Bear Brook: New NHPR Podcast Dives Deep into NH Cold Cases & Innovations in Forensics Technology

Oct 3, 2018

Bear Brook, a new podcast series from New Hampshire Public Radio, focuses on four unsolved murders from the 1980s near Bear Brook State Park in Allenstown, New Hampshire—cold cases that went warm after new investigative techniques revealed innovations that may forever change the way murders are solved.

In 1985, a hunter discovered a barrel containing two unidentified bodies near Bear Brook State Park. In 2000, the discovery of a second barrel with two more unidentified bodies opened up more questions and renewed interest in the investigation. Seventeen years passed before the killer of the four mystery victims was finally revealed through the help of a new powerful—and controversial—investigative technique based on genetic genealogy.

Bear Brook is a six-part podcast that looks beyond the killer and offers listeners in-depth reporting on how genetic genealogy is revolutionizing police work, enabling detectives to uncover clues about unidentified victims—and suspects—in cases where traditional police work has failed. The podcast also explores questions of ethics in investigative forensics, as these techniques become more widely used.  

Host Jason Moon began his journey with this complex story in 2015, when he attended a news conference where State of New Hampshire authorities announced new information regarding the decades-old murder investigation. The case continued to revolve around two barrels filled with the remains of four individuals that had yet to be identified—with no matching missing persons’ records. The findings point to a central question: Who are these people?

“I started working on this story with the question: how could a murdered family go unidentified for so long?” said Jason Moon. “I never imagined that after more than 30 years the case would start to unravel right in the middle of my reporting.”

Moon, who served as NHPR’s education and Seacoast reporter at the time of the news conference, took on the task of investigating the case further, spending nights and weekends working on the podcast while continuing to cover his daily beat.  All told, his investigation spanned dozens of hours of interviews with numerous investigators, amateur sleuths, family and friends of those impacted by the killer, and residents and former residents of Allenstown. He also visited several sites relevant to the case in New Hampshire—the area where the bodies were found, to the gravesite of the first two victims, to various kitchen tables speaking with locals. In early 2017, an expanded editorial team at NHPR began working on the podcast as well, to tell the story more fully through sound, video and photography, graphics, maps and other long-form storytelling tools.

EPISODE GUIDE:

The podcast chronicles the Bear Brook case and the advances in investigative technology through six episodes:

Episode 1: “Hide and Seek”, launching Wednesday, October 3, walks the listener through the 1985 discovery of a barrel—by a hunter—in Bear Brook State Park; a barrel containing two unidentified bodies. The case eventually goes cold, baffling the police force and local community.

Episode 2: “Known Only to God”, available for download Wednesday, October 10, discusses the unavoidable question that arises when a second barrel with two more bodies is discovered after 15 years: Why did it take so long to find it? The cloud of uncertainty surrounding this case invites curiosity—and borderline obsession—from citizen-sleuths like Ronda Randall who aided police in the investigation.

Episode 3: “A Smaller Haystack”, available for download Wednesday, October 17, brings the story to the present, starting with a 2015 development in the case. A geologist deciphers the history of these unidentified victims, by letting chemical isotopes from their teeth and hair tell their stories. It gives investigators their first lead in the case, 30 years after it began.

Episode 4: “Eunsoon Jun”, available for download Wednesday, October 24, broadens the scope of the podcast beyond New Hampshire by detailing a story from California in 2000—when a man with a sinister history leaves an ominous impression with his girlfriend’s family and friends. When the woman later goes missing, a police investigation uncovers details about a criminal whose disturbing transgressions reach deep into his past—and far across the country.   

Episode 5: “Bloodline”, available for download Wednesday, October 31, follows one detective’s discoveries about a “living Jane Doe” in San Bernardino, Calif. This young girl’s abandonment pulls together a family tree that leads to a killer’s true identity. A “Chameleon” is revealed and the method of discovery may change the conversation around forensics forever.

Episode 6: “Chameleon”, available for download Wednesday, November 7, delves into the connections between the Golden State Killer case and the Bear Brook murders. But as the questions of who-done-it come to a close, another conversation around genetic privacy and the cost of a groundbreaking investigative technique begins. Though the reverberations from the Bear Brook case mainly affect the Granite State, the larger narrative surrounding DNA forensics is examined.  

“Beginning with Jason Moon’s curiosity about this case and commitment to investigate further, a full team of NHPR news staff and producers went to work to illuminate this local crime story—a local story that now has global ramifications for criminal investigations,” said Maureen McMurray, Director of Content Innovation at New Hampshire Public Radio. “This kind of collaborative, thoughtful and in-depth storytelling is a hallmark of the type of journalism we now produce at NHPR. Listeners and supporters have been vital toward allowing us the funding and freedom to pursue enterprise projects of this nature. We look forward to generating more stories on the scale and scope of Bear Brook.

WHERE TO FIND BEAR BROOK:

Subscribe:

Listeners can hear the six-part series by subscribing to Bear Brook on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher or wherever they access podcasts.

Website:

All of the Bear Brook reports and related digital assets are available online at www.bearbrookpodcast.org.

Soundtrack:

Much of the music featured in Bear Brook, including the theme music, was composed and performed by Host Jason Moon and Senior Producer Taylor Quimby. Tracks can be found here: www.bearbrookpodcast.com/podcast-soundtrack

Social Media:

Twitter - @bearbrookpod

Facebook – facebook.com/bearbrookpod