Names of murdered lost over decades - Police hope to identify bodies left in barrels
Concord Monitor (NH) - Friday, March 27, 2009
Author: KAREN LANGLEY ; Monitor staff
At least 25 years have passed since a woman and three children were murdered, stuffed into barrels and left near Bear Brook State Park.
The remains of the woman and one child were found spilling from a barrel in 1985. Fifteen years later, a state trooper revisiting the dormant case found the other remains in a barrel about 100 yards away. The four have never been identified.
There are other unsolved murders in New Hampshire, an average of about two per year, but these four victims are the only unidentified ones known to the chief of the attorney general's homicide unit. The void of information about their lives has crippled hopes of explaining their deaths.
"Here the resources are going into identifying the victims," said Jeff Strelzin, senior assistant attorney general and homicide unit chief. "Normally in a homicide crime the resources are going to solving the crime. Getting to who killed them without knowing who they are is next to impossible."
Now authorities hope advances in forensic technology could help to identify the remains left in the Allenstown woods.
A new technique for analyzing hair could yield clues about where the victims lived before their deaths. Analysts at a Utah lab are studying the woman's hair for isotopes peculiar to the drinking water of different regions. Investigators believe narrowing the search would increase the chance of finding someone who had contact with the victims.
Tracing evidence to a particular location has helped investigators before. In 2004, after Concord resident Manuel Gehring told the police he had forgotten where he buried his son and daughter after killing them, tests of pollen found with his shovel led to the discovery of the bodies in Ohio.
State investigators are also awaiting nuclear DNA tests being performed by the FBI. These tests would provide individual DNA profiles that could be used to find family members listed in federal databases.
If the victims are identified, investigators will at last be able to ask the questions that are usually the first steps in solving a murder. When they do, they will be looking for a killer who committed a personal, violent crime, said Detective John Sonia of the State Police Major Crime Unit.
The woman and the child found with her were killed by blunt force trauma to their heads, Sonia said. The medical examiner did not determine how the pair of children died, he said, but ruled they had been murdered.
"This case was particularly heinous and brutal," he said. "It either shows some kind of relationship between the perpetrator and victims that's so close and personal where they were bludgeoned and put in barrels."
But people who murder their entire families more often use methods like poisoning or shooting, he said. Crimes of intense violence are typically committed against a single victim, he said.
"On the other hand, a serial perpetrator, a serial stalker with multiple victims, as we believe they're from one time. . . . That gives a different profile, a psychotic profile," he said.
Strelzin said he could not comment on whether the victims had been bludgeoned.
For now, little information has been drawn from the remains. Forensic analysts have determined that the woman was between 23 and 32 years old. She had curly, light-brown hair and, like the children, was either white or Native American. She was about 5-foot-5.
The child found with her was a girl between 5 and 10 years old. The girl stood about 4-foot-3 and had light-brown hair and ears pierced twice.
The second pair of bodies were those of two children who appear to be younger. Investigators believe they are female, but the children were too young to know for sure.
"You can't get sex from skeletal morphology when they're that young," said Kim Fallon, a forensic investigator at the state medical examiner's office. "They have traits that suggest they're female, but that's not definite."
One of those children was between 4 and 8 years old and stood about 3-foot-8. She had light-brown hair and a noticeable overbite. The other child was between 1 and 3 years old. She stood about 2-foot-5 and had long, blond hair.
The initial DNA tests showed that the woman could be the mother of the child found with her and of the youngest child. Investigators said she is not the mother of the child who was between 4 and 8 years old.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has produced images from the bone structure of the woman and the two children who might be hers.
The case was reactivated a few years ago when Fallon learned about the four victims at a conference about missing persons and unidentified remains.
"I couldn't believe when I heard about this case," she said. "That it's four of them from probably one event and three of them are children."
Quadruple homicides are rare. In 1991, Concord resident James Colbert strangled his wife and three young daughters. The 1997 shooting rampage of Carl Drega killed two state troopers, a part-time judge and a newspaper editor in northern Colebrook.
There are different theories about how four people could have disappeared as long as 30 years ago without ever being identified. The woman could have been a teenager who left home and had children without her family knowing, Fallon said. Or she and the children could be from the West Coast and brought here by a long-haul trucker, Strelzin said.
Investigators ask that anyone with information contact Detective John Sonia or Lt. James White of the State Police Major Crime Unit at 271-2663. http://www.concordmonitor.com/apps/pbcs.dl...13/0/REPOSITORY