Man charged in 1987 homicide of 19-year-old Boston woman

Dora Jean Brimage
Dora Jean Brimage. –Courtesy Suffolk County District Attorney's office

A combination of a DNA match and old fashioned police work helped solve a nearly 29-year-old cold case homicide in Roxbury, investigators announced Tuesday.

Dora Jean Brimage, 19, was found sexually assaulted, beaten, and strangled to death behind an empty storefront on Warren Street in Roxbury on the morning of September 7, 1987. She’d left a party on Prentiss Street hours earlier and never made it home.

Twenty-seven years later, in 2014, Boston police cold case detectives submitted the DNA found on her body to see if they had a match, Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley said.

They did: James Paige, a now 50-year-old felon locked up in a Manchester, New Hampshire jail.

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But it took more than two more years of re-interviewing witnesses and collecting evidence — detectives seeking clues as if it was a fresh case — to file a charge against him, Conley said. On Monday, a Suffolk County grand jury returned a first-degree murder indictment against Paige.

“The DNA is compelling and powerful, but there’s a lot more that goes into the case,” Conley said. “The officers have essentially been reinvestigating the case as if it happened the other day.”

Conley wouldn’t say what evidence led to the charge against Paige — just that they believe Brimage accepted a ride from Paige after the party.

Paige is currently in the Hillsborough County jail in Manchester after pleading guilty in March to a drug charge and resisting arrest, according to court records. He was given a suspended sentence, but violated his probation earlier this month.

An extradition hearing is scheduled in a Manchester court on Thursday.

In Massachusetts, Paige has been convicted of robbery, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, and receiving stolen property — all felonies that would have led to his DNA being entered into the national database.

Boston Police Commissioner William Evans had a message for families whose relatives’ killings are still unsolved.

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“We take them very personally,” Evans said. “We work them as hard as we can. And we won’t give up until we get who took your loved one.”

Conley noted that in the last seven years, suspects in 17 cold case homicides have been identified in Suffolk County — though five of those suspects were already dead and another was too mentally ill to prosecute.

In October, investigators announced they’d solved another cold case homicide of a young woman: the 1992 killing of 21-year-old Lena Bruce. That case, too, was solved using DNA evidence.

Brimage, who was a cheerleader at Madison Park High School, had wanted to be a nurse, according to Conley and news coverage at the time of her death. Brimage’s grandmother, Bessie Kay, was filing a report with a police officer about her missing granddaughter when she found out she’d died.

Kay died in 2012, two years before detectives reignited the investigation.

On Tuesday, police and prosecutors met with Brimage’s brother, and told him his sister’s killer would soon be brought to justice.

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