Transcript of Episode 2: Known Only To God
Note: episode transcripts are radio scripts - please keep that in mind as you come across notations and errors in the text. Click here for the audio version of the episode.
[PREVIOUSLY ON BEAR BROOK]
[Jessie] I believe it was Keith said he found a barrel out in the woods. You know there was a barrel out there.
[Montplaisir] The barrel was on the ground, and there was a bag. And when I opened the bag, there was a face, a decomposed face looking right at me.
[Morgans] The next time the town is getting together to put a headstone on these bodies. Who are these people?
[John Cody] When I picked up the Allenstown case, I was trying to almost walk through their footsteps. That’s when I came across the barrel. When I looked at it, I said this does not look good.
*** Two Barrels, Fifteen Years ***
For fifteen years, the second barrel was sitting just 300 feet away from where the first barrel was found in the woods of Allenstown, New Hampshire.
It was 300 feet away when the Morgan’s son, Jesse, and his friends pushed over the first barrel in the summer of 1985. It was there later that year when a hunter saw the bodies and called the police. It was there, 100 yards away, as detectives searched in vain for clues about the first two victims.
And it was there when the detectives left. When the case went cold and people started to forget. It sat there, as Jesse Morgan grew up and left the trailer park for college. As Ron Montplaisir, the officer who first found the barrel, neared his retirement. It sat there through fifteen New Hampshire winters, the blue paint slowly turning brown with rust.
It sat there until state trooper John Cody … spotted it late one spring afternoon, as dusk was settling in.
[Cody] “One thing I remember very clearly is thinking -- the first thing going through my mind is do we have dump site here? Is somebody using this area to dump the bodies of people they’ve killed. And I was kind of like, ‘no this is New Hampshire we don’t expect this stuff.’”
For people like Anne and Kevin Morgan, who lived on the edge of the park, it was startling to think that police had missed something so important.
[A.Morgan] “I could not believe it had been there that long. I was mortified that it had been there that long. Within...you know, you could probably see it from the first barrel.”
[K.Morgan] “What does that tell you about the investigation. It says something about the investigation. There basically was none.”
[A.Morgan] “Fifteen years. Fifteen years.”
[K.Morgan] Why wasn’t that barrel found?
This is Bear Brook, I’m Jason Moon.
[mux swell and fade]
Before we talk about what happened after the 2nd set of bodies was found, we’re going to spend some time trying to answer that uncomfortable question: Why did it take so long to find?
The second barrel has always been an awkward topic for police in New Hampshire. They know the fact that it took them 15 years to find it doesn’t look good.
Here’s Ron Montplaisir, the officer who found the first barrel in 1985
[Montplaisir] “Kind of… kind of slapped myself saying, wow, why didn’t we do a bigger perimeter but we were just focused on that first barrel. You have to understand that this is a wooded area, this is a very thick forest and there was a lot of clutter and it was like looking for a needle in a haystack, you know, who would think? You know?”
In case you’re wondering, investigators today are confident both barrels were there in 1985.
But it’s not just Montplaisir who argues that finding the second barrel was easier said than done. Authorities at the state-level who are in charge of the case today will say pretty much the same thing. This came up at a press conference a few years ago, when a reporter with the state’s largest newspaper put the question to Benjamin Agati, a prosecutor with the New Hampshire attorney general’s office.
[Hayward] “It took 15 years to find the second oil drum.”
[Hayward] “Um… What happened there? It was only 300 feet away. Was it buried? Was it hidden? Or was it just overlooked? It doesn’t seem like it was that far away.”
[Agati] “Well, I think if we were talking about an area that had more of, let’s say bike trails, where it was more marked, then I could certainly see your point on that. But it was 300 feet away... We’re also talking about an area that’s just heavily wooded. So quite frankly, finding that barrel sooner would change the information that we have to present today.
So either the barrel was only 300 feet away, or it was 300 feet away. As you can hear, your opinion on this is open to interpretation.
[JM] “Ok, so you’re barrel one.
[TQ] “Ok, I’m barrel one.
[JM] “And you’re found…]
So, colleague Taylor Quimby and I went to a local high school football field to get a better idea exactly how far 300 feet really is. He stood at one goal line, while I walked across the field to the other.
[JM] “ Can you hear me!?”
[TQ] “Just barely!”
[JM] “Just barely.”
