“So, the body, the skin color, was just milky white,” said Detective Adam Kennett of the Rhode Island State Police.
Two days later, a severed pair of legs wrapped in a piece of black tarp washed up on a beach in Little Compton. A tattoo, the letter “K” in Old English script, helped police identify the victim.
It was Kerry Mello.
Mello, a Cranston father of three, had vanished 10 days earlier. His mother, Priscilla, reported him missing.
“It was highly unusual for him not to call me for something,” she said.
Rhode Island State Police soon took over the investigative lead and developed a suspect, someone Mello knew well. A friend. A drug lord wannabe named Jamie Barriera, 37, of Warwick.
“He tried to take on this persona of Tony Soprano and he had aspirations of being a marijuana kingpin in Rhode Island. He thought he was going to be a big boss someday,” said Kennett.
On July 4, Jamie Barriera was outraged and frantically texting friends. Someone had stolen 30 pounds of high-quality marijuana and cash from his state-permitted grow in Warwick on Byfield Street. Barriera suspected it was an inside job. He texted Mello that the thief is "going on ice." That suspicion quickly turned to Mello himself.
“He begins surveillance on Kerry Mello. He starts watching where he's coming and going from, watches where he lives,” Kennett said.
Barriera had help from buddies Frank Concepcion and Graig Bustillo. The NBC 10 I-Team reviewed text messages which show Barriera lured Mello back into the group with a summer cook out, while he secretly plotted his death.
Barriera texted rat emogi's and the words "hook, line, and sinker" to Concepcion. The die was cast. Mello was executed on August 10.
“We had a strong suspicion that his body was dumped out at sea somewhere in the area of Block Island,” Kennett said.
But state police needed more than a hunch. They needed evidence.
A search of Barriera's house on Louisiana Avenue in Warwick and a rented home on Stone Avenue turned up empty. So, too, did his Nissan truck, his boat, and the marijuana warehouse.
Police were looking for a crime scene, the place where Kerry Mello was so brutally murder. They finally found it on Shannon Drive, at the home of Jamie Barriera's father, Albert.
“When we executed the search warrant, we had a few surprises: the entire kitchen had been gutted,” Kennett said.
In Albert Barriera's backyard, detectives combed through four tool sheds and hundreds of potential murder weapons. Then, they discovered a familiar black tarp. When rolled out, the cut lines matched perfectly.
“The same exact material that Kerry Mello's legs were wrapped in,” Kennett said.
The state police forensic services unit also tested tiny stains found on two wooden chairs in Albert Barriera’s basement. The blood spatter matched Kerry Mello's DNA.
The case went to a grand jury.
In all, police used 73 search warrants to crack the case, utilizing cellphone and internet data to retrace the movement of suspects.
On the night of the murder, surveillance cameras from a nearby restaurant captured Jamie Barriera's truck and Concepion's car driving to Barriera's boat in Warwick, at about 9:30 p.m. Four hours later, both are seen driving away from the boat.
“Jamie Barriera was talking all summer in his text messages about not using the boat, about how he couldn’t afford to use the boat, that he had no money based upon the robbery. Yet, on the night of the homicide we see him going out to the boat, at nighttime and taking the boat out,” Kennett said.
Priscilla Mello said Jamie Barriera sent her flowers after her son’s body was identified. She returned the gesture with a thank-you card.
“It was the viciousness you put upon him. It clearly has impacted my life and I know it will for the rest of my life,” she said. “And I hope it impacts theirs for the rest of theirs.”
In 2016, five men were arrested and indicted for the murder of Kerry Mello. Frank Concepcion, 33, helped police but was sentenced to serve 20 years in prison. Graig Bustillo, 38, was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for ditching Mello's car in Boston. Bustillo has already been released for time served.
Meanwhile, 63-year-old Albert Barriera pleaded no contest to conspiracy to commit felony assault and will serve 10 years in prison for his role in mutilating Mello’s body. Family friend and Albert Barriera’s roommate, Louis Geremia, 64, was sentenced to serve four years in prison for destroying evidence. Jamie Barriera, the ring leader, was sentenced to serve 35 years behind bars.
But perhaps the cruelest twist of all, “this was done to the wrong person,” Kennett said.
Someone else entirely has since come forward to police and confessed to stealing Jamie Barriera's pot.
Kerry Mello had no involvement whatsoever, said police.