June 9, 2019


How a podcast helped solve a grisly cold case: The Bear Brook podcast played a small role in identifying the victims of a serial killer (Andrew Liptak, Jun 9, 2019, The Verge)

On Thursday, New Hampshire authorities held a press conference where they identified three victims who had been killed by a serial killer in the late 1970s or early 1980s. The case was the subject of New Hampshire Public Radio's true crime podcast Bear Brook, and it played a small role in helping to identify the victims. [...]

According to Moon, this latest break from two unrelated efforts. An online investigator named Becky Heath had been following the case for more than a decade, trawling through an Ancestry.com forum where people were looking to reconnect with long-lost loved ones and comparing their stories against the profiles of the Bear Brook victims, hoping that a family member might have posted about them.

In 2017, she came across a name: Sarah McWaters. A woman had posted on the forum, noting her husband and his family had been looking for his half-sister and two family members, who had vanished in the 1970s. Heath was able to match the birthdates to the rough age ranges of the Bear Brook victims, but never followed up on the tip, until she began listening to the podcast. "I don't know why I didn't pursue it more the first time," Heath told Moon on the podcast. "I didn't really get feedback from anyone, so I didn't really pursue more." But when she began listening to the podcast last fall, she went back to her findings, and realized that she was onto something, and reached out to the author of the post, learning that Sarah's mother was married to a man named Rasmussen. She soon submitted a tip to law enforcement.

At the same time, a genetic genealogist named Barbara Rae-Venter had been working on trying to find some usable DNA from the victims. She was the one who had used DNA databases to link Rasmussen to the Bear Brook murders in 2017, and had used the same techniques to help identify the Golden State Killer last year.

But while she had been able to identify Rasmussen's identity, the bodies recovered in Bear Brook were badly decomposed. Forensics experts had been able to extract mitochondrial DNA from the remains, but to utilize Rae-Venter's techniques, they needed autosomal DNA. Rae-Venter learned of a new set of techniques that were pioneered by a UC Santa Cruz researcher named Richard Green, which would extract autosomal DNA from rootless hair.

Posted by at June 9, 2019 6:40 PM