[TQ] “Well I can definitely see you.”
[JM] “On the other hand you can see me, that’s true.”
At this point, 300 feet was feeling like an absurdly short distance for someone to have missed the second barrel.
But of course, the barrels weren’t found in an open field with clear lines of sight, they were found in the woods.
[TQ] “This will be a good test because we’re both wearing brightly colored flannel.”
I paced out the same number of steps in some woods near the field, with Taylor again staying behind to mark the location of the first barrel.
[JM] “Ok. One, two, three, four... ninety-eight. Ok, turning around and I cannot see Taylor at all.”
In the woods, with trees and brush and boulders in between, 300 feet seemed to mean something different than it did on the football field.
[TQ] “Shout if you see me moving!”
Even when we tried to find our way back to each other, it took a while to figure just where that was.
[JM] “I’m at the top of the hill now, can you see me!?”
[TQ] “I’m not sure! … I can’t see you. Can you see me?
[TQ] “ Where the hell are you? I thought your shirt would -- ope, there you are.”
[JM] “In terms of like, how far would I search? -- I’m now thinking that I would never go that far. Like, if I take that distance and then imagine the radius, circling it around in every direction from the crime scene -- that’s huge.”
[TQ] “Well you can’t do it one person.”
[JM] “That’s true. There’s a lot of -- or in theory there should have been lots of people.”
[TQ] “Cause I disagree. I would like to think that if you found two bodies in a barrel, anywhere, you would do at least that much. But I’m picturing a team of people and maybe some dogs. Like I’m picturing this prison break scene where you got a whole bunch of people combing through fields and forests and what have you.”
So it’s definitely much harder to find something 300 feet away in the woods, even when that thing is shouting at you.
But clearly the barrel wasn’t impossible to find. And in the end it was a single investigator -on his first trip to the crime scene- who found it.
Which brings us back to the same question: why didn’t they find it in 1985 with the other barrel? Why weren’t there large teams of investigators walking shoulder-to-shoulder through the woods after the first barrel was found? Why wasn’t it more like that prison break scene Taylor was imagining?
One explanation - maybe you’d call it an excuse - is that the Allenstown PD was just a small town police force -- with few officers and few resources. Remember, they were deputizing local residents just to secure the area.
But then, state police didn’t find it either. And they were the ones ultimately in charge of the investigation.
In either case, there’s a big reason why investigators may have felt in over their heads: just before the first bodies were found in Bear Brook, there was another murder just a few miles away.
[JM] Where do we start?
Kevin Flynn is a true crime author and a longtime reporter in New Hampshire.
[Flynn] “Danny Paquette was a welder who lived in Hooksett, New Hampshire. He was working in his backyard welding a bulldozer and two of his friends were in his garage, repairing and restoring a car. And they heard a noise.”
[Flynn] “They came out and found Danny lying on the ground. They thought that he had electrocuted himself with the arc welder. But he was bleeding from the chest.”
Danny Paquette had been shot and killed. It wasn’t exactly clear from where or by whom, but the only explanation seemed to be that the bullet came from the woods near his house.
When state police first arrived at the scene, they wondered if Danny Paquette had died in a hunting accident. But they couldn’t be sure, so a homicide investigation was opened. That was Saturday. On Sunday, the first barrel in the Bear Brook case was discovered.
[mux swell then fade]
New Hampshire averages only about 15 murders a year, so starting two cases on the same weekend put a real strain on state police. Some of the detectives who started on the Paquette case were called off the next day to go work the Bear Brook murders.
It was the beginning of two parallel investigations. Two separate mysteries that would end up influencing each other for decades to come.
In Allenstown, officers began by interviewing people in town. But no one seemed to know anything.
In Hooksett, people seemed to know a lot. Investigators quickly realized that if Danny Paquette’s death was a homicide, there would be no shortage of plausible suspects.
[Flynn] “Danny was a really interesting character because there were a lot of folks who had reason to want to hurt him. He was a ladies man. He had a black book that will filled with the names of girlfriends and wives of people in town.”
On the Bear Brook case, detectives were going through stacks of missing persons reports, still just trying to identify the victims.
On the Paquette case, police had the victim’s ID and a half a dozen people who might have a grudge against him. They had plausible theories and potential evidence. Lots of potential evidence.
