Transcript of Episode 1: Hide and Seek

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.

You know those 80’s movies where a bunch of kids wander the neighborhood on bicycles and stumble into a mystery? This story starts kinda like that.

[J.Morgan] “Growing up, there was probably a good two-or-three-dozen kids that lived in the park and we just roamed the place like we owned the place.

That’s Jesse Morgan. In the movie version of this story, he’d probably be the leader of the group. The scrappy one. The Corey Feldman.

[J.Morgan] “The way that trailer parks work, I mean there’s a lot of people that come in and go out. I mean, I was one of the few kids that moved in when I was 2 and moved out when I was 18.”

In the summer of 1985 Jesse was 11 years old. It was the year the Nintendo came to North America. New Coke hit the shelves and Calvin & Hobbes started running in newspapers. That year Jesse and his friends came up with a game -- MUSIC OUT It was basically hide-and-seek, except the seeker rode around on a four-wheeler.

[J.Morgan] “All the kids would hide, and the last one that got found would be able to ride the four-wheeler. We played all summer long.”

The trailer park where Jesse grew up - it’s in a town so small that half of it’s Main St. is technically in another village. And right next to the trailer park - covering more than half the entire town - is fifteen square miles of tall red pines and swampy, tangled forest. Bear Brook State Park.

[J.Morgan] “We were able to roam because we weren’t in a city. My parents weren’t worried so much about me because they just figured I was over there or over there. You know, there was only many places to go when we were kids.”

One day, in the middle of this game, something strange happened.

Jesse was riding the four-wheeler. His friends, Scott and Keith, were supposed to be hiding. And then one of them gave himself away by yelling out.

[J.Morgan] “I believe it was Keith had said that he found  a barrel [mux start] that was just out in the woods, you know, there was a barrel out there. [mux start] And so the three of us got on the four-wheeler and I drove out to where the  barrel was.”

The barrel was a blue 55-gallon steel drum. It was covered up with a lid… but whoever closed it hadn’t gotten a tight seal. Something was squeezing through, underneath the top. It was a plastic bag.

[J.Morgan] “Scott and Keith both got off the four-wheeler. And Keith was like trying to pull the top of the barrel off. And when he got the edge of the tarp off, we got hit with, like, this smell of rotten milk.”

The kids weren’t really sure what to make of this. So, they did the only thing a group of 11 year old boys could think to do -- they kicked the barrel over.

[J.Morgan] “When we knocked the barrel over the top came open a little more. We didn’t see into it or anything, but we saw, like, something white was starting to drizzle out of the top of the barrel. And again, I’m thinking it is rotten milk.”

And then...they left. They rode away on the four-wheeler without ever looking inside the barrel.

[J.Morgan] “That was it. That was...we left.”

This…  is the moment where the story stops being like an 80s movie. Jesse and his friends walked away from the mystery.  Had they looked inside the barrel, what they would have found… were two bodies. Heavily decomposed, partially dismembered.

...

This moment in the woods is the first in a case where every convention about how true crime stories usually unfold is upended. Where everything about how a murder investigation is supposed to work, happens in reverse. Where each break in the case seems to raise more questions than it answers. It’s the first clue that this story is not going to go the way you think it is.


[Strelzin] “This is a guy who was able to pick his targets and get what he wanted. And that says that is someone of terrifying intelligence.”

This is the story of a serial killer police would come to know as the Chameleon.

[Elaine] “ I’m sure she fought... I have to believe that she fought.”

The story of victims. Some of them well-remembered, some of them nameless.

[Ronda] “What grandmother let this happen, or what neighbor, or what bus driver -- I mean, where were all of you?”

And it’s the story of a frustrating investigation that after decades of failure led to a forensic breakthrough that has forever changed the science of solving murders.

[Jensen] “I mean this is the biggest step forward for solving crimes since the discovery of DNA itself.”

This is Bear Brook. I’m Jason Moon.

*** Allenstown ***

I am not a crime reporter. Or I wasn’t, until I discovered this story.

I first learned about the Bear Brook murders in late 2015 when I was assigned to cover a press conference about the case. I had only been living in New Hampshire for about 6 months. I didn’t know anything about the case.

At the time I was more concerned with covering the New Hampshire presidential primary. The week before, I was being crushed by a throng of other reporters while trying to follow Hillary Clinton down a hallway.

Aside from the primary, New Hampshire is pretty quiet. There isn’t the same urgency to news that there is in other places. It’s the sort of state where a rogue bear can, and has, dominated a news cycle.

So when I learned that in 1985,  bodies were discovered only 20 minutes or so from the NHPR newsroom -- and that police still hadn’t identified them -- thirty years later-- it stuck with me. How is that possible? With all the DNA testing, and modern forensic techniques - how could they not even know who the victims are?

After the news conference, I filed a short story for the newsroom and went back to my usual beat. But I never forgot about the Bear Brook case… It became a kind of side project - something to look into when I wasn’t sitting at a town hall meeting, or covering the state legislature. And one of the first things I wanted to learn more about was the town where the bodies were found. The town where Jesse Morgan, who found the barrel as kid, grew up. A town with a population just shy of 4300. Allenstown, New Hampshire.

[A.Morgan] “We were only going to be there a few years, and then he started the business and then life went on and before you know it…”

That’s Jesse’s parents, Ann and Kevin Morgan. They moved to Allenstown in the 1970’s. Into a trailer park there called Bear Brook Gardens.

The Morgans have been married a long time. They’re not quite finishing each other’s sentences, but they do have a way of saying their own sentences at the same time.

[K.Morgan] “I mean the only secrets would be behind the walls of - in the homes. But you know, to socialize…”

[A.Morgan] “And you heard things...”

[K.Morgan] “...and we used to have neighborhood parties…”

[A.Morgan] “...you heard things...”

[K.Morgan] “...the neighborhood was always invited, and I would say we partied a little more than I would like my kids to.”

[A.Morgan] “...we um, we heard things that would go around the park.”

In Bear Brook Gardens, the Morgans were the center of gravity for the community. They threw the big barbecues, had all the neighborhood kids over for sleepovers.

[K.Morgan] “We were all just friends. And we helped each other. I can remember helping people cut wood. On a hard winter -- there were winters ten below up there, it was nothing in the winter. And none of the cars in the neighborhood would start. Except maybe one car and that one car would go around and start all our cars so we could get up and go to work. You know, we were all just young families, we didn’t have money [laughs].”

The Morgans don’t live in Allenstown anymore, but they remember it fondly. I think in their minds they picture it like a postcard of country living.

But that’s not exactly how everyone remembers it. Ron Montplaisir was a police officer in Allenstown for 23 years.

[Montplaisir] “It was [laughs] to describe it…on a warm Saturday afternoon, people would start drinking about ten o’clock in the morning.”

Ron wears a beanie. He’s got a big laugh that he covers with one hand.

After retiring in 2002 he opened a cleaning supply shop about 20 minutes from Allenstown. We spoke standing behind the counter of that shop, surrounded by vacuum cleaner parts and bottles of cleaning spray.

Montplaisir enjoys talking about his days on the force. He liked being a cop.

[Montplaisir] “I think every kid in the neighborhood either wanted to be a police officer or a firefighter.”

And he liked Allenstown -- even if wasn’t a model community.

[Montplaisir] “You talk about noise complaints, the country music was blaring [laughs]. Not that I don’t like country music. I do like country music. But as the alcohol flew, the music got louder and louder and the calls started to come in.”

When the calls did come in, Montplaisir answered many of them on his own. Back then, there was usually only one officer on patrol in Allenstown at any given time. One cop for 20 square miles.

[Montplaisir] “That’s a lot of area of patrolling and there’s only one patrolman on and it’s real, real hard to cover everything.”

That was particularly true when it came to the state park.

[MUX]

Bear Brook State Park. It covers more than half of Allenstown. The trailer park where Ann, Kevin, and Jesse Morgan lived hugs the Northern edge of the state park - If you walked out the Morgan’s back door in a straight line, it would be more than five miles before you saw another house.

It’s hard to capture just how dense and tangled the park is. There are some areas of Bear Brook that are easy to get to: a fly-fishing pond, an archery station, a spiderweb of mountain-biking trails. But most of the 15 square miles is thick and marshy. Aside from a couple of viewless hills, much of the park is flat -- so you never have a good idea where you are or where you’ve been. And it’s wild, even for New Hampshire. Officer Montplaisir says his old police chief used to take him out into the park, just for the fun of it.

[Montplaisir] “He used to take me to catch rattlesnakes, timber rattlesnakes. And I never believed that there were rattlesnakes in New Hampshire and sure enough he goes ‘come on we’re going to go catch some rattlesnakes’ and I’m like ‘we are?’ and sure as heck we come back with a couple of timber rattlers.” [fade under]

What he’s trying to say… is this place is big.

*** The Discovery ***

Officer Ron Montplaisir had been on the force in Allenstown for about 5 years, dealing mostly with drunk drivers, domestic disputes and noise complaints. Small town cop stuff. Until 1985.

[Montplaisir] “I was on duty. I was the officer that received the call.”

[JM] “Oh, so you were the first one –”

[Montplaisir] “I was the first one on the scene.”

The call was from a hunter. Montplaisir drove out to meet him at the edge of the woods.

[Montplaisir] “And I met him and he said ‘I think you need to go up on the hill and take a look in the barrel. I think there’s a body up there.’”

Montplaisir remembers that the hunter looked pale. He told him to stay behind with the squad car while he headed out into the woods alone.

[Montplaisir] “I...knowing the area, I knew that a lot of people disposed of their pets back there. Thinking nothing of it, eh it’s probably an animal. It was hunting season, somebody maybe had gotten a deer and brought the carcass out there…”

He struck out through the woods - first along a path, and then eventually bushwhacking a bit through the scrub.

[Montplaisir] “The barrel was on the ground. And there was a bag and when I opened the bag, the decomposed face was looking right at me…. I couldn’t believe that there was a decomposed body looking me right in the face. I can picture it right now. I can picture exactly what that face – how it looked…”

[silence in woods]

It was November, 1985. A few months after Jesse Morgan and his friends had kicked over the barrel. Now Officer Montplaisir was looking at that same barrel. But unlike the kids, he knew what was really inside.

[mux swell]

----[BREAK]-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Allenstown police officer Ron Montplaisir found himself alone in the woods, confronted by the face of the human remains he had just discovered. The weight of the situation started pressing down on him.

[Montplaisir] “You know this is major; this isn’t somebody parking in the fire lane. You got bodies, you got people.”

Ron says his training from the police academy suddenly kicked in. He knew what to do.

[Montplaisir] “I’m like secure the area.”

He began staking out the perimeter of a crime scene. But aside from the barrell, there wasn’t much else to see. Trees. And how exactly do you stake out a perimeter in a forest this big? How far do you stretch the police tape?  Montplaisir radioed for backup. He was the only patrolman on duty, so Allenstown officers must’ve been called in from their homes… And even then the cops turned to local residents for help.

[K.Morgan] “I think I was still in bed. And I heard a knock on the door and it was the police, and he said: Kevin ‘we need to deputize you to keep the press out. And he told me that they found bodies up at the pit.”

As Kevin Morgan put on his boots to go help the police, his wife Ann was suddenly reminded of something their son Jesse had told her a few months earlier -- about a game of hide-and-seek and a barrel they had found in the woods.

[A.Morgan] “It just came to me, you know: ‘the smell,’ ‘it came out like milk,’ he said.

How long was the barrel lying there? How many times had people walked right by… never realizing what was out there?

[A.Morgan] “And I just knew that, that was the one.”

*** The Early Investigation ***

The barrel contained two bodies. One was a woman, the other a young girl. Investigators haven’t released photos of the remains, so I haven’t seen them. The details they have released, though, are grim. The remains were almost entirely skeletal, they were nude, they were dismembered - apparently to fit inside the barrel, and they were wrapped in plastic tied together with electrical wire.

Their skulls revealed that they were both killed by blows to the head with a blunt instrument.

Based on the level of decomposition, investigators guessed the bodies had been in the barrel for anywhere from several months to a few years.

...

Investigators often say that in a missing persons case, the first 48 hours are the most important. That’s because if you don’t find the person by then, your odds of ever finding them are really small.

In a murder case, the first priority is to identify the victims. Most victims know their killers. But to know who the victim knew, you have to know who the victim is. And just like in a missing persons case, if investigators don’t get this part figured out, their odds of success are really small.

New Hampshire state police took the lead in the Bear Brook investigation. And they immediately began by trying to ID the victims. Their working theory was that, given their ages, the victims were likely a mother and daughter. So they start searching for missing persons report that matched.

Meanwhile, the Allenstown PD started canvassing the town. Montplaisir says that’s usually how crimes in Allenstown were solved. With all those neighborhood barbeques, not to mention all the drinking, gossip had a way of getting around. And he had his ways of getting it out of people.

[Montplaisir] “We used to call it ‘let’s go fishing’. You know, you make a motor vehicle stop and you knew somebody that may know some information about a crime. And my line was ‘you know any good fishing spots?’ And they knew what I was talking about – we weren’t actually going fishing. But that meant the difference between, back in those days, between receiving a warning and receiving a summons, or just helping me out. And there was always somebody who knew a good fishing spot -- always.”

Whether it was a murder or a petty theft, this is how policework went in Allenstown in 1985. No high-tech forensics team. No criminal psychologists coming up with a suspect profile. Just a few patrol officers like Montplaisir rattling the bushes, hoping something would fall out. Only, nothing did.

[Montplaisir] “And that was the first thing that threw me off. It was strange, because everybody knew everything over there.”

Meanwhile, state police were having their own issues. They couldn’t find any reports of a missing mother and daughter. Not in New Hampshire, not in neighboring states, not anywhere. Whoever these people were, it seemed no one was looking for them.

As the months started to roll by, police tried lots of ways to get any sort of a foothold in the case. They checked the records of every elementary school in the state for some trace of the child victim. They examined five years of campground records at Bear Brook State Park. They sent out nationwide bulletins to law enforcement agencies with descriptions of the victims. They looked for matches to the adult victim in FBI databases of dental records. None of it worked.

One corporal in the New Hampshire state police called it the most frustrating case of his life.

In 1986, several months after the barrel was discovered, composite sketches of the victims were made. The artist didn’t have a lot to go on -- just their hair and bone structure, so there was a lot of room for interpretation.

However inaccurate they may be, the sketches do manage to give the victims some measure of identity. Since no one knew what they looked like in life, seeing the drawings was kind of like seeing them for the first time.

The adult victim looks tired. Her face is long, her cheeks a little gaunt. A shadow falls across her face. Detectives estimated she was in her mid-to-late twenties when she died. She was between 5-foot-2 and 5-foot-8. She had wavy light brown hair.

The girl is drawn in profile. She has a small upturned nose. She wears a ponytail of dirty blond hair with bangs swept across her forehead. Detectives think she was somewhere around 9 or 10 years old when she was murdered.

When these sketches were released, calls started coming in. Investigators thought they might have something. But none of the tips panned out.

Back in Allenstown, all anybody could do was speculate. Theories about the victims and who killed them were all over the place, ranging from organized crime to runaways and  carnival workers. Everyone had a guess.

[J.Morgan] “I can’t see them not being local. It could’ve been someone that lived up the street from me.”

[K.Morgan] “I always had it in my mind that it was a trucker living a double life.”

[Montplaisir] “Pure speculation, I mean I’m playing the Ouija board but it’s my gut feeling, you’re gonna find that within a 200, 250 mile radius of New Hampshire and I would say South.”

As the months turned to years, investigators started to run out of ideas. To some, it seemed their best hope was to simply wait for the killer, or someone who knew them, to come forward on their own.

In 1987, less than two years after the barrel was found, state police decided to release the victim’s bodies so they could be buried.

Officer Ron Montplaisir’s chief --the one who had shown him the rattlesnakes in the state park-- organized the funeral. He told a local reporter at the time, “just because we don’t know their names doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the same respect we do.”

Parishioners of St. Jean the Baptiste Church in Allenstown pooled their money and paid for a gravesite at the church cemetery. A Catholic priest and a Methodist minister led a burial ceremony where the bodies were laid to rest in a single steel casket. Just a handful of town officials and reporters were there to see it.

[Montplaisir] “Every time I used to patrol and go by that tombstone, the wheels kept turning… Was I on patrol that night when these bodies were dumped? And all the officers would think that – when did this happen? How did I miss this? You start second-guessing yourself.”

Burying the bodies seemed like the right thing to do, especially given that two years in, the case was going nowhere. But it also must have seemed like law enforcement had given up hope.

[A.Morgan] “I was disappointed. All of the sudden, the next thing I know, the town is getting together to put a headstone on these bodies. And – what the hell? Who are these people?”

For years, Jesse Morgan’s parents kept the sketches of the victims pinned to their fridge. Like a lot of people in Allenstown, they’d always thought of their town as a good place. Now they struggled to reconcile that idea with what happened.

[A.Morgan] “It was like two worlds. Like there was this evil world going on that we had no idea about and there was this good wholesome world that was going on with the families and the children.”

For Jesse Morgan, who, as a kid stumbled across the bodies without really knowing it -- the episode changed the woods of his childhood forever.

[J.Morgan] “I do remember going out myself, like on rainy days and walking around like out there, out where we never went, to see if I could find something. You know, like, is there more?”

Turns out. There was.

*** A Second  Discovery ***

[music fade out]

In 2000, John Cody was a detective in the state police’s major crime unit. The unit handles most of the homicides in New Hampshire and Cody had worked a long time to make it there.

By that time, 15 years had passed since the barrel in Allenstown was discovered, and that mystery was just one on a long list of the state’s unsolved cases.

The way those cold cases were handled back then was pretty informal.

[Cody] “Basically what used to happen is, when you got assigned to the Major Crime Unit you would get assigned one or two or sometimes three cold cases. And when I picked up the Allenstown case, I didn’t know anything about this case.”

Cody was expected to work on the case, basically in his free time, whenever he wasn’t working an active case.

But Cody says the details of the Bear Brook murders just kept gnawing at him.

[Cody] “It’s the type of case where you start reading it – you know it’s sort of like getting into an engrossing book. You start to read the first chapter and you just want to go on to the second, which makes you go on to the third, etcetera.”

Cody decided to get a look at the evidence in person. He went to the evidence storage area, where he saw the blue barrel, the plastic, and the electrical wire. Clues that had been sitting idle for 15 years.

[Cody] “I’m a very visual person. So I decided one day, it was actually a Friday, I said I’m going to go out, I’m going to go see the area and try to get an idea of what it is I’m looking at through words.”

Cody drove out to Allenstown and walked into the woods. He brought the case file with him as a sort of map. First, he tried to find the area where Jesse Morgan and his friends had first found the barrel as kids.

He pictured the kids on the four-wheeler. The barrel in the brush.

[Cody] “I was walking through that and I had been out there for quite a while and then I kinda just widened my area a little bit. Almost like throwing a rock into a pond, you have those concentric rings that come out.”

Cody ventured further and further from the spot where the barrel was found. His eyes scanning the forest floor for anything that didn’t belong.

It was getting late in the afternoon, the sun was sinking behind the hills. The canopy of trees overhead in Bear Brook State Park made it even darker. Cody was thinking about how he might need to go back out to his car for his flashlight.

[Cody] “And that’s when I came across the barrel.”

A barrel was on its side next to a small boulder in some brush. Cody recognized it right away. He had been looking at barrel just like it in evidence storage a few days before. Dark blue. Fifty-five gallons.

Cody decided now was a good time to get the flashlight after all. He made his way back out to the edge of the woods, his mind racing the whole time.

[Cody] “You know, I think I was trying to talk myself out of it the whole way to the car, going ‘this is definitely not what I think it is.’”

When Cody returned with his flashlight, he shined it inside the barrel. All he could see was some kind of plastic.

[Cody] “I tore the plastic away and there was something white that was shining toward me – you know it kind of sticks out with the dark background, and when I looked at it I said this does not look good.”

It was a stunning discovery. One that raised a whole new set of questions -- some of them uncomfortable for police.

John Cody was standing just 300 feet from where the first barrel was found, a full fifteen years before.

Inside the second barrel were two more bodies.

Coming up on Bear Brook:

[TQ] “When you hear the phrase ‘a stone’s throw away,’ this is what they’re talking about.

[K.Morgan] “Why wasn’t that barrel found?”

[A.Morgan] “We don’t know.”

[K.Morgan] “I don’t under- to me that’s…

[A.Morgan] “It’s crazy.”

[Agait] “I want to thank everybody for coming today. We have some new testing results that we want to share with basically the world.”

[Ramos] “I opened the door and saw his face. I had a chill run down my back that I’ve never in my life ever had before.”

[Gruenheid] “Sometimes it’s that dumb luck that you just come across something and it just opens a door for you. And once you open the door it’s like ‘ahh’ the lights come on and you can see everything, you know what I mean? The jigsaw puzzle comes together.”

END OF EPISODE

To support this podcast, donate $20 bucks at bearbrookpodcast.org.  That’ll help us make more podcasts like Bear Brook. In return, we’ll give you access to each episode a week early… ad-free. Episode 2 is available now. All you’ve got to do is go to bearbrookpodcast.org - or click on the link in the show notes, and donate $20 bucks. Thanks.


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 Simple Minds.

To see a timeline of the Bear Brook investigation from 1985 until 2015 … go to our website: bear brook podcast dot org.

Bear Brook is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio.


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 ***

[cue mux]

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.”

[Agati] “Mhmm.”

[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?

[JM] “Nope!”

[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.

[Mux swell]

[JM] Where do we start?

[Flynn}

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.

[mux start]

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.

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 ***

[cue mux]

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.”

[Agati] “Mhmm.”

[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?

[JM] “Nope!”

[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.

[Mux swell]

[JM] Where do we start?

[Flynn}

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.

[mux start]

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.

Transcript of Episode 3: A Smaller Haystack

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:

...Here lie the remains Known only to god of a woman aged..… May their souls find peace in god’s loving care...

...How does an entire family go missing?

… What grandmother let this happen? Or what neighbor or bus driver.. I mean where were all you, you know?

...Did you ever have any suspects? Not even close.

...After the Paquette case, you know there was really a feeling that this could be done.. If the resources would be set aside.

… There’s always some link. Someday… somebody will come forward.

*** Press Conference ***

[Room ambi]

[Agati] “...Everybody all set? Ok? Alright... First of all ladies and gentlemen, I want to thank you all very much for coming today. My name is Benjamin Agati, I am a senior assistant attorney general here at the Department of Justice. We have some new testing results, some significant testing results that we want to share with the world.”

In November 2015, New Hampshire state law enforcement officials held a press conference.

This is actually how I first learned about the Bear Brook murders. I was one of about dozen or so reporters from New Hampshire and Boston who showed up.

We all crowded into a small carpeted room at the New Hampshire Department of Justice. Benjamin Agati, with the AG’s office, stood behind a podium.

