Death of 69-year-old woman in Fairhaven ruled a homicide

The death of a 69-year-old woman whose body was found in her Fairhaven home Tuesday morning has been ruled a homicide, Bristol District Attorney C. Samuel Sutter’s office said today.

A friend of Joyce Howland called police at about 11:30 a.m. Tuesday after she discovered Howland’s body, Sutter’s office said in a statement. The friend, whom officials did not identify, had gone to Howland’s home to check on her.

“As the investigation intensified through the day and night on Tuesday, it became apparent that the death may be of a suspicious nature,” the statement said. “Based upon the results of our preliminary investigation, coupled with the findings of the medical examiner, the death of Ms. Howland is now being investigated as a homicide.”

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Police referred questions to Sutter’s office.

A spokesman for Sutter confirmed that Howland lived alone but, citing the ongoing probe, would not answer other questions, including the nature of her injuries and how long she may have been dead before she was found.

The spokesman, Gregg Miliote, added in a follow-up message, “We have reason to believe the victim and the assailant were known to each other. We do not believe this was a random event and do not believe there is a current threat to the public.”

A spokesman for the agency that oversees the medical examiner’s office said he had no information on the manner of Howland’s death.

Her relatives could not be located. Neighbors either did not immediately return messages or declined to comment.