Lena Bruce graduated from Tufts in 1992. The only African-American woman in her class to receive an electrical engineering degree, Bruce also was an active member on campus and in her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta. Bruce grew up in North Philadelphia, in the Francisville neighborhood; her father said that her goal in life had always been to move out of the lower-middle-class background in which she had grown up. She had promised her mother, Unavee, that she would buy her a new home, and move them out of North Philly.
Bruce was well on way to accomplishing her goal by July of 1992. Having graduated only a few months before, in a time where it was difficult for new graduates to find jobs, Bruce was “coveted” by three engineering firms, and ended up working for the prestigious Stone and Webster Engineering Corporation. She impressed her supervisors quickly, who admired Bruce’s “excellent potential” on several projects. During this time, she moved to an apartment in the South End. Though it was regarded as a dangerous area, Bruce cited proximity to her job as well as wanting to live in a majority African American community as reasons for her location.
On July 12th, Bruce was murdered in her apartment in the South End. Afterwards, both classmates and Bruce’s sorors expressed grief over the violence of her death, many feeling that they had lost a strong leader in the black community. There were mixed accounts of how Bruce’s death was handled. Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley, who was an assistant prosecutor at the time, mentioned that the department had three or four possible suspects for the case at the time, and that during the time period Boston had a surge of violent crime, with over a hundred homicides a year. However, Bruce’s sorority sisters said that they saw the Boston police acting with indifference over Bruce’s death and finding her assailant. They cited how the police had failed to secure Bruce’s apartment after the murder, allowing the crime scene to be tampered with. They also mentioned how the police failed to follow up with women living in the same area as Bruce, to make sure they felt safe.
The case remained unsolved for over twenty years, until 2014, when James Witkowski was jailed for a probation violation, following a 2013 conviction. As a convicted felon, Witkowski was required to submit a DNA sample to authorities, which was then uploaded to a federal database. The sample was found to be a match with evidence collected from Bruce’s body, which had been preserved and entered into the database 16 years prior. Bruce did not know Witkowski at the time of the murder, as far as investigators could tell.
A scholarship for Bruce was established shortly following her death, sponsored by the Delta Sigma Theta chapter. The scholarship is awarded to a female-identifying high school senior each year in the Cambridge Area. Additionally, following the indictment of Witkowski, an internship support fund was established in both Bruce’s name as well as Anita Griffey’s, a soror of Delta Sigma Theta who died two years prior to Bruce. The internship support fund was created with the intention of giving students of color a chance to pursue unpaid internships they otherwise might not have a chance to.
Biography written and researched by Peter Lam
Amladi, Divya. “A Career Launchpad.” Tufts Now. January 23, 2017. http://now.tufts.edu/articles/career-launchpad
Andersen, Travis. “Man charged in 1992 Lena Bruce murder case.” The Boston Globe. October 1, 2015.
“Lena D. Bruce/Anita Y. Griffey Scholarship.” Xi Tau Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. Accessed November 20, 2017.
Martin, Phillip. “The Short, Wonderful, But Ultimately Tragic Life of Lena Bruce (Part One).” WGBH News. June 8, 2016.
Martin, Phillip. “The Short, Wonderful, But Ultimately Tragic Life of Lena Bruce (Part Two).” WGBH News. June 17, 2016.
Martin, Phillip. “The Short, Wonderful, But Ultimately Tragic Life of Lena Bruce (Part Three).” WGBH News. December 31, 2016.
Tan, L. Kim. “Murder victim was working to find a better life.” Boston Herald. July 14, 1992.