[Mux begins to rise]

To his left was a row of stern looking police officers. To his right, a powerpoint was beamed against the wall.

[Agati] “30 years ago this month, a mystery began when the remains of an adult and what we will found out will be the oldest child were discovered in a bag next to an overturned 55-gallon drum in great Bear Brook State Park. In 2000, the remains of two more victims, both young girls, were found not far away, having been located in a second 55 gallon drum.”

The discovery of the second barrel in 2000 was really the last big development in the Bear Brook case - and that was 15 years ago.

In 2009 the case had been handed over to the state’s new Cold Case Unit. The unit was the first of its kind for New Hampshire with a mandate to focus exclusively on old murders, disappearances, and suspicious deaths. It was formed thanks in part to the investigation into the shooting of Danny Paquette which we talked about in the last episode.

The Cold Case Unit was just as stumped as the investigators that came before them though - so in 2012, they took the Bear Brook mystery to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, called NCMEC for short. NCMEC experts pored over the case alongside New Hampshire authorities, brainstorming ideas on how to move the investigation forward.

Three years later, in the fall of 2015, the New Hampshire Cold Case Unit was ready to share some of the work that came as a result of that collaboration.

[Agati] “These are our new images. And we’ll have individual shots of each of our victims later on.”

They started the presentation with a closer analysis of the information investigators already had on hand. Facial reconstruction experts at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children had created new composite images of the victims. The victim’s faces are rendered in grayscale and they look a little computer generated. But certainly a lot more lifelike than the simple sketches that once hung on the refrigerator at the Morgan’s home in Allenstown.

[Agati] I’d like to go through each one in particular...

Agati clicked through slides of these new images one-by-one.

[Agati] “Our first one is our adult victim. She is is a female, likely to be within her mid-twenties.

The adult victim’s hair looks almost wet, like it was still drying from a shower.

[Agati] Our first child victim, also found in the same barrel with her, her age is closer to nine to ten years old.


The oldest child victim has a few freckles on her nose.

[Agati] She was approximately 4-feet-3-inches tall… Had light brown dirty blonde hair.

Her mouth is slightly parted, like her photo was taken while she was lost in thought.

[Agati] We do not know what her weight was specifically and we do not know her eye color. Child victim number two.

The middle child’s expression reads almost as surprise, like someone just called out her name.

[Agati] Her age is anywhere between two-to-four years old.

Her hair is darker than the others, her eyes set a little further apart -- details that really drive home the fact that she’s not related to the other victims.

[Agati]  She had a dental overbite, and this has been remarked about before, that may be noticeable to others.

The image of the youngest child shows a cute kid. Big chubby cheeks and a tiny little nose.

[Agati] The last child, She had a very large gap between the upper two front teeth...

Wispy strands of dirty blond hair falling down to her shoulders.

[Agati] We are trying to get these images out there. Through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, they have not had one single case like this. With four individual victims that have been unidentified for such a period of time.”

This is Bear Brook, I’m Jason Moon.

[mux fade]

For me, this was my first time hearing about the Bear Brook case, so everything — the barrels, the trailer park, the faces of the victims — everything was brand new to me. But the real showcase of this press conference were the results of long-awaited scientific testing.

[Agati] “Today we want to announce results of new radio-isotope testing that has been conducted on the bones, the teeth, and the hair of our four unidentified persons.”

Radio-isotope testing: it’s a scientific process usually reserved for geologists. Many of the reporters in the room that day, including me, struggled at first to understand it.

But as we slowly came to realize, the technique can offer surprising details about a human life based on nothing more than the type of environment a person lived in.

And almost exactly 3 decades since the Bear Brook mystery began, it finally gave investigators their first lead.

*** Isotopes ***

[Jason]  Hi this is Jason with NHPR, how are you?

[Kamenov]  Getting sick with some kind of virus.

[JM] Oh sorry to hear that, did you get your flu shot?

[Kamenov] I got it, but looks like it’s something else.

[JM] Uh oh.

When George Kamenov was studying to become a geologist, he never imagined he would one day use his training to solve murder cases. But then again, he says, all science is about solving mysteries.

[Kamenov] “What we do in geology is often like forensic chemistry. We’re trying to identify, let’s say, where this water comes from or what this water interacts with. And it’s sort of like this is the same thing now, we’re just applying it to humans.”

Kamenov, who’s with the University of Florida, analyzed the remains of the Bear Brook victims with a technique that relies on the science of isotopes.

Before we get into this, I want to point out just how important forensic science has been to the Bear Brook case. In the absence of witnesses or missing persons reports, the only information that detectives have been able to glean about the victims -what they look like and where they might be from- has come by way of pushing the boundaries of forensic science. Whether that’s cutting edge facial reconstruction, or using a high-tech chemical analysis of the atoms from within the victims remains.

Ok, isotopes.

[cue twinkly mux]

Isotopes are atoms with either too few or too many neutrons. Basically, they’re just different versions of the same element.

You’ve probably heard of radioactive isotopes. But there are also other less-dramatic isotopes that can be really useful for scientists.

A handful of isotopes that are stable and naturally occuring are known as environmental isotopes. Geologists like Kamenov like them because they can be linked to geographic regions.

[Kamenov] “They can be used sort of like an inorganic DNA tracer. They can tell you about geographical place of origin.”

Take oxygen-18, it's an isotope that is heavier than your standard oxygen atom. When rain clouds come in off the ocean, the water with oxygen-18 in it is the first to fall out. That means areas near the coast end up with more oxygen-18 than areas further inland.

So a geologist can look at the amount of oxygen-18 in, say, a rock sample and get a clue about the type of environment the rock was formed in.

But environmental isotopes aren’t found only in rocks.

Plants and animals also absorb environmental isotopes through their diet. So an animal who lived in a region with lots of oxygen-18 will have more of it stored in their bones than an animal who lived elsewhere.

In other words, living things carry an imprint of their environment, recorded in isotopes.

Scientists first started using the technique on human remains in archaeology -- think ancient burials. That’s how Kamenov first started doing this.

[Mux fade]

[Kamenov] “Cause you can do isotope analysis and figure out where these people were from and then you can use that for ancient human migrations and things like that.”

Then one day, in 2012, one of Kamenov’s colleagues, a forensic anthropologist, came to him with a question.

[Kamenov] “She came one day into my office and she asked me if we could apply the same technique to modern cold cases and I said ‘well, let’s try and see what happens.’”

It didn’t take long to see they were on to something. The first case Kamenov looked into involved the remains of a woman found murdered in Florida in 1971.

[Kamenov] “All the leads were exhausted and they could not identify her. And now basically 40 some years later, we can show why that was the case -- because she was not local, she was a foreigner, most likely from Europe. And that’s how basically we started. We tried with one cold case and then we started working on other cold cases.”

Kamenov is quick to point out that isotope testing alone can’t identify individual victims, but it can you give you some broad clues about where to take an investigation. In the Florida cold case, it told investigators they should be looking through missing persons reports from a totally different continent. As one researcher put it, isotope testing doesn’t find the needle in the haystack, it shrinks the haystack down to a manageable size.

With the Bear Brook victims, given what we little knew about them, the haystack was essentially the entire globe. They could have been from anywhere.

But by looking at four isotopes in the bones, teeth, and hair of the victims, Kamenov was able to narrow down the possibilities.

One of those isotopes - came from a source you would never expect.

[Kamenov] “The main reason that works is because for many, many years we used leaded gasoline.”

[cue mux]

That’s right: One of the first real clues about where the Bear Brook victims came from is thanks to leaded gasoline. Here’s how.

From the 1920’s until it started getting phased out in the 1970’s, cars all over the world were using leaded gasoline -- basically spraying lead all over the environment.

[Kamenov] “So wherever you go, let’s say you take soil sample pretty much anywhere in the world, it still will contain tiny amounts of this lead.”

But not all of the lead used in gasoline was the same. In America, the lead came from one mine -- in Mississippi. In Europe, the lead came from a different mine -- in Australia. The two different lead mines have different ratios of lead isotopes, making it easy for a scientist like Kamenov to tell them apart.

Meanwhile, we absorb small amounts of the leftover lead in the environment into our bodies over the course of our lives.

[Kamenov] “So we as live, let’s say you live in New Hampshire, you go around, you drink the water, you eat the food and tiny amounts of this lead that’s in the soil gets recorded in our bodies.”

So basically anyone who lives in North America has lead in their bodies with one isotopic signature while Europeans have lead with a different isotopic signature in their bodies.

This is how Kamenov was able to tell the victim in his first case was European. And this is how we know the Bear Brook victims are from North America.

Ok, not the biggest reveal. But a start.

After lead, other isotopes helped Kamenov narrow down the area even further.

Strontium and carbon isotopes, which hold clues about someone’s diet, helped eliminate Canada and Mexico as possibilities.

Oxygen isotopes shed light on the water they drank, giving hints about how far from the coast they lived and how far north.

It was here that Kamenov started to see something interesting: differences between the isotopic signatures of the victims.

[mux fade]

[Kamenov] “What we saw was that the three victims who are related by DNA, they kind of have the same oxygen isotopic signal. Which tells us that they were all living together. But then the fourth girl that is not related, she shows distinct oxygen isotopes, which tells us that she came from somewhere else.”

Back at the press conference, this was summed up for reporters in two color-coded maps.

[Agati] “The specific areas highlighted in green behind me are the areas in the United States where the adult and the oldest and the youngest child were both raised in and were living in at the time of their death.”

The map for the related victims includes a swath that covers all of New England and stretches down as far as West Virginia.

[Agati] So you can see the area here on the Eastern Seaboard, anywhere in green is a possibility.

It also includes parts of the upper Midwest and West Coast.

The second map, for the unrelated child, highlights four very specific areas In the Northeast.

[Agati] She spent most of her childhood further inland, and likely further North.

Two different regions in upstate New York, one on the border between northern Vermont and New Hampshire, and one in northern Maine. Her map also includes different sections of the Midwest and West Coast than the other victims. But notably, her map does not include the area directly around Bear Brook State Park. Which means, according to the isotope results, she was not from the immediate area.

[cue mux]

I’d like to pause for a moment here to think about what exactly this means. Kamenov had reduced the global haystack to areas within the U.S. equivalent in size to a handful of states.

If this was the starting point of the Bear Brook investigation, it probably wouldn’t have seemed like a lead at all. The areas highlighted on the map - they are home to millions of people. But if you’ve been watching this case gather dust - wondering how on Earth four people could disappear so completely from the world without anybody noticing - this map is the first new piece of information in 30 years.

It wasn’t a slam dunk. Not even close. But it told investigators where to focus their efforts.

And there was one more thing that Kamenov was able to find. A tantalizing clue about how the victims spent the last few weeks of their lives.

---- [BREAK] ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Isotope testing can tell us a lot about where someone lived thanks to regional variations of isotopes and human pollution.

But while the isotopes themselves are important, scientists can also learn a lot from where the isotopes are found within the body.

For instance, your teeth. The isotopes there only reflect the environment from your early life, since teeth stop forming by your mid-twenties. That means the isotopic signature of your childhood environment is forever locked in your enamel, even if you spent the rest of your life somewhere else.

Isotopes found in hair, on the other hand, tell a different story.

Because hair grows continuously, it provides a record of the recent past. Each strand of hair is like a timeline of the final months of someone’s life. How far the timeline goes back depends on the length of the hair.

And because hair grows pretty quickly, it records changes in someone’s environment with a surprising level of detail.

In a case from Seattle, isotopes from an unidentified victim’s hair showed she had been moving back and forth from two regions several times in last few months before her death. That information helped police match her to a missing persons report and ultimately to identify her.

The hair of the adult victim in the Bear Brook case offered a similar clue about her movements just before the murder.

[Kamenov] “Her hair showed that the last few months before death, she was living in the area. However, about 5-7 months before death, she went somewhere -- either to the North or to the West. To a colder climate where the oxygen isotopes are lower. And what’s interesting is that the unrelated victim, the fourth girl that is not related by DNA, her teeth also show these lighter oxygen isotopes. So one possible interpretation is that that’s the time when the non-related girl joined the group.”

While the isotope maps for the related victims and the non-related child showed they grew up in different areas, testing of their hair showed that all four victims were together for the last two weeks to three months of lives, most likely in New England.

So what happened? Where did the adult victim go six months before she died? Was that when the non-related child joined the family? Was it an adoption? A kidnapping? Where is the non-related child’s family?

...

After that press conference in 2015, I asked Benjamin Agati, the prosecutor assigned to the Cold Case Unit, how they would they would try to answer those questions. Now that they’d inched the case forward with the isotope testing, what was next? What else could they do?

[Agati] “Somebody told me the other day that they saw the photos on the news and said ‘wow, the adult female, the victim, she looks looks like somebody back in highschool. They went to their old yearbook and looked -- they were completely wrong, it wasn’t that person. But the fact that they thought to go look, tells me we’ve got something going down the right road. So, even something like that, if somebody says ‘I’m not too sure.’ Pull out your yearbook. Look up that old friend or person that you knew and see if they are there. Take a look. Is it a possibility that this is a match? Give us a call, let us do the work.”

[begin creepy sound at low volume]

This theory of how the case would be solved seemed totally reasonable to me at the time. Remember, this was the first time I had ever even heard about the Bear Brook murders. But looking back, it must have been hard… calling that press conference, explaining how years of work had resulted in two simple maps and a set of images - putting that information out into the word, and then just hoping for a tip. Nothing useful had come in before - I wonder if they really thought anything would be different this time.

[Agati] If so, we’re encouraging everybody to reach out to us through those contacts, and the people who have been involved in this case, they have been great, they have done that and given that information to the cold case unit, given it to NCMIC and we’re following up it s fast as we can….[pause] Alright , if there are no further questions, I do have handouts for anybody who wants them and they contain the entire presentation.

[News conference ambi plays out, creepy noise grows]

[News conference tape cuts out]

Since we spoke in 2015, Agati has been reassigned out of the Cold Case Unit. But I imagine he still thinks about the Bear Brook case, frustrated that the victims, even now, remain unidentified.

In that sense, all of his work, and the work of investigators at NCMEC, was for nought. The new composite images and the maps went out on the news and people called in, but they mostly gave the same tips that investigators had already ruled out. If there is an old yearbook out there somewhere with a photo of one of the Bear Brook victims, it’s probably still sitting in a closet, or tucked under a bed.

The release of the isotope testing results was in some ways the final hail mary in the Bear Brook case. The Bear Brook investigation was reaching the end of the line.

But meanwhile, another mystery thousands of miles away in California was just beginning to unravel. This case had also stumped police for decades, and it would also push the boundaries of forensic science. And by the end, it would lead all the way back to New Hampshire.

[Ramos] “The minute I met him...I...it was...it was like meeting the devil.”

[JM] “Have you ever felt that way about anybody else?”

[Ramos] “Never. Never in my life have I ever, ever, ever had the hairs on the back of my neck stand up when I met somebody.”

That’s next time on Bear Brook.

END OF EPISODE

...

If you have any information about the Bear Brook murders, or if you think you recognize any of the victims, contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THELOST. That’s 1-800-843-5678.

You can see the latest composite images of the victims and the isotope maps released in 2015 at our website bear brook podcast dot com.

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.

Bear Brook is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio.


Transcript of Episode 4: Eunsoon Jun

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.

*** New Year’s 2000 ***

Elaine Ramos was planning a big party. It was 1999, New Year’s Eve was coming soon, and she wanted to celebrate Y2K with friends and family at her home in Monterey, California. She was excited.

Even more so when her cousin, Eunsoon Jun, called with some big news.

[Ramos] “She called to say that she had met somebody and asked if she could bring him. And I thought sure, this is somebody that she’s finally met that she’s in love with, of course you can bring him.”

Elaine and Eunsoon were close. Their families both immigrated to the U.S. from Korea when they were young and they grew up together.

Elaine knew that Eunsoon had a hard time when it came to dating. So when Eunsoon, now in her mid-40s, called to say she had met someone, it was a big deal. Elaine couldn’t wait to meet him.

Elaine’s house in Monterey sits at the end of a cul de sac in a suburb full of nice ranch-style houses. When Eunsoon and her new boyfriend arrived on the day of the party, Elaine stepped outside to greet them.

[Ramos] “First of all, when they drove up it was in this dirty, white van. It didn’t have windows on it, it was one of those cargo vans. And I thought, ‘wow.’ But then when they came up to the door and I opened the door and saw his face, I had a chill run down my back that I’ve never in my life, ever had before. And he stuck out his hand to shake my hand and I saw the long dirty fingernails that just creeped me out.”

Eunsoon’s new boyfriend, Larry Vanner, looked ragged and dirty. He seemed a lot older than Eunsoon. He was bald on top, with patches of messy brown hair sprouting out on the sides. He wore a mustache, and his voice was a deep drawl. The only thing inviting about him, Elaine remembers, were his eyes. They were a shade of deep blue that seemed to sparkle in the light. Elaine says it was almost like they were made of glass.

Elaine was unsettled by her first impression of Vanner, but she wanted to be supportive.

[Ramos] “Eunsoon was just beaming. She was so happy to introduce him to the family.”

Later in the evening, as the party got going, Elaine tried again with the new boyfriend. She sat across a bar from Vanner and starting chatting.

[Ramos] “And so I asked him, I said ‘what have you done?’ And he just stared at me and said ‘I’m a retired colonel in the army.’ And I said ‘really? Because my boss is a retired full bird colonel and maybe you two know each other because I think you’re about the same age.’”

Vanner leaned over the bar close to Elaine and said:

[Ramos] “Don’t ever question me or ask me again about my past.”

Before Elaine could react, Vanner brightened back up, smiling and making small talk as if it never happened.

It was one of many red flags Elaine remembers from that night.

Vanner claimed to own properties all over the West Coast, but couldn’t explain why he had never taken Eunsoon to see any of them. He said he onced worked for the CIA and could disappear if he ever needed to.

At the end of the night, Elaine offered Eunsoon and Vanner a room to stay in. They had been drinking and she didn’t want them driving home.

[Ramos] “And she goes, ‘no, we’re going to sleep in the van.’ And that’s when we went outside and saw the van and it just had dirty blankets and pillows thrown in the back and I thought ‘‘Eunsoon, you can’t sleep here.’ She goes ‘no, I love it. I’m fine.’”

A few days after the party, Elaine got a phone call from Eunsoon. She wanted to know what she thought of the new boyfriend.

[Ramos] “And I said, ‘Eunsoon, I don’t really know him. I tried to get to know him but he didn’t want to answer my questions.’ I said, ‘please before you get too involved with him, make sure everything he is telling you is the truth. Please do that for me.’ And then she got angry at me. She said, ‘nobody wants me to be happy. I’ve finally found somebody who loves me and nobody wants me to be happy.’ And I said, ‘that’s not it, I just don’t want you to get involved with somebody who isn’t telling you the truth.’ And that was the last time I spoke with her.”

This is Bear Brook, I’m Jason Moon.

*** Eunsoon Jun ***

[Ramos] “Eunsoon was a free spirit. We always said she was like a Bohemian. She loved to explore religions, explore people, different  cultures.”

Eunsoon Jun was a chemist by profession. For years, she worked at a biotech company near Richmond, California. But Elaine says she was more of an artist at heart. She made pottery and loved to travel. She was interested in Buddhism.

[Ramos] “One thing about Eunsoon was, as much as she was spiritual, and loved meeting people, she was lonely. She didn’t find the love of her life. And I think that opened her up to be vulnerable to people who would take advantage of her.”

[JM] “Why do you think that is? Did she have trouble meeting people?”

“I think that for a lot of us that are immigrants, we sometimes don’t feel like we fit in. I think that was harbored in her longer than for some other people who could adjust easier.”

By the time Eunsoon turned 40, pressure was mounting for her to find someone and settle down.

Then she met Larry Vanner. Eunsoon needed some work done on her house and an acquaintance recommended him as a handyman. From there it somehow became a relationship.

After the New Year’s Party, Eunsoon drifted away from her family. Elaine wasn’t the only relative to disapprove of the new boyfriend. A few family members tried to talk to Eunsoon about it, but it only seemed to make things worse.

[Ramos] “Eunsoon’s brother was getting letters and emails from Eunsoon saying that she didn’t want anything more to do with the family. Nobody wants her to be happy, just leave her alone, let her live her life. And...it didn’t sound like her.”

To Eunsoon’s relatives, it almost seemed like she was under a spell.

By 2001, a year later, Vanner had moved in with Eunsoon. Later that year they got married. It wasn’t official, there was no marriage certificate. The ceremony was held in a backyard. It had a Star Trek theme. Elaine wasn’t invited.

Eunsoon wasn’t talking much with most of her family by then. But she was still in touch with her good friend, Renee Rose. Rose was also a potter and the two of them would sometimes go to pottery classes and art shows together. They usually spoke at least a few times a week.

I wasn’t able to speak with Rose for this story. But she did give an interview to a local paper back in 2003. Between that and the account of law enforcement officers who have spoken with her, here’s what we know.

...

In May of 2002, Rose called Eunsoon to work out the details for a trip they had planned for the following week. Eunsoon sounded anxious when she picked up the phone. She spoke quickly and ended the conversation abruptly, saying ‘I’ll talk to you tomorrow.’

But Eunsoon didn’t call the next day and she didn’t show up for the trip they were supposed to take.

Worried, Rose left messages for Eunsoon on her answering machine. After a few days, she got a call back. It was Vanner. He said Eunsoon’s mother was dying and that she had flown to Virginia to see her.

Rose asked if there was a way to reach Eunsoon in Virginia. Vanner said no.

Rose kept calling in the days and weeks that followed. Each time, Vanner’s explanation for why she couldn’t talk to Eunsoon was different. He said she was too emotionally fragile to talk, that her family had made her depressed. He said she was in Virginia, then Oregon. Once, he told Rose that Eunsoon had come home, but only for a day before leaving again.

Still, Rose kept calling. Something didn’t seem right. She wanted to know more about what was going on with Eunsoon. She wanted to know more about what was going on with Vanner. She offered to come over and cook him chili. She offered to clean the house ahead of Eunsoon’s return.

Vanner refused. He seemed annoyed, at times flashing with anger.

Finally, after several weeks, Rose gave Vanner an ultimatum. She was leaving on vacation for 10 days and said she wanted to hear Eunsoon’s voice on her answering machine when she got back. If she didn’t, she would call the police. In the end that’s what she did.

*** Roxane Gruenheid ***

As far as I can tell, Roxane Gruenheid is everything you want in a police officer. She’s tough and smart - and she’s got a real eye for detail.

[Gruenheid] “It was kind of funny, when I was working patrol, when I was first going through the training program, some of my training officers, I would write reports and he would say I’m too detailed.”

