By coincidence, Deanna Cremin and her mother, Katherine, found themselves on the same bus that afternoon.
Katherine was coming home from work and Deanna was going to her boyfriend’s house, where the high school junior often did her homework. They spoke on the phone a few hours later. Deanna told Katherine she would be home after she finished watching TV with her boyfriend. Katherine remembers telling her daughter she loved her, and Deanna saying, “I love you too, mom.’’
That was the last thing Deanna said to her mother.
Katherine had gotten Deanna a pager for her 17th birthday three days before. When Deanna didn’t come home by midnight, she called it. Deanna didn’t call back.
The next morning, two kids taking a shortcut to school found Deanna behind a senior housing complex, near a tree and a fence, lying on her back. The medical examiner would later determine she was strangled, possibly sexually assaulted. It was March 30, 1995.
Deanna’s case is one of 13 unsolved murders in Somerville since 1980, according to the Middlesex District Attorney’s office. It has been 20 years. She will never be older than 17.
“I think everybody, when they think of Deanna, they get sad, you know?’’ says Melissa LeGrand, a close friend of Deanna’s. “There was so much more to her than sadness.’’
Here is what the people who knew Deanna say about her: She was a fun girl with an incredible smile and an outgoing, magnetic personality that made her seem so much bigger than she was (5-foot-2 and “like a size 0,’’ says her sister, Christine). She hated being short. She had green eyes, something her mother had hoped for throughout her pregnancy, and blonde hair that she used to make herself the butt of blonde jokes. Her favorite color was purple. She could eat six slices of Leone’s pizza in one sitting.
She was beautiful, her mother says, but she didn’t know it.
Katherine remembers Deanna learned to walk at just nine months because, her mother suspects, she wanted to keep up with Christine, who was 17 months older. Christine says her sister was “like my little shadow, she just followed me everywhere I went, wanted to do everything I did.’’ As the girls grew up, that included wearing Christine’s clothes, usually without her permission. The sisters shared a room that was decorated in Strawberry Shortcake accessories when they were young and chalk lines denoting whose side was whose when they got older. But they were on the same side when it counted.
“We went through a lot together, with our family and stuff,’’ Christine says. “We just were able to comfort each other in ways that only we could because only us two went through it. Just nobody else will know the things I’ve been through because my other brothers are so much younger.’’
Deanna’s relationship with her brothers was different. She was a protective big sister to Albert, who was four years younger, and Mark, who was 11 years younger. She’s usually hugging one of them in family photos.
“She protected my two younger brothers,’’ Christine says. “She was a little scrapper. You would look at her and you wouldn’t think it, but she was.’’
She loved children. She was the neighborhood’s favorite babysitter — one of the kids she used to watch writes songs about her to this day — and enrolled in Somerville High School’s child development program, which trains students for careers in the field. She wasn’t exactly sure what she was going to do after high school, but her friends and family think it would have been something with children. Maybe a nursery school teacher, or a social worker.
“She drew you in but especially with kids, kids loved her,’’ her friend, Randi Bevans, says. “And I know that she wanted to work with kids.’’
Katherine grew up in Somerville but moved to California when her daughters were young. Her relationship with their father ended and she started seeing Michael Cremin, so she followed him to the West Coast. They were married in 1981 and returned to Massachusetts, moving around before coming back to Somerville when Deanna was nine years old. They bought a house in the Winter Hill neighborhood, a typical “lower middle class’’ family, as Katherine puts it, among other lower middle class families.
“Michael and I weren’t the best parents,’’ Katherine says. “We were stupid, we made a lot of mistakes. And we put our children through a lot of hardship. But…there was a lot of good there, too.’’
Deanna was there to help Katherine buy Christmas gifts for her brothers (shopping with her daughter is one of Katherine’s favorite memories, she says), and she and her mother used to have mother-daughter talks on the pull-out sofa bed in their living room. Deanna took care of her grandmother, who had Alzheimer’s, and she was Katherine’s confidant when she was planning to leave her husband.
She laughed all the time, her friends say, and she made them laugh, too.
Deanna and Bevans made up alternate lyrics to Color Me Badd and Guns N’ Roses songs, then recorded themselves singing along with the cassette singles’ instrumental tracks; they called themselves The Beautifulettes.
“I always laughed when I was with her,’’ Bevans says. “I don’t remember not laughing when I was with her.’’
Another friend, Kimberli Lynch-Bowler, remembers Deanna insisting on celebrating her birthday with her, even though it was December 27th, freezing outside, and Deanna had a cold.
“Sick as a dog but it was my birthday and she wasn’t going to go home,’’ Lynch-Bowler says. “We were going to make it fun no matter what.’’
“I can just remember laughing,’’ LeGrand says. “All we did was laugh.’’
