Arrest made in 13-year-old murder of Renee Pellegrino

Waterford police Chief Murray J. Pendleton announces an arrest in the 13-year-old killing of Renee Pellegrino at the Waterford Police Department on Tuesday.
Waterford police Chief Murray J. Pendleton announces an arrest in the 13-year-old killing of Renee Pellegrino at the Waterford Police Department on Tuesday. Tim Cook/The Day Buy Photo

Waterford - On Tuesday, just like any other day, Jean Russell went to work.

Late in the afternoon, Russell came home and started rummaging around in the refrigerator to plan dinner a little after 5 p.m. when there was a knock at the door.

Three cold-case detectives stood there with news: Police had arrested Dickie E. Anderson Jr. and charged him with the 1997 strangulation death of Russell's daughter, Renee Pellegrino.

Police arrested Anderson, 40, of 26 Prospect St. in New London, on a warrant charging him with murder in the death of Pellegrino, whose naked body was discovered on June 25, 1997, in a cul-de-sac off Waterford Parkway South. She was 41.

Anderson will be arraigned today in New London Superior Court and is being held on a $2.5 million bond. The arrest warrant has been sealed by the court.

"Oh, my God," Russell, 77, said during a phone interview early Tuesday night. "It's been a long, long time and I'm so … I'm very upset and very relieved at the same time."

Russell said she had often given up hope over the past 13 years that police would find her daughter's killer. Even as detectives broke the news to her, she questioned it.

"I asked them, 'Do you really have firm evidence?' " Russell said. "And they said they did, but they couldn't tell me what it was. … I'm both gratified and upset at the same time."

Russell said she doesn't know Anderson. She said detectives had visited her at work several months ago and said then that they thought they had a suspect.

"But then I heard nothing more from them, and months and months passed, so I thought it was just a bad lead and that it was done and over, and would I ever hear anything more? I didn't think so."

Anderson's arrest was the result of an investigation by the Southeastern Connecticut Cold Case Unit.

At a press conference at the Waterford Police Department early Tuesday night, Chief Murray J. Pendleton said Anderson was arrested at about 4:30 p.m. in New London, though not at his last known address of 26 Prospect St.

Pendleton praised the cooperation among several police departments and national agencies as well as forensic scientist Dr. Henry Lee, but he declined to comment on the details of the investigation.

"They (the family) were pleased that we never gave up," Pendleton said. "And we didn't."

After her daughter's death, Russell would call Waterford Detective Lt. Donald McCarthy, who was in charge of the investigation at the time, nearly every day, then twice a week, then weekly. Russell said McCarthy has since retired, but he was one of the detectives who came to her house Tuesday.

"He always comforted me with a big hug," said Russell, "and he said he'd never forget it - and I guess he never did. … What a big hug he got (Tuesday), two or three times."

A law school graduate, Pellegrino had turned to prostitution to support an addiction to crack cocaine. She was forced to relinquish custody of her daughter, who was born in January 1995, according to comments Russell made to The Day in 1997. Pellegrino was pregnant again at the time of her death.

Russell said her daughter had lost her way after one of her sisters was killed in a car accident. Pellegrino's father had been killed in a hit-and-run accident when Pellegrino was a child, Russell said.

"Little by little, she became more and more upset and lost," said Russell, who said she had begged her daughter not to do drugs. "There was a lot of pain there - she lost her father, she lost her sister. We all had so much pain and depression.

"She turned to drugs and got lost. The poor kid, she just couldn't cope, and then this awful thing happened, which she really didn't deserve."

Anderson has a long criminal record, according to a search of public records. Most recently, in March 2008, he was convicted of first-degree unlawful restraint and interfering with a police officer stemming from an arrest in New London. For each of those, he was sentenced to a year in jail.

Anderson's other convictions include:

• Jan. 2007, third-degree assault

• November 2005, violation of a protective order

• September 2005, second-degree failure to appear in court, second-degree threatening, second-degree criminal mischief

• May 2003, violation of probation, evading responsibility, second-degree failure to appear in court, third-degree assault

• July 2002, interfering with a police officer

• March 1999, second-degree assault

Day staff writer Stephen Chupaska contributed to this report.

Dickie E. Anderson Jr. is charged with the 1997 strangulation death of Renee Pellegrino.
Dickie E. Anderson Jr. is charged with the 1997 strangulation death of Renee Pellegrino.
Renee Pellegrino, then 41, was found strangled to death in June 1997.
Renee Pellegrino, then 41, was found strangled to death in June 1997. Courtesy Waterford Police Dept.
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