I spoke with Roxane just as she was entering retirement. After more than 25 years as a police officer in California, she decided to buy a house on Long Island to be closer to her family. She invited me over to talk so I made the drive a few hours south to catch a ferry.

When I arrived Roxane was still moving in. There was hardly any furniture around and a contractor was installing some new cabinets in the kitchen. Roxane found a couple of lawn chairs for us and she set them up in an empty room that looked out over her new swimming pool. Outside, a soft rain was falling.

Roxane and I ended up spending about two-and-a-half hours in those lawn chairs. She’s a good storyteller. I also noticed she has this verbal quirk.

[Gruenheid] “So it was pretty goofy.”

It’s almost like a catchphrase, something a TV cop might have.

[Gruenheid] “But then there’s this other story...Doing goofy things.”

Whenever something doesn’t quite add up, or she gets a gut feeling about a person or a place - she calls it goofy.

[Gruenheid] “Some stories are goofier than others and um…”

I get the impression it’s sort of a coping mechanism. A view of the world that she’s had to adopt, after working so many years in homicide.

[Gruenheid] “You know, you either talk to your colleagues, you find ways of trying to deal with it, you talk to your spouse, and some gallows humor... and some funny looks from people at parties from things that you think are funny as hell, that other people don’t think are very funny at all! And um goofy stories and you just try to take care of yourself.”

By 1999, Roxane’s attention to detail had gotten her promoted to the homicide division at the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Department. Contra Costa is just across the bay from San Francisco. Roxane thrived as a homicide detective, solving not only the active cases assigned to her, but cold cases too.

She likes to tell the story of one those cold cases in particular because it proves how even the smallest detail can unlock a mystery.

The case was an unsolved murder from the 80s: a woman was found shot to death near her car on the side of the road. Roxane dug around and found an old recording of an interview with one of the suspects. It was a betamax tape that she had to take to the local public access TV station to play. In the video, the suspect denies even knowing the victim.

[Gruenheid] “At the end of the videotape, the detective gets up and he goes ‘alright, we’ll take you back to the jail now.’ And the lights go off, so there’s no more video. But there’s still audio, cause they’re standing in the doorway, talking.”

On those last few seconds of tape, Roxane could hear the detective casually ask the suspect what kind of cigarettes he smokes.

[Gruenheid] “And suspect responds, he goes, ‘Pall Malls.’ And he goes, ‘filters or no filters?’ And he goes, ‘no filters.’”

The Pall Malls triggered something Roxane had read in the case file: detectives had taken the contents of an ashtray in the victim’s car into evidence.

[Gruenheid] “And there were like three Pall Mall no-filter cigarettes in her ashtray. And I was like ‘holy crap!’ And I went back and I called the crime lab and was like ‘do you still have these cigarettes?’ ‘Yes we have them.’ ‘Great.’ Put in a request to see if there’s DNA on them. That was his DNA on the cigarettes and that was it. That one little detail opened that case wide open. And he went to prison for murdering that woman.”

Anyways, that’s where Roxane was in 2002, solving cold cases, making a name for herself, when a call came in about a missing woman.

[Gruenheid] “Our patrol division had been contacted by a woman by the name of Rose and she had called the Sheriff’s Office to report her friend, Eunsoon Jun, missing.”

[DETECTIVE] “Do you need another coke?”

[Vanner] “No, I’m fine.”

Within a few days, detectives brought Larry Vanner, Eunsoon Jun’s new live-in boyfriend, in for questioning. The video of the interview shows Vanner sitting in an office chair in a small windowless room in front of a tiny desk. Vanner is wearing a t-shirt and gray slacks. A pair of eyeglasses are propped up on his balding head.

[DETECTIVE] “Maybe she’s hurt herself and you’re concerned about that getting out -- that she’s harmed herself?

[Vanner] “No.”

[DETECTIVE] “There’s no truth to that?”

[Vanner] “If you’re thinking, is she suicidal? No, she’s not...But she’s not as aggressive as she used to be.”

Vanner seemed evasive to detectives. He was willing enough to talk, but when he did he would end up issuing vague platitudes.

[Vanner] “Now I’ve always tried to live by the motto that there’s no defense against the truth. But sometimes it’s hard to find out what the truth is. You’ve got one side, the other side, and something down the middle that some people might perceive to be the truth.”

Or he would tell rambling stories that seemed to be building to a point that never came.

[Vanner] “When these guys get a chance to go work for the forest service for $28.50 an hour paid 24 hours a day plus their meals, even though it’s dangerous, they’re gonna go. They will!”

[DETECTIVE] “Mmhmm.”

[Vanner] “And it used to be, driving through places like that if you had a pair of shoes and you were close to the fire you’d get uh...what would you call it...you’d get volunteered. ‘Park your car mister, you’re gonna be a firefighter.’”

Vanner claimed that Eunsoon was in Oregon. She was overseeing the construction of a cabin on one of his properties, he said. But he wouldn’t give police a way to contact her.

Then later his story changed. He said the real reason Eunsoon was in Oregon was to see a therapist because she’d suffered a mental breakdown. Vanner said a call from police could trigger an anxiety attack.

[Vanner2002Interview] “Now I haven’t talked anymore Eunsoon’s problems or my problems because frankly, you’re not my priest and you’re not my doctor. And bullshit stories have their place. You know, gossip has its place in society sometimes. But I’m just not going to say anymore about Eunsoon or myself right now.”

[Gruenheid] “He played this kind of cat-and-mouse game with them. At one point in the interview I know they provided him with a telephone and he dialed a number and then didn’t talk to anybody and then hung up. But because it was on videotape we could slow it down and get the phone number that he was dialing and when a detective called that number it actually did go to a psychiatrist’s office in Eugene, Oregon. And so we were thinking, ‘ok, maybe.’ You know, he didn’t have a piece of paper. He had this phone number in his head.”

Over the phone detectives asked the psychiatrist if Eunsoon was there. The doctor said federal patient privacy laws didn’t allow them to reveal that.

Detectives looked for a way around the privacy law. Finally, they worked out a compromise with the doctor. They would give a physical description of Eunsoon, and the doctor would say if they were treating a patient who matched it.

After hearing the description, the psychiatrist said ‘no.’

The Oregon story was looking pretty shaky. But there was another reason why detectives were suspicious.

[Gruenheid] “So the goofy thing, the big red flag in the room was the fact that he had given us this name of Lawrence William Vanner with a date of birth.”

Roxane says when they ran that name through the system, instead of coming back with a driver’s license like they would expect, it came back with something called an index number. In California, index numbers are basically placeholders for someone’s identity in official records. They’re assigned to people who don’t have a valid form of ID.

[Gruenheid] “And that’s all we had on him. There was no criminal history, nothing in our -- no prior mention in a police report, there was nothing in any database, there was no driver’s license, there was no -- like nothing. Like nothing.”

Detectives asked Vanner if they could fingerprint him. He agreed.

To do that, they had to take him to a separate facility across town. Roxane volunteered to ride along in the backseat with Vanner while another detective drove.

On the way over, Roxane started chatting with Vanner. She says it was smalltalk with a purpose.

[Gruenheid] “I kinda worked into the conversation to see where I could go with it. You know what I mean? I mean, I’m a detective, right? I’m trying to figure stuff out.

Roxane wanted to see if she could figure out where Vanner was from. She started by talking about accents. She brought up her own Long Island accent. How it was often commented on here in California. Then she said it sounded like he had an accent too, but she couldn’t place it -- where was it from?

[Gruenheid] “He stopped dead in his conversation, looked at me and then got really closer to me, looked me straight in the eye and he says ‘that’s none of your damn business.’”

[mux here]

Vanner then abruptly returned to casual smalltalk. Roxane says the mood change was so fast it was like a lightswitch. The same thing Elaine had seen at the New Year’s party.

Vanner was fingerprinted and then detectives drove him back to the station. By the time they returned, the results of the prints were already waiting for them. They would change everything.

-----[Break] -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

When detectives got back to the police station with Larry Vanner, they left him alone in the same interrogation room as before. When they came back in the room, one of the detectives was holding a slim manilla folder with the results from Vanner’s fingerprints, which included a criminal record and a list of known aliases.

[Vanner2002Interview]

[DETECTIVE 1] “Alright Larry, your prints came back. You know your other name, right?”

[DETECTIVE 2] “Curtis or Gerald or Gerry or whatever name you’re going by this week.”

[DETECTIVE 1] “Curtis Kimball.”

[DETECTIVE 2] “Curtis Kimball. Or Gerald Mocker… what’s the other one?”

[DETECTIVE 1] “Mockerman.”

[DETECTIVE 2] “Mockerman, right.”

[DETECTIVE 1] “Ring a bell?”

[Vanner] “No.”

[DETECTIVE 1] “Yeah that’s who you are, man.”

Larry Vanner’s fingerprints belonged to a man whose name was not Larry Vanner. The prints came back under the name Curtis Mayo Kimball. In the video, you can actually see the surprise splash across Vanner-slash-Kimball’s face as detectives list off his other names. Detectives assumed that Curtis Kimball was itself an alias, but at this point it was the earliest name they had. For Roxane Gruenheid, it was hard to know what to make of this new information.

[Gruenheid] “Were you thinking… Eunsoon’s probably not ok?” “We still didn’t know. I mean, the goal of any missing persons investigation is to determine where they are, and if they’re ok, you know what I mean. But now we had an added piece to it…  Who is this guy, that’s given us one name… that’s really not even a name… that’s not even him...That is now, purportedly this other guy who has been on parole for 12 years!

That last part - that Curtis Kimball was on parole - was a big deal.  I’ll explain why in a minute. In 1989 Kimball was convicted of child abandonment and spent a year and a half in a California state prison. Then on the day he was released, he skipped town, violating his parole.

[Gruenheid] “And so that was a whole different -- now we had a whole different ball of wax.”

Looking back, Contra Costa detective Roxane Gruenheid thinks that Kimball didn’t know that his prints would come back so quickly. The last time he was in custody was over ten years ago, before the process was handled by computers. She thinks he agreed to get fingerprinted assuming it would take at least a few days for the results to come back. Plenty of time to leave town, adopt a new name, and start over again.

But that plan didn’t work.

[Gruenheid] “So I read him his miranda rights and at that time he chose not to talk to us and he shut down the interview.” Did he have any interaction at all. No nothing, just I want an attorney. And that was it.

In California, parolees and their property are subject to police searches for any reason at any time, no warrant required.

Now that Roxane had Curtis Kimball’s record in hand - and had discovered that he had violated parole - she had a new opportunity. She could legally search his home.

So Roxane and another detective named Mike Costa drove out to Eunsoon Jun’s house where she and Curtis Kimball had been living together to have a look around. Detectives were worried. Whatever this revelation about Curtis Kimball meant, it probably wasn’t good for Eunsoon.

Eunsoon lived in an area called East Richmond heights. It’s a middle class neighborhood, with small houses packed right next to each other along winding roads that work their way up a hillside. From the top of the hill, on a clear day, you can see all the way across the bay to San Francisco.

Roxane and Mike arrived at the house and knocked at the front door. No one answered. Using the keys they’d taken from Kimball, they went inside.

[Gruenheid] “We were working a missing persons case, so we didn’t open any drawers or anything like that because no human being could be in a drawer, you know what I mean? So we just walked around the house to make sure that A, that there wasn’t anybody in there that was going to hurt us, and at the same time just making that if she was in there we would try to find her. So we were looking for somebody human-sized, her human-sized, in the general areas of the house.”

Roxane and Mike went room by room. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. But that changed as the search moved outside.

[Gruenheid] “We went in the backyard and we found a dead kitten that had been thrown over the fence in the back.”

[Gruenheid] “There was an area inside the shed that looked like it had recently been tried to be dug up inside the shed.

[JM] “Like a dirt floor?”

“Yeah, like a dirt floor inside the shed.”

Roxane and Mike took note of the dead cat, of the disturbed soil in the shed. Then made their way around the outside of the house to the garage. It was the one place they hadn’t looked yet. The sliding garage door had a padlock on it, but Roxane found the key on Kimball’s keychain. She threw up the door and found Eunsoon’s pottery studio.

[Gruenheid] “She had several kilns, like nice big kilns. There was pottery in various stages of being created - fired, glazed.”

The walls of the garage were lined with Eunsoon’s pottery. Bowls, vases, sculpted figures and masks.

Roxane and Mike slowly moved through the space, careful not to touch anything.

In the back of the garage they found a doorway. It led down a few steps to an unfinished part of the house -- a sort of basement crawl space with a dirt floor. It was about 8 by 10, and not quite tall enough to stand up in.

[Gruenheid] “And my partner Mike went in there and he looked around and he goes, ‘you need to come take a look at this.’ And I stepped into that area and looked with my flashlight and I could see that there was a huge pile of cat litter, probably that tall, so a good three feet tall.”

Cat litter. The pile was almost waist-high… and maybe 5 feet across. Enough to fill the bed of a truck.

[Gruenheid] “I’d never seen anything like that. It was perfect. It was just like you’d pile up a pile of sand.”

On the ceiling above the pile, a couple of work lights were clamped onto an exposed beam. The lights were aimed down at the pile, like the cat litter was part of some kind of bizarre home improvement project.

[Gruenheid] “There was some shop kind of tools and equipment there...reciprocating saw, there was a small, not a hatchet small, but like a child’s axe leaned up there, there was some bottles of some green substance, like spray bottles...so it was goofy.”

[Mux swell]

Roxane called for the forensic team. For an hour and a half they photographed the scene in detail. The cat litter, the work lights, the tools. Then, finally, they started to sift through the pile of cat litter.

[Gruenheid] “And within a few swipes of the pile, the thing that emerged was a human foot that was still in a rubber like a flip flop.”

...

[Gruenheid] “But it was mummified, like you’d see in a museum. Like a mummified foot. Human foot, obviously human foot.”

The forensic team found blood splatter on the heating and air conditioning ductwork above the pile of cat litter. It suggested that Eunsoon had been bludgeoned to death there in the crawlspace. They also discovered that her body had been dismembered.

...

[Ramos] “She wanted to be loved that’s all she wanted. I think that she found out about him or found out that something wasn’t right and confronted him. He probably would’ve killed her anyway. But I’m sure Eunsoon confronted him. I’m sure she fought... I have to believe that she fought.”

...

[music fade out]

[Motta] “The case stuck with me because he was so freakin’ creepy.”

Joe Motta was a prosecutor with the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s office for 17 years.

[Motta] “It was just an unusual kind of case, just the nature of it. I’d never seen anything like that.”

In 2003 he had what seemed like an open and shut case against Kimball. He had lied about Eunsoon Jun’s whereabouts. Her body was found in the house he was living in. And Roxane had uncovered lots of evidence that he had been spending Eunsoon’s money after her death.

But as he prepared for trial, Motta was worried.

[Motta] “My opponent was a pretty well-respected public defender, probably their toughest advocate at the time. He was a noble adversary. He was a brawler.”

Motta knew this experienced defense attorney would try to argue that Kimball wasn’t directly involved in Eunsoon’s death. To try to negotiate a plea deal on a lesser charge, like accessory to murder.

[Motta] “My big concern was there’s not enough evidence to show how it went down. There wasn’t. There wasn’t any evidence. There wasn’t a murder weapon. You know, what if she fell down the stairs and he felt bad and he didn’t want anyone to know about it? You know, who knows what they could’ve come up with.”

Motta needed something connecting Kimball to the scene in the basement. He figured their best shot was the cat litter. It was so much cat litter that a store employee might might remember the purchase and who made it. If Motta could show the jury that Kimball had worked to cover up Eunsoon’s death, it would help tie him to the crime itself. It wouldn’t be a smoking gun, but it would help.

He put detective Roxane Gruenheid on the case.

[Gruenheid] “I can’t even imagine, there’s gotta be 1500 dog and cat boutique stores -- you could buy that anywhere, you know.”

Roxane wasn’t sure how she was going to find the right pet store. But then she remembered a detail.

[Gruenheid] “When I was tracking back some of the fiduciary crimes that he was committing, he had used Eunsoon’s ATM card at this ATM down in on the edge of El Sobrante, Richmond area. And I used to work in that beat.”

Roxane realized she knew that ATM. And she knew there was a pet store right next to it.

[Gruenheid] “So I roll up there and I go in and I go to talk to the manager and I go… ‘anybody buy a large quantity of cat litter in the past?’ and he goes ‘yeah! There was this guy!’ And so basically he tells me this story that this old guy, twinkly blue eyes, drives up with his car, bought 10, 25 pound -- and it was the 20 pound with the bonus 5 pounds for free. Pays cash, loads them in his car, and his story to the employees was something to the effect of that he had a little bit of oil that he spilled in the driveway changing the oil in his car. But I was like, ‘anybody ever buy 250 pounds of cat litter?’ And they were like, ‘no that was pretty unusual.’”

The cat litter wasn’t Kimball’s only attempt at covering up evidence of the crime. A neighbor told Roxane that Kimball had been out hosing the driveway one day when he casually mentioned that he was dealing with a rat infestation, and that if there were any strange smells coming from him garage, not to worry about it.

So Motta had more than enough to prosecute the case. But as the trial approached, Roxane kept digging anyways. She got in touch with Kimball’s former parole officer and had all the documents on his criminal record faxed over. Roxane read through them all.

[mux here]

His criminal record began in 1986, about 15 years before he met Eunsoon, with a warrant issued for child abandonment.

According to the police reports, he had left his five year old daughter at an RV park with an elderly couple and then fled. At the time he was using the name Gordon Jensen.

A few years later he was pulled over driving a stolen car. He gave officers the name Gerald Mockerman, but his fingerprints linked him back to the child abandonment charge. He was convicted on that charge and served about a year and a half of a three year sentence in a California state prison before being released on parole. The parole officer told Roxane he never showed up for his first meeting.

Roxane was getting more and more interested in Kimball’s past -- the trail of aliases, his daughter at the RV park. She couldn’t let it go. Even as Kimball headed to court for a murder trial he was sure to lose.

Eunsoon Jun’s cousin, Elaine Ramos, can remember the first day of the trial. It was the first time any of the family had seen Curtis Kimball, a man they had known as Larry Vanner, since the murder.

[Elaine] “As he walked past us -- we all had buttons, pins with Eunsoon’s face on it. And we were all sitting there in the jury box or whatever that is and he passed us by and he just gave us this smirky smile. It was disgusting.”

The trial was hard on Eunsoon’s family. And not just because Kimball seemed to be taunting them. Eunsoon Jun and Curtis Kimball met in November of 1999. He was arrested for her murder in November 2002. During those years, Kimball had so successfully isolated Eunsoon that her family was forced to grieve someone that they didn’t know as well as they once had. The emails from Eunsoon telling her family to leave her alone -- they hadn’t sounded like Eunsoon because it turns out they Kimball wrote them. He made sure that for many of Eunsoon’s relatives, their last conversation with her was an argument about her new boyfriend.

[Elaine] “Everybody felt guilty for not trying harder to protect her. But it’s hard to protect somebody that -- she wanted to be loved. That’s all she wanted.”

...

[Elaine] “Her mother had dementia. So that was a good thing that she never learned what happened to Eunsoon. You know she would ask about her and her daughter would just say that she was busy. And that was a blessing.”

Elaine says most of the family doesn’t like to talk about this anymore. It’s too painful to relive. But Eunsoon is well remembered by her family, often through her pottery.

[Elaine] “I have a couple of pieces in my garden and one piece that when holidays come I use.…[laughing] my husband says it wasn’t very good… And then she made this man. This kind of funny looking man that I have outside. I call her my Eunsoon man.”

[JM] [33:00] “It sounds like, was she, before all this happened, was she was very um… It sounds like she was very loved.”

[Elaine] “She was. I mean there were family issues, but there is with most families. You have your differences and get mad at your siblings. But in the end we all love each other.”

The first day of Curtis Kimball’s trial ended with few surprises. Things were going more or less as Motta had planned. But that changed the next morning on the second day of trial. Kimball stood up and told the judge he wanted to change his plea -- to guilty.

[JM] “When he pled guilty, did it seem like his attorney was caught by surprise?

[Motta] “Oh yeah, his attorney -- he said on the record, I’m pretty sure, that ‘this plea is against my advice.’

[JM] “How unusual is that?”

[Motta] “Pretty darned unusual. Nobody ever pleads guilty to murder.”

Nobody pleads guilty to murder. But Curtis Kimball did. He willingly accepted a sentence of 15 years to life.

Detective Roxane Gruenheid thinks she might know why. The day before, on the first day of trial, she had been talking with Prosecutor Joe Motta during a courtroom recess. She was updating Motta on all the things she was finding in Kimball’s past. Kimball, meanwhile, was sitting not too far away at the defendant’s table. Close enough to maybe overhear.

[Gruenheid] “He wanted me to stop my investigation. Like, he didn’t want me to continue to go down that rabbit hole. And he thought if he pled guilty, maybe I would go away.”

*** Postscript to an Investigation ***

But Roxane didn’t go away. Back at her desk, she kept reading through the old police reports of Kimball’s criminal history. The part she found the most puzzling was the charge that had put Kimball behind bars in the late 80’s: abandoning his own five year old daughter at an RV park. In the files there were photographs of her.

[Gruenheid] “They were xerox copies so they weren’t very clear but she was little. Like she was a little, little tiny girl, you know what I mean. And there was a fingerprint card, like a booking fingerprint card, but with these little tiny fingerprints on them. And footprints, you know because in the hospital because they take the baby’s footprint.”

Roxane became fixated on this little girl. Her name was listed as Lisa. But actually Roxane wasn’t so sure about that.

When Curtis Kimball and ‘Lisa’ were staying at the RV park, he was using the name Gordon Jensen. But Roxane knew that Gordon Jensen was an alias -- that it wasn’t his real name. For that matter, she was pretty sure Curtis Kimball was a fake name, too. This got her wondering -- if he’d been lying about his own name to hide his past, maybe he had been lying about the little girl’s name, too.

Maybe, this “Lisa” didn’t know her real name. Maybe she wasn’t even really his daughter.

[Gruenheid] “I was sitting there at my cubicle and I’m reading all this stuff and I felt like now that I had my homicide case and who this guy was but then there’s all this backstory to him and who the heck is this guy, really? And who is that little girl?”

Roxane wanted to do a paternity test to know for sure. She had Kimball’s DNA from her homicide investigation. And she learned that detectives investigating Lisa’s abandonment had taken a blood sample from her back in the 80s. Roxane convinced the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department to split the blood sample, which they still had, then they FedExed it to her in Contra Costa County. Roxane ordered the paternity test as soon as it arrived.

[Gruenheid] “And I got the report back that was scientifically definitive: this person is not biologically related to this person. And I’m like holy moly! This is crazy right now! San Bernardino has like an Elizabeth Smart. Who is she? \I’m like who is she?!”

