Podcast 'Bear Brook' Explores How N.H. Cold Case Will Forever Change Murder Investigations

Oct 3, 2018

A new podcast miniseries from NHPR begins today. It's called Bear Brook and it follows a cold case from right here in New Hampshire that's changing how murderers everywhere are being investigated. Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley featured an excerpt of the first episode and spoke with reporter Jason Moon.

To learn more about the Bear Brook Podcast and listen to episodes, click here.

(Editor's note: this transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.)

So Jason tell us a little more about this series. What's Bear Brook about?

Well, at its core it's a true crime story about an unsolved, or partially unsolved, case from right here in New Hampshire from near Bear Brook State Park. It began in the 80s when bodies were found inside a barrel in some woods near the state park. But it goes in so many other places beyond that. It ends up taking us all across the country to California, across decades, and it spans a lot including some really interesting advances in forensic science. So it's almost a half true crime and half science story at its core.

Is that what intrigued you about this story? I mean, why a full podcast about it?

For me it's started a couple of years ago - actually in 2015 - when there was a press conference about the case, not a terribly remarkable way for a story to start for a reporter. But there was some new science that was being used in the case that really piqued my interest and once I started looking into it, I interviewed a couple of sources and quickly realized that it just couldn't fit into what we normally do on the radio here. It needed needed more space. And so you know a couple of years later here we are trying this out, trying a new format for the newsroom and taking some time to really dig in. So this is going to be six episodes. Some are about a half hour. Some are closer to an hour. And we're really going to dig into the facts of the case itself, th e investigation and also these frankly amazing new scientific forensic techniques that are out there.

And some of these techniques involve, well it's DNA really, and this is something that's developed just in the recent years that made some breakthroughs possible here, right?

That's right. If listeners remember from earlier this year, the news about the Golden State Killer out of California being arrested, that was made possible with a new technique called genetic genealogy, which was first tried out on this case from New Hampshire, in the Bear Brook case. And in fact, the investigators on the Golden State Killer case were inspired by what was done on this case, and so it really in a significant way is the beginning of what some people are calling a new era of criminal investigation. It's a whole new technique that can open up cases that people have thought unsolvable, or have gone on unsolved for decades. Now there is hope for a lot of those cases.

So this case from New Hampshire has really changed how murders are being investigated?

Definitely, and it's also opened up an interesting debate about that technique in and of itself. There's a lot of privacy concerns that are raised with this technique. When people put their DNA online for genealogical purposes to find their long lost relatives, to build family trees, in certain circumstances police can take advantage of that and use it to find criminals to help them solve crimes. You know there's interesting questions that come up about well was that what you thought your DNA was going to be used for in the first place.

So many implications down the line from this could follow. Okay, so I don't want to ask you to give away too much here. This is a multipart series that we're asking listeners to dig into. But could you kind of maybe cue us in on what surprised you the most in doing this?

Well it's really the bare facts of the case are just on their own so intriguing. To have a family murdered [and] discarded in the woods in New Hampshire and to go unidentified for over three decades is just incredibly rare, and it just makes you wonder how could that happen. How could no one have known this family? Shouldn't have kids have been in school? Shouldn't someone have noticed basically that this family went missing?

Yeah, the human drama and the story is engrossing enough, but on top of this there's the science and the unusual nature of the case itself.

Yeah a lot of ripple effects thrown off from this case. And you're right, there is just the inherent drama of the true crime story, and what happened, and how can we get these people identified. But meanwhile it's raising questions far beyond New Hampshire that police in California are now using these techniques, and advocates across the country are debating about them. And yet, back here at the heart of the mystery we still don't know who the victims are, and it's just amazing that one case, one story can have all these tendrils. And that's part of why it's a six part series now.

Okay Jason, how can listeners get ahold of this podcast series?

You can find it online at bearbrookpodcast.org. Or if you listen to podcasts already, you can get it on whatever podcast app you're using at the moment.