Michelle Norris disappeared Memorial Day weekend 31 years ago while playing with her brother, cousin and other children in the playground of the Central Falls school where she was in first grade.
The day she was last seen alive, May 28, 1988, will never be forgotten by her mother, Julia Norris, whose last memory of her 7-year-old daughter was her coming to ask why she did not feel well that morning.
“She gave me a kiss. She said she loved me and I never saw her again,” Norris, 63, said.
Norris keeps her daughter’s cherished Cabbage Patch doll in a case in her Attleboro home, dressed just as Michelle left it before she was kidnapped and murdered. Michelle's nude body was found two days after she disappeared, in woods about 1,500 feet away from the playground at the Capt. Gerald Hunt School on Kendall Street.
Her murder remains unsolved, but veteran Pawtucket police Detective Susan Cormier does not want anyone to forget about Michelle.
Cormier is head of the Pawtucket police cold case unit and has started a new and innovative program using a deck of playing cards devoted to 52 unsolved homicide and missing persons cases in Rhode Island. All but one has photos of the victims and something about the crime. One card is a sketch of an unidentified murder victim.
The cards have been sold and distributed primarily to prisoners at the Adult Correctional Institution in Cranston this year in hopes that rumors and information exchanged among inmates may turn up leads in solving cold cases. The cards are also being sold to the public.
Michelle Norris, who would have turned 38 on April 28, is the Queen of Diamonds.
“Coincidentally, that’s my daughter’s birthstone,” Julia Norris said.
Last year, Cormier got approval from her superiors for the playing card program, which is based on a successful campaign that started in 2005 in Florida and spread to other states.
“They really liked the idea,” Cormier said.
Cormier, a police officer for two decades, 15 years as a detective, organized the Rhode Island campaign by soliciting fellow law enforcement officers in the other communities. There were 5,000 cards printed and most were sold by the prison’s commissary, she said.
The first edition of the cards pertains to cases supplied by 30 detectives from 19 law enforcement agencies throughout Rhode Island.
Massachusetts is considering using the technique.
A dozen of the cards are Pawtucket cold cases, including 63-year-old Carl Seebeck, the brother of retired Pawtucket Detective Capt. John Seebeck, who was Cormier’s supervisor. Carl Seebeck was shot to death about 4:15 a.m. Aug. 29, 2008 as he was walking in the area of 300 Broadway in Pawtucket, about a mile from the Attleboro border.
The project cost about $7,000 to start up with $5,000 paid for by an FBI grant and the rest coming from private donors. It also includes a website, coldcaseri.com, and Facebook and Instagram accounts, where the cards and other information can be viewed, Cormier said.
In addition, WPRI-TV in Rhode Island (Channel 12) and the Pawtucket Times highlight a case once a week.
“I think that they are a great idea, these cards,” Norris said. “I really think they should have them in every state.”
Norris said she and her daughter were very close and her daughter liked to play close to home with a few friends. She doesn’t believe her daughter would have just wandered off.
“She went with someone she absolutely trusted,” Norris said.
The project is still in its infancy, but Cormier said she hopes it will start turning up leads.
“We are working hard to solve these cases and will continue to seek justice for the victims,” she said.