[mux swell]

It had taken almost 20 years since Lisa was abandoned for someone to find out that she was a living Jane Doe. That she had a real family and a real name somewhere out there. That she was a missing person.

By ordering that paternity test, Roxane revealed a mystery that was not unlike the one that had mystified police in Bear Brook. Though Lisa was alive, she was just as unidentified as the victims found in those barrels.

It may be hard to see now, but the struggle to find Lisa’s true identity would lead all the way back to Bear Brook State Park. It would also lead to a breakthrough in criminal forensics that is being used right now to solve some of the country’s most notorious cold cases.

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 by: Blue Dot Sessions, Lee Rosevere, Podington Bear, and Daniel Birch.

To see a timeline of the cases mentioned in this episode … go to our website: bear brook podcast dot org.

Bear Brook is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio.

Transcript of Episode 4: Eunsoon Jun

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.

*** New Year’s 2000 ***

Elaine Ramos was planning a big party. It was 1999, New Year’s Eve was coming soon, and she wanted to celebrate Y2K with friends and family at her home in Monterey, California. She was excited.

Even more so when her cousin, Eunsoon Jun, called with some big news.

[Ramos] “She called to say that she had met somebody and asked if she could bring him. And I thought sure, this is somebody that she’s finally met that she’s in love with, of course you can bring him.”

Elaine and Eunsoon were close. Their families both immigrated to the U.S. from Korea when they were young and they grew up together.

Elaine knew that Eunsoon had a hard time when it came to dating. So when Eunsoon, now in her mid-40s, called to say she had met someone, it was a big deal. Elaine couldn’t wait to meet him.

Elaine’s house in Monterey sits at the end of a cul de sac in a suburb full of nice ranch-style houses. When Eunsoon and her new boyfriend arrived on the day of the party, Elaine stepped outside to greet them.

[Ramos] “First of all, when they drove up it was in this dirty, white van. It didn’t have windows on it, it was one of those cargo vans. And I thought, ‘wow.’ But then when they came up to the door and I opened the door and saw his face, I had a chill run down my back that I’ve never in my life, ever had before. And he stuck out his hand to shake my hand and I saw the long dirty fingernails that just creeped me out.”

Eunsoon’s new boyfriend, Larry Vanner, looked ragged and dirty. He seemed a lot older than Eunsoon. He was bald on top, with patches of messy brown hair sprouting out on the sides. He wore a mustache, and his voice was a deep drawl. The only thing inviting about him, Elaine remembers, were his eyes. They were a shade of deep blue that seemed to sparkle in the light. Elaine says it was almost like they were made of glass.

Elaine was unsettled by her first impression of Vanner, but she wanted to be supportive.

[Ramos] “Eunsoon was just beaming. She was so happy to introduce him to the family.”

Later in the evening, as the party got going, Elaine tried again with the new boyfriend. She sat across a bar from Vanner and starting chatting.

[Ramos] “And so I asked him, I said ‘what have you done?’ And he just stared at me and said ‘I’m a retired colonel in the army.’ And I said ‘really? Because my boss is a retired full bird colonel and maybe you two know each other because I think you’re about the same age.’”

Vanner leaned over the bar close to Elaine and said:

[Ramos] “Don’t ever question me or ask me again about my past.”

Before Elaine could react, Vanner brightened back up, smiling and making small talk as if it never happened.

It was one of many red flags Elaine remembers from that night.

Vanner claimed to own properties all over the West Coast, but couldn’t explain why he had never taken Eunsoon to see any of them. He said he onced worked for the CIA and could disappear if he ever needed to.

At the end of the night, Elaine offered Eunsoon and Vanner a room to stay in. They had been drinking and she didn’t want them driving home.

[Ramos] “And she goes, ‘no, we’re going to sleep in the van.’ And that’s when we went outside and saw the van and it just had dirty blankets and pillows thrown in the back and I thought ‘‘Eunsoon, you can’t sleep here.’ She goes ‘no, I love it. I’m fine.’”

A few days after the party, Elaine got a phone call from Eunsoon. She wanted to know what she thought of the new boyfriend.

[Ramos] “And I said, ‘Eunsoon, I don’t really know him. I tried to get to know him but he didn’t want to answer my questions.’ I said, ‘please before you get too involved with him, make sure everything he is telling you is the truth. Please do that for me.’ And then she got angry at me. She said, ‘nobody wants me to be happy. I’ve finally found somebody who loves me and nobody wants me to be happy.’ And I said, ‘that’s not it, I just don’t want you to get involved with somebody who isn’t telling you the truth.’ And that was the last time I spoke with her.”

This is Bear Brook, I’m Jason Moon.

*** Eunsoon Jun ***

[Ramos] “Eunsoon was a free spirit. We always said she was like a Bohemian. She loved to explore religions, explore people, different  cultures.”

Eunsoon Jun was a chemist by profession. For years, she worked at a biotech company near Richmond, California. But Elaine says she was more of an artist at heart. She made pottery and loved to travel. She was interested in Buddhism.

[Ramos] “One thing about Eunsoon was, as much as she was spiritual, and loved meeting people, she was lonely. She didn’t find the love of her life. And I think that opened her up to be vulnerable to people who would take advantage of her.”

[JM] “Why do you think that is? Did she have trouble meeting people?”

“I think that for a lot of us that are immigrants, we sometimes don’t feel like we fit in. I think that was harbored in her longer than for some other people who could adjust easier.”

By the time Eunsoon turned 40, pressure was mounting for her to find someone and settle down.

Then she met Larry Vanner. Eunsoon needed some work done on her house and an acquaintance recommended him as a handyman. From there it somehow became a relationship.

After the New Year’s Party, Eunsoon drifted away from her family. Elaine wasn’t the only relative to disapprove of the new boyfriend. A few family members tried to talk to Eunsoon about it, but it only seemed to make things worse.

[Ramos] “Eunsoon’s brother was getting letters and emails from Eunsoon saying that she didn’t want anything more to do with the family. Nobody wants her to be happy, just leave her alone, let her live her life. And...it didn’t sound like her.”

To Eunsoon’s relatives, it almost seemed like she was under a spell.

By 2001, a year later, Vanner had moved in with Eunsoon. Later that year they got married. It wasn’t official, there was no marriage certificate. The ceremony was held in a backyard. It had a Star Trek theme. Elaine wasn’t invited.

Eunsoon wasn’t talking much with most of her family by then. But she was still in touch with her good friend, Renee Rose. Rose was also a potter and the two of them would sometimes go to pottery classes and art shows together. They usually spoke at least a few times a week.

I wasn’t able to speak with Rose for this story. But she did give an interview to a local paper back in 2003. Between that and the account of law enforcement officers who have spoken with her, here’s what we know.

...

In May of 2002, Rose called Eunsoon to work out the details for a trip they had planned for the following week. Eunsoon sounded anxious when she picked up the phone. She spoke quickly and ended the conversation abruptly, saying ‘I’ll talk to you tomorrow.’

But Eunsoon didn’t call the next day and she didn’t show up for the trip they were supposed to take.

Worried, Rose left messages for Eunsoon on her answering machine. After a few days, she got a call back. It was Vanner. He said Eunsoon’s mother was dying and that she had flown to Virginia to see her.

Rose asked if there was a way to reach Eunsoon in Virginia. Vanner said no.

Rose kept calling in the days and weeks that followed. Each time, Vanner’s explanation for why she couldn’t talk to Eunsoon was different. He said she was too emotionally fragile to talk, that her family had made her depressed. He said she was in Virginia, then Oregon. Once, he told Rose that Eunsoon had come home, but only for a day before leaving again.

Still, Rose kept calling. Something didn’t seem right. She wanted to know more about what was going on with Eunsoon. She wanted to know more about what was going on with Vanner. She offered to come over and cook him chili. She offered to clean the house ahead of Eunsoon’s return.

Vanner refused. He seemed annoyed, at times flashing with anger.

Finally, after several weeks, Rose gave Vanner an ultimatum. She was leaving on vacation for 10 days and said she wanted to hear Eunsoon’s voice on her answering machine when she got back. If she didn’t, she would call the police. In the end that’s what she did.

*** Roxane Gruenheid ***

As far as I can tell, Roxane Gruenheid is everything you want in a police officer. She’s tough and smart - and she’s got a real eye for detail.

[Gruenheid] “It was kind of funny, when I was working patrol, when I was first going through the training program, some of my training officers, I would write reports and he would say I’m too detailed.”

I spoke with Roxane just as she was entering retirement. After more than 25 years as a police officer in California, she decided to buy a house on Long Island to be closer to her family. She invited me over to talk so I made the drive a few hours south to catch a ferry.

When I arrived Roxane was still moving in. There was hardly any furniture around and a contractor was installing some new cabinets in the kitchen. Roxane found a couple of lawn chairs for us and she set them up in an empty room that looked out over her new swimming pool. Outside, a soft rain was falling.

Roxane and I ended up spending about two-and-a-half hours in those lawn chairs. She’s a good storyteller. I also noticed she has this verbal quirk.

[Gruenheid] “So it was pretty goofy.”

It’s almost like a catchphrase, something a TV cop might have.

[Gruenheid] “But then there’s this other story...Doing goofy things.”

Whenever something doesn’t quite add up, or she gets a gut feeling about a person or a place - she calls it goofy.

[Gruenheid] “Some stories are goofier than others and um…”

I get the impression it’s sort of a coping mechanism. A view of the world that she’s had to adopt, after working so many years in homicide.

[Gruenheid] “You know, you either talk to your colleagues, you find ways of trying to deal with it, you talk to your spouse, and some gallows humor... and some funny looks from people at parties from things that you think are funny as hell, that other people don’t think are very funny at all! And um goofy stories and you just try to take care of yourself.”

By 1999, Roxane’s attention to detail had gotten her promoted to the homicide division at the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Department. Contra Costa is just across the bay from San Francisco. Roxane thrived as a homicide detective, solving not only the active cases assigned to her, but cold cases too.

She likes to tell the story of one those cold cases in particular because it proves how even the smallest detail can unlock a mystery.

The case was an unsolved murder from the 80s: a woman was found shot to death near her car on the side of the road. Roxane dug around and found an old recording of an interview with one of the suspects. It was a betamax tape that she had to take to the local public access TV station to play. In the video, the suspect denies even knowing the victim.

[Gruenheid] “At the end of the videotape, the detective gets up and he goes ‘alright, we’ll take you back to the jail now.’ And the lights go off, so there’s no more video. But there’s still audio, cause they’re standing in the doorway, talking.”

On those last few seconds of tape, Roxane could hear the detective casually ask the suspect what kind of cigarettes he smokes.

[Gruenheid] “And suspect responds, he goes, ‘Pall Malls.’ And he goes, ‘filters or no filters?’ And he goes, ‘no filters.’”

The Pall Malls triggered something Roxane had read in the case file: detectives had taken the contents of an ashtray in the victim’s car into evidence.

[Gruenheid] “And there were like three Pall Mall no-filter cigarettes in her ashtray. And I was like ‘holy crap!’ And I went back and I called the crime lab and was like ‘do you still have these cigarettes?’ ‘Yes we have them.’ ‘Great.’ Put in a request to see if there’s DNA on them. That was his DNA on the cigarettes and that was it. That one little detail opened that case wide open. And he went to prison for murdering that woman.”

Anyways, that’s where Roxane was in 2002, solving cold cases, making a name for herself, when a call came in about a missing woman.

[Gruenheid] “Our patrol division had been contacted by a woman by the name of Rose and she had called the Sheriff’s Office to report her friend, Eunsoon Jun, missing.”

[DETECTIVE] “Do you need another coke?”

[Vanner] “No, I’m fine.”

Within a few days, detectives brought Larry Vanner, Eunsoon Jun’s new live-in boyfriend, in for questioning. The video of the interview shows Vanner sitting in an office chair in a small windowless room in front of a tiny desk. Vanner is wearing a t-shirt and gray slacks. A pair of eyeglasses are propped up on his balding head.

[DETECTIVE] “Maybe she’s hurt herself and you’re concerned about that getting out -- that she’s harmed herself?

[Vanner] “No.”

[DETECTIVE] “There’s no truth to that?”

[Vanner] “If you’re thinking, is she suicidal? No, she’s not...But she’s not as aggressive as she used to be.”

Vanner seemed evasive to detectives. He was willing enough to talk, but when he did he would end up issuing vague platitudes.

[Vanner] “Now I’ve always tried to live by the motto that there’s no defense against the truth. But sometimes it’s hard to find out what the truth is. You’ve got one side, the other side, and something down the middle that some people might perceive to be the truth.”

Or he would tell rambling stories that seemed to be building to a point that never came.

[Vanner] “When these guys get a chance to go work for the forest service for $28.50 an hour paid 24 hours a day plus their meals, even though it’s dangerous, they’re gonna go. They will!”

[DETECTIVE] “Mmhmm.”

[Vanner] “And it used to be, driving through places like that if you had a pair of shoes and you were close to the fire you’d get uh...what would you call it...you’d get volunteered. ‘Park your car mister, you’re gonna be a firefighter.’”

Vanner claimed that Eunsoon was in Oregon. She was overseeing the construction of a cabin on one of his properties, he said. But he wouldn’t give police a way to contact her.

Then later his story changed. He said the real reason Eunsoon was in Oregon was to see a therapist because she’d suffered a mental breakdown. Vanner said a call from police could trigger an anxiety attack.

[Vanner2002Interview] “Now I haven’t talked anymore Eunsoon’s problems or my problems because frankly, you’re not my priest and you’re not my doctor. And bullshit stories have their place. You know, gossip has its place in society sometimes. But I’m just not going to say anymore about Eunsoon or myself right now.”

[Gruenheid] “He played this kind of cat-and-mouse game with them. At one point in the interview I know they provided him with a telephone and he dialed a number and then didn’t talk to anybody and then hung up. But because it was on videotape we could slow it down and get the phone number that he was dialing and when a detective called that number it actually did go to a psychiatrist’s office in Eugene, Oregon. And so we were thinking, ‘ok, maybe.’ You know, he didn’t have a piece of paper. He had this phone number in his head.”

Over the phone detectives asked the psychiatrist if Eunsoon was there. The doctor said federal patient privacy laws didn’t allow them to reveal that.

Detectives looked for a way around the privacy law. Finally, they worked out a compromise with the doctor. They would give a physical description of Eunsoon, and the doctor would say if they were treating a patient who matched it.

After hearing the description, the psychiatrist said ‘no.’

The Oregon story was looking pretty shaky. But there was another reason why detectives were suspicious.

[Gruenheid] “So the goofy thing, the big red flag in the room was the fact that he had given us this name of Lawrence William Vanner with a date of birth.”

Roxane says when they ran that name through the system, instead of coming back with a driver’s license like they would expect, it came back with something called an index number. In California, index numbers are basically placeholders for someone’s identity in official records. They’re assigned to people who don’t have a valid form of ID.

[Gruenheid] “And that’s all we had on him. There was no criminal history, nothing in our -- no prior mention in a police report, there was nothing in any database, there was no driver’s license, there was no -- like nothing. Like nothing.”

Detectives asked Vanner if they could fingerprint him. He agreed.

To do that, they had to take him to a separate facility across town. Roxane volunteered to ride along in the backseat with Vanner while another detective drove.

On the way over, Roxane started chatting with Vanner. She says it was smalltalk with a purpose.

[Gruenheid] “I kinda worked into the conversation to see where I could go with it. You know what I mean? I mean, I’m a detective, right? I’m trying to figure stuff out.

Roxane wanted to see if she could figure out where Vanner was from. She started by talking about accents. She brought up her own Long Island accent. How it was often commented on here in California. Then she said it sounded like he had an accent too, but she couldn’t place it -- where was it from?

[Gruenheid] “He stopped dead in his conversation, looked at me and then got really closer to me, looked me straight in the eye and he says ‘that’s none of your damn business.’”

[mux here]

Vanner then abruptly returned to casual smalltalk. Roxane says the mood change was so fast it was like a lightswitch. The same thing Elaine had seen at the New Year’s party.

Vanner was fingerprinted and then detectives drove him back to the station. By the time they returned, the results of the prints were already waiting for them. They would change everything.

-----[Break] -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

When detectives got back to the police station with Larry Vanner, they left him alone in the same interrogation room as before. When they came back in the room, one of the detectives was holding a slim manilla folder with the results from Vanner’s fingerprints, which included a criminal record and a list of known aliases.

[Vanner2002Interview]

[DETECTIVE 1] “Alright Larry, your prints came back. You know your other name, right?”

[DETECTIVE 2] “Curtis or Gerald or Gerry or whatever name you’re going by this week.”

[DETECTIVE 1] “Curtis Kimball.”

[DETECTIVE 2] “Curtis Kimball. Or Gerald Mocker… what’s the other one?”

[DETECTIVE 1] “Mockerman.”

[DETECTIVE 2] “Mockerman, right.”

[DETECTIVE 1] “Ring a bell?”

[Vanner] “No.”

[DETECTIVE 1] “Yeah that’s who you are, man.”

Larry Vanner’s fingerprints belonged to a man whose name was not Larry Vanner. The prints came back under the name Curtis Mayo Kimball. In the video, you can actually see the surprise splash across Vanner-slash-Kimball’s face as detectives list off his other names. Detectives assumed that Curtis Kimball was itself an alias, but at this point it was the earliest name they had. For Roxane Gruenheid, it was hard to know what to make of this new information.

[Gruenheid] “Were you thinking… Eunsoon’s probably not ok?” “We still didn’t know. I mean, the goal of any missing persons investigation is to determine where they are, and if they’re ok, you know what I mean. But now we had an added piece to it…  Who is this guy, that’s given us one name… that’s really not even a name… that’s not even him...That is now, purportedly this other guy who has been on parole for 12 years!

That last part - that Curtis Kimball was on parole - was a big deal.  I’ll explain why in a minute. In 1989 Kimball was convicted of child abandonment and spent a year and a half in a California state prison. Then on the day he was released, he skipped town, violating his parole.

[Gruenheid] “And so that was a whole different -- now we had a whole different ball of wax.”

Looking back, Contra Costa detective Roxane Gruenheid thinks that Kimball didn’t know that his prints would come back so quickly. The last time he was in custody was over ten years ago, before the process was handled by computers. She thinks he agreed to get fingerprinted assuming it would take at least a few days for the results to come back. Plenty of time to leave town, adopt a new name, and start over again.

But that plan didn’t work.

[Gruenheid] “So I read him his miranda rights and at that time he chose not to talk to us and he shut down the interview.” Did he have any interaction at all. No nothing, just I want an attorney. And that was it.

In California, parolees and their property are subject to police searches for any reason at any time, no warrant required.

Now that Roxane had Curtis Kimball’s record in hand - and had discovered that he had violated parole - she had a new opportunity. She could legally search his home.

So Roxane and another detective named Mike Costa drove out to Eunsoon Jun’s house where she and Curtis Kimball had been living together to have a look around. Detectives were worried. Whatever this revelation about Curtis Kimball meant, it probably wasn’t good for Eunsoon.

Eunsoon lived in an area called East Richmond heights. It’s a middle class neighborhood, with small houses packed right next to each other along winding roads that work their way up a hillside. From the top of the hill, on a clear day, you can see all the way across the bay to San Francisco.

Roxane and Mike arrived at the house and knocked at the front door. No one answered. Using the keys they’d taken from Kimball, they went inside.

[Gruenheid] “We were working a missing persons case, so we didn’t open any drawers or anything like that because no human being could be in a drawer, you know what I mean? So we just walked around the house to make sure that A, that there wasn’t anybody in there that was going to hurt us, and at the same time just making that if she was in there we would try to find her. So we were looking for somebody human-sized, her human-sized, in the general areas of the house.”

Roxane and Mike went room by room. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. But that changed as the search moved outside.

[Gruenheid] “We went in the backyard and we found a dead kitten that had been thrown over the fence in the back.”

[Gruenheid] “There was an area inside the shed that looked like it had recently been tried to be dug up inside the shed.

[JM] “Like a dirt floor?”

“Yeah, like a dirt floor inside the shed.”

Roxane and Mike took note of the dead cat, of the disturbed soil in the shed. Then made their way around the outside of the house to the garage. It was the one place they hadn’t looked yet. The sliding garage door had a padlock on it, but Roxane found the key on Kimball’s keychain. She threw up the door and found Eunsoon’s pottery studio.

[Gruenheid] “She had several kilns, like nice big kilns. There was pottery in various stages of being created - fired, glazed.”

The walls of the garage were lined with Eunsoon’s pottery. Bowls, vases, sculpted figures and masks.

Roxane and Mike slowly moved through the space, careful not to touch anything.

In the back of the garage they found a doorway. It led down a few steps to an unfinished part of the house -- a sort of basement crawl space with a dirt floor. It was about 8 by 10, and not quite tall enough to stand up in.

[Gruenheid] “And my partner Mike went in there and he looked around and he goes, ‘you need to come take a look at this.’ And I stepped into that area and looked with my flashlight and I could see that there was a huge pile of cat litter, probably that tall, so a good three feet tall.”

Cat litter. The pile was almost waist-high… and maybe 5 feet across. Enough to fill the bed of a truck.

[Gruenheid] “I’d never seen anything like that. It was perfect. It was just like you’d pile up a pile of sand.”

On the ceiling above the pile, a couple of work lights were clamped onto an exposed beam. The lights were aimed down at the pile, like the cat litter was part of some kind of bizarre home improvement project.

[Gruenheid] “There was some shop kind of tools and equipment there...reciprocating saw, there was a small, not a hatchet small, but like a child’s axe leaned up there, there was some bottles of some green substance, like spray bottles...so it was goofy.”

[Mux swell]

Roxane called for the forensic team. For an hour and a half they photographed the scene in detail. The cat litter, the work lights, the tools. Then, finally, they started to sift through the pile of cat litter.

[Gruenheid] “And within a few swipes of the pile, the thing that emerged was a human foot that was still in a rubber like a flip flop.”

...

[Gruenheid] “But it was mummified, like you’d see in a museum. Like a mummified foot. Human foot, obviously human foot.”

The forensic team found blood splatter on the heating and air conditioning ductwork above the pile of cat litter. It suggested that Eunsoon had been bludgeoned to death there in the crawlspace. They also discovered that her body had been dismembered.

...

[Ramos] “She wanted to be loved that’s all she wanted. I think that she found out about him or found out that something wasn’t right and confronted him. He probably would’ve killed her anyway. But I’m sure Eunsoon confronted him. I’m sure she fought... I have to believe that she fought.”

...

[music fade out]

[Motta] “The case stuck with me because he was so freakin’ creepy.”

Joe Motta was a prosecutor with the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s office for 17 years.

[Motta] “It was just an unusual kind of case, just the nature of it. I’d never seen anything like that.”

In 2003 he had what seemed like an open and shut case against Kimball. He had lied about Eunsoon Jun’s whereabouts. Her body was found in the house he was living in. And Roxane had uncovered lots of evidence that he had been spending Eunsoon’s money after her death.