She wasn’t one to go looking for trouble, her friends say, but she didn’t shy away from it, either. She snuck cigarettes, drank beer in the park, got detentions, and skipped school. She also had slumber parties, hung out at the public pool for entire summer days, and looked forward to the first snow of winter. She was a teenager.
LeGrand remembers skipping class with Deanna one day, only to run into Michael at a Dunkin’ Donuts. He calmly purchased his coffee, then drove Deanna back to school. Faced with six hours of nothing to do with her friend gone, LeGrand walked back to school, where she was reunited with Deanna in the in-house suspension room.
She was a clerk at a Star Market that closed in 2007 and now sits, empty, on Broadway. “She loved her job,’’ Katherine says. “She was happy, she was happy with what she was doing, she was happy with her babysitting jobs and she was happy with her supermarket job. And she was happy with her friends.’’
One of Deanna’s friends also worked at the store, and had a crush on a guy who worked in the bakery department. She hung around him and his friends, and LeGrand and Deanna tagged along. LeGrand ended up marrying one of the friends. Deanna dated the other. His name was Tommy LeBlanc.
Deanna’s friends and family describe LeBlanc as quiet and withdrawn. Bevans met him only once, when he drove her and Deanna to a baby shower.
“He was very quiet, it was a long ride,’’ Bevans says. “Me and Deanna spent most of it catching up and just being silly. But he didn’t really say much.’’
St. Patrick’s Day was one of Deanna’s favorite holidays. “A big thing in Somerville is Irish, Irish everything,’’ Bevans says. Bevans remembers Deanna’s last St. Patrick’s Day, when they went to a party together. Deanna had burned herself tanning, and Bevans kept poking the sore spot.
The next time Bevans saw Deanna, she was on the news.
“I just remember seeing, in the body bag, a little shape of her knee.’’
Katherine was at work when she got the call from her husband to come home. She says she asked him what happened.
“You know what happened,’’ he said. She raced home and the police cars were everywhere.
LeBlanc walked Deanna the half mile home from his house every night, making sure she got inside and calling her when he got home, Katherine says. But on the 29th, he only walked her about halfway, Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan says. Katherine says he told her and the police that he left Deanna at the intersection of Heath and Bond streets. Deanna’s body was found so close to that spot that it cannot be described in miles but in feet: about 475 of them.
Katherine says she hasn’t seen or heard from LeBlanc since 1997. Two months after Deanna’s murder, The Boston Globe reported, LeBlanc’s mother took out a restraining order against him. Her lawyer told the paper that he had “a pretty bad temper’’ and “mood swings.’’ She also said it “was not related to the Cremin case.’’
LeBlanc has never come to a memorial mass, Katherine says. He lives with his uncle, John Farrell, in northern Massachusetts. LeBlanc did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
“We don’t talk to reporters,’’ Farrell says.
Two years ago, Somerville mayor Joseph Curtatone wrote that there were three persons of interest in Deanna’s murder, but neither the Somerville police department nor the Middlesex District Attorney’s office would confirm this, citing the ongoing investigation. The department says the case is still open, and encourages anyone who knows anything about it to call (617) 625-1600.
Evidence is being re-analyzed using forensic technology that didn’t exist 20 years ago, according to Ryan.
“This continues to be a very active investigation,’’ Ryan says.
But the family has heard this before. Ten years ago, then-Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley announced there were new developments in the case. The family thought there would finally be an arrest. But then, nothing.
“That was frustrating,’’ Christine says. “Don’t say that and not come out with any answers. It was like our hopes were all up, like we really thought something was coming. And then it just never came through.’’
Katherine can list the four Middlesex District Attorneys who have passed through the office since her daughter’s murder. “Every one of these district attorneys have promised me that an arrest was imminent,’’ Katherine says. “That they will solve this case. That ‘when I’m elected, when I’m in office, we will get to the bottom of this.’’’ She appreciates how hard investigators have worked on her daughter’s case, but it’s just been so long and there are so few answers.
“My heart breaks for a parent,’’ Ryan says. “Having worked with families myself over the years, I know the frustration and despair that they can feel.’’
“It was like I lost my entire family,’’ Christine says. “My mother and father both fell apart. I had to be the mother to my two brothers at 18 years old. So it wasn’t just Deanna dying, it was like my whole family pretty much died.’’
Michael, his family says, was never the same. “He truly died a broken man over the loss of Deanna,’’ Katherine says. “It destroyed him.’’ He died in 2008. He was 58 years old.
After Deanna’s death, her mother says she couldn’t keep it together at work and soon lost her job. Then the house was foreclosed on. Her marriage ended. She temporarily lost custody of her sons. She struggled with drugs and drinking. She was arrested for drinking and driving.
“You’d think the bottom fell out,’’ Katherine says. “And the bottom kept falling.’’
Time does not heal all wounds. Not when they’re constantly reopened. When your daughter’s murder has been unsolved for decades, you have to grieve in public to keep the case alive. March 30th is the day the news media is most interested in Deanna’s story, and her mother hopes the publicity could lead to the tip that leads to the arrest of her killer. So she talks to the reporters and goes in front of the cameras on the anniversary of the worst day of her life. March, once the month of St. Patrick’s Day and Deanna’s birthday, is now a time of year her loved ones dread.
“I hate March,’’ LeGrand says. “I literally hate March.’’
“I hate every year when March comes around,’’ Christine says. “I have to deal with my mother falling apart, it’s just … it’s so much. It really is so much.’’
“My kids all look at me, like, ‘oh March is coming, here goes mom,’’’ Katherine says. “They don’t know what to expect.’’
In the last 20 years, there have been graduations, marriages, children, grandchildren — undeniably happy moments that are always tinged with sadness. Every gain becomes a reminder of what was lost.
“I didn’t realize how much she lost when I was 17,’’ Lynch-Bowler says. “When you’re older you look back on those as fun times but those aren’t the moments you’re going to remember. Those aren’t the big life-changing moments, or they shouldn’t have been. But that was all she had.’’
As they looked forward to their lives after high school, LeGrand and Deanna talked about the future: getting their drivers licenses, where they’d live after moving out of their parents’ homes, what they’d wear at their weddings.
“We swore no matter which way life takes us, we’d be there,’’ LeGrand says. When she got married, she had a memorial table at her reception for Deanna, and Deanna was mentioned in the program.
“She was supposed to be there,’’ LeGrand says. “We had a plan.’’
LeGrand is now the mother of a 17-year-old girl herself. She says when her daughter turned 16 — the same age LeGrand was when Deanna was killed — the murder felt more real to her than it ever had before.
“I think of her every day,’’ Bevans says. “Through my children that I’ve had that have done things or said things that remind me of her. She’s never left me. She never will.’’
Christine is also a mother now, which means her son will never know his aunt, and she will never have the kind of adult relationship with her sister some of her friends have with their sisters. And she has a better sense of what her mother has gone through for the last 20 years.
“I mean, she’s my sister and it’s so hard for me, if something like that ever happened to my son I don’t think … I wouldn’t want to live,’’ Christine says. “I don’t know how people live with it. It’s too painful.’’
In the last year and a half, Katherine became a grandmother three times over — each of her three living children has a child now, and she adores them. Her granddaughter’s middle name is Deanna.
“They have taken so much anguish away from my life,’’ she says. “They really have. They give you a sense of purpose and joy. Unconditional love. It’s just great. It really is, it’s so great.’’
Somerville has changed, too. It was a town of deep roots and blue collars. Now, gentrification is transforming the city some outsiders used to mockingly call “Slummerville’’ into a land of outlet stores topped with studio apartments that rent for $2,000 a month and skyrocketing property values. Somerville in 2015 has a street called Artisan Way and asks residents how happy they are in its annual census. For better or worse, many of the places Deanna frequented — Assembly Square Mall, Otis and Harris Parks, the church where her funeral was held — are either gone or renovated beyond recognition.
Mayor Curtatone, who has been a driving force behind the city’s revitalization, is also a part of the old Somerville. He remembers when Deanna was killed.
“The trauma that such a loss of life in such a tragic way impacts the community — mostly her family and friends — is loud, it reverberates, it sustains over time,’’ Curtatone says.
Every year, Deanna’s family has some sort of remembrance ceremony. Her father, Albert Rodgers, puts up a fresh wreath at the corner of Temple and Jaques streets, which was named Deanna Cremin Square shortly after her death. At last year’s ceremony, Curtatone announced that $50,000 was being added to the reward for any information leading to the arrest of Deanna’s murderer, bringing it to $70,000. There is hope that between the reward and advances in forensic technology, Deanna’s murderer will be found.
On Monday, Deanna will be remembered at a mass at St. Ann Church in Somerville. It starts at 7 p.m. All are welcome to attend.
“I just wonder what she would have been like,’’ Christine says. “I wonder what we would have been like. I just wonder how everything would have turned out if she was still here.’’
On the last day of her life, Deanna completed an in-class assignment that asked for her five most important goals in life. She wrote that she wanted to graduate high school, get a job she enjoyed, buy a dark green convertible Mustang, and have a happy family. She said her fifth goal was the most important.
“To live long and healthy.’’
Photos courtesy of Katherine Cremin, Randi Bevans, and Kimberli Lynch-Bowler. Hannah Sparks and Shannon McMahon contributed to this article.