On July 20th, 1991, 17-year-old Patricia Moreno sat on the fire escape at her foster family’s apartment building. She often used the fire escape for solace – the apartment was crowded and hot and loud – but in the early morning hours of that scorching summer night, her place of respite became the scene of her murder.
For over three decades, the mystery of Patricia’s death persisted. The occupants of the apartment claimed to have heard gunshots but had no knowledge of the shooter’s identity. Years later, the death of a family member and the surfacing of an eyewitness shed new light on the case, giving investigators hot leads in the long standing cold case. Now, 32 years later, Patrica Moreno finally has closure with the conviction of her killer.
July 20, 1991
In late July of 1991, Malden, Massachusetts, was experiencing a heat wave. The city of 54,000 people lay just north of Boston and typically benefited from its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean with a cooling breeze to cut the heavy and humid summer nights, but the night July 20, 1991 hovered around one hundred degrees with no reprieve. New England, a region known far better for its fall foliage and winter ice storms than its less common summer heat, was not prepared for this weather. The old buildings of the area, with their thick brick walls and narrow windows, offered little relief to residents.
On that Saturday night, the high temperatures showed no sign of relinquishing their hold on the city. Some residents of the area flocked to the outdoors to escape the heaviness of the climate in their apartments, sitting or even sleeping outside through the late hours of the night and into the early hours of the morning.
That sweltering summer night, 17-year old Patricia Moreno stepped out of her bedroom window and onto a fire escape, lighting a cigarette as she took a seat on the chair she kept there for this ritual. The air was thick but quiet. The fire escape felt worlds away from the crowded apartment where she’d been living with a foster family, the Prices, for the last few months. Things were rough with Patricia’s biological mother, and this apartment on Henry Street, that fire escape, was home, for now.
According to neighbor Elias Varanda who spoke to the Boston Globe, everything about the night was normal. He had spoken with Patricia last around 12:30 a.m. He himself was out on his fire escape to escape the heat. From one floor above, Patricia told Elias that she was trying to do the same. He stepped back inside his apartment and when he returned outside an hour later, all still seemed well. Elias reported to the Globe that he saw Patricia asleep on the fire escape around 1:30 a.m.
It was not until just after 3 a.m. that the silence of the neighborhood was broken. A sound erupted from the fire escape outside of a third-floor apartment, facing a dead-end alley. Gunshots.
Most neighbors slept through the noise or heard it and dismissed it as nothing. Elias Varanda had placed a fan near his window to cut the oppressive heat so when he woke up in the middle of the night, he assumed that the noises had come from that fan.
Mary Rossi, who lived across the street from the Price family, noted that her son was woken up by the noise of the gunshots. Curious, he looked out the bedroom window towards the street but didn’t see anything. He assumed that he had only heard firecrackers – not an uncommon sound in the summer months of the city, let alone in July – and he shortly returned to bed.
One other neighbor, Paulo Ubiratan, shared with the Boston Globe that he and a friend had been awake at the time. Paulo lived in the apartment next to the Price family and shared the fire escape where Patricia had been sleeping. According to the Boston Globe, Paulo said he, quote, “heard gunshots, looked out the window, and saw the girl lying on the fire escape, gurgling and struggling for breath.” End quote. Though he noticed she was gasping for air, he apparently wasn’t alarmed. He told the Globe that he thought she was still sleeping.
Everyone inside the Price family apartment was awoken by the sound of gunshots, too, including Patricia Moreno’s foster mother, Linda Price. Linda immediately went to the fire escape and was met with the sight of Patricia face down on the grated metal.
Linda dialed 9-1-1 and an ambulance quickly responded to the scene. First responders found Patricia in the same condition that Linda had reported. She was face down on the fire escape, but still breathing.
At that moment, it seemed that there could be hope for the life of Patricia Moreno. She was transported eight miles to the emergency room of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. For twelve hours, she fought for her life against a severe brain injury. But by 3:30 p.m. the same day, the hospital room quieted as Patricia succumbed to the irreversible damage done by a single gunshot wound.
About Patricia Moreno
Patricia Moreno, called Tricia by her loved ones, was born to her mother Jewell Moreno in Boston in 1974. Patricia’s family consisted of her mother and three siblings, as well as a large extended family in Roslindale, a diverse and lively neighborhood on the south end of Boston that borders Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury. Though Patricia’s father was not a significant presence in her life, her mother later married Victor L. Morales, who served as a father figure to Patricia and her siblings.
According to a July 22, 1991 edition of the Boston Globe, Elias Varanda, who lived in the apartment below Patricia, said that “‘she was a good girl,’” while a neighbor from across the alley, Mary Rossi, said that Patricia wasn’t very talkative but she was, “a pretty friendly kid. She never bothered anybody.”
Growing up, Patricia did not seem to have consistency or stability in her life. Globe reporters spoke with a woman who identified herself as a relative of Patricia and Jewell. The woman shared that Patricia “‘wasn’t without problems’” and “‘had a tendency to be with the wrong people.’”