But as he prepared for trial, Motta was worried.

[Motta] “My opponent was a pretty well-respected public defender, probably their toughest advocate at the time. He was a noble adversary. He was a brawler.”

Motta knew this experienced defense attorney would try to argue that Kimball wasn’t directly involved in Eunsoon’s death. To try to negotiate a plea deal on a lesser charge, like accessory to murder.

[Motta] “My big concern was there’s not enough evidence to show how it went down. There wasn’t. There wasn’t any evidence. There wasn’t a murder weapon. You know, what if she fell down the stairs and he felt bad and he didn’t want anyone to know about it? You know, who knows what they could’ve come up with.”

Motta needed something connecting Kimball to the scene in the basement. He figured their best shot was the cat litter. It was so much cat litter that a store employee might might remember the purchase and who made it. If Motta could show the jury that Kimball had worked to cover up Eunsoon’s death, it would help tie him to the crime itself. It wouldn’t be a smoking gun, but it would help.

He put detective Roxane Gruenheid on the case.

[Gruenheid] “I can’t even imagine, there’s gotta be 1500 dog and cat boutique stores -- you could buy that anywhere, you know.”

Roxane wasn’t sure how she was going to find the right pet store. But then she remembered a detail.

[Gruenheid] “When I was tracking back some of the fiduciary crimes that he was committing, he had used Eunsoon’s ATM card at this ATM down in on the edge of El Sobrante, Richmond area. And I used to work in that beat.”

Roxane realized she knew that ATM. And she knew there was a pet store right next to it.

[Gruenheid] “So I roll up there and I go in and I go to talk to the manager and I go… ‘anybody buy a large quantity of cat litter in the past?’ and he goes ‘yeah! There was this guy!’ And so basically he tells me this story that this old guy, twinkly blue eyes, drives up with his car, bought 10, 25 pound -- and it was the 20 pound with the bonus 5 pounds for free. Pays cash, loads them in his car, and his story to the employees was something to the effect of that he had a little bit of oil that he spilled in the driveway changing the oil in his car. But I was like, ‘anybody ever buy 250 pounds of cat litter?’ And they were like, ‘no that was pretty unusual.’”

The cat litter wasn’t Kimball’s only attempt at covering up evidence of the crime. A neighbor told Roxane that Kimball had been out hosing the driveway one day when he casually mentioned that he was dealing with a rat infestation, and that if there were any strange smells coming from him garage, not to worry about it.

So Motta had more than enough to prosecute the case. But as the trial approached, Roxane kept digging anyways. She got in touch with Kimball’s former parole officer and had all the documents on his criminal record faxed over. Roxane read through them all.

[mux here]

His criminal record began in 1986, about 15 years before he met Eunsoon, with a warrant issued for child abandonment.

According to the police reports, he had left his five year old daughter at an RV park with an elderly couple and then fled. At the time he was using the name Gordon Jensen.

A few years later he was pulled over driving a stolen car. He gave officers the name Gerald Mockerman, but his fingerprints linked him back to the child abandonment charge. He was convicted on that charge and served about a year and a half of a three year sentence in a California state prison before being released on parole. The parole officer told Roxane he never showed up for his first meeting.

Roxane was getting more and more interested in Kimball’s past -- the trail of aliases, his daughter at the RV park. She couldn’t let it go. Even as Kimball headed to court for a murder trial he was sure to lose.

Eunsoon Jun’s cousin, Elaine Ramos, can remember the first day of the trial. It was the first time any of the family had seen Curtis Kimball, a man they had known as Larry Vanner, since the murder.

[Elaine] “As he walked past us -- we all had buttons, pins with Eunsoon’s face on it. And we were all sitting there in the jury box or whatever that is and he passed us by and he just gave us this smirky smile. It was disgusting.”

The trial was hard on Eunsoon’s family. And not just because Kimball seemed to be taunting them. Eunsoon Jun and Curtis Kimball met in November of 1999. He was arrested for her murder in November 2002. During those years, Kimball had so successfully isolated Eunsoon that her family was forced to grieve someone that they didn’t know as well as they once had. The emails from Eunsoon telling her family to leave her alone -- they hadn’t sounded like Eunsoon because it turns out they Kimball wrote them. He made sure that for many of Eunsoon’s relatives, their last conversation with her was an argument about her new boyfriend.

[Elaine] “Everybody felt guilty for not trying harder to protect her. But it’s hard to protect somebody that -- she wanted to be loved. That’s all she wanted.”

...

[Elaine] “Her mother had dementia. So that was a good thing that she never learned what happened to Eunsoon. You know she would ask about her and her daughter would just say that she was busy. And that was a blessing.”

Elaine says most of the family doesn’t like to talk about this anymore. It’s too painful to relive. But Eunsoon is well remembered by her family, often through her pottery.

[Elaine] “I have a couple of pieces in my garden and one piece that when holidays come I use.…[laughing] my husband says it wasn’t very good… And then she made this man. This kind of funny looking man that I have outside. I call her my Eunsoon man.”

[JM] [33:00] “It sounds like, was she, before all this happened, was she was very um… It sounds like she was very loved.”

[Elaine] “She was. I mean there were family issues, but there is with most families. You have your differences and get mad at your siblings. But in the end we all love each other.”

The first day of Curtis Kimball’s trial ended with few surprises. Things were going more or less as Motta had planned. But that changed the next morning on the second day of trial. Kimball stood up and told the judge he wanted to change his plea -- to guilty.

[JM] “When he pled guilty, did it seem like his attorney was caught by surprise?

[Motta] “Oh yeah, his attorney -- he said on the record, I’m pretty sure, that ‘this plea is against my advice.’

[JM] “How unusual is that?”

[Motta] “Pretty darned unusual. Nobody ever pleads guilty to murder.”

Nobody pleads guilty to murder. But Curtis Kimball did. He willingly accepted a sentence of 15 years to life.

Detective Roxane Gruenheid thinks she might know why. The day before, on the first day of trial, she had been talking with Prosecutor Joe Motta during a courtroom recess. She was updating Motta on all the things she was finding in Kimball’s past. Kimball, meanwhile, was sitting not too far away at the defendant’s table. Close enough to maybe overhear.

[Gruenheid] “He wanted me to stop my investigation. Like, he didn’t want me to continue to go down that rabbit hole. And he thought if he pled guilty, maybe I would go away.”

*** Postscript to an Investigation ***

But Roxane didn’t go away. Back at her desk, she kept reading through the old police reports of Kimball’s criminal history. The part she found the most puzzling was the charge that had put Kimball behind bars in the late 80’s: abandoning his own five year old daughter at an RV park. In the files there were photographs of her.

[Gruenheid] “They were xerox copies so they weren’t very clear but she was little. Like she was a little, little tiny girl, you know what I mean. And there was a fingerprint card, like a booking fingerprint card, but with these little tiny fingerprints on them. And footprints, you know because in the hospital because they take the baby’s footprint.”

Roxane became fixated on this little girl. Her name was listed as Lisa. But actually Roxane wasn’t so sure about that.

When Curtis Kimball and ‘Lisa’ were staying at the RV park, he was using the name Gordon Jensen. But Roxane knew that Gordon Jensen was an alias -- that it wasn’t his real name. For that matter, she was pretty sure Curtis Kimball was a fake name, too. This got her wondering -- if he’d been lying about his own name to hide his past, maybe he had been lying about the little girl’s name, too.

Maybe, this “Lisa” didn’t know her real name. Maybe she wasn’t even really his daughter.

[Gruenheid] “I was sitting there at my cubicle and I’m reading all this stuff and I felt like now that I had my homicide case and who this guy was but then there’s all this backstory to him and who the heck is this guy, really? And who is that little girl?”

Roxane wanted to do a paternity test to know for sure. She had Kimball’s DNA from her homicide investigation. And she learned that detectives investigating Lisa’s abandonment had taken a blood sample from her back in the 80s. Roxane convinced the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department to split the blood sample, which they still had, then they FedExed it to her in Contra Costa County. Roxane ordered the paternity test as soon as it arrived.

[Gruenheid] “And I got the report back that was scientifically definitive: this person is not biologically related to this person. And I’m like holy moly! This is crazy right now! San Bernardino has like an Elizabeth Smart. Who is she? \I’m like who is she?!”

[mux swell]

It had taken almost 20 years since Lisa was abandoned for someone to find out that she was a living Jane Doe. That she had a real family and a real name somewhere out there. That she was a missing person.

By ordering that paternity test, Roxane revealed a mystery that was not unlike the one that had mystified police in Bear Brook. Though Lisa was alive, she was just as unidentified as the victims found in those barrels.

It may be hard to see now, but the struggle to find Lisa’s true identity would lead all the way back to Bear Brook State Park. It would also lead to a breakthrough in criminal forensics that is being used right now to solve some of the country’s most notorious cold cases.

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 by: Blue Dot Sessions, Lee Rosevere, Podington Bear, and Daniel Birch.

To see a timeline of the cases mentioned in this episode … go to our website: bear brook podcast dot org.

Bear Brook is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio.

Transcript of Episode 5: Bloodline (Parts 1 & 2)

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.

 

Most stories like to be told chronologically. This happened, and then this happened, and so on.

But in so many ways this is not your typical story. The narrative arc is more like a four-dimensional  maze, one that bounces around through time and around the country. It’s all connected… but it’s hard to know where to start. The beginning, middle, and end - they change depending on where you come in.

All of which is to say: we’re going back to the 80’s again, to another beginning of this story. To another mystery, that by the end will lead us back to our beginning... in the woods of Bear Brook State Park.

*** An Unofficial Adoption ***

In 1986, a man calling himself Gordon Jensen arrived at an RV park in Scotts Valley, California. He had a five year old girl with him - a girl he said was his daughter. Her name was Lisa.

Gordon Jensen and Lisa lived out of a small truck camper at the RV park, which was called the Holiday Host RV park. The owners called it that because it was on the site of what used to be a weird theme park named Santa’s Village. In its heyday, Santa’s Village was 25 acres of Christmas on steroids. There were gingerbread houses, a toy factory, even a refrigerated North Pole that kids could stick their tongues to.

But the theme park went out of business and all that had been left to rot. By the time Gordon Jensen and Lisa arrived, it was like a Christmas ghost town in the woods.

Also at the Holiday Host RV park in 1986 was an elderly couple, Richard and Katherine Decker. They were from San Bernardino, California about 7 hours south. They were only staying for a few months - Richard had landed a temporary job with the state.

The Deckers became friendly with Gordon Jensen and Lisa. They had a grandson... he and Lisa became playmates. Before long, the Deckers started keeping an eye on Lisa while Gordon Jensen was busy. They grew fond of Lisa, started to really care for her.

Years later, a detective named Peter Headley would tell the Deckers their relationship with Lisa…  probably saved her life.

[Headley] “She did. They did. If they hadn’t been there at that particular time, said the right things, she would not be here today.”

Headley works in the Crimes Against Children Detail at the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department. It’s a line of work that he sums up in his characteristically terse way.

[Headley] “It can be very difficult.”

[JM] “What do you mean?”

[Headley] “How do I put that in words?… Just seeing the effects on victims -- it’s tough.”

Detective Headley’s understated style strikes me as being at odds with the rest of his life, which involves chasing criminals and his favorite hobby, skydiving.

I should say that Detective Headley would eventually come to play a pivotal role in Lisa’s life… and today, he’s one of the only people who is alive and willing to tell this part of the story.  But back in 1986, when Gordon Jensen and five-year old Lisa first came to the Holiday Host, he had nothing to do with it.

In any case, Detective Headley says that back then, the Deckers were becoming concerned about Lisa. They noticed how thin she looked; that she didn’t seem to have any toys. And living out of that tiny truck camper -- it was hard living for a five year-old.

Gordon Jensen told the Deckers that Lisa’s mother died of cancer when Lisa was just a baby. In fact, Katherine Decker would later tell reporters that he openly cried about it. She says she felt horrible for him. And Gordon Jensen also admitted to the Deckers that he was having trouble raising Lisa on his own.

One day, the Deckers shared with Gordon Jensen that they had an adult daughter back in San Bernardino. She was having a hard time having kids and was considering an adoption. It was a gentle suggestion; a way to subtly suggest that Lisa might be better off with a different parent. Gordon Jensen took the hint and ran with it. A few days later, he offered Lisa up for what he deemed a “trial adoption.”

The idea was that the Deckers would take Lisa to their daughter and her husband down in San Bernardino for a period of three weeks. If things went well, they would come back to the RV park with an attorney and make the adoption legal.

It wasn’t the most well thought-out plan. But Gordon Jensen seemed eager to get Lisa off his hands and the Deckers were confident their daughter could offer Lisa a better life than the one she had. So they went ahead with it. The Deckers headed south to San Bernardino with Lisa. With their new granddaughter.

[Headley] “They were just down here a matter of weeks and they realized that something was very wrong and the she had been molested.”

Away from Gordon Jensen and the RV park, Lisa started showing signs of abuse. She started touching the Decker’s son-in-law inappropriately. And she was beginning to talk about the things Gordon Jensen had done to her.

I don’t know the exact details of the abuse. But one police department would later describe what happened by saying that Lisa was -quote- “severely molested and tortured.”

Getting Gordon Jensen to sign legal adoption papers now seemed more important than ever. But the Deckers soon realized that was no longer an option.

[Headley] “When they tried to re-contact him, he was gone.”

Gordon Jensen had vanished from the Holiday Host RV park.

The Deckers didn’t know what to do. But eventually, they decided to turn to the police. In the summer of 1986 they brought Lisa to the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department. Detectives questioned the Deckers and Lisa.

Then, they took Lisa into protective custody. The Deckers had to say goodbye. Even if they had rescued her, had saved her life, she wasn’t legally their child.

[JM] “As far as you know have they ever reconnected?”

[Headley] “I don’t know if they have. I have talked to Mrs. Decker and told her what had happened afterwards. And I passed on information to Lisa about Mrs. Decker. I don’t know if they ever connected or not.”

Lisa went into foster care and was eventually adopted.

Today, she’s married with three children of her own. She has asked for privacy from reporters, but in a statement released through law enforcement she says she’s living a -quote- “happy and secure life.”

Of course, that’s not the end of the story. Back in 1986, after the Decker’s handed Lisa over to the police, a warrant was issued for Gordon Jensen’s arrest. It was for two charges: child molestation and child abandonment. But when detectives tried to track him down, they quickly hit a dead end. All of the records he left behind at the RV park were fake.

The truck camper he and Lisa had lived out of had a Texas license plate, but it was registered to an address that turned out to be a motel room. The social security number on his job application to work at the RV park was fake. And even the name he’d been using at Holiday Host, Gordon Jensen, was also phony.

Detectives were able to pull a fingerprint from the RV Park. It came back with a different name: Curtis Kimball.

At first they thought they had caught a break. Curtis Kimball had an arrest record from a few months before he arrived at the RV park. It was from Cypress, California near LA. Curtis Kimball was pulled over for drunk driving. Lisa was in the car with him at the time.

But that was it. Beyond that one arrest, the name Curtis Kimball didn’t seem to go anywhere. There was no driver license or real social security number attached to it. Nothing that could tell detectives where he was from. Peeling back one fake name seemed to lead to another. Which left detectives with no idea how to find him.

[Headley] “And it wasn’t until 1988 that those charges were brought up to him.”

In 1988, two years after abandoning Lisa, Curtis Kimball was arrested again. But not because police had tracked him down. He was pulled over for driving a stolen car in San Luis Obispo, California, about three hours south of the RV park. At the time, Kimball gave police another phony name: he said he was “Gerald Mockerman”. Again, here’s Detective Peter Headley.

[Headley] “They got his fingerprints. He was still in custody for the stolen vehicle. So when the prints came back he was still there. And that’s when they found the previous warrant under the other name Curtis Kimball.”

So in 1988, police had figured out that Curtis Kimball and Gordon Jensen were the same guy. And they had him in jail, facing charges for molesting and abandoning Lisa and for a driving a stolen car.

This is an important moment in the timeline, because it’s here that detectives came so close to figuring out the truth. So close to establishing the fact that, as we learned in the last episode, Lisa wasn’t actually his daughter. That she had been kidnapped.

In 1989, an investigator working the child abandonment charge told a reporter -quote- “my guess is he picked her up somewhere and was keeping her as a sex slave.” One  prosecutor even said he would try to force Curtis Kimball into taking a paternity test to establish their relationship once and for all.

But that paternity test never happened. At least not all the way. They got as far as taking a blood sample from Lisa, but they never got one from Curtis Kimball.

I’m not sure exactly why that paternity test was never finished. But my best guess is that it was because Curtis Kimball took a plea deal. In 1989, he plead guilty to child abandonment. In return, the child molestation and stolen vehicle charges were dropped.

This is pretty standard, in case you’re wondering. The vast majority of convictions in America -over 90%-  are the result of plea deals. It helps prosecutors avoid lengthy trials and work through more cases, more quickly. In this instance, it worked out pretty well for Curtis Kimball, too. By avoiding a trial, he avoided that paternity test and further scrutiny into his past.

Curtis Kimball was sentenced to three years in prison for child abandonment. In 1990, about halfway through his sentence, he was released on parole. He fled almost immediately, and became a fugitive. The next time police had him custody was in 2003 … after he had changed his identity once more, to Larry Vanner, and murdered Eunsoon Jun.

It’s hard not to wonder how things might have gone differently if that paternity test had been finished back in 1989. Prosecutors could’ve charged Curtis Kimball with kidnapping and child abduction. Charges which could have put him away for a lot longer than a few years. Maybe most importantly, the investigation into Lisa’s true identity could’ve gotten started right away.

Instead, it wasn’t until 2003, some 14 years later, that the investigation into Lisa’s identity began. And if not for Contra Costa County detective Roxane Gruenheid, it might never have began. Remember she was investigating her own case, the murder of Eunsoon Jun, when she first learned about Lisa. For whatever reason -a hunch, an intuition- she decided to finish that paternity test that detectives had began so many years earlier.

[Gruenheid] “And I got the report back that was scientifically definitive: this person is not biologically related to this person. And I’m like holy moly! This is crazy right now! San Bernardino has like an Elizabeth Smart. Who is she?

Once Roxane saw the results of the paternity test, she called the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department. That was the police department where the Deckers had brought Lisa back in the 80’s, so they had jurisdiction over the case.

But by 2003, the detectives in San Bernardino who first worked on the Lisa case, who had spoken to the Deckers, were gone. The new detectives didn’t know that their predecessors had once openly speculated that Lisa was a sex slave. Roxane says all they knew was the official story that ended up in the case file.

[Gruenheid] “They had a little girl. Her father hurt her, gave her away to this couple. He went to prison. Her mother is purportedly deceased. She goes to foster care and is adopted. For all intents and purposes, back then, their case was closed. And so here I am calling from 20 years later going ‘hey you guys have a -- you gotta work this! You gotta find out who she is.’ And the response at first was like ‘we don’t have an open found child case,’ and I’m like ‘yeah, you do.’”

Remember, at this point, Kimball was serving 15 years for the murder of Eunsoon Jun. So once Roxane convinced police in San Bernardino to reopen the Lisa case, she decided to have one more conversation with Curtis Kimball. She went to the Pleasant Valley state prison in Coalinga, California, and asked him point blank - where did Lisa come from? Where were her real parents?

[Gruenheid] “He knew exactly what he was doing and basically he was just playing us. He was saying stuff like ‘they said I had a daughter back in the day but I don’t remember. They said I gave her away but I can’t imagine I would’ve done that. I’m an alcoholic and I drank a lot and my memory is shot.’ I was just thinking ‘you’re lying your left foot off right now,’ you know what I mean.”

Roxane didn’t get anything useful out of Curtis Kimball. And no one ever would.

That’s because In 2010, Curtis Kimball died at the High Desert State Prison in northern California. According to his death certificate, the cause of death was a mix of pulmonary emphysema, pneumonia, and lung cancer.

His body was cremated. And his ashes were thrown into the ocean off the coast of Santa Cruz.

Curtis Kimball had no visitors while he was in prison. Not even a single phone call. He never tried to make a deal with prosecutors with the information he had. He never bragged about it to other inmates. As far as we can tell, he never told anyone the truth about his life.

Whatever he knew about who Lisa really was or what happened to her mother, he kept it to himself. And when he died, it was gone.

----[BREAK]-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

In 2003, when the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department opened a new investigation aimed at finding her true identity, Lisa was 22 years old.

But that investigation quickly went nowhere, for all the same reasons the Bear Brook investigation did. No identity of the victim, nowhere to begin.

For 10 years, there was little movement on the case. Then in 2013, when Lisa was 32 years old, detective Peter Headley took over the case. He’s the understated skydiving detective we heard from earlier.

When detective Headley took over, the road to solving th e case was as steep as ever. Nearly everything Curtis Kimball had said to anyone was a lie. And Lisa was so young when she was abandoned, she couldn’t offer much help to detectives.

Meanwhile, Lisa’s identity wasn’t the only mystery detectives were trying to look into. When case was reopened, detectives had looked back over the story of Lisa’s abandonment with the knowledge that Curtis Kimball was capable of murder. Under this new light, new questions arose. Like, where was Lisa’s mother? Had Curtis Kimball killed her?

And there was also a story that five-year-old Lisa had told detectives back in the 80’s when the Deckers brought her in. A story that in retrospect, seemed much more ominous than it had when Lisa was a child.

[Headley] “When she was first recovered she was asked about other siblings. And she had said that she did have other siblings but they had died while they were out camping from eating “grass mushrooms.”

[JM] “So as an investigator who works in crimes involving children, when you hear that story from Lisa as a child about the mushrooms, what do you hear as an investigator when you hear that?”

[Headley] “There’s more victims.”

So, not only were they searching for Lisa’s identity but for evidence of other potential murders.

Detective Headley started his work on the case by doing pretty much the same thing his predecessors had: trying to find a missing persons reports from somewhere around the country that matched Lisa. Anyone who fit the right age range, who could’ve possibly been in the path of Curtis Kimball at before he pops up in California in the mid 80’s.

Detective Headley found a handful of missing toddler cases from around the country that might be matches. He reached out to the families of the missing children and asked for DNA samples to compare against Lisa. One by one, he ruled them all out.

Detective Headley wondered if maybe the problem was that Lisa had been abducted somewhere outside the U.S. and that’s why she wasn’t showing up in a missing persons report. One of the stories Curtis Kimball had told about Lisa’s mother was that she was a nurse from Canada. Maybe there was some truth in there. So detective Headley reached out to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who told him they had a case of a missing toddler that might match. Again, Headley tracked down a family member, got a DNA test, and ruled it out.

Detective Headley tried switching tacks and turned his focus to Lisa’s mother. At different times, Kimball had told people her name was either Donna or Denise. Headley pored over thousands of records of Canadian nursing licensing boards looking for either of those names. But again, nothing.

