On the night Gwendolyn Taylor was attacked just outside her apartment building in Dorchester, Massachusetts, witnesses watched helplessly as an unknown man grabbed the 18 year old, demanded money, and told everyone within earshot not to call the police.
When her body was discovered hours later, those same witnesses found themselves at the heart of the investigation. Their recollections of the man they had seen that night pointed authorities to a suspect, and blood evidence left no room for doubt: Thomas Rosa Jr. was their guy.
But no matter how self-confident, it’s possible investigators got it wrong, and Thomas Rosa Jr. is fighting to prove it.
Early Morning of December 7, 1985
It was the middle of the night on December 7, 1985 and Gwendolyn Taylor was walking up the street towards her apartment on Talbot Avenue in the Dorchester section of Boston, Massachusetts with her boyfriend Charles Ferguson.
Gwendolyn was a nurse’s aide at a nursing home in Cambridge, and she was still wearing her work uniform when she stopped into a party to meet up with Charles after her shift that night. By midnight though, she was ready to make her way home and crawl into bed. It was late and dark and so even though Gwendolyn lived close by, Charles wanted to walk her home. They were only about 150 feet away from Gwendolyn’s building when they said goodbye and she continued the rest of the way on her own.
When Charles made it back to his house, he decided to call Gwendolyn just to double-check she made it back safe. Gwendolyn’s roommate, Charita Offley, picked up and when Charles asked if he could speak to Gwendolyn, Charita told him she wasn’t home yet. Five minutes later, Charles called a second time, and then a third and fourth, but Gwendolyn still wasn’t there.
Charles told Charita that Gwendolyn without a doubt should have been home already, so with Charles still on the line, Charita walked to the balcony of their third-floor apartment and peered down to the sidewalk. To her surprise, there was Gwendolyn, sitting on the steps at the front door of their building. But there was a man standing in front of her.
Charita hollered down to Gwendolyn telling her that Charles was on the phone but Gwendolyn yelled that she’d call him later. Not having it, Charles demanded to talk to his girlfriend right that second but Gwendolyn insisted that she’d have to call Charles back. Charita hung up and went back inside.
Moments later, Charita heard the doorbell ring, so she looked out over the porch railing again, and saw Gwendolyn and the man standing at the door. She asked Charita to come downstairs and though Charita was probably confused or maybe even a little bit annoyed (why was her roommate ringing the doorbell to her own apartment at 1 o’clock in the morning?) she walked down to the front entrance. And that was where she saw that the man had his arm around Gwendolyn and his hand was locked onto her wrist. He was holding a weapon to Gwendolyn’s head.
Through panicked breath, Gwendolyn told Charita she needed $100. And to hurry. As Charita ran to find their other roommates, she heard the man warn her not to call the police.
The other roommates were Charita’s sister Donita, who went by Tammy, and Tammy’s boyfriend Kevin. She frantically told them what was happening outside, and asked if they had any money because Gwendolyn was in trouble. The roommates ran to the window and saw Gwendolyn being forced across the street toward Joseph Lee School and down a dark alleyway. She was screaming for her roommates to throw her the cash, to help her get away from the man, but Charita shouted back that they didn’t have enough money. The roommates watched helplessly from their window as Gwendolyn and the man disappeared out of sight.
At least one source says that at that moment, Kevin ran to his car to see if he could catch up to Gwendolyn and the man while Charita called police to report an abduction in progress. Kevin circled the block and the alley, but Gwendolyn was nowhere to be found. Police arrived minutes later, and the terrified roommates reported what they’d just witnessed.
Case documents say that two police officers drove down the alley, scanning left and right with spotlights, and then they parked and sat in silence, apparently waiting and listening for any sounds that might tell them where to look. But the search and listening efforts that night didn’t lead them to Gwendolyn.
Hours later, as the sun rose in Dorchester, employees at Mike’s Auto Repair on Norfolk Street noticed something unusual on their lot. In one of the cars, they could see an arm hanging out of a rear window. Like maybe someone was sleeping in there? But as they went to take a closer look, it was obvious this person wasn’t sleeping…something was very wrong – lying in the backseat, they saw the nude body of a young woman, with the sleeve of a sweater wrapped tightly around her neck.
For the second time in less than 12 hours, police responded to the same section of Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood. Their missing person investigation had just become a homicide investigation.
The woman was soon identified as 18-year old Gwendolyn Taylor. Investigators processed the scene, collecting evidence from inside and outside the car as interviews with potential witnesses began. From the source material I’ve been able to obtain, there’s very little about what was collected and processed from the scene itself. However, details about the witness interviews are plentiful.