[Flynn] “One of the weirdest details in their investigation was they had found out that somebody had been in hot air balloon and was videotaping the scenery and went right over Danny’s house about the time of the shooting...I saw the videotape, there’s nothing on it, but it’s just like: could this get any weirder?”
The hot air balloon camcorder tape would turn out to be a giant waste of time. But at least in the Paquette case, there was stuff like this to sift through. It had momentum -- where the Bear Brook investigation was spinning its wheels. So maybe it makes sense then that, according to Flynn, the Paquette investigation ended up receiving more attention from state police.
[Flynn] “Probably the best detective of that era on the state police was a guy by the name of Roland Lammy and he was on this case along with John Barthelmes, who is the current commissioner of safety and a former colonel in the New Hampshire state police. Those were the two sharpest guys they had and they were over in Hooksett, they weren’t over in Allenstown.”
Meanwhile the two cases weren’t just dividing the attention of state police, they were also creating false leads for each other.
[Flynn] “There aren’t so many homicides in New Hampshire. And when you have two on the same weekend, a relatively short distance apart, you gotta at least think, could this somehow have one thing to do with the other?”
It wasn’t a totally crazy idea. A mysterious shooting and discovering two bodies in a blue barrel on the same weekend only a few miles apart -- it was a coincidence that couldn't be ignored.
But in the end it was just a coincidence -- and another dead end that detectives found themselves in.
Eventually, after enough of these dead ends, both cases ground to a halt. In the Bear Brook investigation, detectives felt there was nothing else they could try. In the Paquette case, investigators just decided their initial hunch was right: it was a hunting accident. No arrests. Just a stray bullet. Case closed.
For months, the Bear Brook and Paquette investigations had fought over resources. And who knows how things might have gone differently if that hadn’t been the case. But ironically, the same case that distracted investigators from Bear Brook, would later give them hope that it could be solved. That’s because in 1999, 14 years later, the Paquette investigation was reopened. It wasn’t a hunting accident, after all. Danny Paquette was murdered.
The case was solved by a private investigator. He had been hired by the Hooksett police chief, who didn’t have the manpower to assign one of his own detectives to work a cold case full time.
That private investigator found a hole in the alibi of Danny Paquette’s teenage step-daughter and a friend of hers from school. That revelation ultimately led to a confession - and a conviction.
[Flynn] “The Paquette case was sort of a proof of concept that if you took any personnel and just put them on these kinds of cases, kept them away from the urgent, breaking, rush-to-the-scene-with-the-sirens-blazing kind of stuff, that they can go back and look at inconsistencies or find parallels -- that they could do that. There was always sort of the will to do it, and I think that after the Paquette case, there was really a feeling that, you know this could be done -- if the resources were set aside.”
[JM] “Is this the biggest, most famous cold case in New Hampshire, the Paquette case?”
[Flynn] “I think up until yours.”
---- [BREAK] ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Before I started reporting this story, it had never occured to me just how hard it is to solve a murder when you don’t know who the victim is.
That might sound obvious. But I think it’s easy to underestimate just how much of a hurdle it is to finding a suspect. When you don’t know the victim, there’s no motive. There are no neighbors to talk to. No friends or enemies, no disgruntled exes.
There’s a line from a local news article written about the Bear Brook case that reads: ‘police hope to solve the mystery in three steps: learn where they’re from, discover who they are, then find the killer.’
When state trooper John Cody found the second barrel in 2000, police were 15 years into the case, and still very much at step one.
[Cody] I ended up seeing this plastic, and I peeled it back, and I saw what appeared to me to be a bone, and of course you’re trying to talk yourself out of it, saying there’s no way this is happening.
On that day, after he peered into the second barrel with his flashlight, Cody immediately called his superiors. At first, they didn’t really believe him.
[Cody] “You know I think it was one of those things where they figured they’ll come out, they’ll take a look, they know it’s not what I thought it was and they’ll be on their way home. But it just didn’t turn out like that.”
Instead, officers found the remains of two young girls in the second barrel. One was about three years old, the other only about two. The remains were skeletal and wrapped in some sort of plastic. Like the other victims they were killed by blunt force trauma to the head.
This put the total number of victims in the Bear Brook case to four: a woman and three kids. Their estimated ages: late 20’s for the adult, nine for the oldest child, three for the middle child, and two for the youngest child. The adult and the oldest child were found in the first barrel. The two youngest in the second barrel.