Detective Headley tried switching focus again, this time to Curtis Kimball. With him at least there was some sort of paper trail, even if it was full of aliases and fake social security numbers. Detective Headley thought if he could just find one kernel of truth in there, it might eventually lead back to the real Curtis Kimball. His best lead was a set of phone records.

[Headley] “He had made some phone calls from the RV park where he abandoned Lisa. One of them was to an RV park in Texas. And I actually found the previous owner of that RV park and he kept all the records for the park -- all the people that had stayed there. And I figured if he made a phone call there, somebody there knew him and that was a piece farther back in time to track him.”

This could be big. If detective Headley could find somebody who knew Curtis Kimball before he arrived in California, maybe they would know something about where he was from and who he was with.

The former owner of that Texas RV park told Detective Headley he had sold the park to the company Kampgrounds of America. Detective Headley reached out to the company, only to learn they after they bought the RV park, they had thrown away all the records from the previous owner.

[Headley] “So it’s been a very frustrating case, when you’re going back in time on a cold case, cause records are gone, people are deceased, and just can’t remember.”

[JM] “Yeah that must’ve been a rough day, when they told you they’d thrown all those records away.”

[Headley] “I thought I had it. It was a step further back in time and then, yeah, it was a big letdown.”

Throughout all these frustrating dead ends, Detective Headley had been in touch with Lisa.

[Headley] “I have talked to her numerous times during this investigation and she really wanted to know who she was.”

It was during one of these conversations, in 2014, that Lisa offered up a new suggestion to Detective Headley: why not try one of those genealogy websites, like 23andMe or Ancestry.com? One of those sites where you send in a DNA sample, and they tell you where your ancestors came from, and connect you with long lost relatives.

At first, detective Headley dismissed the idea. Genealogy websites probably seemed a little amateurish to him. Something meant for hobbyists and retirees. They had never been used in a criminal investigation, the way Lisa was suggesting.

[Headley] “One day I was just talking to Lisa again and I had made her a promise that I wasn’t going to give up, that I was going to keep trying. And she brought up, again, the genealogy sites. And I said, ‘alright, let’s try it.’ And we put her on several different sites and we started getting a hit of a fourth cousin, a fifth cousin, and I’m like ‘this might just work.’”

Lisa and detective Headley didn’t know it yet, but what they were doing would soon change the face of forensic investigation. It was the beginnings of an investigative technique that would solve not only the mystery of Lisa’s identity but also cases from all around the country -- some of which had baffled police for decades.

To understand how Lisa’s suggestion led to all that, you need a brief overview of the ways police use DNA testing in criminal investigations.

And just know that we’re going to explore some of this in greater detail in the next episode, so for now we’re just going over the basics.

Let’s start with the kind of DNA test that you’re probably most familiar with. The kind you see in TV cop shows all the time. Police have a DNA sample from a crime scene, they run it through a database to see if they find a match.

[Computer voice] “Processing...DNA match.” [dramatic music]

This type of standard DNA matching test landed its first conviction in 1987 and has been a mainstay of criminal investigations, and TV shows, ever since.

Then there are paternity and maternity tests. Pretty straightforward: investigators have two samples, they want to know if they are related. This kind of test is also on TV a lot.

[Maury] “When it comes to one-year-old Isaiah... Jay, you are not the father. [screams].”

This is the type of DNA testing that told us that the three of the four Bear Brook victims are maternally related.

There’s one other kind of DNA test that some police departments have at their disposal. It’s called familial DNA testing. This kind of testing searches a police DNA database for near misses instead of exact matches. The basic idea is that if police don’t find a match for a suspect’s DNA in the database, a familial search might find someone related to the suspect, who is in the database. Generally speaking, familial testing can detect relatives only as far as the immediate family.

And that’s pretty much it for law enforcement. They have their standard matching tests, maternity-paternity tests, and in some states they can run familial tests that can identify close relatives - mainly brother and sisters… maybe an uncle or aunt.

But over the last ten years or so, a newer and more advanced kind of DNA test has been developed and honed by people outside of law enforcement. This new test comes from a world with its own separate interest in DNA testing -- genealogy.

Genealogists study family lineages by researching ancestors and descendents, and building out broad family trees. And they were quick to realize the potential for DNA testing in their work. By around 2007, genealogy websites were offering direct-to-consumer DNA kits.

[23andMe ad] “23andMe is reinventing the way you look at your ancestors using the science of genetics, your DNA. With just a small saliva sample...”

Commercial DNA testing turned out to be a huge hit. Today as many as 12 million people have sent in their DNA to a genealogy website, according to an industry estimate.

At first, the kinds of DNA tests genealogists were using were the same ones police had. Mainly they were using paternity and maternity tests to trace those lines of a family tree.

But over time the commercial DNA tests grew more advanced as companies like Ancestry.com and 23andMe competed with each other to squeeze mo vre and more information out of each DNA sample. Before long, the commercial databases made a big breakthrough.

[23andMeExplainer] “Until now, DNA tests could only trace teeny fragments of your family tree. But, with 23andMe’s Relative Finder, you can discover ancestors from all branches of your family tree.” [23andMeExplainer] “George found out that Renee could be his fifth cousin. This means that George and Renee could share great-great-great-great grandparents. I’ll show you how cousins work.”

What 23andMe calls ‘Relative Finder’ is a new kind of DNA test called an autosomal DNA test.

It works on the same principle as the familial DNA testing that some police departments use -- it searches a DNA database for relatives instead of exact matches. But the big difference is that autosomal DNA tests are much, much more sensitive.

When police run a familial DNA test they are usually examinin g 20 different genetic markers to see how well two samples match. Think of it like a low-resolution photograph. It’s why familial testing can only detect close family members.

By contrast, the autosomal DNA tests being offered by genealogy companies today examine more than 700,000 markers on each DNA sample. With this high resolution test, genealogists can detect relatives as distant as 4th, or even 5th cousins.

[23andMeExplainer] “George found out that Renee could be his fifth cousin. This means that George and Renee could share great-great-great-great grandparents. I’ll show you how cousins work.”

Speaking of cousins, you have a lot more of them than you probably realize. Let’s assume you have a really simple family tree where each set of parents has just 2 or 3 kids. In that scenario, you have 4,700 fifth cousins. Combine that with the millions of people who are in the genealogy databases, and your odds of finding a match, of finding some link to your family tree, is really high.

[23andMeExplainer] “Which means that you may have loads of fifth cousins out there waiting to be discovered. Your family tree is probably a lot more interesting than you thought it was.”

So this is where things were at in 2013 when Lisa suggested a genealogy website as a way to find her family.

The matches were a starting point. The first blood relatives Lisa had ever known about. But they were distant relatives -- people so far removed, they didn’t know anything about her parents, or or what her real name might be. Think about it - do you know any of your 5th cousins? Do you know the names of your great, great, great, great grandparents?

To go from these distant relatives to finding Lisa’s immediate family, Detective Headley would have to climb all the way up the family tree find the common ancestor between Lisa and her fifth cousin, then travel back down the tree, search through all the connected generations, down every branch, looking for the one that Lisa belongs to. It’s like trying to find out where one particular leaf grew on a tree -- after that tree has been cut into pieces and piled in a heap.

To do this, you need more than just a match in a database. You need to be well schooled in the ways of traditional genealogy: birth and death records, wedding announcements, obituaries, social media. Detective Headley realized he was going to need to some help.

[end mux]

Headley reached out to a non-profit called DNAAdoption.com which had been using genealogy for years to help adoptees find their biological parents. Which is how he met this woman.

[Rae-Venter] “I’m Barbara Rae-Venter and I’m a genetic genealogist and search angel.”

That’s genetic genealogist and “search angel”. Barbara is originally from New Zealand though she now lives in California. Today Barbara is a star in the world of genetic genealogy. And she’s pretty popular around some police departments, too.

She picked up genealogy as a hobby in retirement, like so many others do. Barbara had a long career as a patent attorney before all this.

She put her own DNA online in 2012 and found a cousin from the U.K. she’d never met before. The cousin was a 70 year old man who told Barbara he had just learned from his DNA test that the man he’d always thought was his father wasn’t.

[Rae-Venter] “And so, I had no idea how to help him. And so what I did is, I went online and found an online course that was offered by DNA Adoption and I took that class. And that’s actually the technique that I use for all of the work that I’m doing now.”

From one online class, Barbara quickly rose to become an expert in the field. Her PhD in biochemistry, which she has in addition to her law degree, may have helped. Barbara started volunteering with DNA Adoption.com and before long she was teaching that class she took, along with other duties like answering all the emails that came in to the site.

[Rae-Venter] “And so back in March of 2015 there was a webmail that came in from Peter. And he basically asked the question: is the technique that you are teaching to adoptees to find their birth relatives, could that be used to find to identify somebody who didn’t know either who she was or where she was from?”

[Headley] “And she said ‘yes, but since you don’t have any geographical information it’s going to be a lot harder.’ Usually with an adoptee, they’ll know that they were from this state or this area just from where they were adopted. And with Lisa, we had nothing.”

The task was daunting. It would be a real test of what genetic genealogy was capable of. But detective Headley was out of options and Barbara enjoys a good challenge. So they dove in. And together, they formed a new kind of investigative team. Part civilian, part law-enforcement. Part cutting edge genetic genealogy, part old-school detective work. A soft spoken genealogist and an understated detective. They were made for each other, really.

Barbara started by building out a family tree of Lisa’s distant relatives.

[Rae-Venter] “The first step is you’re building these trees. The second step is, once you’ve identified who the common ancestor is, you then build down from the common ancestor. Because you know if these folks are sharing DNA, then they share that common ancestor, then that person has to be a descendant of that common ancestor.”

Meanwhile, Detective Headley followed behind making phone calls.

[Headley] “As she followed the family trees down, I would contact the living-folk. Call them up and say ‘you are related to our victim, we don’t know how close or how distant, will you test?’”

Will you test? Asking that question became a big part of detective Headley’s job during the search. As Barbara followed out the family trees of Lisa’s fifth cousins with traditional genealogy, she would run into what genealogists call a ‘brick wall’, basically a dead end in the records. Whenever that happened, detective Headley would try to get those people nearest the brick wall on the tree to take a DNA test with one of the genealogy sites. The new matches from those people would help Barbara get around the brick wall and continue building Lisa’s family tree.

But just getting those tests proved to be a big challenge.

[Headley] “It was difficult. People would think it was a scam. There was some people who just flat -- ‘no way.’ I changed my approach as I went, depending on the feedback I was getting. And I ended up telling people please contact your local department and have them verify me.”

Earning people’s trust was one challenge. Another hurdle was the sheer size of the family tree they were dealing with.

[Rae-Venter] “Well there were actually two trees. So there was a maternal tree and that one ended up being something like eighteen thousand people in it.

Add that to the other side of the family tree… and that makes 25,000 relatives to sift through. Twenty. Five. Thousand.

[Rae-Venter] “I mean my own time, I think had spent something like three thousand hours on it. Basically I would get up in the morning, I would starting working on it and I would work on it all day until late into the night. I was just determined that I was going to figure this one out.”

[JM] “Why do you think you were so driven to work like that on this case?”

[Rae-Venter] “Oh, I do that with everything. I guess I’m a little obsessive.”

Barbara wasn’t paid for any of this, by the way. To her the project was just like any of the dozens of adoption searches she had done using the same basic technique.

[Rae-Venter] “Although of course there was, in the back of everybody’s minds, that Lisa’s parents may not be alive, that she may have been killed at the time that Lisa was abducted. We weren’t really sure what we were going to find. So there was sort of that lurking in the background.”

Barbara didn’t do all of this work alone alone. She had help from volunteers at her local genealogy society. And she also picked up new volunteers along the way from an unexpected source. From Lisa’s extended family. As Lisa’s family trees grew, some of her newfound cousins offered to help Barbara with the project.

[Rae-Venter] “And so she had a number of cousins in New Hampshire. And a number of them volunteered. So we probably had over 100 people who were actually helping build trees and do research and brainstorm and so on.”

It took a little more than a year, and what they estimate was about 10,000 hours of work, but in the summer of 2016 Barbara Rae-Venter and her army of volunteers did it. They narrowed down the genealogical possibilities of who Lisa’s mother was to just one person. Barbara immediately called and left a message with detective Headley.

[Rae-Venter] “And he called me back a couple of hours later and he said ‘mmm- no such person, she doesn’t exist.’ We knew that she did exist because we had her grandmother’s obituary and we had her brother’s obituary and of course immediately Peter figures out what it is. Unfortunately it meant that she was probably deceased.”

The police databases detective Headley was looking at are made up of things like DMV and voting records. So if a person hasn’t been driving or voting in a long time, they’re not likely to show up.

Detective Headley contacted the closest living relatives of Lisa’s mother that he could find. And for the first time, he spoke with someone who could remember Lisa herself.

[Headley] “I was talking to one of her relatives and they remembered her mother and her moving away and they never heard from them again. That’s when the pieces fell together. And it felt great.”

[JM] “What was their reaction? Were they happy to hear that there was some information about that baby in the family that had gone missing?

[Headley] “Actually, when I explained the circumstances she was very shocked. And horrified.”

30 years after she was abandoned at the Holiday Host RV park, Detective Peter Headley called Lisa to tell her her real name.

[Headley] “Just being able to tell Lisa who she is, that was tremendous. That was tremendous satisfaction. It made it all worth it.”

Her name was Dawn. Dawn Beaudin. She was from New Hampshire.

That’s the end of part one of this episode of Bear Brook.

If you want to keep going, part two is available in your feed right now.

########################### INTERMISSION ##########################

*** Denise Beaudin ***

In January of 2017, something happened that, to be honest, I didn’t think ever would.

I was sitting in the New Hampshire Public Radio newsroom when I got an email from the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office, announcing that there would be a press conference -the next day- to discuss new information in the Bear Brook case. The email cryptically mentioned something about a missing persons case from New Hampshire, a murder case from California, and how they were both connected to the Bear Brook murders.

At that point, in 2017, I’d been working on a story about the Bear Brook murders for about a year-and-a-half. All I knew was one child not related and the results of the isotope testing. The names Eunsoon Jun and Lisa didn’t mean anything to me yet.

As far as I could tell, the Bear Brook investigation didn’t really seem to be going anywhere. I figured, whether I finished my story in a month or in six months, the facts of the case probably would be the same. Then I got this email.

The press conference was scheduled to take place in an auditorium at the New Hampshire DMV office. I think it was the largest space for a press conference that they could come up with. A sign that they were expecting a lot of reporters. In other words, that this was something big.

...

The morning of the press conference, I arrived early and found maybe 40 people already there. Reporters and cops milling about, talking in low voices. Close to a dozen TV cameras lined the back of the room, which felt a lot like a high school auditorium.

I scanned the crowd for faces I knew. There was retired trooper John Cody, who found the second barrel speaking with a handful of other police officers. And sitting about five rows back from the stage, I spotted Ronda Randall and her brother Scott Maxwell. The amateur investigators who had invested so much of themselves in the case.

[Ronda] “I’m mostly just curious. You know, I don’t even know how to feel about it cause I don’t know what the information is.”

[JM] “How early did you guys have to wake up to drive down here?”

[Ronda] “Well actually I came down from Maine last night and slept in Manchester so I could be here good and early. You know pretty hopeful that this is it.”

[JM] “I’m nervous. I imagine you guys must be nervous.”

[Scott] “That’s one word for it.”

From up on the auditorium stage, Jeff Strelzin, a prosecutor with the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office, began the press conference.

[Strelzin_presser] “We’re here today because in almost every homicide case that we work on, probably the most important starting point that we have is the identity of the victim or the victims. It’s that information that usually leads you to the killer. In the case involving the four murder victims in Allenstown, we believe we’ve identified their killer.”

Over the next hour and a half, investigators laid out four stories.

The Bear Brook murders in Allenstown, New Hampshire.

The murder of Eunsoon Jun in Richmond, California.

The abandonment of five-year-old Lisa in Scotts Valley, California.

And the last story, the one that would tie them all together: the disappearance of a woman named Denise Beaudin from Manchester, New Hampshire.

Denise was Lisa’s mother. She was last seen in 1981 with Curtis Kimball... though she knew him by a different name: Bob Evans.

[Strelzin_presser] “This man Bob Evans is not only connected to Denise Beaudin’s disappearance and the California murder of Eunsoon Jun, he’s also connected to the four Allenstown murder victims. Through DNA testing, we’ve determined that this man, this killer, Bob Evans, is the father of the middle child victim in Allenstown. This young girl. He is not the father or related to the other victims, but he is in fact that father of this middle child victim.”

The middle child. The three year old girl who wasn’t related to the other victims. Whose isotope results showed she had lived the majority of her life in a different climate. She was the daughter of Bob Evans. Of Curtis Kimball. Of the man police now believe killed all four of the Bear Brook victims.

[mux fade or something]

So how, after so many years, did police finally figure it all out?

A few weeks after that big press conference, I met with prosecutor Jeff Strelzin and a New Hampshire state police detective named Mike Kokoski to talk about how all the pieces finally came together.

Strelzin has been with the New Hampshire AG’s office since 2001. He’s handled some of the more high-profile murder cases in the state over the last 15 years. Remember the Danny Paquette case that pulled resources away from the Bear Brook investigation? Strelzin prosecuted the murderer after the case was reopened.

Strelzin is slender, with dark, close-cropped hair and facial features that make it hard to guess his age. He told me he first learned about the Bear Brook murders as he was getting ready to leave the office one day to go mountain biking. A colleague asked him where he liked to ride. He said Bear Brook State Park.

[Strelzin] “And she said ‘oh, be on the lookout for some barrels with bodies in them.’ And I was like ‘what are you talking about?’ And she told me the story. I had never heard it before. I was amazed I’d never about it before. Ever. And I’d lived in New Hampshire my whole life.”

The breakthrough in the Bear Brook case ultimately came from forensics. From the genetic genealogy work that Barbara Rae-Venter and detective Peter Headley had done on the Lisa case. In 2016, when they found out that Lisa’s mother, Denise Beaudin, was from New Hampshire they contacted New Hampshire state police.

New Hampshire detectives then interviewed some of Denise Beaudin’s relatives, the ones Barbara Rae-Venter had found with genetic genealogy. One of them was Denise Beaudin’s grandfather. He said he had last seen Denise on Thanksgiving in 1981 in Manchester, New Hampshire.

She was 23 at the time. She a had a 6 month old daughter, that’s Dawn/Lisa. And an older boyfriend named Bob Evans. When detectives showed the grandfather a mugshot of Curtis Kimball, he recognized him as Bob Evans.

No one in Denise Beaudin’s family ever saw her again after that Thanksgiving. But despite that, they never reported her missing to police.

[swell mux]

After the Lisa was connected to New Hampshire in 2016, a missing persons case on Denise Beaudin was finally opened, more than 30 years after she disappeared.

In January of 2017, police went to the house where Denise Beaudin and Bob Evans had lived together in Manchester. With the murder of Eunsoon Jun in mind, they did a thorough search of the basement.

Other local outlets reported on the search, though no one outside law enforcement knew it was connected to all the other cases yet.

[WMUR] “Manchester police along with state police are searching a home on Hayward Street in relation to a woman who was last seen decades ago. It was just last month, December 28th, that investigators announced a new investigation in the search for Denise Beaudin…”

Police didn’t find Denise Beaudin’s body in the basement. That might sound like good news, but really it was a disappointment, because now it’s unlikely police will ever find her remains.

[Strelzin] “We’re confident that he killed Denise at some point. The question is where. Did he arrive in California with her or not? But we know he arrived out there with Lisa.”

We may never know exactly what happened to Denise. But her story does tell us something about the Bear Brook case that’s been bothering me, ever since I first learned about it. Something that’s been bothering a lot of people.

[Strelzin] “How is it four people could go missing? And we say, well, Denise Beaudin did. I know, for me, I think I’ve come to realize that people can go missing and nobody says a word and Denise Beaudin is living proof that that can happen.”

“People go missing and nobody says a word.” It seems crazy until you think about it. A lot of people have a sibling, or cousin, or great-uncle that hasn’t been heard from in years. Families can become estranged. Friends can lose touch. Especially in the world before Facebook. Before email. Before cell phones.

So if you - like me - couldn’t help but ask: Why didn’t Denise Boudin’s family report her missing? The answer is, it’s complicated.

[Strelzin] “That question has come up a lot and I think the fairest way to say it is: there are different dynamics in families and there was a dynamic with this family and because of that dynamic they never officially reported her missing. She had a child, she wasn’t married. I think her life had gone off in a little bit of a different direction than her parents expected.”

I wasn’t able to find any of Denise Beaudin’s family in New Hampshire who would talk to me. Maybe that had something to do with those ‘family dynamics’ prosecutor Jeff Strelzin told me about. Maybe they just didn’t want to talk. I don’t know.

But when I heard Strelzin obliquely describe Denise Beaudin’s strained relationship with her family, I couldn’t help but think of Eunsoon Jun and her family. How Bob Evans, living then as Larry Vanner, managed to drive a wedge between Eunsoon and her cousin, Elaine Ramos. How he wrote fake emails pretending to be Eunsoon.

It’s a tactic employed by many abusers - to isolate and estrange the victim from the people who might help them. To cut them off from the outside world so the abuse seems more normal.

Bob Evans excelled at this. In part because he was somehow able to present dramatically different personas depending on what he wanted from a situation. To most people who met him, Evans was repellant. He looked dirty, even threatening. So they kept their distance. But to the people he targeted, who he wanted to bring in close, Evans had another side. A side with sparkling blue eyes that spun gripping tales about his life history. Who could summon tears about the woman he had murdered, whose child he kept captive.

San Bernardino detective Peter Headley called Bob Evan an incredibly good conman. New Hampshire prosecutor Jeff Strelzin has another name for him.

The Chameleon.

[Strelzin] “I said Chameleon just in the way he’s able to adopt different names and kind conform himself around the people he’s with to ingratiate himself around those people. I mean, this is a guy who was able to pick his targets and get what he wanted and that says that that is someone of terrifying intelligence.”

By this point, investigators had connected three of the four mysteries with each other. Eunsoon Jun’s murder, the identity of Lisa, and the disappearance and presumed murder of Denise Beaudin. But as far as investigators knew, the Bear Brook case was still completely unrelated to the other three.

Then a case manager at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Alexandria, Virginia noticed something. NCMEC had been involved with the Lisa case. And as they learned that Lisa had been taken from New Hampshire, the case manager looked at a map. Manchester, where Denise Beaudin was last seen, was only about 25 minutes from Bear Brook State Park, and another case that NCMEC had worked on. The case manager checked the dates again. Denise went missing in 1981. The first barrel was discovered in 1985.

