While some cases are solved right away, others remain a mystery, haunting police officers for decades. Every few years the police reviews these cold cases, trying to find new leads. And sometimes they succeed and catch the killers -just when the offender was getting comfortable and feeling home free. That is what happened with these four cold case murders that the U.S. police solved in 2019.
4. Bear Brook Murders
A hunter was walking through a dense forest in New Hampshire (U.S.) on November 10, 1985 when he found a big and suspicious metal barrel in the middle of nature. So he called the police.
The police showed up at the park in question, which is Bear Brook State Park in Allenstown.
They located the suspicious barrel and opened it. To everyone’s surprise, inside they found the remains of an adult woman and a child.
But since there were zero clues to follow, the identity of the victims and the perpetrator remained a mystery for years.
Then, fourteen years later, in May 2000, another metal barrel was found in the same forest, not far from the first. This time, the police found the remains of two children inside.
The four victims, found in the two barrels, had been killed with a blunt object. And then they had all been dismembered.
There was a serial killer on the loose, and there were still no clues to find him/her.
DNA leads to the killer
The police tried to figure out the cold case for nearly thirty years.
The murders had happened in pre-DNA testing days, so in 2014 they tested the DNA from the scene. The police discovered that the twenty-something woman found in the forest was related to two of the three children: to the youngest and eldest. The woman was either their mother, aunt, or sister.
Three years later, in 2017, another DNA test pointed to the serial killer. It was probably Robert Evans, who, furthermore, turned out to be the father of the middle child.
Evans had been in and out of jail in the 80’s and 90’s. Yet the police realized that “Evans” was an alias, and to find him, they needed his real name.
Fortunately, they did have his picture. So they released a video asking the public to help identify him. One of “Evan’s” sons came forward. The real name of the suspect was Terry Rasmussen.
In spite of all the effort and resilience, the police was 7 years too late. Rasmussen had died in jail in 2010, aged 62.
He had been arrested in 2002 for killing his girlfriend, chemist Eunsoon Jun, with a blunt object. Then he had dismembered her and buried the remains in her basement in California.
The same modus operandi of the Bear Brook Murders killer.
The police now had the Bear Brook killer. But who were his four victims?
Naming the victims
Rebekah Heath, a 33-year-old librarian from Connecticut, , became obsessed with the Bear Brook Murders in the late 2000’s. She felt the victims deserved to be identified.
Rebekah spent her free time navigating missing persons and genealogy sites, looking for people who fit the description of the Bear Brook victims.
Every time she found a match, Rebekah investigated their whereabouts. If she could not find current information, she contacted their family members to learn more about the missing person.
In 2017 she came across a post from 1999. On a genealogy site someone was looking for their half-sister, Sarah McWaters, and for Sarah’s mother, Marlyse Honeychurch.
Rebekah investigated and realized Marlyse and her two daughters disappeared in the 70’s. And their ages matched the ages of the victims. But for one reason or another she abandoned that lead.
A year later Rebekah was listening to a podcast on the Bear Brook murders, and Marlyse came to mind.
So the librarian contacted Sarah McWater’s half-sibling, the one who had posted on the genealogy site. And she found out Marlyse was last seen in 1978 at her mother’s house in California, during Thanksgiving. Marlyse had attended the celebration with her two daughters and her new boyfriend. The boyfriend’s name was Rasmussen.
Rebekah called the police.
The police confirmed through DNA samples, in 2019, that the victims were 24-year-old Marlyse and her daughters: Sarah Lynn McWaters (1 year old) and Marie Elizabeth Vaughn (6).
The identity of the third child, Rasmussen’s daughter, remains unknown, as well as the fate of her mother.
Rebekah Heath, the inspired detective/librarian, was majoring in Communications, but is now thinking about changing her major to Criminal Justice Research.
3. Barry Crane’s murder
On July 5, 1985 Barry Crane’s housekeeper walked into his home in Los Angeles like any other day. But inside the house she found a trail of blood. It led to Barry’s bedroom. Once in the empty bedroom, the housekeeper saw, with horror, more blood: the floor and a statue were covered with it. While the bed sheets were missing.
She kept looking through the house and finally found Barry’s dead body in the garage, wrapped in the bed sheets.
According to the forensic examiner Barry was beaten to death -with the statue- and strangled with a telephone cord.
But for all the violence, the only things missing from his home were his wallet and his Cadillac.
The police found the car hours later, abandoned on a mountain road. It had traces of blood, fingerprints, and a collection of cigarette butts in the ashtrays.
The police collected the evidence, but it led nowhere for 30 years.
Who was the victim?
Barry Crane was a well-known producer and director of television shows who worked in Los Angeles. He directed episodes in popular series such as The Incredible Hulk, Wonder Woman, Hawaii FIVE-O, and Dallas. And many thought that the 57-year-old director was the best bridge player in the world -he is still a legend in the bridge world.
No one could imagine why he had been killed.
A detective does not give up and finds the culprit
The unsolved cold case bothered a detective from the Los Angeles Police Department, who had the evidence retested in 2006. But still, he found no new clues.
