When 38-year old Ralph “Rizz” Jean-Marie was reported missing from a motel where he was living in Barre, Vermont, the story was that he up and left after an argument, leaving behind his personal belongings and everything you’d think someone might take if they were going to start a new life for themselves somewhere, or even just taking off to get some space for a few days.
But from day one of the investigation, law enforcement had reason to believe the initial narrative of Ralph’s disappearance wasn’t anchored in the whole truth. Ralph didn’t just walk off, never to be seen again. Someone, or multiple someones, had a hand in his disappearance, but getting answers as to what really happened proved a challenge for local authorities.
Family members and activists alike have been critical of law enforcement’s response to Ralph’s disappearance, and they continue to speak out today about the lack of progress in the three year long investigation. This case is layered – from a secret inquest, to demonstrations and protests from local activists, to the prosecution of a journalist – it all stems from the biggest and most important question at the center of the case: Where is Ralph Jean-Marie?
If you have information about the disappearance of Ralph Jean-Marie in Barre, Vermont on April 13, 2020, please contact Barre Police at (802) 476-6613.
The Night of April 13, 2020
On the night of April 15, 2020, around 9:00 p.m. Barre City Police in Barre, Vermont received a report of a missing person. According to reporting by Alan J. Keays for the Valley News, friends of 38-year old Ralph Jean-Marie, who also went by the name Rizz, reported him missing that Wednesday, though no one had actually seen Rizz since the early morning hours Monday, April 13.
Around 1 a.m. on April 13, 2020, Ralph Jean-Marie allegedly walked out of the room where he’d been living at the Hollow Inn on South Main Street in Barre, Vermont. He’d supposedly gotten into some sort of dispute with his “significant other” and just left.
Ralph took nothing with him when he walked away. All of his essential medications, his glasses, his wallet, and his ID were left behind in the room. He was wearing only pajama pants, a jacket, a hat with the word “King” on it, and sneakers.
According to a redacted investigative timeline for case 20BA003033 shared by the Barre City Police Department on their official Facebook page, law enforcement took action and began searching for Ralph Jean-Marie the same day he was reported missing. Their initial search entailed the immediate area near the motel and area hospitals.
The next day, April 16, a State Police official interviewed a POI (person of interest) while trying to contact Ralph. The official timeline says, verbatim: State official spoke with POI while attempting to contact Ralph Jean-Marie and was advised that he had gone to the store. I read that as the person on the phone told the State Official that Ralph had gone to the store and wasn’t available to speak with the official… But this was 3 days after Ralph allegedly walked out of the motel room and never came back. Odd.
The timeline notes that on April 17, 2020 the Vermont Intelligence Center released a missing person flyer for Ralph Jean-Marie. It would’ve been the first media alert of his disappearance.
Over the next several days, both local and state officials conducted follow up interviews and searched the woods near the motel with a K-9 unit, as well as the riverbank and falls area and Rotary Park. Interviews with persons of interest were ongoing, and on April 21, the timeline notes that detectives “took steps to preserve potential evidence.”
Detectives continued searching quarries in the area, they checked an abandoned house, as well as a sandpit. They followed up on reported sightings of Ralph, but in the words of the timeline: All are a dead end.
The activities between April 30 and the end of June 2020 were more of the same – searching wooded areas and waterways, talking to witnesses and re-interviewing persons of interest, and securing evidence. Two months after his reported disappearance, the media finally picked up the story, but there had been no sign of Ralph. The reported sightings didn’t pan out. He hadn’t contacted any of his family members in Vermont, New York or Massachusetts, and the fact that he left behind essential medications and other personal belongings didn’t bode well.
Barre Police Chief Tim Bombardier evaluated the possibilities of what happened to Ralph, telling Eric Blaisdell of the Rutland Daily Herald, “I’ve seen people just walk out the door and disappear for long periods of time. I’ve seen people walk out the door as a result of someone else doing them harm and it taking long periods of time to find that out. And then we’ve seen people who just don’t want to be found. And I don’t know what the case is (here). I mean, right now on face value I believe somebody has harmed him.”
According to an Associated Press report in the Burlington Free Press, by late summer of 2020, the investigation so far led Barre Police to believe that one or more people were responsible for Ralph’s disappearance, and that people not directly involved knew exactly what happened to him. Although the interviews were ongoing, investigators needed to shake out more details and they hoped that a financial benefit would do the trick.
In August of 2020, Barre Police announced a $5000 reward for information about Ralph Jean-Marie’s disappearance. A month later, investigators elevated the stakes even further by implementing an uncommon and covert investigative approach.
In September of 2020, after nearly five months with no sign of Ralph Jean-Marie, the state’s attorney of Washington County decided to use a rare and secretive investigative tool to drum up new information in the case. According to Valley News writer Alan J. Keays, State’s Attorney Rory Thibault initiated an inquest.