[Cody] We’re talking about, how does… an entire family… go missing?
Several years later, DNA testing of the remains would sketch the rough outline of a family. The results showed the adult female is maternally related to the oldest and youngest children. Most likely their mother, though it’s possible she is a cousin or a sister.
But interestingly, those DNA tests showed no relationship between the middle child and any of the other victims. Investigators have speculated that she might have been a step-child or an adoption.
Back in 2000, after state trooper John Cody discovered the second barrel, he and other investigators went back over everything they knew about the case.
They re-interviewed people in town, entertained new theories, and searched again through national databases of missing persons.
Investigators hoped the second barrel would be the key. That one of the new victims would be matched to a missing persons report -- an identity, then a timeline, a list of possible suspects, finally a motive. They hoped it would become like a normal homicide investigation.
Instead it was a tedious case of deja-vu. Investigators in 2000 combed through the same information as detectives in 1985 had, with the same disappointing results.
[Cody] “Couple little specks here and there, which would lead to a couple of other things but it was sorta like getting lost in the city and you take a right, you take a left and you end up on dead end streets or alleyways at every turn and that’s pretty much where this case goes.”
[JM] “Did you guys ever get as far as to have any suspects?”
“No. Not even close.”
As important as Cody’s discovery of the second barrel was, in the end it did little to move the case forward. If anything, it was like the case was moving backwards -- getting worse as time went on. In 1985 there were two bodies in a barrel and no leads. Fifteen years later, all investigators had to show for their efforts were four bodies in two barrels with no leads.
But that didn’t mean that people gave up on the case. In fact the daunting nature of the challenge even attracted new people. While the official investigation into the Bear Brook murders remained pretty much static, an amateur investigator named Ronda Randall picked up the case.
[RR] “Certainly there’s a lot of people looking for people in this country, for some reason or another.
Ronda is someone who knows how to find someone. By day, she’s a social worker. In the rest of her time she’s a genealogist, who specializes in adoption searches -- reuniting adopted people with their biological parents.
[Randall] “In the 80’s when I first started doing it, I didn’t have a personal computer at home. It was a lot of phone calls. I mean there was a time when my phone bill for a month ran at about $1,100 and my husband was like, ‘I don’t know about this hobby.’”
I first met Ronda through her blog, Oakhill Research. It chronicles the history of the Bear Book murders and her own efforts, since 2011, to identify the victims.
I should mention two things here...First, Ronda isn’t really the true-crime type. She wasn’t interested in criminology before this case. She wasn’t binge watching episodes of Forensic Files. In fact, she doesn’t really watch TV. Second, she grew up in New Hampshire but didn’t hear about the murders until later in life -- after she had moved to a town in Maine, about 2 hours from Allenstown. She says she really only became interested in the Bear Brook case after the internet came around and online messaging boards starting making adoption searches too easy.
[Randall] “I think right around the time my kids left home I was looking for something a little different but still in a genealogy and research world and had come across the story of the Allenstown victims and being unfamiliar with it and a genealogist I thought, ‘surely we can turn up some identities for these folks,’ and that’s really where it began.”
Later, Ronda would tell me she had a two-year-old niece who died of leukemia not long before she started on the Bear Brook case. Now she wonders if that may have had something to do with how she felt on that first visit to Bear Brook.
[Randall] “I just thought of the process that our family went through in fighting to keep her alive and then grieving her death and then to think of a little child about her age who nobody seems to be coming forward for. And you know, I’ve looked back sometimes and wondered if the case struck me so hard because I saw those little unidentified children and felt like, ‘who is mourning for them?’”
The way Ronda looked at it, this wouldn’t be all that different from an adoption search. Over the years Ronda says she has identified upwards of 150 people using public records, a phone, and a lot of hard work. In this case, the only difference was that the people she wanted to identity were murder victims.
So, Ronda got to work. I don’t think Ronda would disagree if I said she can get a little obsessive about her research projects. The first time we spoke on the phone she told me she’s just well suited for it. She doesn’t mind doing the kind of grinding, monotonous research that most people hate.
[Randall_sync] “One time I went to the New Hampshire state library and I read the Concord 1984 phonebook. Every name, every page. It took me 14 hours. It took 2 days. And I was motion sick by the end of every day. Like, severely motion sick.”