The relative also painted a picture of tension. She noted that Patricia’s relationship with her biological mother was tumultuous. The pair had scheduled a date in court to come to a reconciliation in August of 1991, and in the meantime, Patricia had been living with a foster family in Malden since May of that year.
Patricia’s foster home was an apartment on Henry Street on the top floor of a three-story building in the Suffolk Square neighborhood of Malden. It was one of the older buildings in Malden and had belonged to one family for many years, while Patricia’s foster family rented it. The building was built from light red brick and had an iron fire escape that climbed the side of the building from the ground to the roof.
The family consisted of a foster mother, Linda Price, and Linda’s two daughters, 16-year old Chantele Price and her sister, Rochelle Price, who was 13-years old. While he was not a permanent resident, Chantele’s boyfriend, 18-year old Rodney Daniels, often spent time there and occasionally stayed the night.
Linda, Chantele, Rochelle, and Rodney were all home on the night of July 20, 1991 when the sound of gunshots ricocheted off the red brick buildings of Henry Street.
The Malden Police Department began to investigate the shooting soon after the death of Patricia Moreno, beginning with interviewing the residents of the apartment and neighbors who were home that night. Police also examined the apartment in detail, working to piece together the story of how this 17-year-old girl could be shot to death directly outside of her apartment in the middle of the night.
Linda Price told the police that she locked the door every night and detectives could find no evidence of forced entry or damage done to the front door of the apartment. With that, police seemed to dismiss the possibility that Patricia’s killer came from or had been inside the apartment at all. So police instead considered the possibility that an assailant came from outside the building and attacked Patricia on the fire escape.
Investigators searched each step of the three-floor fire escape and looked for any evidence in the area of the building, but they found no sign of the murder weapon and no cartridge near or on the fire escape. The lack of a cartridge led investigators to believe that the weapon used had been a revolver rather than a semi-automatic weapon that would have expelled cartridge casings after use.
The autopsy revealed more information about the events of that night and the weapon used in the murder. Police reports document that “the bullet had entered just above her left eyebrow and penetrated her skull at a slightly downward angle,” indicating that she had been shot at by someone standing above her.
Patricia’s body showed no evidence of powder burns or impact on her skin, meaning to investigators that the wound had not been inflicted at a close range. Investigators suspected that the shooter had been standing at least three or four feet away. They were able to recover the bullet from her body, finding that it was from a .38 caliber revolver.
The concrete evidence initially provided investigators with some avenues to explore, but they were optimistic that witness interviews would bring greater clarity to the case and point them in a definitive direction. As they conducted interviews with neighbors, Patricia’s family members, and Linda Price and her daughters, suspicions started to emerge.
Interviews Raise Doubt about Rodney
Police learned through their witness interviews that Chantele Price’s boyfriend Rodney Daniels was in the apartment on the night that Patricia Moreno was shot. They also learned that Rodney was known to have access to multiple firearms, some of which had been at the Price household at one point. He was known for showing these to his friends, including Chantele and Rochelle Price. Patricia’s foster mom Linda had seen Rodney showing these firearms to her daughters. She had asked him to remove them from the apartment, telling him that guns were not allowed in her home. He responded by telling her that it was a BB gun, not a real firearm and that it would not cause any harm.
One witness, an acquaintance of Rodney Daniels, told the Malden Police Department that he had seen Rodney carrying firearms before. When presented with images of various firearms, the witness identified two .38 caliber revolvers as being similar to the ones that Rodney had in his possession at one point. A .38 caliber revolver – just like the suspected murder weapon.
After the interview, the witness later told police that Rodney called him up and asked if he was telling police about the guns he had. When the witness denied it, Rodney immediately hung up the phone without discussing it further.
Rodney Daniels was already a known element to police in the Malden area. He was arrested more than once during his teenage years and later reports further note that at the time of Patricia’s murder, Rodney did in fact have access to multiple firearms.
Witness interviews also informed investigators about the nature of the relationship between Rodney and Patricia. Investigators noted that Rodney Daniels had “engaged in threatening behavior” towards Patricia in the months she lived at the Henry Street apartment.
The investigation revealed that in June of 1991, Patricia witnessed an argument between Rodney and his girlfriend, Chantele. Uncomfortable with the way that Rodney was speaking to Chantele, Patricia intervened and confronted Rodney, telling him that she did not like the way he was treating Chantele. Investigators reported that in response, Rodney told her, “‘You don’t know what I’m capable of.’” Though this was the extent of the interaction, Rodney was irritated with the way Patricia spoke to him, and later complained to others that she “‘did not mind her own business.’”
After that argument, the tension between Rodney and Patricia only escalated. Also in June of that year, Patricia Moreno approached her foster mother with concerns about Rodney. The investigation later revealed that Patricia told Linda she woke up one night and saw Rodney Daniels in her bedroom. She said that Rodney was holding a gun. She told Linda that he took the firearm and held it up to her head, threatening her.
According to court documents obtained from Middlesex County Superior Court, Linda Price confronted Rodney about it and when she asked him why he was in Patricia’s bedroom with a firearm, Rodney said that “something was ‘forcing him to try to kill her,’”, but he said that he could not go through with it.
