victims/rebecca-spencer-joan-jennifer-melissa-heaton/