This Freetown Native Was One of the SouthCoast’s Most Brutal Killers
Bristol County, Massachusetts has had more than its fair share of horrific crimes and criminals over the years, dating all the way back to Fall River’s Borden murders of 1892 and continuing through less than 100 years later to that same city’s supposed cult murders of 1979-80, New Bedford’s Big Dan’s case, the New Bedford highway murders, the Mary Lou Arruda murder, and far too many more.
Yet one story that is often forgotten, at least to the public consciousness, is that of convicted murderer Gene Travis.
Travis, a Freetown native, was just an evil person. He spent much of his life behind bars, dating back to his first conviction in 1959. Following his release from prison in 1985, he killed a Fall River woman and Rhode Island woman on consecutive days.
“If I had a poster child for the death penalty, he would be it,” former Bristol County District Attorney Ron Pina once said of Travis, according to a Standard-Times story. “He was just an animal. He was proud of what he did.”
According to court documents, Travis – who had only been released from prison 33 days prior – murdered Simone Auger of Fall River, after kidnapping her from her father’s video store, Globe Video, on December 9, 1985. He had robbed the video store, tied Auger’s hands with an electrical cord, and forced her to get into his vehicle. Her partially decomposed body was discovered in an overgrown lot in Tiverton, Rhode Island four months later, on April 9, 1986. It was ruled that she had been strangled to death.
The day after he kidnapped Auger, Travis robbed a North Kingstown, Rhode Island shoe store and brutally stabbed its owner, 42-year-old Janice Pinelli, after also strangling her with an electrical cord. According to court documents, she was stabbed 23 times, “twenty of them over the chest and abdomen, including two to the heart, one small wound to the left lung, multiple penetrating through-and-through wounds to the stomach and wounds to the left lobe of the liver, to the pancreas, beneath the stomach to the left kidney, to the left eye, and on the neck. She also suffered a fracture of the left fifth rib associated with the wound of the chest and heart and a large gaping wound medial to the breast.”
She later died as a result of her injuries.
Travis was convicted of Pinelli’s murder and became the first person in Rhode Island sentenced to life without the possiblity of parole. He was already serving that life sentence when a jury convicted him in the murder of Auger in 1988. According to reports, as that guilty verdict was read aloud, Travis smirked and laughed.
In fact, Travis never seemed to show any remorse for what he had done.
“I was broke and I just had to go out and do what I do best,” Travis said of the robberies and murders in a 1994 jailhouse interview with WJAR-TV. “A human life doesn’t mean too much to me.”
Travis had previously escaped from a Rhode Island prison while serving a 19-year sentence for armed robbery and attempted murder, and was recaptured after 19 days.
He once again escaped following his murder sentences, sneaking out of the maximum-security Adult Correctional Institution in Cranston in the back of a garbage truck.
He was on the run for 12 hours before he was captured by Nancy Santopadre, a Providence Police K-9 officer, and her canine partner, Barr. Travis gave up without a fight, although he did tell Santopadre that if there had been a struggle, he would have killed the dog.
Travis later died in prison.
While surveying the true crime cases of Bristol County and Southeastern Massachusetts, Gene Travis may not be a name that immediately comes to mind, but he certainly sounds like one of the most disturbed individuals to ever call the SouthCoast home.