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Convicted Felon Indicted For 1986 Murder Of College Student Found Strangled To Death In Woods

Claire Gravel's suspected killer, John Carey, is already behind bars serving time for the attempted murder of another woman. 

By Jill Sederstrom
5 Infamous Cold Cases of Murder

For 36 years Robert Gravel carried a photo of his murdered daughter Claire in his wallet, hoping for justice.

The same image was used Wednesday to announce a suspect had been indicted for the Massachusetts college student’s 1986 murder, more than three decades after Claire Gravel was found strangled to death in the woods along a highway by three construction workers.

“Today, I’m pleased to announce that the man we believe who’s responsible for her murder has been indicted,” Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett said at a press conference.

Authorities have linked the murder to John Carey, a 63-year-old man already serving time behind bars for the attempted murder of another woman. Carey is now facing charges of first-degree murder in Gravel’s death.

Gravel, a 20-year-old student at Salem State College, spent the evening of Saturday June 29, 1986 at Major Magleashes’ Pub with her softball teammates, according a press release from prosecutors. A friend dropped her off at her apartment early the next morning around 1:30 a.m.

It was the last time she was seen alive. Later that day, three workmen stumbled upon her body in the woods on the northbound side of Route 128 in Beverly.

A police handout of victim Claire Gravel

A medical examiner would later determine that she had been strangled to death.

“Over the years investigators have interviewed dozens of witnesses and persons of interest and followed through on every tip and lead they received,” Blodgett said.

But it wasn’t until 2012 that a new lead was developed based on “surviving physical evidence” and the use of modern forensic testing, authorities said.

The evidence, along with new information gathered in the case, ultimately led to the charges against Carey, according to authorities.

“Evidence recovered from Claire’s clothing was instrumental in solving this case,” Blodgett said, while declining to discuss any specifics.

Investigators have yet to discover a motive in the case.

Carey already has a violent past. He was convicted in 2008 of attempted murder, home invasion and assault and battery after a Hamilton women testified that he had broken into her home, wrapped a cord around her neck and dragged her through the kitchen. Carey fled the house after the woman’s young son grabbed a knife and tried to stab him and beat him in the back, The Salem News reports.

Blodgett said the new charges against Carey have provided Gravel’s surviving family members, including her father, two brothers and a sister, some much needed “relief.”

“This case was never forgotten,” he said.

For two decades, retired state police Detective Lt. Elaine Gill stored a file box filled with photos, notes and other items connected to the case under her desk to keep Gravel at the forefront of her mind, according to the paper.

"Believe me, I’ve never stopped thinking about this case and praying that the person responsible would be caught,” she said Wednesday.

Former Salem police Chief Bob St. Pierre, who had worked the case for years, also told the news outlet that he was “proud” the district attorney’s office had never given up hope that the case could be solved.

“I can’t imagine what Mr. Gravel felt all these years and now he’s going to get closure,” he said. “It doesn’t bring her back, but it brings closure.”

When Paula Crudale Lynch, a childhood friend who had grown up with Gravel, learned of the indictment she told the local paper that she had been overcome with emotion.

“At first I thought, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’” she said. “And then I just cried.”

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