A podcast reopens a grisly and complicated cold case in New Hampshire

In 1985, a hunter walking through Bear Brook State Park in Allenstown, New Hampshire made a grisly discovery: a 55 gallon drum left deep in the woods, containing two sets of skeletonized remains, which investigators believed had been left in the woods for years. A subsequent investigation yielded little results until 2000, when a second barrel containing another pair of bodies was discovered, just a hundred meters away.

Forensics experts determined that the first two bodies were of an adult female and a younger girl, while the second barrel contained the bodies of two young girls. Over the years, authorities released facial reconstructions of all four victims, but to date, none have been identified. DNA showed that three of the victims — the woman and the oldest and youngest girls were related, but the middle child wasn’t.

Last year, authorities made a small break in the complicated case — they were able to connect a woman named Denise Beaudin — who had vanished in 1981 with her boyfriend Robert Evans and was later murdered by him — to the Allentown murders. Evans had then fled to California, abandoned Beaudin’s daughter, and in 2002, was convicted of murdering his wife, Eunsoon Ju. While he died in 2010, a 2017 DNA comparison linked him to the middle child in the Bear Brook case, and uncovered his true identity — Terrence “Terry” Peder Rasmussen.

Earlier this fall, New Hampshire Public Radio reporter Jason Moon delved into the Bear Brook case with a seven-episode series that sought to untangle the case and its various angles. Bear Brook ultimately leads Moon across the country and into the latest scientific efforts used to give names to the faces of the four victims who were left in the forest all those years ago.

Listen to Bear Brook on NHPR, Apple Podcasts, and Stitcher.

 Image: NHPR

Moon tells The Verge that discovering the case and turning it into a podcast was a long process. “I found it as you said as a normal reporter — there was a press conference about it in 2015, when [New Hampshire authorities] announced the isotope results,” he explained. That’s when he first “discovered it and got hooked on the story — not just the story itself, but what the interesting stuff they were doing with the isotopes,” as well as the amateur investigators that were studying the case on their own. “It was early on when I thought that it could be more than a straight news feature.”

Moon actually ended up writing a news feature at the time, a seven-minute piece that he ultimately never produced, describing it as the entire podcast in seven minutes. Months later, one of his colleagues noted that the story felt like it could be a long-term thing, and he worked on it as a side project in the following months. Earlier this year, he was able to devote himself full time to the project, which resulted in the final podcast.

When he started work on the project, the story expanded further and further as it became clear that Rasmussen left behind a trail of bodies between New Hampshire and California. Initially, he began following up with the work being done on the four bodies discovered in Allenstown. But in the midst of his reporting, other details turned up — the link between those victims and Beaudin, her daughter, and the murder of Ju in California. “That was a shock to me,” Moon said. He was looking into a 30-year-old cold case — new developments were already unexpected, to say the least.

What was also surprising to Moon was the role that DNA played and “how powerful this genetic genealogy technology is, in terms of being used to identify folks through these databases.” Earlier this spring, an investigation made headlines around the world when investigators used a website called GEDmatch to uncover the identify of a serial killer known as the Golden State Killer — a former police officer named Joseph James DeAngelo. Using DNA discovered from crime scenes, they were able to locate people related to DeAngelo, which in turn led them to him. While law enforcement has its own DNA databases, using a commercially available one where people post their own results, was novel, and a potential new — and controversial — method for identifying victims or perpetrators in cold cases.

“I’m not sure a lot of people really have reckoned with that yet,” Moon says. “I certainly haven’t. I’m still reeling from the fact that I have thousands of genetic cousins in online databases right now, and that could be used to identify me even if I never put my DNA online. The power of all that is very fascinating.” He notes that law enforcement is rushing to use commercial databases to try and solve the thousands of cold cases that have been left unsolved across the country.

While the series has concluded, Moon and NHPR will continue to report on the case. Moon says that he and the station haven’t gotten tips from people, but he hopes that the series will jog people’s memories and turn into leads that the police can use. Last week, he and producer Taylor Quinby produced a short update with a minor update — as the police worked to uncover more of Rasmussen’s victims, they were able to identify the body of a woman discovered in Tennessee, identifying her as a woman who had vanished from a juvenile detention facility in 1984 in New Hampshire. The woman wasn’t one of Rasmussen’s victims — the timeline doesn’t match with his movements, but it was the result of a tip that came in as a result of the investigation. Ultimately, Moon and Quinby believe that they will eventually discover the identities of the women killed in New Hampshire, and plan to continue to provide updates as the story develops.