In September of 1986 in Hamden, CT a woman was brutally murdered at a local bar. Her body was later discovered in a dumpster with multiple stab wounds but the only thing that was never found was the culprit.
Some people might hear this and not want to hear another word. I’m the type of person that’s desperate to hear more. I love true crime and every gory little detail; I must if I listen religiously to a podcast called “My Favorite Murder”.
I can’t explain what fascinates me so much about true crime; maybe it’s because it makes me feel validated for always carrying around pepper spray or because sometimes the lengths that humans can go to hypnotizes me. Sometimes reality creates stories that fiction couldn’t dream of.
So when I learned about a cold case murder in the sleepy town I’ve spent the last four years in I knew I had to do some digging of my own. I almost couldn’t believe that something like this could happen here but hey, isn’t that what they all say?
Hamden is mostly well known for being the hometown of Quinnipiac University or for being that smaller town right next to New Haven. This lack of pizzazz seems to be by design, it’s quiet and sleepy here and the people that live here prefer it that way. If you were to ask any long time locals if they knew the story of the murder of Virginia Duclos-Bruce, the answer would almost certainly be “no.”
Virginia was a 28-year-old mother of two and a Hamden resident. She had big brown hair, was described as a “disco queen” by family and went by “Ginny”. Her face was beaten so badly that her funeral had to be closed casket. This seems to be all of the information any publication has ever bothered to publish about her.
Let me take you back in time to 1986. No cell phones, “Stuck With You” by Huey Lewis and The News was the number one song at the time and Stand By Me was playing in movie theaters. And on September 20 Virginia Duclos-Bruce went out with her friends to The Highwood Bar on Dixwell Avenue.
After Virginia was seen at the bar the next time anybody saw her was the following morning dead in a dumpster with a knife, a shoe and her purse lying near by. Some witnesses claim that there was an altercation at the bar earlier in the night, but this account was never confirmed. This isn’t the only time that eyewitnesses of that night would be unreliable and uncooperative.
As I mentioned, her body had been stabbed multiple times and her face beaten, but what does this really tell us? I’m obviously no Nancy Drew but even I can draw some conclusions. The beating probably occurred first, which tells me a conversation must have previously happened in order for her to provoke such a reaction. She also must have known her assailant well enough for a conversation to happen in the first place.
Next, the cause of death being multiple stab wounds tells me that this was not a trained attack and was more likely fueled by emotion. Her body being found carelessly in the dumpster with little regard as to who finds it tells me that the assailant was not concerned with getting caught, thinking they were too smart or this was their first murder and they were panicking.
I understand the DNA evidence was not at where it is today in 1986 but by this point Ted Bundy and Charles Manson had already been tried and locked up. Two of the most notorious serial killers had already been put away so criminals knew they weren’t invincible.
I’m sure the Hamden Police department probably had similar thoughts about this case as I do, that is, if they had any thought about it at all. Arrests were never made for this case and articles about Virginia are scarce. Virginia’s brother Richard recently said,
“I think the police could do a lot more to focus on solving this case. Some murderer is out there, still walking around. We want someone to come to justice.”
I know that talking about the Police can be rather controversial but I have reason to believe that the Police did not handle Virginia’s case to their best ability.
I did a lot of research for this piece and some of that research included going to the Hamden Public Library and searching for any press I could find about Virginia. To find this I checked the Hamden Chronicle’s September 1986 issues in a microfiche. As a millennial using the microfiche was an… interesting experience. Did people really use that dinosaur of a machine? God bless Google.
Through my research I found a few things to be of interest. One being that the Hamden Chronicle issue from September 20 was missing. Coincidence? Maybe. I check some of the issues after her death and the only mention I could find of Virginia’s name was a short paragraph in the “Police Log” section that stated an autopsy had been completed and police were waiting for results. Those results were never expanded on for civilians to learn about and are still unavailable to the public to this day.
The slim coverage on Virginia wasn’t the only thing to that caught (or didn’t catch) my eye. On almost every page there was an article about the sorry state of the Hamden Police Department. After compiling the issues I discovered various scandals including one about an officer named Benedict Frosceno who broke his leg off the job but was denied a leave of absence and instead fired, a controversial move by Police Chief John P. Ambrogio to make two lieutenants both commanders instead of the traditional one and that Captain James Kehoe’s job was still vacant since he retired in 1985.
All of the articles appeared to have been written by the same woman, Heidi Ahlstrom, so I reached out to her to see if she could comment on the state of the Police force at that time. Heidi had this to say,
“The police force was roughly divided between what some of the officers at the time called the “A” team (Chief Ambrogio supporters, who appeared to get special treatment), and the “B” team, who complained both off the record and on about the (heavy-handed) way Ambrogio ran the department. There were many contentious police-related meetings: disciplinary hearings, budgetary meetings — while Ambrogio seemed to get along very well with the mayor at the time, the chief seemed to be a lightening rod in general for criticism (and some praise).”
Could this mean that the police brushed aside the case because the force was too busy with their own problems? Maybe. Is it possible that one of the “A team” members made a misstep on the case and had enough protection from Ambrogio, who had a friendly relationship with the mayor, to experience no repercussions? It’s possible too. Sometimes true crime doesn’t always have a satisfying ending with clear answers and a culprit behind bars. That’s something I didn’t anticipate having such a hard time with.
The problems with the Police don’t stop there. There was a lack of information that came from Virginia’s friends due to a fear of speaking to the authorities. This was either due to her friends feeling intimidated by the Police or because the night Virginia died they were all involved in something that could potentially get them in trouble.
