"Something about Vanessa always reminded me of the ocean — so breathlessly beautiful, quiet and peaceful."
- Leah Abrahams (Vanessa's best friend)
It was the 7th of August 2016. A Sunday. Vanessa Marcotte was visiting her mother in Princeton. She lived in New York, United States of America and worked for Google but visited her mother, Rosanna, frequently.
Vanessa and Rosanna
Vanessa was an only child and her mother loved when she visited her. That particular day was a nice and sunny day so Vanessa decided to go for a walk. She was really active and in her spare time enjoyed walking, running and yoga. The twenty seven year old was due to head home later that day. A bus was scheduled to leave Princeton that evening to go to New York.
Vanessa left her mother's house around 1pm and set off on her walk alone. It was an area she was familiar with but when she didn't return a few hours later, Rosanna was concerned. It was not like Vanessa to stay out for a long period of time so her mother asked the police for assistance to help find her.
Police searched the area over the course of a few hours and just a half a mile from the house, a police dog found Vanessa's body in a remote and heavily wooded area. It was around 8.30pm that night. Vanessa had been raped, strangled and had burn marks to her feet, hands and head. In the police report, the injuries were described as "crushing injuries to the structures surrounding her throat."The burn marks looked like an attempt to get rid of DNA evidence. It was clear from the scene that Vanessa tried to defend herself. She struggled with her attacker and police hoped they would find DNA evidence under her fingernails.
Initially, it was feared that Vanessa's murder may have been connected to the murder of Karina Vetrano. Karina was murdered in New York just a few days before Vanessa was murdered. Like Vanessa, Karina was also alone when she was attacked. Karina had been out for her daily jog. Further investigation revealed that this was not likely. Police believed that in the case of Vanessa's murder, they were looking for somebody who either lived in the area or visited often. Somebody who knew the area and did not stand out.
Police sought the public's help and received tips in relation to Vanessa's murder. These tips were invaluable. A motorist claimed he saw a dark SUV with the bonnet open close to where Vanessa's body was found.
Police spent almost eight months developing a profile of a suspect based on evidence found and tips from the public. DNA was found on Vanessa's hands, under her fingernails, and a hair tie and socks found on Vanessa's body tested positive for gasoline and DEET. Due to information they had received from the public, police were looking for a black SUV that had been spotted near the scene of the crime. A witness believed they saw a car follow Vanessa and another witness believed they saw Vanessa on her phone just after 1pm. Police believed that Vanessa was murdered between 1-3pm that afternoon. They believed they were looking for someone who may have scratches on their face, arms, hands and back as Vanessa had fought for her life.
Based on tips and evidence, police now had a description of a man they were looking for. They described the person of interest as “a Hispanic man with an athletic build and average height. He had a shaved head or short hair and is about 30 years old.”
In April 2017 in Worcester, an alert state trooper saw a dark SUV being driven by a man that fit the police description. They took a note of his license plate and called to his home and asked the driver for a voluntary cheek swab. It was a match to the DNA found on Vanessa's hands. The driver was thirty one year old Angelo Colon-Ortiz. Angelo is a married father of three. He has no criminal record and when asked about Vanessa, Angelo said that he did not know her. He could not recall being in Princeton or where he was the day she was murdered. He lived in Worcester for less than a year and delivered packages in and around the Princeton area.
“We got him,” Worcester County District Attorney Joseph Early said at a press conference on the 15th of April. He went on to say:
“Early this morning, State Police arrested 31-year-old Angelo Colon-Ortiz in connection with the murder of Vanessa Marcotte last August in Princeton, Massachusetts.”
Police believe Angelo worked in Princeton as a FedEx driver at the time of the murder. He did not know Vanessa and they believe it was a random attack. It is the Prosecution's case that Angelo purchased $5 of gas from a store in Rutland on the day Vanessa was killed. The purchase was made at 2.35pm on the 7th August 2016. The store in Rutland is around six miles away from where Vanessa's body was found. It is alleged this was used to try to destroy DNA evidence.
Angelo was charged with Vanessa's murder and he entered a plea of not guilty. A Judge approved a motion from the court-appointed defense team for Angelo Colon-Ortiz to withdraw from the case. Angelo wanted a new legal team. He is currently awaiting his Trial date.
Vanessa was walking alone in the middle of the day in an area she knew well. It was bright and there were people out. She should have been safe. But someone had a different plan. In what appears to be an entirely random attack, Vanessa was brutally murdered. She fought for her life and even though she did not survive, she managed to get some crucial DNA evidence from her attacker. Vanessa's family want Vanessa to be remembered for "the quality of her life, the strength of her character, and the goodness within her heart and not by the tragic circumstances of her death."
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