Police delved into the region's seamier side as they investigated the 1997 and 1998 murders of two women, then eventually charged confessed "trick artist" Dickie E. Anderson Jr., a man with a history of violence against women who has admitted knowing both victims.
The arrest warrant affidavits detailing the police probe of the deaths of Renee Pellegrino and Michelle Comeau were unsealed Tuesday in New London Superior Court. Both were troubled women who worked as prostitutes, smoked crack cocaine and were familiar with the prison system. Anderson told police he often traded crack cocaine for sex with prostitutes.
Police quickly linked the two women's deaths. Both women were strangled, and their bodies were found lying on their backs on out-of-the-way roads - Pellegrino in Waterford, and Comeau in Franklin.
The investigations centered in downtown New London, where Pellegrino worked, and downtown Norwich, where Comeau plied her trade. Over a 13-year period, investigators interviewed dozens of witnesses, developed Anderson as a suspect, and then, in 2008, learned that the state forensic laboratory had a DNA "hit" - physical evidence that linked Anderson to Pellegrino.
The laboratory notified police that DNA taken from Pellegrino's body matched a sample that had been taken from Anderson. The laboratory also found DNA on Pellegrino from an unknown source.
The Southeastern Connecticut Cold Case Unit charged the 40-year-old Anderson with Pellegrino's murder in June. Last month, they charged him with Comeau's murder.
The court papers indicate police questioned Anderson on multiple occasions, and that he initially denied knowing both women but eventually admitted he was lying. Confronted with the DNA evidence, Anderson admitted he had sex with Pellegrino in the early morning of June 25, 1997, before her body was found on Waterford Parkway South. He said Pellegrino had come to his sister's New London apartment with another man and that she left with the man after she and Anderson had sex.
Anderson initially denied knowing Comeau, but witnesses said they had seen him with Comeau at Anderson's father's apartment in Norwich. Comeau was living on and off with the now deceased Dickie Anderson Sr. at the time of her death. Anderson eventually admitted Comeau was his friend and that he had been "intimate" with her.
During the lengthy investigations, police attempted to gain information from johns who had patronized the women and through jailhouse informants who were placed in Anderson's cell while he was incarcerated.
One inmate reported that Anderson admitted to killing "Renee" and said several times that he would have never done it if he had known Pellegrino was pregnant. She was 17 weeks pregnant when she died, according to the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
Police also spoke with former girlfriends of Anderson who told them he was rough during sex. One woman said Anderson threatened her and said he had gotten away with killing somebody. The woman said Anderson said he fought with a prostitute who kept asking him for money, and that he hit and killed the girl in Bates Woods in New London.
At one point, the investigators interviewed Clifford Gilliland, who was convicted in 2005 of killing Hope Becker, another prostitute, in Norwich in 2002. Two inmates had reported that Gilliland claimed to have killed Pellegrino. Gilliland "adamantly" denied killing Pellegrino, though he spoke freely about the Becker murder, the warrant says.
Police found no physical evidence to connect Gilliland with the Pellegrino and Comeau murders.
The police also interviewed a girlfriend who broke up with Anderson in 2000. She recalled that twice Anderson choked her so hard he left red marks on her neck, the warrant says. She turned over to police a picture of her injuries that she said a friend had taken.
Another former girlfriend, whom Anderson was convicted of strangling in 2008, said the two had argued about her getting a job and that Anderson threw her to the floor and began choking her. She said if police did not break into the apartment and physically remove Anderson from her, she thinks she would have died.
At the time of Pellegrino's murder, Anderson was working at The Day in the mailroom. Several of the witnesses interviewed during the investigation were mailroom employees.
Anderson is being held in lieu of $3.5 million bond at the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institute in South Suffield. His next court date is Sept. 28.