I have no doubt Virginia was a great person and a wonderful mother; I am going to try my hardest here to avoid any harmful implications. However, my theory of what might have happened to Virginia that night involves some claims that I have little to no way of proving true and might be seen as offensive.
Her brother Richard claims,
“Her lifestyle was not the greatest, but no one deserved that, I dragged her out of bars a couple of times.”
This, coupled with the fact that her friends were scared to talk to the police and that it was the 80s, leads me to believe that Virginia may have been involved with some nefarious activities.
Virginia’s lifestyle provides a strong connection to whom I believe committed her murder and leads into my theory on whom that may be. A day after Virginia was found, New Haven resident Sylvia Hunt’s body was found. Her body had been untouched for long enough that flies had laid eggs inside of her. Her death was roughly two weeks before Virginias.
Why is this important? Sylvia was 26 years old, around the same age as Virginia, died around the same time, in a nearby proximity and was a sex worker. I’m not insinuating that Virginia was sex worker, I’m making the connection that if Virginia was involved in frequent drinking and potentially drugs, she may have ran in similar circles and knew some of the same people as Sylvia. Traces of cocaine, morphine and alcohol were found in Sylvia’s bloodstream.
A search of Sylvia’s name brings up a lot of forensic studies about the way she died. I can’t decide which I’d prefer, never know who killed me and no peace ever coming to my family like Virginia or dying like Sylvia, without any family to care but the person who killed me locked up. I think maybe neither, but because of Sylvia maybe Virginia can finally rest in peace.
I understand that a lot of this could be coincidence, sometimes similar things just happen for no particular reason. Not to mention New Haven is a big city so two women with similar circumstances may have died around the same time completely unrelated to each other. However, Sylvia was stabbed 15 times in the chest and her body was later rolled in a carpet and left by the highway. And that seems too similar to be a coincidence in my opinion.
Yuri Hernandez is currently still serving life in prison for the murder of Sylvia Hunt. Hernandez had frequently sold Sylvia narcotics and described how he murdered Sylvia to his friend by saying he, “had gone crazy” and “killed her like a dog”. His reasoning behind murdering Sylvia was that she had allegedly been stealing his drugs and his necklace chains.
Could Yuri Hernandez have sold to Virginia and her murder was a result of a drug deal gone wrong? It’s conceivable, but it’s almost impossible to find out while the case is still technically open.
Like I said I’m no Nancy Drew and if I could reach a suspect from a few clicks around Google I’m sure the Police or someone else has already made this conclusion before me. Best-case scenario is that Hernandez did commit Virginia’s murder and he’s already serving life in prison so in a way Virginia is already getting the justice she deserves.
But in reality Virginia and her family deserve so much more. I can’t possibly imagine what it’s like to lose a sister, a mother or a daughter in such a violent way, only to have absolutely no justice come of it. This coming September will be 33 years since her passing and the case has made just as much progress as the day it landed on Hamden PD’s desk.
But this isn’t some sensationalized story to listen to on a podcast. These are real people in the town I’m really living in that are still hurting. Reading the accounts of her murder and finding streets and locations I can picture in my mind brings up a feeling I never expected. A search of Virginia-Duclos Bruce may not tell much about her death but it does tell a lot about a grieving family desperate for answers.
Facebook posts pop up with the search of Virginia, her family making a plea for anybody with information to step forward. Her sister writes,
“Our heart aches for her daily, our family will never be the same.”
Her daughter also comments,
“She was my mom and she has been missed every single day by many people who love her. She deserved so much better than what she given during her 28 short years.”
While Virginia’s memory remains strong for her family, almost all traces of her seemed to have disappeared the night she died according to Hamden. Why is it so difficult to find anything on Virginia or how she died? Some of it may be due to her case still technically being open, but I believe that Hamden would prefer to sweep the whole ordeal under the rug.
I’m originally from a small town, the “you can drive through the whole thing in under seven minuets” kind of small town. I understand how differently things operate when everybody knows everybody and all of their business too. Somebody is always willing to help cover something up because they babysat them or taught them in elementary school. Small town politics are tricky and I personally believe that if there wasn’t anything potentially being covered up, the case would have been solved by now.
This actually may be due to covering up police incompetence or to cover up a dark spot on Hamden’s family-friendly image. Of course, there’s always a chance that the police really did do everything they could have and there was just no conclusions, because again, this is real life and not everything has a satisfying ending.
It is interesting to take a moment to look at another famous Hamden case. Father and son Fred and Greg Harris were murdered in 1987, found tied up and stabbed to death in their home. In any other town this would be sensational news. Why is there only one article? And why wasn’t this case solved until 2004? Will I ever stop asking rhetorical questions? The answer is no, not until the Hamden PD can fix whatever was so obviously broken in the late 80s that people today are still being effected by their negligence.
But it is in this negligence that there is some hope. If Fred and Greg Harris’ murder that happened one year after Virginia’s could be solved maybe hers can be solved too.
I really don’t mean to accuse the Hamden PD for something they may have never done. However I have listened to enough stories to know that it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility for something like this to happen and if the family thinks something is wrong, there’s a good chance that something actually is.
I’d love to say that I solved Virginia Duclos-Bruce’s murder and finally gave some closure to a family that has been grieving for 30 years but I can’t. The only thing I can say for sure is that I’m managing to keep Virginia’s story alive when the town she died in is so desperately trying to keep it six feet under buried right alongside her.
There is currently a $20,000 reward that will be granted to anyone that can provide information leading to an arrest and conviction in Virginia’s case. If you have any information please call the Hamden Police at 203-230-4000.