November 4, 1987
Providence, Rhode Island
Frankie Lee Barnes (9) is abducted and murdered
Barnes went missing on November 4, after calling his mother at work to ask if he could play outside. She agreed under the condition he be home by dinner. He was reported missing later that evening. Another young boy, Jason Wolf (6), went missing the following month on December 14, after his mother sent him to retrieve the mail. Wolf’s mother later recounted she believed she heard him cry out, “Ma!”
Wolf’s body was found first, on December 21 near a pond in Providence. He had been bludgeoned to death with multiple blows to the head resulting in a crushed skull. Barnes’ body was found five days later on December 26 in the neighboring city of Cranston, about 6 miles (7 km) away. Similar to Wolf’s body, Barnes was found in a pond. He had been stabbed multiple times before being thrown into the water where he drowned. Because of the similarities in the victims’ ages and the locations of their bodies, the public feared a serial killer was active in the area.
A lead into the killer’s identity came in the form of a letter sent to Police Chief Anthony Mancuso, containing the location of Barnes’ body. An imprint was found on the letter which read, “Alfonzo Tobey, catch me if you can, ha ha ha.” A man named Alphonse Toby was soon arrested on an unrelated vehicle violation and was questioned about the letter. He denied writing the letter as well as involvement in the murders, but did tell police he had had confrontations with a man known to Toby only as “Billy.” According to Toby, Billy was angry at him because the men were dating the same woman. Billy was found to be 21-year-old William Sarmento, and a letter known to have been written by him was obtained. The writing samples were compared and, when Sarmento could not be ruled out as the possible author of the letter sent to the police chief, he was brought in for questioning.
Sarmento first gave “damaging statements indicating his involvement” in Barnes’ and Wolf’s killings, and soon confessed. He claimed Satan had commanded him to kill both boys, and detailed the killing of Wolf: “Satan told me to kill him. I picked up a wooden board and I hit him in the back of the head and he fell to the ground and he was crying. Then Satan told me to go ‘cause he would take it from there. I looked back when I was running and I seen Satan picking him up and he was laughing and they sunk into the ground.” Sarmento also told police he had sent the letter to Mancuso so at least one of the boys’ bodies would be found and “So someone would stop me from Satan’s hold on me. He gave me strength but I had to do things for him. I had to bring him souls.”
Satan told me to kill him. I picked up a wooden board and I hit him in the back of the head and he fell to the ground and he was crying. Then Satan told me to go ‘cause he would take it from there.William Sarmento
There was no evidence to suggest sexual assault had been a motive in the killings, and Sarmento “emphatically denied” molesting either child.
Multiple experts testified regarding Sarmento’s mental health, each stating he experienced “severe hallucinations, delusions, and mental aberrations.” Psychiatrist Larry Strasburger testified, “There is no characteristic of schizophrenia that he does not exhibit.” Sarmento was found not guilty by reason of insanity and admitted to the state Institute of Mental Health where he is to be confined indefinitely while receiving treatment for his mental health.
The ruling was not what Barnes’ and Wolf’s mothers had hoped for, but both expressed a small amount of relief that he would not be set free. Barnes’ mother told reporters, “I feel an eye for an eye, a life for a life. I know I shouldn’t be saying that, but I don’t think he should be spared. As long as they lock him up where he never, never can get out again, I guess I’ll have to be satisfied.” Wolf’s mother declined to comment to reporters. Her uncle mentioned to reporters that she had also wanted revenge for her son, but accepted the outcome of the sentencing.
“Murderer apologizes to victim’s mother.” The Burlington Free Press. June 3, 1989
Richard, Ray. “R.I. man found innocent of murders.” The Boston Globe. March 16, 1989
Fisher, Doug. “Suspect in R.I. boys’ deaths blames devil, therapist says.” The Boston Globe. March 14, 1989
“R.I. child deaths: A pattern of the young at risk.” The Boston Globe. June 19, 1988
“Reports indicate no sexual assault in boys’ murders.” The Boston Globe. January 2, 1988
“Suspect in slaying of 2 boys to undergo psychiatric testing.” The Berkshire Eagle. December 31, 1987
Levesque, William R. “A 21-year-old man charged with abducting and killing two…” UPI. December 30, 1987 (archived: https://www.upi.com/Archives/1987/12/30/A-21-year-old-man-charged-with-abducting-and-killing-two/7662567838800/)