In an inquest, witnesses are compelled to provide testimony or evidence under oath before a judge. The benefit of this procedure is that instead of police approaching someone on the street or bringing them into the station for an interview, where the witness can refuse to speak to law enforcement, a witness is compelled to testify by a judge if subpoenaed for an inquest, and there are penalties for refusing to testify. However, any witness can invoke their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Anything gathered during an inquest is kept confidential until the investigation concludes.
Because of the secretive nature of the inquest, Thibault was tight lipped about what sort of information investigators were seeking, but he did reveal, “I believe there are witnesses who know more than what they have revealed to investigators.”
Amid the continuing inquest, fresh evidence surfaced suggesting that the information regarding Ralph’s supposed last known sighting – walking out of the Hollow Inn on South Main Street – could potentially be inaccurate. Chief Bombardier told WCAX, “People have said that he’s missing from this hotel room but I don’t know that that’s factually correct,” He said that new information could place Ralph at a different location, but Chief Bombardier couldn’t elaborate.
The investigation was active. In the five months since Ralph was reported missing, police had collected physical evidence, executed search warrants, and looked in areas where people thought Ralph’s body might be found. Chief Bombardier said to WCAX, “We have dive teams, drones, canine teams, people on foot.”
But no matter the ongoing efforts to find Ralph in September of 2020, one of the biggest issues that plagued the investigation from the very beginning was the nearly three day delay between the day Ralph actually disappeared and when his disappearance was reported. Bombardier stated, “Sixty-eight hours is a lot of time to take care of getting rid of things, etc. Cleaning things up.”
The $5000 reward was still out there, waiting for someone to find the courage and share what they knew with police. Meanwhile, Ralph Jean-Marie’s family was growing more and more frustrated with the lack of progress. They began to take matters into their own hands and speak up a little louder about their frustrations in public. With that, a clearer picture of Ralph’s life at the time of his disappearance, and the people in it, started to come together.
Episode Source Material
- Officials say: Man’s disappearance said to be suspicious by Eric Blaisdell, Rutland Daily Herald, 18 Jun 2020
- Barre couple charged in connection with fatal drug overdose, WCAX News, 21 Aug 2020
- Police: Pair sold heroin to a man who overdosed and died By Eric Blaisdell, Rutland Daily Herald, 20 Aug 2020
- Barre police offer $5K reward for info on missing man, AP/Burlington Free Press, 26 Aug 2020
- Subpoenas issued & witness testifies in case of missing Barre man by: Lauren Maloney, ABC22, 11 Sep 2020
- Secret inquest seeks clues by Alan J. Keays, Valley News, 15 Sep 2020
- Missing man’s family speaks out as investigation continues by By Erin Brown, WCAX, 19 Sep 2020
- Brockton’s Ralph Jean-Marie still missing in Vermont; police suspect foul play by Ben Berke, Enterprise News, 06 Oct 2020
- Filmmakers spotlight Vermont man’s mysterious disappearance by Ike Bendavid, 08 Apr 2021
- Police seek leads to locate lost man by Eric Blaisdell, Rutland Daily Herald, 14 Apr 2021
- Black man from Barre has been missing for a year; activists want FBI’s help By Ellie French, VT Digger, 11 Apr 2021
- Questions Persist About Police Investigation Into Ralph Jean-Marie’s Disappearance By COLIN FLANDERS, Seven Days VT, 21 Apr 2021
- Man stabbed at Barre City landromat, WCAX, 05 May 2021
- Statement from Lee Morrigan via The Black Perspective Facebook Page, 16 May 2021
- Activist accused of contempt in connection with Barre man’s disappearance By Grace Elletson, VT Digger, 20 May 2021
- Fabiola Williams still seeks answers about Vermont’s Ralph Jean-Marie, Burlington Free Press, 13 Jun 2021
- Underwater drones search deep in Barre Town quarries by Eric Blaisdell, Rutland Daily Herald, 03 Jul 2021
- Judge dismisses contempt charge against activist By Eric Blaisdell, Times Argus, 13 Jul 2021
- Contempt charge dropped against activist critical of police investigation By Grace Elletson, VT Digger, 13 Jul 2021
- Huckins gets 30 months in overdose death case By Eric Blaisdell Staff, Times Argus, 16 Feb 2022
- Barre police chief wants to ‘reinvigorate’ Ralph Jean-Marie investigation By Eric Blais, Times Argus, 06 May 2022
- Two years later, family of missing Barre man hopes for closure by Zuri Hoffman, NBC5, 26 May 2022
- Ralph ‘Rizz’ Jean-Marie disappearance hits three-year mark By Eric Blaisdell, Times Argus, 14 Apr 2023
- Jean-Marie’s disappearance marked by Eric Blaisdell, Rutland Daily Herald, 15 Apr 2023
- Community members demand justice for Ralph Jean-Marie by Rachel Mann, WCAX, 15 Apr 2023
- Host Meghan O’Rourke interviews Mohamed Abdi, Travon Groves, and Anthony Marques – Ralph Jean-Marie Documentary Team on Town Meeting TV
- Also referenced for this episode: Vermont court filings and decisions via public records