At first they thought Denise Beaudin might be the adult victim from the first barrel. But after that test came back negative, they ran another test using the DNA of Bob Evans.

This is when everything finally came together - when they figured out that the middle child victim was Bob Evan’s daughter… and eventually  concluded that Bob Evans had been behind the Bear Brook murders.


By the time this DNA test came back, Bob Evans had been dead for seven years, so investigators will never be able to question him about the Bear Brook case. But the evidence connecting him to the Bear Brook murders goes beyond his relationship to one of the victims.

We’ll dig into this in some more detail next week, but for now here are the important highlights of what investigators unveiled in 2017.

Bob Evans arrived in New Hampshire in the late 1970’s. He got a job as an electrician helping to shut down one of the old mill buildings in downtown Manchester - removing electrical equipment and cleaning out old debris.

He worked on that job with a man named Ed Gallagher. Remember him? He’s the owner of the property where the Bear Brook camp store used to be in Allenstown. The property where the barrels were found. Investigators learned that Gallagher had allowed for some of the waste from the mill, including old barrels, to be dumped on his property in Allenstown. Gallagher also hired Bob Evans to do some electrical work at the Bear Brook store. So there’s a direct link between Bob Evans and the site where the bodies were dumped. He knew that area. He knew Allenstown.

Then there’s the fact that the cause of death in the Bear Brook murders was the same as in Eunsoon’s - blunt force trauma to the head.

And perhaps the most chilling detail linking Evans to the crime scene is that the plastic bags the victims were wrapped in were tied up with electrical wire.

...

This was the story laid out at that press conference in 2017. That finally, after all these years, we had learned who was behind the Bear Brook murders. That he was a chameleon, a serial killer likely responsible for at least six murders: Eunsoon Jun, Denise Beaudin, and the four victims found inside the barrels.

It was a huge break in the case. But it wasn’t everything. Ronda Randall, the amateur investigator who had been on the case for years, remembers how she felt that day.

[Randall] “You know we went to that press conference and even though it was tremendously exciting to hear the backstory and get an ID, I have to tell you, I walked out of that press conference kind of feeling kicked in the stomach that we still didn’t know who they were. It was fascinating about Lisa um... and to know his other life but to still not know who they were and know so much was difficult.”

After everything: decades of work by half-a-dozen law enforcement agencies, cutting edge isotope testing, and a revolutionary new genetic genealogy technique, the only new information we have about the Bear Brook victims is that one of them was the daughter of a serial killer. We still don’t know who they are.

[vigil ambi]

Ronda isn’t alone in trying to keep the focus on the victims. In November of 2017, several months after that press conference, on the 32nd anniversary of the discovery of the first barrel, Ronda and about a dozen others held a vigil at the cemetery in Allenstown where the first two victims were once buried. Their bodies were still being held by authorities, so we were standing over an empty grave. It was on a night that a cold front swept in. It was barely 20 degrees. Colder when the wind blew.

[Ronda_vigil] “We didn’t have anything big or fancy planned for tonight. We just really wanted to be here to honor their memory, to think about them, to send the message that they aren’t forgotten in the Granite State.”

A few work lights were aimed at the headstone and several people in the group held candles. But otherwise it was pitch black that night. It was hard to make out the faces of the people gathered in a half circle around the gravesite.

Ronda said a few words, thanking people for coming out. She played a Billy Joel song on her phone (or boombox?) that she said always reminded her of the young girl victims. Lullabye. A song he wrote for his daughter.

The whole thing was a little awkward, there were times when no one knew quite what to say. But it was earnest. During one moment of silence, a voice from somewhere in the group asked if it was ok to pray.

[Woman] “Father in heaven, we ask you to please, please shed some light on this story. These girls deserve to have their identities known. There are people out there, there has to be somebody out there that loved them. Somebody out there that wonders, ‘whatever happened to my girls?’ Please, Father in heaven, you are the one who can put the power to this and to please have these girls…[fade under]

15 minutes in, we were all shivering from the cold and the group decided it was time to go. As the gathering broke up, I turned to the man who’d been standing next to me in the circle.

[JM] “Could I get your name?”

[Paul_vigil] “Paul Chevrette.”

[JM] “You live in Allenstown?”

[Paul_vigil] “I did. I lived, in the late 70’s I lived about 300 yards from where the first barrel was found.”

[JM] “No kidding. In Bear Brook Gardens?”

[Paul_vigil] “Yes. And then in 2000 when the second one was found I lived about a quarter mile up the road in a farmhouse.”

[JM] “I can’t imagine what that must’ve felt like - to be so close.”

[Paul_vigil] “Well, yeah, cause as early teenagers we all played in the woods there. And we never saw anything. To know that they were there, it was kind of...unsettling.”

[JM] “Why is it important enough for you to come back here and be at this vigil?”

[Paul_vigil] “Um...I have four daughters and three step daughters and I couldn’t imagine a day without any of them. And here we have this woman and these three children and nobody knows who they are. And it’s just, like I said, unsettling. You know this is a small town. Back in the day, everybody knew everybody, everybody what everybody was doing. When this happened, it was a shock.”

Everybody knew everybody in Allenstown. It made me think of all the theories that people had about the case. How the theories either seemed to hinge on the idea that the crime was so heinous it couldn’t possibly have been someone from Allenstown. Or that because of where the barrels were dumped, it had to be someone local. And in the end, it was kind of both. Evans only arrived in New Hampshire in the late 70’s as far as investigators can tell, and in so many ways he was an outsider - using a fake name, a fake history, and disappearing a few years after he arrived. But on the other hand he knew people in Allenstown. He worked at the convenience store a short walk from where the barrels were found. Remember when Anne Morgan, who lived in the trailer park, talked about two worlds? The one before and the one after the first barrel was found. Bob Evans lived in both.

As it turns out, he lived in a lot of other worlds, too. In places like Virginia, Georgia, Texas, Arizona, Oregon and more. As investigators tried to piece together a timeline of Evan’s life, they began to suspect there could be even more beginnings to this story. More murders that bore the fingerprints of a chameleon.

To help solve them, and to learn who Bob Evans really was, authorities turned to genealogist Barbara Rae-Venter. When she identified Lisa, she had accomplished what seemed impossible. Now police wanted her to do it again. Within a matter of months, she did. And in doing so she would bring us as close as we’ve ever been to the Bear Brook victims. To meeting one of their living relatives.

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 by: Blue Dot Sessions, Lee Rosevere, Podington Bear, and Daniel Birch.

To see a timeline of the cases mentioned in this episode … go to our website: bear brook podcast dot org.

Bear Brook is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio.

Transcript of Episode 6: Chameleon

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.

Do you think of him as a sociopath?

Previously on Bear Brook:

[Headley] “As she followed the family trees down, I would contact the living-folk. Call them up and say ‘you are related to our victim, we don’t know how close or how distant, will you test?’”

[Strelzin_presser] “Through DNA testing, we’ve determined that this man, this killer, Bob Evans, is the father of the middle child victim in Allenstown.”

[Randall] “I have to tell you, I walked out of that press conference kind of feeling kicked in the stomach that we still didn’t know who they were. It was fascinating about Lisa um... and to know his other life but to still not know who they were and know so much was difficult.”

*** Diane ***

For 20 years, Diane worked as a 911 call operator… and in that time, she took just about every kind of call you could imagine.

[Diane] “I’ve delivered a baby over the phone. I’ve saved lives. I’ve also been the last person that people have talked to before they decided to take their own.”

Diane lives in a suburb outside Chicago. I reached her by Skype a few weeks ago. We’re not using her last name. I’ll explain why in just a second.

[JM] “Your profession is full of dealing with really heavy stuff. And we’re going to talk about some really heavy news that was dropped on you. So I wonder if you felt prepared in any sort of way because of your job?”

[Diane] “Uh. I don’t know that anything...in my whole realm of possibilities and reality, I’m not sure that that ever came up as even a possibility on my spectrum of what the hell possibly happens.”

The news that Diane received came in the summer of 2017. On a day that she calls the Monday where everything changed. It started when Diane got a call from her mother, who said detectives from New Hampshire -from the Cold Case Unit- wanted to talk to them.

[Diane] “So I assumed, I know this may sound strange to you, but I assumed that she had done something in her past [laughs]. But my mother said she had a feeling that it was about my father.”

The New Hampshire detectives agreed to meet Diane and her mother at the police station in Illinois where Diane now works as a records clerk. When they arrived they all sat down in one of the station’s interrogation rooms.

[Diane] “And we sat there and they just deluged us with information.”

The state troopers told them the story of two barrels found near a state park in New Hampshire. The story of a woman named Eunsoon Jun in California and the boyfriend who murdered her. The story of a kidnapped girl named Lisa and the yearslong search to find out where she came from.

Then, the state troopers asked Diane for a DNA sample.

[Diane] “Yeah it was pretty heavy. And then they asked for a DNA sample, and of course I’m going to give them that. And then I just waited for the slight possibility that this did not match up... I was just hoping that maybe they were wrong.”

But the detectives weren’t wrong. Diane’s DNA was the last step in identifying the so-called chameleon killer.  The Larry Vanner who met Eunsoon Jun, the Curtis Kimball who stood trial for murdering her, the Gordon Jenson who abandoned Lisa at the RV park, the Bob Evans who disappeared from New Hampshire with her mom. The real name behind all of those aliases was Terry Peder Rasmussen. Diane’s father.

This is Bear Brook. I’m Jason Moon.

There was a lot for Diane to process from that day. And we’ll hear more about that later in this episode… and more about Rasmussen's life, before he became a serial killer. But for now, I want to focus on the way that police found Diane. How investigators were able to determine her father’s identity. Diane says the detectives never really explained it to her.

[Diane] -- however they got to me, I’m not really sure.”

It’s likely the detectives didn’t explain it, or explain it well, because the method used to identify Terry Rasmussen was entirely new to criminal investigations. It was genetic genealogy.

Genealogist Barbara Rae-Venter used the same technique to identify Terry Rasmussen that she did to identify the girl he kidnapped -- Lisa.

But there was one important difference. With Lisa, Barbara had identified someone who wanted to be identified. Who was the victim of a crime and who actively participated in the search. In a lot of ways it was the same as the dozens of adoption searches Barbara had done for people hoping to find their biological parents.

When she identified the suspected Bear Brook killer, the chameleon, as Terry Rasmussen, it was the first time a criminal suspect had ever been identified with genetic genealogy.

It was a huge breakthrough in criminal forensics. So far, the news hadn’t really reached the outside world. But word was spreading within in law enforcement circles. And it wouldn’t be long before genetic genealogy as crime fighting tool would be thrust into public view in a big way.

[Jensen] “It was so...it just baffled me. You don’t see that. A woman and three children dead and they don’t know who they are. That doesn’t happen.”

This is Billy Jensen. He’s a veteran crime reporter turned crime investigator who has been fascinated by the Bear Brook case for years.

But he’s probably best known for his work on a book called I’ll be Gone In The Dark, a book written by his friend and fellow True Crime author Michelle McNamara.

[Jensen] “I was friends with Michelle, we were friends for about four or five years. We would meet every month and I would talk about my cases and she would talk about the Golden State Killer.”

The Golden State Killer -- a serial rapist and murderer who terrorized California in the 1970s and 80s.

Michelle died before finishing her book, but Jensen and a few others took on the project. It was published posthumously in February 2018.  

The Golden State Killer case had baffled police for decades. Longer than the Bear Brook murders. And by the numbers, it was an even more horrible story.  At least 13 murders. 100 burglaries. 50 rapes.

But in 2017, an investigator on the case heard about the recent breaks in the Bear Brook investigation. How a serial killer, Terry Rasmussen, was finally identified through the use of genetic genealogy. He thought, maybe just maybe, it could work here.

So he picked up the phone and called Barbara Rae-Venter.

[GSK News Compilation ~00:40]

…A major breakthrough in case dating back to the late 70’s as authorities…

...police believe they have solved one of the nation’s enduring mysteries. They announced an arrest in the case of the Golden State Killer…

...they now have the Golden State Killer in custody. And they used DNA testing to find him…

...a former police officer. He’s accused of going on a 10 year rape and murder spree...

...at least 12 murders and more than 50 rapes.

[GSK phone calls tape] ...gonna kill you, gonna kill you…

As soon as I screamed he said ‘shut up or I’ll kill you.’ Finally after all this time, I know that he’s behind bars and that’s where he belongs.”

Less than a year after she identified Terry Rasmussen, Barbara Rae-Venter used genetic genealogy again to identify Joseph James DeAngelo, a 72-year old former police officer… and the man police now believe is the Golden State Killer.

[Jensen] “The fact that this monster actually helped in a weird way solve the Golden State Killer case blew my mind.”

Two mysteries that had gone unsolved for decades were both cracked open by the same genetic genealogist in a matter of months. To Billy Jensen, the implications of this were clear. A new era of forensic investigation had just begun.

[Jensen] “I mean this is the biggest step forward for solving crimes since the discovery of DNA itself. We’re gonna look back on these 20 years, 30 years from now and say ‘this is where it started.’”

Jensen sees a future where genetic genealogy will be as routine as fingerprinting for serious crimes like rapes and murders. A time when police departments might have genealogists on staff.

That hasn’t happened quite yet, but the genetic genealogists who are skilled enough to do this, like Barbara Rae-Venter, are suddenly finding themselves in high demand .

[Rae-Venter] “I actually have been approached about quite a large number of cold cases. Basically everybody’s favorite cold cases.”

[JM] “So- pretty busy it sounds like?”

[Rae-Venter] “I do keep out of trouble, yes.”

You can see why police are so excited about this. Basically any unsolved violent crime where police have DNA from a suspect now has new hope of being solved.

In the months since the suspected Golden State Killer was identified, genetic genealogy has already led to breakthroughs in at least fifteen other cases around the country. And many, many more are expected. One DNA lab called Parabon has already created a genetic genealogy unit to contract with police departments. Within just a few weeks of the Golden State Killer news, Parabon said it had received DNA samples from almost 100 different police departments from around the country.

Detectives working some of the most infamous cases in the country, like the Zodiac Killer, are now reportedly turning to genetic genealogy.

[Jensen] “People see this as a tool. There are so many murders out there!”

Meanwhile genetic genealogy itself is only getting more powerful. Shockingly more powerful. Remember how in 2014, it took Barbara Rae-Venter and a huge team of volunteers an estimated 10,000 hours to track down the identity of Lisa?

[Rae-Venter] “Earlier this year I asked her if I could go in, there are some new techniques available that take advantage of the fact that there are just huge numbers of people now testing. And so I went through pretending that I didn’t know who her parents were -- just went through using the new technique, it’s called pedigree triangulation, and it took me 10 hours to identify her father.”

[JM] “No. From 10,000 hours to 10 hours?”

[Rae-Venter] “Correct.”

This isn’t just theoretical. Earlier this year, genetic genealogy solved a notorious 1981 cold case from Ohio. An unidentified woman found murdered in a ditch wearing a distinctive buck skin jacket. For 37 years she was known only as the Buck Skin Girl. Genetic genealogy identified her as Marcia King in just four hours.

Meanwhile, each day, as more and more people upload their genetic information online, the odds that any given person will have relatives in a commercial database increase.

[JM] “Wow. So someone related to me is almost assuredly in the database right now?”

[Rae-Venter] “Oh absolutely. Yeah. Probably thousands in the database now.

We’ll talk more about all the thorny ethical implications of all this in just a second. But first, I wanted to know if Barbara was right -- would I have thousands of relatives already in one of the commercial DNA databases?

I ordered a DNA kit from 23andMe. When it arrived, producer Taylor Quimby joined me a studio here at New Hampshire Public Radio and… I spit.

[TQ] “Don’t be embarrassed, it’s just me.”

[JM] “Should you turn around?”

[TQ] “No!”

*ahem* Next, we mailed the kit with my spit back to 23andMe, and then a couple weeks later I got an email saying my results were ready.

[JM] “Ok so what does it say -- ancestry composition I’m 40.8% British and Irish.”

[TQ] “Wait hold on, does that say you’re 60% Neanderthal?”

[JM] “I am more Neanderthal than 60% of customers.”

[TQ] “Ok that makes more sense.”

[JM “That would be a lot. That would be quite Neanderthal. That would be like my dad was Neanderthal.”

Ok, anyways -- what we were really here to see was how many other 23andMe users I’m related to. I clicked through a few more screens. And…

[JM] “Ok, so they’ve saved my preferences and --oop….”

[JM] “Wow!” [TQ] “Whoa!” [JM] “Boom!”

[JM] “Here they are, their names and everything. I have 998 DNA relatives.”

[TQ] “Just on 23andMe. Wow. 998.”

So, there you have it. If I was an unidentified person like Lisa, Barbara Rae-Venter could probably identify me in a matter days. Maybe even hours because one of my matches twas a first cousin. Hey David.

For most of the people I’ve spoken to for this podcast, this is all great news.

But not everyone is so enthusiastic about all of this.

[Buzz] “I mean it’s at once really cool and it’s really, really creepy stuff.”

Albert Scherr is a law professor at the University of New Hampshire. He goes by Buzz.

Buzz and forensic DNA testing go way back. In fact, he was defense counsel in the first case in New Hampshire to ever use DNA evidence.

Almost 30 years later, Buzz says the law is still catching up with the science of DNA. And he’s skeptical that we know what we’re really getting into with genetic genealogy.

[Buzz] “The information that is in your genes far exceeds any other repository of information that exists about your life. It contains information about certain behavioral disorders. Do you have a predisposition to alcoholism, do you have the Huntington’s gene, are you a carrier for Cystic Fibrosis, do you have a predisposition to schizophrenia?   

What Buzz is getting at here is that with all that information up for grabs, people -and corporations and governments- will find lots of ways to exploit it. For blackmail. For insurance discrimination. For... ways we that we haven’t even thought of yet.

After all that’s basically what happened here with genetic genealogy solving crimes. People put their DNA online to learn about their ethnic background or to build out their family tree -- then suddenly, someone found a new use for it: solving violent crimes. We may generally like this new use for genetic genealogy, but Buzz warns, we may not like the next one.

[Buzz] “You know, the cool use of a technique is the scary use of a technique.”

You might say, ‘well just don’t put your DNA online.’ But that’s where it gets really interesting. Because when it comes to genetic genealogy, your privacy is not only up to you - it’s up to you and all of the people that you share DNA with. Everytime one of your cousins puts their DNA online, in a way they’re putting some of yours in there too. With, or probably without, your consent. And that’s what makes genetic genealogy so powerful. The Chameleon and the Golden State Killer never put their DNA online, some of their relatives did.

[Buzz] “Nobody knows what the rules are. They are, in devising these really cool investigative techniques, they’re making the rules up in terms of how…’what does the constitution tell us about this?’ They’re making it up as they go along, too.”

It’s really important to point out here that most genealogy databases are not being used by police right now. In fact, most of the major genealogy companies say they will go as far as possible to restrict police access to protect the privacy of their users.

This means the biggest databases, like Ancestry and 23andMe, are more or less off-limits to police. Lisa’s case, by the way, was a little different. Because she was alive and was submitting her own DNA she could use those sites in the search for her identify.

But there is one database that does allow police to use it. One database that’s made identifying criminal suspects with genetic genealogy possible. It’s called GEDmatch. And it’s what Barbara Rae Venter used to identify the suspected Golden State Killer.

GEDmatch was started in 2010 by two genealogy enthusiasts in Lake Worth, Florida. It’s not a DNA testing company like Ancestry or 23andMe. GEDmatch is just a website that hosts a digital DNA database. In other words, you don’t send GEDmatch your spit, you just upload a file with the results of a DNA test that you took somewhere else.

GEDmatch is popular with genealogists because it lets you compare results from different genealogy companies against each other. Say you tested on 23andMe but your sister tested on Ancestry. Before GEDmatch, one of you would’ve had to pay for a new DNA kit to compare your results. Now, you can just upload your results to the GEDmatch database for free.

The GEDmatch founders didn’t know that cold case investigators would be among the people using their website. But they did understand the risks that come with putting your genetic information online.  Here’s an excerpt of the terms of service… written before GEDmatch was used to identify the Golden State Killer:

“While the results presented on this site are intended solely for genealogical research, we are unable to guarantee that users will not find other uses. If you find the possibility unacceptable, please remove your data from this site.”

[Buzz] “To me it’s just completely unsatisfactory to say, and we may find other uses. , I think you need much clearer notice that ‘and we may give the government access to this.’”

The GEDmatch founders, for their part, said they didn’t know police were using their database for this. It wasn’t until the news of the Golden State Killer arrest that they found out. And in the months since, they have issued an update to their terms of service. Now, under the list of possible ways your DNA might get used on GEDmatch there is a new bullet point. It reads:

“searching by third parties such as law enforcement agencies to identify the perpetrator of a crime, or to identify remains.”

The GEDmatch founders could have decided to try and keep police off of their site, but instead they’ve opted for disclosure upfront. Which means, for the time-being at least, GEDmatch is the defacto police DNA database for genetic genealogy. It’s the one being used right now, to search for serial killers and rapists and unidentified murder victims.

Which creates an interesting choice for all of us. If you want to help police investigate cold cases by volunteering your DNA, you can. And in fact that’s exactly what genealogist Barbara Rae-Venter invites you to do.

[Rae-Venter] “If people are interested in helping law enforcement, then it would be really good if you went out and did DNA testing, autosomal DNA testing, at any of the testing companies and then upload your DNA to GEDmatch. It will help catch criminals and it will also help identify folks who are unknown victims.”

Your DNA could be the key to apprehending a serial killer who has evaded police for decades. Or to identifying a victim who has been nameless for years.

But by putting your DNA in GEDmatch, you’ll also be making a decision for your entire extended family. For the thousands of cousins you have out there. For your children and their children. Whatever comes next in genetic genealogy, your family’s DNA will be along for the ride.

That is, if it isn’t already.

------ [BREAK] ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

*** Bloodlines ***

And this brings us back to Diane.

Diane only has few a memories of her father. Her mother left Terry Rasmussen when Diane was just 6 years old.

There were times growing up when Diane wondered about who her father was. But she says her mom just wouldn’t say that much about him.

Then, in her 40s, married with kids, Diane finally got some answers about her father -some horrible answers- from a New Hampshire state trooper.

We’ve agreed not to use Diane’s last name because she doesn’t want her children to be associated with a serial killer. Which is understandable.

[JM] “What did you do right after the interview? Did you go back to work? Did you go for a walk?”    

[Diane] “My mother was very shaken. So I got her calmed down and back home - we both live in the same suburb. And then I took a walk. We have a lovely facility behind my place of employment with a little walking path and a pond. It’s very serene. But yeah I took a little walk and then, yep, right back to work.”

[JM] “Wow.”

[Diane] “Because I think all my years of, sadly, all my years of 911 have taught me to put these terrible things into little boxes and deal with them later.”

