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?”
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?”
*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.”
[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.”
[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.
[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]
Sign up to receive updates on the case at our website bearbrookpodcast.com