[Randall_sync] “I’ve been called, whether it’s a compliment or not, a pitbull. [laughs]. I tend to be tenacious. I sink my teeth in something and I don’t let go.”
Ronda began her research on the Bear Brook case with her usual level of dogged interest. But it became something more than just a research project in the summer of 2011. That’s when she decided that she needed to see the area where the barrels were found in person.
[Randall_sync] “I enlisted one of my brothers, Scott Maxwell to accompany me. And we kind of just figured we’d go out to the area and talk to some neighbors and just learn a little bit more about it. But it was that trip that day out there that kind of sparked an obsessive interest in the research on this case.”
[walking in woods]
I wanted to see what Ronda and her brother Scott saw that day went they first visited the crime scene. So one day, we parked on the shoulder of a winding road in Allenstown and then set off into the woods.
[JM] “It’s beautiful out here.”
[Ronda] “It really is. It’s kind of an interesting juxtaposition of a terribly morbid event in a beautiful setting.”
It was December 2015 and I can remember my hand was freezing from holding the mic. But I was also riveted. It was my first trip out here, just a few weeks after I first learned about the case.
[Randall] “The first time I came I think it just had a really profound impact on me. There was kind of a hush out here and I felt...like there was a spirit, kind of a sacred feel to where they were found.”
[walking ambi underneath]
Ronda and Scott led me down a snowmobile trail toward the site of the first barrel. They had pieced together the approximate location based on interviews with retired Allenstown cops like Ron Montplaisir and his former chief, as well as residents of the trailer park like Kevin Morgan who was deputized to keep the press away from the site.
The snowmobile trail led down a slight incline. All around us the forest floor was covered in thick a blanket of leaves. Only a few boulders peaked through here and there.
Then, suddenly, we had arrived.
[Randall] “And by all accounts it was about 20 feet off to the left from this area.”
I was struck by just how quickly we reached the spot. We had set out from the side of a road along the northern edge of the state park. From there it had taken us less than five minutes to reach the site of the first barrel. Bear Brook State Park may be vast and unknowable, but from where the first barrel was found, you can look back toward the road, and catch glimpses of passing cars.
On top of that, I learn, we’re not even technically in Bear Brook State Park. The victims in the case commonly known as the Bear Brook murders weren’t actually found in Bear Brook State Park. They were found on a narrow lot of private property that sits in between the trailer park and the state park.
The lot is small -- not even a tenth of a square mile. On a map, it looks like a little rectangular bite taken out of the top of Bear Brook State Park.
The private lot is owned by a guy named Ed Gallagher. In the early 1980s, he also owned and ran a small camp store on the property. It was called the Bear Brook Store. People camping in Bear Brook State Park could stop in for a couple bags of ice or a case of beer. And people who lived in the nearby trailer park could walk here for a gallon of milk.
[Randall] “So right over there, this dip is where the foundation of the store was…”
The Bear Brook store burned down in 1983, just two years before the first barrel was found. Today, there’s almost no sign of the old store unless you know what to look for. A foundation that’s mostly overgrown. An old disconnected power pole standing in the woods.
Ronda’s brother Scott says the fact that the barrels were found so near the site of the former store, on private property, was one of the things that caught his interest on that first trip out here.
[Scott] “You’ve got hundreds of acres of state park and old logging roads that go in, and why you would choose to come in past a burned out building, so close to a trailer park when you had all that area where -- no fear of anybody seeing you.”
It changed how I thought about the case, too. Before, in the version of the story where the barrels were found deep in the forest, the mystery of the Bear Brook murders seemed impenetrable… like a maze. Standing in the spot where the bodies were actually found, in this place where people used to come and go, I found myself thinking… there must be something that someone remembers, even if they don’t realize it. A name, or a face, or a family that came through the park years ago - some clue that could begin to unravel the case after all these years.
On their first trip here in 2011, Scott and Ronda also knocked on a few doors in the Bear Brook Gardens trailer park and found another surprising detail. Many people who had vivid memories of when the first barrel was found told them they had never even heard about the second barrel.
[Randall] “There were times when I almost felt like we were arguing with people, ‘no really, there were a second set of bodies found.’ And they’d be like, ‘well I’ve lived here 32 years, I think I’d know.’”
