New England’s Unsolved: Brenda Lacombe 40 years later

May 15th is a grim anniversary for the family of Brenda Lacombe, a 19-year- old single mom found murdered in Harvard in 1982.

Forty years after Brenda disappeared, her case remains unsolved and her family remains committed to finding her killer.

“She was a good sister, a good dancer. She was a good person,” Barbara Sullivan, Brenda’s sister recently told me.

Brenda Lacombe’s body was recovered from a secluded wooded area at Littleton County and Sherry Roads, near a stone wall in Harvard.

The site is 20 miles away from Lowell where Brenda lived.

The Medical Examiner ruled Brenda’s death a homicide, but the cause of her death is not publicly known.

Brenda’s niece, Lacey Kearns, was not even born when Brenda was murdered. But she has devoted her life to finding Brenda’s killer.

“Sometimes you have to fight for yourself, and the people you love,” Lacey told me. “I’m still very confident we’ll solve the case.”

In 1982, At 19 years old, Brenda Lacombe was living a fast life, she liked to party. But the birth of her son, Matthew, seemed to slow her down.

On May 15, 1982, Brenda disappeared from Lowell. The details of the night of her disappearance still not fully known.

Earlier in the evening, Brenda was supposed to go on a double date with another sister, but it didn’t work out and plans changed.

So, Brenda, instead visited her grandmother at the Francis Gatehouse Mill complex in Lowell. Brenda drank some wine, and left the apartment sometime after midnight.

She was never seen again.

Just before Brenda said goodbye to her grandmother, she picked up the phone in her grandmother’s apartment and made a call. Forty years later, that phone call remains a central question in this mystery.

“Do we know who she actually called?” I asked Barbara Sullivan.

“No.” Sullivan said.

“How important do you think that phone call is?”

“Very important, very, very important,” Sullivan answered. “That’s whoever she met up with.”

When Brenda didn’t come home on May 15th, her family grew concerned.

“She wouldn’t leave her son that long at all. So that’s where the question came in, as to why she didn’t come back,” Lacey Kearns said.

Brenda’s family filed a Missing Persons report with Lowell Police , and looked for Brenda

“I was scared. It was a gut feeling that it wasn’t right,” Barbara Sullivan remembered.

June 4, 1982, Brenda was located, not in Lowell, but in far away Harvard.

“Is there any obvious reason why your sister would have been in Harvard?” I asked Barbara Sullivan

“No. Absolutely not,” she said.

In a strange twist, it turns out that Brenda Lacombe knew Judy Chartier, the Chelmsford teenager who herself disappeared 24 hours after Brenda’s remains were located.

Indeed, it was Lacey’s meticulous research in 2021 that directed a civilian dive team to the area where Judy was found, 40 years after her disappearance.

Now, Lacey Kearns is pushing for an exhumation in her aunt’s case.

“It’s 40 years. Do you think at some point we will know who killed your aunt?” I asked.

“Yes, I do. It’s going to take people coming forward who aren’t coming forward,” Kearns said. “I’d like the message to be out there to people, to know that they will find you. Regardless of time, you will be caught.”

If you have any information about the murder of Brenda Lacombe, contact Worcester County DA’s Anonymous Tip Line at 508.453.7589

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