Overview of Lyla Poitras
Lyla Jean Poitras was born on September 12, 1949. She was just 28 years old when she disappeared from her home at 70 Cynthia Avenue in Tiverton, RI on June 29, 1977. A neighbor became concerned after not seeing Lyla’s car move for several days and told her husband to go over and see if everything was okay. He peered into her windows and noticed her bedroom television on but no one was around. Feeling that something was off, the neighbors called the police.
Tiverton Police Department responded to the scene. There, they noticed Lyla’s locked car in the driveway and front porch lights on, in the middle of the day. Inside, they found her purse and identification, glasses and contact lenses she usually wore, the television on, and her two beloved cats — but no Lyla. There were no apparent signs of a struggle, but her spare house keys were missing. Lyla’s employer, Aetna Life and Casualty Co. in Fall River, Massachusetts, reported that she hadn’t been to work in several days. This wasn’t normal for the woman who never called in sick and always showed up to work on time. Something wasn’t right. The search for Lyla began.
Tiverton Police called Rhode Island State Police (RISP) for support to search the area with K-9s, but no luck — still no Lyla.
Once Lyla’s case became public, police started receiving tips from the community. Another neighbor stated she heard screams at around 3 a.m. on June 27. Lyla’s boyfriend was the last known person to see her alive and stated he left her around midnight on that same day, after watching the Red Sox game with her on TV.
Community members have noted that, in 1977, there weren’t many 24-hour TV stations and speculated that Lyla likely left the bedroom or was incapacitated before the channel “signed off” for the evening.
Police have stated that Lyla’s boyfriend is not considered a suspect. They believe she took the time to lock her doors and went outside with someone she knew, expecting to return not long after she left home.
At the time she disappeared, Lyla was excited about an upcoming two-week vacation to see her parents in her hometown of Caribou, Maine, a several-hours’ drive from where she lived. She’d moved to Rhode Island in 1972 after marrying a man named William J. Souza. The couple divorced just a few years later, in 1975, and Lyla remained at their 70 Cynthia Ave. home in Tiverton by herself.
On July 13, 1977, two weeks after she was reported missing, Lyla was found. Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) workers cutting grass along William Canning Boulevard, approximately 40 yards from the Stafford Road intersection and 3.3 miles from her home, made the startling, grisly discovery of Lyla’s body in thick underbrush. The worker who found her initially assumed the bad smell he followed would be a dog or other animal that needed to be moved. Instead, it was Lyla. She was fully clothed and badly decomposed. Detectives did not see signs that she’d been beaten or sexually assaulted, but believed she’d been dragged from some sort of vehicle into the wooded area. In Lyla’s pocket, detectives found her spare set of house keys.
Lyla’s cause of death was later determined to be a single gunshot wound to the right side of her head by a small caliber handgun, potentially a .22. Police immediately called Lyla’s death a homicide and continued to investigate. For over a year, they collaborated with RISP and the FBI to investigate Lyla’s case, but no charges were ever filed.
The community grieved the loss of a woman described as outgoing, with many friends, an animal lover who would help any stray cat, dog — or guinea pig — in need. Nearly half a century later, countless leads have been followed and over 100 people have been interviewed, but Lyla’s case remains unsolved.
Police have stated they do have a person of interest but need more information to move forward. If you have the information that can help solve Lyla’s case, please call Tiverton Police Department at 401-625-6717. You may remain anonymous.