"He existed in our community completely under the radar of all who knew him," Police Chief William J. Shea said yesterday after Mailhot, 33, was arraigned on three charges of first-degree murder in connection with the killing and dismembering of three local women in the past 16 months.
"Mr. Mailhot basically worked an ordinary job," Shea said. "He went to work all the time. No police or criminal record. Originally, he didn't appear as though he would be capable of it."
Yet police and prosecutors said yesterday that they are now convinced that it was Mailhot -- a short, quiet man who worked at a local paper plant and hung out at a local strip club -- who murdered three women whose "high-risk lifestyles" put them on a collision course with a serial murderer.
Shea said that in his 25 years on the force, "These are certainly the most horrific crimes we've ever had."
Investigators believe that all three victims -- Audrey L. Harris, 35, Christine C. Dumont, 42, and Stacie Goulet, 25 -- went willingly with Mailhot to his first-floor apartment on Cato Street, said Woonsocket police Captain Luke H. Gallant. The apartment is less than 100 feet from Arnold Street, which local residents say has long been the center of the city's flesh trade.
All three victims, police said, had been arrested on drug or prostitution charges. Once inside Mailhot's apartment, Gallant said, all three were strangled and then dismembered. Mailhot put the body parts in plastic garbage bags and threw them into "various commercial dumpsters in the Woonsocket area," Gallant said.
Police have said that human remains were discovered Tuesday at a landfill in nearby Johnston, but declined to say whether parts of all three women had been recovered.
Goulet's parents, Ray and Debbie Boerger, declined to comment yesterday, but they said previously that investigators told them that the remains found in Johnston appear to be Goulet's.
Several relatives of Goulet, the last of the three to disappear, wept and embraced each other yesterday as Gallant described the brutal crimes at a press conference outside the Woonsocket Police Department.
Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch said he hoped the charges would bring the victims' families "not closure, but hopefully some solace."
Earlier in the day, Mailhot was arraigned on three charges of first-degree murder in Providence District Court. He made no comment when he was charged, and he did not enter a plea. Mailhot's attorney, Robert Mann, left the court without commenting.
Mailhot was arrested more than a week ago on two unrelated assault charges of allegedly trying to choke two women this year, and he has been held on $200,000 cash bail in that case.
An anonymous tip led police to one of the alleged assault victims, and that victim's description of her attacker eventually led police to Mailhot, police said.
Friends and neighbors described Mailhot as a solitary, but not unfriendly person who was at times obsessively neat. His $17,000 Harley-Davidson Fat Boy motorcycle was parked behind his apartment yesterday, spotless and gleaming under a protective cover.
An employee of a local strip club, K2U, who identified himself only as Matt, said he would often talk to Mailhot, who visited the club twice a week. Mailhot liked to talk, Matt said, and would generally stay in the back of the club and rarely interacted with the dancers.
"I never had any suspicions whatsoever," he said. "In fact, when I first heard about the charges, I thought they had made a mistake."