He tried again twelve years later, in 2018. This time a fingerprint specialist was able to identify one of the prints. It belonged to a 51-year-old man named Edwin Hiatt.
Hiatt had a police record. In 1985 -the same year of Barry’s murder- the then-18-year-old stole a car in Utah. And in 1997 he was arrested for beating his then-wife, attempting to strangle her, and threatening to burn the house down.
The police tracked Hiatt down through Facebook and Verizon. He was living in North Carolina.
The police asked the FBI to keep him under surveillance.
One day Hiatt drank a cup of coffee and smoked cigarettes in a public place. After he left, the FBI collected the disposable cup and the cigarette butts, and had them tested.
The results came back in January 2019: Hiatt’s DNA matched the DNA of five of the cigarette butts found in Barry’s car.
Then, police detectives went to North Carolina to interview Hiatt. He confessed to Barry’s murder. In the 80’s he was heavily into drugs, and he remembers only bits of what happened.
Everyone in Hiatt’s community was surprised by his arrest for, apparently, he is a changed man. He worked at a repair shop, and people knew him as a kind and generous person.
On May 2019, 34 years after the crime, he was formally charged with the murder of Barry Crane. The suspect is facing life in prison.
2. Johnnie Allbritton’s cold case
In plain daylight, burglars broke into Johnnie Allbritton’s house in Buffalo, Texas, on May 14, 1984.
When Johnnie, unknowingly, walked into his house through the backdoor, the burglars shot him five times, two in the front and three in the back. And then fled, leaving the murdered 64-year-old next to a pile of guns they had meant to steal. They did take with them a bag with thousands of dollars.
Norma, Johnnie’s wife of 18 years, returned to the house at 4 pm with their son and called the police.
At least that is what the Sheriff’s Office thought of the crime at the time. But they never found the burglars.
Reviewing the evidence with the aid of a TV show
In 2015 Sheriff Kevin Ellis decided to take another look at the case. It had been more than 30 years since the murder.
Since he did not have enough resources, collected the evidence and sent it to the TV show Cold Justice. The show provides the resources for cold case investigations in exchange for filming the whole process and then airing it on TV.
The combined team went over the case once more, interviewed more than 50 witnesses, and tested the evidence in the show’s forensic labs.
The police has not made the evidence public yet, and the show will air in 2020. But what they unveiled was enough for the Sheriff’s Office to arrest Norma, Johnnie’s second wife, the one that called the police the day he died.
In July 2019 the now 84-year-old was charged with murder.
And the sheriff is now re-investigating the death of the couple’s daughter, Pam.
Three years before Johnnie was shot, his 13-year-old daughter Pam died of a shotgun wound in that same house. At the time, in 1981, it was ruled a suicide.
Although Norma has been charged with her husband’s death, there has not been a trial yet, so if she is guilty or innocent remains to be seen.
1. Miranda Fenner’s cold case
The small community of Laurel, Montana had not seen much violence before 1998. But in September of that year a woman was raped, stabbed, and left for dead with her throat slit.
Then two months later, in November, 18-year-old Miranda Fenner was killed while working at a movie store.
Miranda was stabbed several times inside the store, and her throat was slit. She managed to crawl outside the shop where a passerby found her. But she died in the hospital that night.
For two decades the police interviewed hundreds of witnesses and followed many leads, including several false confessions. But to no avail. Miranda’s murder remained a cold case for almost 20 years.
Remorse and confession
Then, in 2016 the police of Yellowstone County, where the murder happened, received another confession. A petty criminal of local extraction was confessing to two murders: Miranda’s, and the one of the raped woman. But the second victim, which the man claimed to have killed, was not dead, and the details he gave of Miranda’s murder were of common knowledge.
Furthermore the petty criminal, Zachary O’Neill, was confessing from the psychiatric ward of a hospital in Washington. So the police dismissed it.
But a few months later, on March 2017, an intoxicated Zachary showed up at the Yellowstone County Jail and confessed again to the murders. This time he gave more details.
The police took his DNA and let him go to check his story, since in Montana a confession is not enough for an arrest.
Yet, it was true. Zachary’s DNA matched the evidence in the case of the raped woman. After slitting her throat he had left her for dead, that is why he was confessing to her murder, but unbeknownst to him, the woman had survived.
And Zachary, who when Miranda was murdered was an 18-year-old himself, was in Miranda’s video store twice the day she was killed. The second time, according to members of his family, he was there just minutes before she was attacked. The police had questioned him back then.
According to Zachary’s account, in those days he used to steal to feed his drug habit. The day of the murder he was high on meth, and he went to the store the first time to rent movies, and the second time to rob it at gunpoint. After the robbery he became afraid Miranda would recognize him, so he stabbed her.
For years he did not care about the murder, but eventually his conscience caught up with him. His own brother was killed in 2013, and it had been a relief when his killers were caught. So he wanted Miranda’s family to have that closure.
Zachary was tried in August 2019 for both Miranda’s murder and the rape/attempted murder of the other woman. He pleaded guilty and will serve two life sentences.