Employees at the auto shop said that the car had been there about a month and hadn’t moved. Police didn’t seem to have any reason to suspect that the people who found Gwendolyn’s remains had anything to do with her ending up there and took their investigation elsewhere. The recollections of the witnesses who reported Gwendolyn’s abduction the night before were going to be crucial to the developing case.
Police interviewed Gwendolyn’s roommates, and Charita was able to give police a rough description of the man she saw standing in the doorway with Gwendolyn. She said he was Hispanic and about five feet nine inches tall with a slight build. He was wearing black pants and a tan coat. Charita and other witnesses also told police that the man they saw had a distinctive mouth with either a missing tooth or a hanging lip.
Court documents state that Charita went down to the police station to speak with Detective Edward Doyle of the Boston Police Department later that day. She asked if she could look through photos to see if she could identify Gwendolyn’s abductor. Based on her initial description, Detective Doyle handed Charita a stack of mugshots in two separate books, all of Hispanic men.
Charita leafed through the first book for just a few minutes before she landed on a photo that caught her attention. She studied it quietly and then told Detective Doyle that it looked like the man, but it wasn’t the man. His eyes were different, she said. Charita switched to the second book, going page by page with her gaze intense on the photos in front of her. Again she stopped, but this time she said to the detective, “This is him…I’m definite. If it’s not him, it’s an identical twin.”
Charita and the other roommates apparently weren’t the only people to see Gwendolyn’s attacker that night though. A downstairs neighbor, Sharon Areh, told police that she was walking home with a friend when she saw Gwendolyn with a man at the front door of the building. Sharon even recognized him, because she was sure he lived upstairs from her cousin a few streets over.
When a detective gave Sharon the photo array that Charita had viewed, Sharon picked out the photo of the same exact man. Sharon, too, was sure that he was the guy she saw on the night of December 7, 1985. The man in the photo matched the description that Charita and the roommates gave police on the night Gwendolyn was abducted, though he may have weighed less, and notably, he wasn’t missing a tooth and he didn’t have a hanging lip. But with two identifications from the photo array, detectives wasted no time tracking the man down. His name was Thomas Rosa Jr.
Gwendolyn Taylor’s story continues on Dark Downeast. Press play and listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you like to listen.
Note: Extensive efforts to locate a photo of Gwendolyn Taylor have been unsuccessful. According to the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, the only photos in the case file are autopsy photos and therefore cannot be released. If you have a photo of Gwendolyn Taylor, or know someone who does, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Episode Source Material
- COMMONWEALTH vs. THOMAS ROSA, JR. 412 Mass. 147 – December 5, 1991 – March 9, 1992
- COMMONWEALTH vs. THOMAS ROSA, JR. 422 Mass. 18 – October 4, 1995 – February 9, 1996
- Police identify aide found dead, AP/North Adams Transcript, 09 Dec 1985
- Police seek strangler, UPI/The Daily Item, 09 Dec 1985
- Dorchester woman, 18, abducted, found slain by Kevin Cullen, Boston Globe, 09 Dec 1985
- Police identify woman, Transcript-Telegram, 09 Dec 1985
- Boston man arrested in woman’s slaying, Boston Globe, 10 Dec 1985
- Nurse’s aide was almost home when man with knife appeared by Kevin Cullen, Boston Globe, 15 Dec 1985
- Mistrial declared in case of Dorchester rape, slaying, Boston Globe, 10 Oct 1986
- Jury convicts man of rape, murder, Boston Globe, 26 Nov 1986
- Dorchester man gets life term, Boston Globe, 05 Mar 1993
- Long Walk to Freedom: Chelsea’s Tommy Rosa Released After 34 Years of Wrongful Incarceration by Seth Daniel, Chelsea Record, 21 Oct 2020
- BC Innocence Program Secures Release of Third Client in 2020, BC Law Magazine, 19 Oct 2020
- Chelsea man is freed after 34 years in prison, Nick Stoico, Boston Globe, 24 Oct 2020, page 2
- A man convicted of murder in Massachusetts in 1993 is getting a new trial due to DNA evidence, AP News, 09 Sep 2023
- Thomas Rosa, Jr.’s Convictions Overturned, September 7, 2023, New England Innocence Project
- Judge orders new trial for Rosa by Ivy Scott, Boston Globe, 09 Sep 2023, page 2
- Rosa’s attorneys urge Suffolk DA to drop charges by Ivy Scott, Boston Globe, 12 Sep 2023
- 2023 Decision by Judge Michael Ricciuti
- DNA that freed man leads to new suspect, Baltimore Sun
- Free, But Not Free – GoFundMe for Thomas Rosa Jr.
- Obituary for Gwendolyn Taylor