They figured that if there were longtime residents of the trailer park who had never even been told about the second barrel, maybe someone who used to live there knew something and just hadn’t been asked the right question.
So Ronda and Scott decided to embark on a massive project: to track down every single person who lived in the Bear Brook Gardens trailer park from 1977 to 1985.
A few weeks after we visited the area where the barrels were found, I took a trip up to Ronda’s home in Maine, about 2 hours northeast of Bear Brook. I wanted to get a better sense of the scale of their project and what they’d been able to find. It didn’t take long to see they had collected an overwhelming amount of information about the case.
[Randall_home] “Because we never knew where it would go, we were never prepared for what happens when you have 5,000 pages of interviews and information and how best to organize it. That’s still a work in progress.”
Hanging on the wall in the dining room of Ronda’s home, is a huge aerial photo of the Bear Brook Gardens trailer park. It’s the sort of thing you’d expect to see in an episode of a police procedural…like those cork boards with strands of yarn connecting all the evidence. The photo is maybe 6 feet across and 4 feet high. It’s black and white, taken sometime in the late 80s. In the photo you can make out each lot in the trailer park -- Ronda and Scott have them labeled with the names of the families and the years that they lived there.
[Randall_home] “You know, lot 27, which became lot 27 Edgewood, we found that in 1979 a George Moore lived there, 1980 Patrick and Alice Moore, and so forth and so we would plug them in for the years we knew they lived there.”
I like to imagine Ronda staring at the map over her breakfast, or maybe pacing in front of it after dark. The excitement of discovering another name, of coming that much closer to tracking them all down.
But Ronda and Scott have been more than armchair investigators on this case. They’ve done a lot of hands on detective work, too -- something police generally discourage.
When it comes to Ronda and Scott and the New Hampshire state police, they actually enjoy a pretty good relationship. I think detectives figured out early on they wouldn’t be able to talk Ronda out of researching the case. And for their part, Ronda and Scott, generally share whatever they find with state police: transcripts of phone calls, photos from the area where the bodies were found. More than a few times, state police have followed up on information they provided.
Over the past 7 years since their first trip to Allenstown, Scott and Ronda’s work on the case has taken many shapes.
When they learned motorcycle gangs were active in the trailer park during the 80s Ronda and Scott passed out flyers with info on the victims at the Laconia Bike Week, an annual event where hundreds of thousands bikers from around the country meet in New Hampshire.
There was the time they flew down to Florida to interview the retired Allenstown Police Chief who told them he never stopped thinking about the case.
They’ve made a number of trips back out to Allenstown, following up on things they’d heard from the former trailer park residents they were tracking down. Ronda shows me a plastic ziplock bag with something she found on one of those trips: a child’s white shoe.
[Randall_home] “You know, just in the leaves and dirt under a tree we see this shoe, an old school little child’s shoe. And I’m sure it couldn’t have lasted for 30 years out there probably, even though it is quite worn. But it still just, it was really ominous to see it. I picked it up and put it in a bag and brought it home and you know I sometimes wonder what it’s story is.”
I’d like to tell you that one of these trips led somewhere. I’d like to tell you that this shoe was the missing key that investigators needed. That it had a worn initial on the inside of the tongue, some small detail that would lead them to ID the Bear Brook victims. Of course that wasn’t the case. Ronda and Scott gathered more information, but it was never the information they needed. The shoe wasn’t even found near where the barrels were. More than anything, it was a symbol of what drove Ronda. Still, she sent photos of the shoe to state police. It’s just the sort of thing she would do. Just in case.
All their time spent working on this has changed both Ronda and Scott’s lives.
[Randall_home] “This is my brother, who I probably spoke to once a year on the phone, prior to this, and now sometimes I speak to him like seven times a day.”
If you haven’t noticed, Scott doesn’t talk as much as Ronda. It’s just one of the ways they seem to balance each other out -- Ronda is always ready to dive in, while Scott is more measured. And somehow those contrasts seem to add to the bond they’ve formed over the case. A bond that can be hard for others to understand.
[Randall_home] “I think for a year or two at family get-togethers, no one wanted to sit near us [laughs], cause that’s all we’d talk about.”
[Scott_home] “Those that know us well know that we have OCD.”
[Randall_home] “Well here’s a picture that might illustrate this a little bit.”
