Thomas Gardner appeared in Fall River Superior Court Monday morning to be formally arraigned for a 2011 murder. Gardner, 35, of New Bedford had been indicted by a Bristol County Grand Jury on several felony charges, including the murder of 36-year-old Michael Duarte.
Duarte's girlfriend, Sarah Varley, had reported him missing the evening of November 5th. Varley told ABC 6 in an interview that Duarte had gone to look at a home for sale that Saturday morning and never returned home. Varley says she even went to the home where Duarte was and pounded on the doors, but found nothing. She also reported their car missing.
That home is owned by Thomas Gardner and his ex-wife. Varley says she'd only met Gardner once or twice.
Four days after Varley reported her boyfriend missing, investigators found his body hidden underneath the basement of the home he had gone to look at Saturday morning, 1058 Churchill Street. Prosecutors told the judge in court that Duarte's body had been wrapped in a tarp, taped, and underneath the stairs. Paint cans were put on top of the top to hide the body.
The medical examiners report states Duarte had blunt force trauma to the back of his head. The prosecutor said a bloody t-shirt and hammer were discovered in the backyard of the home. They believe the hammer was the murder weapon.
On the same day investigators found Mr. Duarte's body, they used his Lo-Jack security system for his car, and were able to locate Gardner driving Duarte's car on Route 95 South in Fairfield, Connecticut. After a high-speed chase and four hour manhunt, Gardner was taken into custody.
He was held in jail in Connecticut where he was sentenced to serve one year in a Connecticut State Prison for assault on a public safety officer and engaging police in a pursuit.
When asked by police where Duarte was, Gardner said the two had never gone inside the Churchhill Street home. He said they had left together and that Duarte had gone to the rest stop to get a burger. At that time, police had already located Duarte's body back in New Bedford. Prosecutors believe Garnder's motive was robbery. They say Gardner had texted his ex-wife the day Duarte was reported missing and said he had came upon some big money. Prosecutors say Gardner stole hundreds of dollars from Duarte.
Gardner pleaded not guilty to the three charges; murder, larceny of a motor vehicle, and violation of a restraining order.
Gardner had an outstanding warrant for violating a restraining order his ex-wife had brought against him. Prosecutors say Gardner had been continually staying at the couples home on Churchhill Street, which his ex-wife had put up for sale, and asked he stay away from.
Gardner is being held without bail. A pre-trial conference is set for September 18th.