Linda Price was a Christian woman who believed deeply in the power of her faith. When she found that Rodney’s behavior was based on “something forcing him,” it was in her religion that she found a remedy. Court documents stated that Linda brought the entire family together, including her daughters Chantele and Rochelle, as well as Patricia, and instructed the girls to put their hands on Rodney and pray he’d find strength to “resist evil forces”. In addition to prayer, Linda reiterated to Rodney that firearms were not allowed in her home.
Despite all this, Linda did not report the concerns around Rodney’s behavior to any authorities – not the Malden Police Department or the Department of Social Services, who were responsible for placing Patricia in the foster home.
When police later confronted Rodney Daniels during an interview at the police station, he emphatically denied any involvement in Patrica’s death despite the suspicion that the evidence had raised against him. According to Rodney, he was asleep in an armchair in the living room at the time of the shooting. Though the living room led directly to the fire escape, he claimed that he had heard nothing until he was awoken by the noise of the gunshots. When he woke up, he walked from the living room to the fire escape and saw Patricia laying there. Rodney stated that he looked around outside and over the edge of the fire escape in an attempt to identify the shooter, but he didn’t see anyone.
Throughout his interviews, Rodney Daniels insisted that he had no knowledge of who was responsible for the shooting. He admitted that he had threatened Patricia in the past, but argued that he had used a BB gun, not a real gun. He also stated that he no longer had the BB gun because it belonged to a friend, someone he said he had known for two years, but he couldn’t remember the friend’s name when asked.
Rodney’s version of the events of July 20, 1991, was actually corroborated by his girlfriend, Chantele Price. Chantele told police that it was impossible for Rodney to be responsible for Patricia’s death. She said that the chair where he was sleeping was within her line of sight and that she knew where he was all night. Chantele specifically stated that when she woke up to the sound of gunfire, she looked at the chair and saw that Rodney was still in it.
Rodney Daniels was ultimately released from the police station after questioning and allowed to return to the Henry Street home. According to police records, when he got back to the apartment, Linda Price watched as Rodney went directly to the chair in the living room where he had supposedly been sleeping on the night of the shooting. He reached under the chair with a smirk on his face, though Linda reported that she could not see what was under the chair, if anything at all.
According to witnesses years later, Rodney behaved strangely during the time period after Patricia’s murder and made suspicious allusions to the night of the shooting. He would smile while bragging to his friends that the police were unable to find gunpowder on him because they had not performed any chemical tests. While watching the news together one night, Linda Price made a comment during a story about an arrest that it was impossible to get away with murder. Rodney Daniels responded that it was indeed possible, though he did not expand further on his comments.
The investigation by Malden Police consisted of numerous interviews with dozens of witnesses, but authorities were unable to make an arrest in 1991. The only evidence they had at the time was circumstantial, at best. And so, with no new leads or evidence to go on, Patricia Moreno’s case went cold.
Episode Source Material
- Commonwealth of Massachusetts Records. Commonwealth vs. Rodney Daniels. 2021.
- Anderson, Karen. “Georgia man indicted for murder in 30-year-old Malden cold case.” WCVB. 30 September 2021.
- Associated Press. “Arrest Made In 1991 Murder Of Patricia Moreno In Malden.” WBZ News. 29 September 2021.
- Associated Press. “Foster teen shot on fire escape.” The Transcript. 22 July 1991.
- Associated Press. “Malden girl, 17, killed by gunshot.” The Boston Globe. 21 July 1991.
- Associated Press. “Rodney Daniels Held Without Bail In 1991 Malden Murder Of Patricia Moreno.” WBZ News. 30 September 2021.
- Associated Press. “Suspect in 1991 slaying of 17-year-old girl arrested.” The Daily Item. 1 October 2021.
- Ellement, John R. “Middlesex DA Marian Ryan creates cold case unit.” The Boston Globe. 25 March 2019.
- Fox, Jeremy C. “Ga. man indicted in 30-year-old death: Charged in killing of Malden teen.” The Boston Globe. 30 September 2021.
- Jones, Richard. “Malden police probe fatal shooting of youth outside her foster home.” The Boston Globe. 22 July 1991.
- Lee, ArLuther. “South Fulton man arrested in 1991 murder of teenage girl in Massachusetts.” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 30 September 2021.
- Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office Press Release. “Man Convicted of First-Degree Murder in Connection with 32-Year-Old Murder of Patricia Moreno in Malden.” 16 August 2023.
- Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office Press Release. “Middlesex District Attorney and Malden Police Announce Arrest in 30-Year-Old Murder of Malden Teen.” 29 September 2021.
- Naham, Matt. “Georgia Man Indicted for Murder of 17-Year-Old Girl Who Was Shot in the Head Outside of Foster Family’s Massachusetts Apartment in 1991.” 30 September 2021.
- Patricia Moreno Obituary. The Boston Globe. 23 July 1991.
- Sorace, Stephen. “Cold case murder of Massachusetts teen solved without DNA technology, suspect arrested in Georgia.” Fox News. 1 October 2021.
- Tron, Gina. “Man Accused Of Shooting Girlfriend’s Foster Sister In Head In 1991.” Oxygen True Crime. 30 September 2021.