A nearly two-month investigation into the mysterious deaths and illnesses of several Governor Francis Farms neighborhood dogs has drawn to a close after the person of interest refused to meet with Warwick Police.
Upon advice of his legal counsel, the suspect in the alleged dog poisonings denied to speak with police for an interview scheduled earlier this month.
Captain Joseph Coffey said police could not formally charge the suspect due to a lack of evidence; most of the evidence they received through their investigation was circumstantial.
Warwick police began investigating the poisonings in early August, following a private investigation by Earl Hodson and then a subsequent investigation by the Rhode Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RISPCA) special agent Joe Warzycha. A police report said Hodson discovered six cases of potential poisonings, with the death of four resulting. All of the dogs lived in the Governor Francis Farms neighborhood and all of the dogs’ owners reported having an altercation with the same neighbor. Captain Coffey told the Beacon earlier this year that the number of related cases was up to 10, with the death of five animals resulting from 2004 to 2011.
Five of the owners had also received typed letters threatening harm to their animals. The report said the letters contained threats like, “Several treats can be provided to your dog that will ensure a robust bowel movement throughout your home and a Kodak moment you will not want to miss.” The letters also urged the owners to keep their dogs off of the neighbor’s lawn, though they were signed with the aliases “Steve Hennessey” or “J. Hennessey.”
In the cases investigated by the police, all of the dogs showed similar symptoms, which included vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, bloody urination and, in some cases, hind-quarter paralysis.
Five cases were outlined in the police report. In 2008, an American Bulldog became very ill and, after three days of his sudden illness, was euthanized. Another case took place in April of this year. This time, the dog again displayed similar symptoms, and the veterinarian told the owner that the dog showed signs of coming into contact with a poison.
Another neighbor said she had had altercations with the person of interest and was afraid of him. One of her two dogs had a loss of appetite and began urinating blood despite being formerly healthy and active.
The most recent case occurred earlier this summer in July; again the dog showed the same symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea.
The charge in these cases would be malicious injury or intent to kill animals, a felony in Rhode Island. Though the police had received reports of 10 related cases, the department could only investigate half of the cases due to a three-year statute of limitations on animal cruelty.
In addition to the interviews with the animal owners, the police documented some correspondence with the RISPCA. Animal cruelty division head Joe Warzycha reported to the police that he received a piece of certified mail from the person of interest containing two letters and a copy of a $5,000 check. One of the letters to Warzycha outlined the suspect’s anger at not being given the opportunity to sit with RISPCA and Warwick Police to discuss the allegations. He went on to say he would have welcomed a polygraph test.
According to the police report, the letter also said, “In my heart, I truly know you both [Warzycha and RISPCA President Dr. E.J. Finocchio] blew the case with your statements and negativity. You should have kept silent and followed all leads before making statements to a TV station in order to apprehend whoever, if in fact, is killing dogs in Governor Francis Farms.”
The suspect’s letter also told Warzycha and Finocchio that they were detriments to RISPCA and suggested they resign. The suspect requested all names of the individuals who discussed the potential dog poisonings with the police, citing the Freedom of Information Act.
Warzycha told Warwick Police that the suspect had offered to make a donation to RISPCA once before during a telephone conversation, saying he would make the donation simply to prove his innocence. In this previous offer, he suggested a $10,000 donation, citing the 10 counts of poisonings reported by the media, each of which could carry a $1,000 fine. The donation, he said, was an offer of good faith.
Dr. E.J. Finocchio said the suspect never sent an actual donation, nor would the RISPCA accept it. Finocchio said the outcome of the case is not surprising, seeing as how the bulk of the evidence was circumstantial.
“We have no proof as to exactly what transpired,” he said. “He would be 100 percent innocent, or 100 percent guilty.”
However, Finocchio personally feels that the suspect was at least in some way involved with the crimes.
No necropsies were performed on any of the animals that died, and there was no official diagnosis of poisoning in any of the cases. The investigation is now closed pending further information.