Nearly 1,000 Bodies Found Under New England Highway

By Jason Hall

October 20, 2021

UK - Crime - Scene Investigators Searching Grave Site
Photo: Getty Images

Nearly 1,000 people were discovered buried underneath a highway and an unmarked mass grave containing hundreds of bodies was found in New England after a local woman's recent search for a relative's displaced gravesite.

WPRI reports Maria da Graca was searching for the gravesite of her great-great-grandfather, Antonio Coelho, prior to the discovery.

Documents obtained by WPRI revealed Coelho was initially buried in State Institution Cemetery No. 3 in 1941 and later among 577 bodies dug up by the state and reburied in an unmarked mass grave in State Institution Cemetery No. 2 in 1975 during an effort to clear space for an industrial complex.

Da Graca told WPRI zero relatives were contacted about Coelho's reburial at the time.

Da Graca said she was told recently that Coelho was, at one point, buried in State Farm Cemetery, part of which was where Route 37 was built through in the 1960s, leading to her worrying that her relative was buried beneath the highway.

In 2006, human remains were found by the side of Route 37, which led to 71 individuals being reburied in State Institution Cemetery No. 2, but Rhode Island Advisory Commission on Historical Cemeteries Pegee Malcolm said there are between 800 and 1,000 bodies likely still buried underneath the highway.

Rhode Island Department of Transportation spokesperson Charles St. Martin confirmed "RIDOT is aware" of the estimated number of budies buried underneath Route 37, which is driven on by tens of thousands of individuals daily.

“I’m not looking for acknowledgment,” da Graca said via WPRI. “I want a respectable place where I can bring my children to come and say, ‘Thank you.'”

Coelho was the first individual in Rhode Island from Cape Verde to buy a packet ship in 1891, which helped immigrants come to Providence for work and transported goods back to their families and has been featured in an exhibit at the Providence Children's Museum since 1997, WPRI reports.

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