But Diane says compartmentalizing it didn’t work for long.

[Diane] “In the like 3 weeks that came after that, I would find myself just crying...at inappropriate times...and that’s when I decided to go see a therapist.”

Diane says she’s heard a lot of horrible things over the years as a 911 operator. But she just couldn’t wrap her mind around what her own father had done.  

[Diane] “I could not imagine what kind of mental fracture that he must have had to be able to...kill his own child.”

...

By discovering the Bear Brook Killer’s true identity, investigators were finally able to piece together l large chunks of his life - details that up until this point, were shrouded in mystery.

Terry Rasmussen was born in 1943. He grew up in Colorado and Arizona. He dropped out of high school after his sophomore year and joined the Navy, in 1961. He was trained as an electrician and served for six years at bases around the West Coast and at Okinawa.

After leaving the Navy, Rasmussen moved to Hawaii where he worked a shoe shop that was owned by his parents.

He married Diane’s mother in 1968. The next year, they moved to Arizona and Diane and her twin sister were born. They were the first of what would be four children.

Diane doesn’t remember a lot from that early period when her parents were still together. But what she can recall is a house that was full of conflict.

[Diane] “I do remember some arguments that they got into from when I was younger. Her and Terry I guess made a sport of fighting and always tried to outdo each other.”

There was fighting and there was also abuse, according to Diane. Diane says it was the abuse that eventually prompted her mother to leave Rasmussen sometime around 1975.

[Diane] “My mother says the final straw was when she came home from work one day and he had burned my brother with a cigarette. And she knew that she then had to get out.”

But the story is more complicated than a mother simply protecting her children from an abusive husband. Remember when Diane said that at first she thought the New Hampshire state troopers were there about something her mother had done in the past?

[JM] “Do you mind if we talk a little bit more about your relationship with your mom?”

[Diane] “You know what, go ahead.”

[JM] “It sounds like it was pretty rocky. Is that a fair way to characterize it?”

[Diane] “If any neighbor had paid attention, we probably would have been removed from the home.

[JM] “Oh wow.”

[Diane] “She drank a lot. And I can remember us being left nothing but a box of oatmeal and a loaf of bread and we wouldn’t see her for three or four days.”

[JM] “Wow.”

[Diane] “And you know she was very quick to hit you for any perceived slight that you may have done. I quit wearing my hair in a ponytail for many years because if she didn’t like how your ponytail looked she would grab it and cut if off with scissors.”

[JM] “She would just grab your ponytail?”

[Diane] “Ponytail and say ‘this looks terrible’ and she would cut it off.”

[JM] “Well I’m beginning to understand why when you first heard that New Hampshire State Police wanted to talk to you that you thought it would be about your mother.”

[Diane] “[laughs] Yes, for the longest-- ok seriously, I don’t mean to make light of this, but for the longest time I really thought that she had killed him. Because I’ve seen my mom angry enough to do that.”

Diane’s mother declined to be interviewed for this story.

In spite of everything, Diane and her mother have managed to maintain a relationship with each other. In fact, Diane says she’s the only one of the children who still talks to her mom. They live not far from each other. Diane calls her once a week. She even takes her own children over to see her every once in a while.

Still, the relationship is strained.

[Diane] “It got strained even more after the state police, because I want to know. And I know that she knows things. And that is a bone of contention because if I -- she certainly must remember something that she has not disclosed.”

[JM] “And why do you think she wouldn’t? Because she is embarrassed by it? Because she was complicit in something? What do you think?”

[Diane] “Well I think that she thinks that because she left with his children, she broke him.”

...

Back in 1975 -or 76, we’re not exactly sure- Terry Rasmussen arrived unexpectedly to visit Diane and her siblings in Payson, Arizona. This was just months after Diane’s mother had left with the kids. And it’s a moment that investigators today are very much focused on. Because on that visit, there was a woman with Terry Rasmussen.

[Diane] “Now remember that I was six so everyone is tall. She was tall, she was slim, she had like bouncy hair, not like Farrah Fawcett hair, but bouncy. You know what I’m saying? You may not. And I think it was brown with some highlights. She wore glasses and that’s all I have.”

Investigators are desperate to find out who this person is, because she could be the adult Bear Brook victim. Or she could be the mother of the middle child victim in the Bear Brook murders. Rasmussen’s daughter… Diane’s half-sister.

[JM] “One of the things that honestly didn’t even really occur to me at first was that they weren’t only telling you about your father but also that you had this half-sister who was one of the victims. And I just wonder how that hit you.”

[Diane] “Well she didn’t have much of a childhood...um...sorry this upsets me.”

[JM] “That’s alright. That’s alright. Take your time.”

[Diane] “Based on the artist’s rendering, she looks a lot like my little girl when she was that age.”

...

[Diane] “You know if it’s ever possible and they release her remains, if there’s no other family, I will make sure that she is buried appropriately… I think I mourned her every day since I found out.

[Mux fade out]

[Getting out of car, dog barking at the door, etc.]

[JM] “Hey you must be Mark?”

[Mark Gelinas] “Yes I am.”

[JM] “Jason. Nice to meet you.”

[Gelinas] “Hi Jason. Who are you with again?”

[JM] “New Hampshire Public Radio, NHPR.”

[Gelinas] “Yep. My wife told me it was Bob Evans you wanted to talk about?”

[JM] Yeah, yeah.

A few months ago, I drove out to Epsom, New Hampshire, just north of Allenstown, to meet this man. Mark Gelinas.

[dog barking]

[Gelinas] “It’s my daughter’s dog. She’s in Hawaii.”

[JM] “Oh, lucky you.”

Mark was 19 years old when he met Terry Rasmussen in the late 1970’s, though he knew him as Bob Evans.

[Gelinas] “Yeah, Bob he was...he was different. You knew [laughs] you knew when you were talking to him he was kind of different. He wasn’t a grouchy guy, he was just, he was weird [laughs].”

After Rasmussen showed up unexpectedly with the unidentified woman in Arizona in 1975 or 76, investigators believe he headed for Texas. He worked for a company called Brown & Root, possibly on an oil rig. Then, around 1978, he pops up in New Hampshire using the name Bob Evans.

Back then Mark Gelinas worked for his dad’s construction company. In the late 70’s, they were working in Manchester, New Hampshire at one of the city’s old textile mills. The job was to decommission the mill, to dismantle and scrap all the old machinery still inside.

Mark says his dad got the contract from Ed Gallagher, the owner of the Bear Brook store and the private property in Allenstown where the barrels were found. Gallagher was overseeing the job along with Bob Evans.

[Gelinas] “Well they were friends. Cause I remember seeing Bob at his store, cause I lived in town at the time. And if I went into the store, you know, Bob would be there.”

The mill that Mark Gelinas worked at with Bob Evans is known as the Waumbec mill. It’s 5 stories tall and over 600 feet long. Today, it holds offices and luxury apartments. But once upon a time, the Waumbec mill was part of one of the largest cotton textile plants in the world.

By the late 70’s the mills had been out of use for decades. Shutting it down was dangerous work. The old machinery inside was enormous. And, there was the problem of the electricity.  Mark says that’s where Bob Evans came in.

[Gelinas] “Whenever we went to dismantle a machine, we would go get him to make sure the electricity was dead because it was 550 volts to the machine.”

Mark says Bob was weird, but not really threatening. He did odd things, like he wore the same green coat every day -- even when it was warm out.

[Gelinas] “He always had it on. It was a green coat. Always had it on. Never took it off. Never seen him with it off.”

As Mark described this to me, he actually stood up from the kitchen table where we were sitting to do an impression of Bob Evans strolling through the mill in his green jacket.

[Gelinas] “Oh I remember he’d walk through that mill, the coat would be behind him. It was a longer coat, too.”

He struck a pose with his shoulders back, coat tail swept behind the hand in his pocket. I could see Mark clearly picturing it in his head. Bob Evans sauntering through the mill in his green coat, like a captain on a ship’s deck.

[Gelinas] “I remember him telling us a story one day that he -- he lived by one of the parks in Manchester, and he was actually stealing electricity from the park [laughs]. I think he said he tied in to one of the lights or something at one of the ball fields or whatever it was.”

Rasmussen was actually caught for this. It was one of the charges he had on his record in Manchester that helped police connect the Bob Evans alias to his California identities.

I’ve often wondered about this. Why would he steal electricity from the lights at a baseball field?

One possible explanation is that Rasmussen was was already on the run by the time he arrived in New Hampshire. Why else would he be using a fake name? Maybe he thought by not signing up with the electric company he would leave one fewer bread crumb for police.

Or maybe it was more of a compulsion. A narcissism that rejected the idea of being anything less than completely independent. A feeling that he should be able to do whatever he wants.

[Gelinas] “There’s one other thing I remember Bob did [laughs]. At the end there were these transformers. They were big. They were bigger than the ones on the telephone poles. Matter of fact, we had a tractor trailer come in to pick it up.”

Mark remembers he and Bob Evans loaded the giant transformer from the mill onto the truck. But then there was a problem. The transformer was full of PCBs, an industrial chemical that’s known to cause cancer. The scrap yard wouldn’t take the transformer with the PCBs inside. But Rasmussen knew there was a plug down at the bottom of the transformer that kept the PCBs inside from spilling out.

[Gelinas] “And Bob went over there and took the plug out of it and told the truck to ‘go’ [laughs]. And that thing leaked all the way- I forget which scrap yard it went to [laughs].”

...

Years later when Mark first heard about the barrel discovered on Ed Gallagher’s property, it didn’t occur to him that Bob might’ve had anything to do with it. In fact, it wasn’t until just a few years ago, when New Hampshire cold case detectives showed up at his door, that he learned Bob Evans wasn’t his real name.

[Gelinas] “And it didn’t dawn on me until they came in and opened that book and showed me a picture of Bob Evans and they mentioned Ed Gallagher and I said, ‘no   way.’ Then they explained to me the barrels, and yeah.”

[JM] “Once you saw that and learned all that, did you think back on him and wonder did he say anything…”

I asked Mark if, looking back, there was anything suspicious that Bob Evans said, or did.  Anything he remembers differently, now that he knows the whole story. Mark told me about an electrical room that Bob Evans always kept padlocked. He wouldn’t let any of the other workers inside.

But worse than the padlocked room, were the trips Mark made to Ed Gallagher’s property in Allenstown. Trips, where they loaded up whole truck-beds of debris, and dumped them on the edge of Bear Brook State Park. All sorts of junk. Scrapped parts. Broken concrete. Maybe even a few 55 gallon barrels.

[Gelinas] “And it bothers me that I don’t remember...cause I remember the truck I brought the stuff up there. It was an old civil defense truck, it was a Dodge, it was a rack body, it was a really long truck, and I remember bringing the stuff up there in that. Um… but I don’t remember exactly everything that was on the truck.”

[JM] “Do you worry that they could’ve been in that truck?”

When I asked this, Mark looked up at me with a pained expression on his face, a deep grimace, and he nodded.

[Gelinas] “...yeah. Um… I just… I don’t remember. Um…”

Mark Gelinas may not have known Bob Evans that well. But one person who probably knew him best in New Hampshire is Ed Gallagher, the owner of the Bear Brook camp store and the property where the barrels were found.

Ed Gallagher didn’t want to talk to me for this story.

I spoke with him just once on the phone, a few years ago now. He didn’t sound happy to hear from me. He said he didn’t have anything to add to the story, but we ended up chatting for a few minutes anyways.

It got the feeling he was sick of being asked about the murders. He mentioned something about being misquoted and that people, including police, thought he was a liar. Then he hung up.

But someone that Ed has spoken to is amatuer investigator Ronda Randall. Not at first -- it took Ronda years of pestering to get him to open up.

Ronda says she would call Gallagher periodically to ask about different theories people were floating on her blog. Did anyone ever camp out on the property behind the Bear Brook store? Did he ever meet this person? Or that person?

[Randall] “And finally one time he just got so annoyed with me and he said ‘you’re barking up the wrong tree, the person you need to be focused on is Bob Evans.’”

I’m bringing this up because Ed Gallagher gave Ronda that name in the summer of 2014 -- about two years before the Lisa case would point police toward Bob Evans.

Ronda shared her notes from the phone call with me. According to those notes, Gallagher told Ronda about working with Bob Evans at the Waumbec mill in some detail. Including one story that still sticks with me. He told a story about coming into the mill one day and hearing screams coming from inside an office. When he opened the door he said he saw Bob Evans lying on the floor. Bob Evans said he had been napping on the floor because his back was hurting him. When Gallagher asked about the screams, Bob Evans said that he sometimes had nightmares. Ed Gallagher told Ronda he’d never heard anyone have a nightmare like that before.

According to Ronda’s notes, Gallagher also said in 2014 that he had not shared his suspicions about Bob Evans with police. At the time, Ronda didn’t make much of Gallagher’s theory. People had offered up lots of names and wild theories over the years. Still, she passed along the theory to state police in 2014.

Of course, a few years later, in 2017, Ronda would realize that Ed Gallagher was right. It was Bob Evans. Which raises the question: if Ed Gallagher had a hunch, a correct hunch, about who was responsible for the Bear Brook murders -- why didn’t he tell someone sooner?

[Randall] “One thing that he said was that his wife never wanted him to get involved in this. She told him to stay out of it. That he would be blamed for it. And it wasn’t until she was really sick that he even mentioned that to me and then she died that November and so whether that has freed him up a little bit -- hard to say.”

I’ve wrestled a lot with just what to make of all this.

It is totally possible that Ed Gallagher knows nothing more about the case than what he’s already said. Totally possible that after years of phone calls from Ronda he just blurted out a name to satisfy her and he happened to be right.

And I know that by raising this question in the story I may end up subjecting Ed Gallagher to the very things he complained about in our short phone conversation. That people will hear this and think he was somehow involved. That I am proving his belated wife right.

But in the end I decided we should raise this question because I think it’s reasonable. Reasonable to wonder whether Ed Gallagher, who was described to me as a friend of Bob Evans, who hired Bob Evans to work at the Bear Brook store, who allowed barrels to be dumped on his property, who waited almost thirty years after the first victims were found to tell someone he thought he knew who did it and was right -- I think it’s reasonable to wonder whether he might know something else about the case.

New Hampshire state police have interviewed Ed Gallagher, at least a few times. And he’s given them his DNA.

Still, I wanted to know if the fact that Gallagher had dropped the name Bob Evans years before the Lisa connection had raised any new questions for New Hampshire investigators.

So shortly after I learned about this I called up Jeff Strelzin, the homicide chief at the Attorney General’s office.

[JM] “What about Ed Gallagher? Where does he fit into this story at this point for you guys? Is he...does he have anything else to add?”

[Strelzin] “No, not that we can tell at this point, no. I mean obviously there were some connections there, but beyond that, nothing really to add.”

[JM] “I guess I’m asking because he mentioned that name as early as 2014 according to what I’ve been told. And it just strikes me as...you know, odd, that someone, years before police had these connections, seemed to at least guess correctly about the case. What do you make of that?”

[Strelzin] “Yeah I can’t speculate on that. I mean it took a lot of information before the pieces came together and you know sometimes, information floats out there, names float out there, but again, you need other pieces before you can connect it. Especially a case like this that had just gone on for so long and we just knew so little about, and still know so little about the people who were involved. So, that can happen sometimes, names can float up, but they just don’t mean anything at that point. It’s looking back that you go ‘a-ha.’ You have those a-ha moments.”

[JM] “So it doesn’t, in other words, it doesn’t raise any suspicions in you or anyone else at the department?”

[Strelzin] “No. I mean we certainly have considered, and still consider, whether or not, we’ll call him Bob Evans cause that’s who he was in New Hampshire, whether this was something he did all on his own and all indications are that his criminal activities were done on his own.”

----- [Break] -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

*** Loose Ends ***

Detective Peter Headley, who worked for years to identify Lisa, now spends his days studying the past of the man who abducted her.

For all that we’ve learned about Terry Rasmussen. There’s still so much we don’t know. And detective Headley believes what we don’t know includes other murders.

But finding out for sure is a daunting task. Rasmussen was dubbed the Chameleon for a reason.

[Headley] “Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll ever be able to identify all of his victims. I was hoping at one point we would, but the more time goes on, I don’t think we will get em all.”

There are several moments in Rasmussen’s timeline that detective Headley and other investigators remain focused on. Here are just a few:

In 1980, when Rasmussen was living in Manchester, New Hampshire under the name Bob Evans, a certified letter addressed to his address was signed for by an Elizabeth Evans. Rasmussen also listed his spouse’s name as Elizabeth on two separate occasions when he arrested on minor charges in Manchester.

Investigators still aren’t sure if Elizabeth Evans is a real person. But some have wondered if Elizabeth Evans might be the name of the adult victim in the Bear Brook murders. At this point, we just don’t know.

Another moment that raises serious concern is from a few years later, in the mid 1980’s. From the period after Rasmussen had left New Hampshire with Lisa, but before they arrived at the Holiday Host RV park in Northern California. During that time Rasmussen was staying at yet another RV park. This one in Orange County, in Southern California.

[Headley] “In the mid 1980’s when he was Orange County with Lisa. He was seen dating a woman. She was seen in a car with him. There were other children in the car. We don’t know exactly how many kids. And we’re trying to identify who she was. Odds are she’s another victim.”

One reason Headley thinks she and the children are likely victims: Rasmussen was fired from his job at the local electric company in Orange County. Not for being a bad electrician, but for stealing a bandsaw.

Then there’s the case known as the lady in the refrigerator.

In 1995, someone looking for metal cans along the side of the road in Holt, California found a refrigerator dumped in an irrigation ditch. The fridge was tied shut with a rope. Inside, the scavenger found the body of woman. She was wrapped in a sleeping bag and stuffed into one of the refrigerator’s compartments. Her hands were bound with electrical tape. She was gagged with a sock and that was held down by electrical tape. She died from a blow to the head.

The similarities are striking -- but again we just don’t know for sure if Rasmussen is connected. And unfortunately, we may never know the answers to any of these loose ends.

Terry Rasmussen may have lived in as many as thirteen different states over the years. He used at least five different aliases. The only way to connect some of these dots is if someone recognizes a picture of him. Or remembers a story about a woman suddenly vanished with her new boyfriend.

[Headley] “If there’s a woman who moved away suddenly, you had a relative and they were dating some guy and then you never heard from them again, a neighbor...it’s worth a second look.

If you have any information about Terry Peder Rasmussen or any of his other possible victims, please contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. We’ll have a timeline of Rasmussen’s life, including his confirmed locations, on our website bearbrookpodcast.com.

In telling this story, I’ve struggled to make sense of Terry Rasmussen. What is he?

He was likely an alcoholic. He often looked dirty and unkempt. Looking at his various mugshots from over the years, the word that often comes to my mind is deranged.

But I think that’s probably an over-simplification. A lot of what we know about Terry Rasmussen suggests that he was intelligent and disciplined.

Intelligent because of his skill as an electrician. Because he was fluent in French. Because he could think on his feet, juggle half-a-dozen false identities, and lie his way out of almost every encounter he had with police.

Disciplined because he never talked. He never let slip his real name in a moment of weakness on a drunken night over all the years he was on the run. Even when he was in prison for Eunsoon’s murder, when he had so much information to trade with prosecutors -- he never said a thing.

Rasmussen got away with the majority of this crimes. As far as I can tell, he only ever made two mistakes. One I understand and the other I don’t.

The one I understand was when he gave his prints to detectives after Eunsoon Jun’s disappearance not knowing they’d come back the same day.

The mistake that makes less sense to me, that is maybe the most confusing part of his story, is that he let Lisa live.

[Gruenheid] “If I could ask him that, I’d ask him like -- why?”

Here’s former Contra Costa County detective Roxane Gruenheid.

[Gruenheid] “Lisa ultimately was the connection. Lisa is the connection. Lisa is the mistake that he made, thank goodness, keeping her alive in his trail of murder. That made that connection from Contra Costa to Santa Cruz to San Bernardino to New Hampshire and to where it’s going to lead, I don’t know.”

*** Unidentified ***

The mystery of the Bear Brook murders has taken so many twists and turns over the last three years that I’ve reported on it that I’ve almost learned not to be surprised by them anymore.

But the one twist that does still get to me is the one that’s never changed, even as everything else around it has. The fact that we still don’t know who the people found in those barrels are. The fact that a whole family is dead and we don’t know their names.

You may have been wondering why haven’t detectives used genetic genealogy to identify the Bear Brook victims in the same way they used it to identify Lisa. The answer is: they’ve tried, but there’s a one big obstacle in the way. The quality of the DNA samples from the victims.

I asked Barbara Rae-Venter about this. She says unlike Lisa’s DNA sample, the DNA from the Bear Brook victims’ is severely degraded.

[Rae-Venter] “They’ve been difficult from the beginning. We’re talking about bodies that were out there exposed to the New Hampshire winters for between 5 and 20 years.”

With almost no soft tissue remaining by the time they were discovered, forensic scientists have been forced to turn to the victims’ bones and hair to look for DNA. And they have been able to get some. Samples taken so far have retrieved mitochondrial DNA -- which is the kind of DNA needed to test for maternal relationships. It’s how we know three of the victims are maternally related.

But to do genetic genealogy, you need autosomal DNA. So far, they haven’t been able to get a clean sample from the victims’ bones.

[Rae-Venter] “Bacteria have apparently infiltrated into the bone and so we’ve done multiple extractions from bone and unfortunately they’ve typically been heavily contaminated. So when they looked at what percentage was human and what was bacterial, there was like 2 percent or 3 percent human and the rest was all bacteria.”

So, for now, the Bear Brook mystery remains just that: a puzzle that sits just out of reach of the forensic technique it helped to establish. A case that continues to move in reverse, where each new piece of information suggests there may be even more victims. A case that has changed so much, and yet hasn’t changed at all.

But it might not always be that way. [mux start]

That’s because recently, scientists have been applying a new cutting edge technique to the victims’ remains. One that reconstructs autosomal DNA from rootless hair. One that that may be suitable for genetic genealogy. One that could be the key to unlocking the final mystery of the Bear Brook murders.

Until recently, it was widely accepted among forensic scientists that this was impossible. That’s because the DNA inside hair root cells gets destroyed as they become a part of the hair strand. Or so we thought. Turns out it gets shattered, and this new process painstakingly reassembles those shards of DNA into a complete sample.

[Rae-Venter] It’s difficult and time consuming, but we’re hoping that it will work. So we do have hair on the remaining three victims from Allenstown.

[JM] “So, once this, if this process works, will you be waiting at the ready to take the sample and do the same thing?”

[Rae-Venter] “Oh absolutely. Yeah.”

[kick-ass mux begins]

For maybe the first time ever, investigators now believe that learning the identity of the Bear Brook victims is simply a matter of time.

If and when that time comes, we’ll be back with another episode of Bear Brook.

[credits and thank yous]

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