Ronda reaches for a photo and hands it to me. It shows two people standing next to two different size barrels. They were using them as stand ins - in place of the corpses of the victims, so they could get a sense of how you might dismember them to fit inside.
[Randall_home] “So this is Scott’s wife and a friend of the family. And we were trying to figure out what height women, where would you cut to fit in barrels, and you can tell by their face -- they’re standing in this picture next to a 55 gallon drum and 35 gallon drum -- and you can tell they’re just like ‘oh brother, here they go again!’”
When I first spoke with Ronda, to be honest, I wasn’t sure what to make of her or this project. I mean, who reads the phone book for 14 hours? And could her research really be helpful or was it just getting in the way of the real investigation?
But the more I spent time with Ronda and Scott, the more I felt like they were playing an important role. They hadn’t solved the case, but they had done a lot.
They reunited a whole community of neighbors from Allenstown, some of whom didn’t even know about the second barrel, who are now all invested in solving the case.
They’ve collected a huge repository of information about the case on their blog-- all the media coverage, all the theories that have been floated, the fruits of their own research. A lot of my own reporting for this series was built on the work that Ronda and Scott had already done.
Perhaps most importantly, they stepped into the role of victims’ advocate -- something that would usually come from the victim’s family. Today, Ronda and Scott are as close to being the victim’s family as it gets in this case -- pestering police to look into things, handing out flyers about the victims.
Since 2011, they have refused to let anyone forget about this case. Ronda and Scott kept the torch lit.
[Randall_home] “Some days I find myself a little… maybe even angry, thinking what grandmother let this happen, or what neighbor, or what bus driver -- I mean, where were all of you?... You know, where were you?”
I understood Ronda and Scott a little better after I did something that they and others I’ve talked to also felt compelled to do at some point.
[ambi car door / walking]
I paid a visit to where the first two victims were buried back in 1987.
[JM] “Ok well I’m in the cemetery, there’s probably 1,000 gravestones here and…now I just have to find it.”
The Saint Jean the Baptiste cemetery in Allenstown is on a quiet road, lined with tall cypress trees. The headstones are neatly arranged into a grid. I started at one corner and begin making my up and down the rows -- until finally.
[JM] “Oh my god, here it is. Wow… So this is tucked in almost the very back row of this cemetery. It’s a got a rose on top of the headstone. And it reads, ‘Here lies the mortal remains known only to god of a woman age 23 – 33 and a girl child age 8 – 10. Their slain bodies were found on November 10, 1985 in Bear Brook State Park. May their souls find peace in God’s loving care.’”
[JM] “Wow. It’s one thing to know it; it’s another to see this in person.
Standing there by the grave, I tried to imagine what that day was like in 1987 when the woman and the oldest child were buried here.
And then I tried to imagine the day their bodies were exhumed.
In the fifteen years after the second barrel was found, investigators had failed to find a single solid lede in the Bear Brook murders. But while they were checking databases, and wearing out shoe leather - a parallel investigation was taking place. One that required all four bodies to be held by the state medical examiner. This investigation is more like the high-tech ones you might see on TV crime shows… employing scientific techniques rarely used in criminal cases. And it was this investigation that led to the first break in the Bear Brook murders… 30 years after the first bodies were found.
[Agati] “I want to thank everybody for coming today. We have some new testing results that we want to share with basically the world.”
That’s next time on Bear Brook.
END OF EPISODE
Bear Brook is reported and produced by me, Jason Moon.
Taylor Quimby is Senior Producer.
Editing help from Cori Princell, Todd Bookman, Lauren Chooljian, Sam Evans-Brown, Britta Green & Annie Ropeik.
The Executive Producer is Erika Janik.
Dan Barrick is NHPR’s News Director.
Director of Content is Maureen McMurray.
NHPR’s Digital Director is Rebecca Lavoie.
Photography and Video by Allie Gutierrez.
Graphics and interactives by Sara Plourde.
Original music for this show was composed by me, Jason Moon, and Taylor Quimby.
Additional music in this episode from Blue Dot Sessions, and Lee ROSE-veer.
To see a video of some of the locations from the first two episodes, like Bear Brook State Park and the cemetery where the first two victims were buried … go to our website: bear brook podcast dot org.
To learn more about the fascinating and complicated story behind the Danny Paquette murder, check out the book Our Little Secret by Kevin Flynn and Rebecca Lavoie.
Bear Brook is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio.