It began more than a week ago when Springfield authorities arrested a man after he led police on a chase when they attempted to pull him over for a broken taillight and a badly-injured woman in his car told officers he had been holding her captive for a month, raping and beating her.
Then investigators discovered three bodies “on and around” the property on Page Boulevard where the Springfield man, Steward Weldon, was living and a second woman came forward to accuse the 40-year-old of kidnapping her.
Now, three families are mourning after authorities on Monday identified those remains as three women, two of whom had been reported missing to Springfield police in the last year.
“This is an ongoing investigation,” Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni said at a press conference Monday afternoon.
Here’s the latest on the investigation that authorities have described as “sprawling.”
What’s happened since authorities found the bodies last week?
Authorities still have not named Weldon as a suspect in connection to the bodies that were found at the property where he was living up until his arrest on May 27. The woman who was in his car at the time remains in the hospital, the DA’s office said Monday.
Investigators have continued to search the property at 1333 Page Blvd. since the three bodies were discovered on Wednesday and Thursday last week.
The DA’s office said Monday that the bodies were identified as Ernestine Ryans, 47, and America Lyden, 34, both of Springfield, and Kayla Escalante, 27, of nearby Ludlow.
Lyden and Ryans had both been reported missing to Springfield police, authorities said.
“The Springfield Police Department’s Major Crimes Unit extensively tried to find these women as referenced in our case notes, and in the case of Ms. Lyden we released information on social media and through our local media outlets,” police said in a statement on Facebook.
Gulluni said the medical examiner is still working to identify the cause and manner of the women’s deaths.
“We are obviously investigating these deaths as suspicious, at the very least,” he said.
Ground-penetrating radar has been used at the Springfield property as part of the investigation, and Gulluni said Monday that he expects the examination to continue.
“The investigation will be ongoing at Page Boulevard for many days to come,” he said.
Earlier Monday, Weldon was arraigned on new charges that he kidnapped another woman in February.
The second woman came forward about her alleged experience after police began searching Weldon’s home last week, The Boston Globe reports.
The 40-year-old pleaded not guilty to the new charges of kidnapping and assault to rape, according to the Globe.
No details of the new allegations were released during the arraignment, according to the Globe, but, in a motion to impound police reports on the case, Hampden Assistant District Attorney Maximilian Bennett argued the deaths of the three women whose bodies were found at Weldon’s residence are being investigated as “potential homicides.”
“There are additional charges that may be brought based on the investigation,” he wrote in the motion that was approved by the judge, according to the Globe.
The prosecutor also wrote that police “have been engaged in a sprawling investigation and have additional witnesses to interview,” the newspaper reports.
What we know about the women whose bodies were found:
Police said the 34-year-old Springfield woman was reported missing on Dec. 1, 2017.
“The person who reported her missing stated that she had not been seen by friends or family since June 2017,” Springfield police said. “Ms. Lyden did have previous missing person reports filed about her in the past.”
Lyden’s cousin, Angie Rodriguez, told Boston25 she was shocked by the news.
“We had high hopes that she would be OK,” Rodriguez told the station. “She had tons of life left within her that was robbed from her. We don’t know who, what, where or how, but we do know it was a gruesome cold act, and no one knows what she felt.”
A young woman, who identified herself on Facebook as Lyden’s daughter, shared a photo on Monday of herself with Lyden.
“My favorite picture of us,” she wrote. “It wasn’t supposed to end like this mommy.”
The 47-year-old Springfield woman was reported missing to police on March 18, 2018. The woman who filed the report told authorities that Ryans hadn’t been seen by friends or family since March 8, 2018.
“She also stated that Ms. Ryans had gone missing before, but never for this long, which is why she reported her missing to the police,” the department said.
Anthony Ryans told the Globe that his sister had struggled with drug addiction, but was a “good mom” to her two daughters, a 25-year-old who lives in Pennsylvania and a 12-year-old who lived in Springfield with her.
“She had her demons, but she was a good person, a kind person, and a lot of people had nothing but positive things to say,” Ryans told newspaper. “It’s a big loss for the family and the community as a whole.”
He said that his sister moved to Springfield earlier this year with her younger daughter from the Hartford area.
Relatives told Channel 3 that Ryans grew up in Bloomfield, Connecticut.
Known as “Stine” by her five siblings, Ryans leaves behind grandchildren in addition to her own daughters, according to the Connecticut station.
“We’re still trying to process it,” Anthony Ryans told the station. “It’s still, [we’re] rallying around my mom because she’s taking it the hardest out of everyone.”
While listed as a resident of Ludlow where her mother lives, Escalante’s last known address was in Springfield, and no missing person reports were filed for her, according to MassLive.
Officers responded in December to break up a verbal altercation between the 27-year-old and her mother, the publication reports.
What happens next?
Gulluni said Monday that he expects the medical examiner to identify causes of death for the three women found in “the next week or so.”
In response to a question from a reporter Monday, he said authorities don’t believe “at this juncture” that they’re dealing with the work of a serial killer, reiterating that there is no risk to the public.
“There is no heightened concern for anyone in that neighborhood,” he said.
For the two separate kidnapping cases, Weldon is being held on a combined $2 million bail. His release on three other open cases was revoked last week.
“Mr. Weldon has entered his plea of not guilty and looks forward to addressing these charges in the future in court as well as addressing bail at a later date,” public defender Matthew Fleischner told reporters.
Weldon is scheduled to return to court on June 29.