4 of the cold cases that the U.S. police solved in 2019, including the Bear Brook murders
While some cases are solved right away, others remain a mystery, haunting police officers for decades. When an unsolved case has no more leads, all its evidence is archived, and it is called a cold case. Every few years the police reviews these old cases, trying to find new leads. Many times they succeed -and catch the killers. These are four of the cold case murders that the police solved in 2019.
Bear Brook Murders
A hunter was walking through a dense forest of New Hampshire (U.S.) on November 10, 1985 when he found a suspicious metal barrel. So he called the police. They soon showed up at the park in question, Bear Brook State Park in Allenstown. The police opened the barrel and found the remains of an adult woman and a child. There were no clues to follow, so the identity of the victims and the perpetrator remained a mystery. Fourteen years later, in May 2000, another metal barrel was found in the same forest, not far from the first. This time, it held the remains of two children. The four victims had been killed with a blunt object, then they had 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. In 2014 they tested the DNA from the scene and discovered that the twenty-something woman found in the forest was related to two of the children: to the youngest and eldest. She 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. The police knew that ‘Evans’ was an alias, they needed his real name. So they released a video asking the public to help identify him. One of the suspect’s sons came forward. Evans real name was Terry Rasmussen.
Rasmussen had died in jail in 2010, when he was 62. He was 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 police now had the Bear Brook killer. But who were his four victims?
Naming the victims
In Connecticut, Rebekah Heath, a 33-year-old librarian, became obsessed with the Bear Brook murders when she heard about them in the late 2000’s. She felt the victims deserved to be identified. Rebekah spent her free time navigating missing person and genealogy sites, looking for people who fit the description of the 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 her 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. And 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 was majoring in Communications, but is now thinking about changing her major to Criminal Justice Research.
Barry Crane’s murder
On July 5, 1985 Barry Crane’s housekeeper walked into his home in Los Angeles and found a trail of blood. It led to his bedroom. The bedroom floor and a statue were covered with blood, and the bed sheets were missing. She 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. 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, with fingerprints all over the car, cigarette butts in the ashtrays, and traces of blood. The police collected the evidence, but it led nowhere for 30 years.
Barry Crane was a 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.
A detective does not give up and finds the culprit
A detective from the Los Angeles Police Department had the evidence retested in 2006, but found no new clues. He tried again 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, he stole a car in Utah. In 1997 he was arrested for beating his then-wife and attempting to strangle her. 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 the 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 he was formally charged with the murder of Barry Crane. The suspect is facing life in prison.
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 bank bag with several thousand dollars. Norma, Johnnie’s wife of 18 years, returned to the house at 4pm 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. He collected the evidence and sent it to the TV show Cold Justice. The producers of the show sent one of their investigators, retired homicide detective Johnny Bonds, and other experts to Texas, to work with the Sheriff’s Office.
The combined team went over the case, 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 84-year-old was charged with murder.
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, 1981, it was ruled a suicide.
Although Norma has been charged for her husband’s death, there has not been a trial yet, so if she is guilty or innocent remains to be seen.
Miranda’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 in November, 18-year-old Miranda Fenner was killed while working at a movie store. Miranda was stabbed several times, and her throat was slit. She managed to crawl outside the store where a passerby found her. 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.
Remorse and confession
Then, in 2016 the police of Yellowstone County 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 was not dead, and the details he gave of Miranda’s killing were of common knowledge. Furthermore the petty criminal, Zachary O’Neill, was confessing from the psychiatric ward of a hospital in Washington. The police dismissed it. A few months later, on March 2017, an intoxicated Zachary showed up at the Yellowstone County Jail and confessed again. This time he gave more details. The police took his DNA and let him go to check his story -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. And Zachary, who in 1998 was an 18-year-old himself, was in Miranda’s video store twice the day of her murder. 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 that second time to rob it at gunpoint. Then 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. 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.