Editor’s Note: Forensic Magazine spoke with the detectives from multiple agencies who broke open the infamous Bear Brook Murders cold case in New Hampshire in January. The following is a narrative explaining how one determined California deputy’s work led to a DNA discovery, which was picked up by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s team of experts, which in turn allowed a group of New Hampshire cops to make an on-the-ground push to identify a long-lost killer.
Peter Headley, a detective in the Crimes Against Children Detail of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office, had spent five years on the case.
The little girl named Lisa had been abandoned in 1986 at an RV park by a drifter. Lisa’s case was singular. Against the odds, and despite the toughest of beginnings, she had reached a happy ending: she was married with children, and had developed a normal adult life.
But her earliest memories were vague shadows of abuse—and a man she could barely recall, who had kidnapped her from somewhere. The adult woman needed answers.
“Lisa’s case was very unique, one of a kind,” said Headley. “We did not know who she was. We didn’t know where she had been taken from. We had nothing to go on.”
But Headley and his colleagues in California had seen the gamut of horror inflicted on children, from physical beatings to molestation and child pornography. He knew there was something to this case. After all, the man who had abandoned the girl was later arrested for killing and dismembering a woman, and burying the body in her basement. Something in the past had brought the little girl and the future killer together—and it was probably important.
“Knowing what we knew about him, we felt there were most likely victims, right from the beginning,” Headley said in a recent interview with Forensic Magazine.
So, he persisted. Hundreds of hours were spent on the phone, revisiting locations, conducting interviews, reviewing what documentation he could find. He attempted to reconnect the drifter to the time and place where his path had intersected with the girl’s. He exhausted lead after lead over the course of five years.
The drifter who had claimed to be her father, and was her longtime abuser, was like a phantom. The man who went by several aliases—incarcerated under the name Curtis Kimball—refused to tell authorities where Lisa had come from. He died in prison in 2010, taking his secrets to the grave.
Lisa’s memories of her past were vague, and she never knew where she had come from, before the man known as Curtis Kimball left her at the Holiday Host RV Park in Scotts Valley when she was just about 5 years old.
The case haunted Headley, maybe as much as any other. So he kept at it, doubling back over locations, assessing things Kimball had said and other clues he left behind on his trail.
“Every little thing, you research. A big problem with cold cases is the records are gone,” said Headley. “From DMV records, to records from the RV parks he had stayed at, they were gone. It made it very difficult.”
DNA PICKS UP THE TRAIL
But the little girl Lisa, now an adult woman, had the vital clues right in the nuclei of her cells. All it took was the latest forensic genealogy techniques—and thousands of hours more.
Headley reached out to DNAAdoption.com, a site originally created for adoptees to find their birth parents through online autosomal and Y-DNA, and the assistance of volunteers. Headley found Barbara Rae-Venter, a genetic genealogy expert who volunteers with the site.
Most of the DNAAdoption cases at least have a place to start the search—a geographical location where the child was abandoned, or a clue as to where a person was born or came from. In this case, there was no leads other than the drifter who was not her biological father, Rae-Venter said.
“We didn’t have that piece of geography that we would normally have,” Rae-Venter told Forensic Magazine. “There were no clues. We did not even know whether Lisa was born in the U.S. or Canada. The drifter who had abducted her had quite literally been all over the U.S. and up into Quebec in the time around when it was believed Lisa was abducted.”
But they could try. Using a sample of Lisa’s DNA, they combed through several online databases looking for genetic clues. Upon Rae-Venter’s advice, Lisa submitted a DNA sample to each of the three genomics testing companies.
First they came upon a “huge, huge hint”—a person in the Ancestry.com database who had enough genetic similarities to indicate he was a second or third cousin, all the way on the East Coast.
The cousin had a huge family tree uploaded onto the site. Headley persuaded that person to upload their DNA profile to GEDmatch alongside Lisa to determine further similarities. The GEDmatch site is for comparing and contrasting multiple companies’ databases. And it produced nearly immediate results.
“We got a huge, fabulous clue,” said Rae-Venter.
The X chromosome has a total of 196 centiMorgans, a unit of similarity measurement. Lisa and the man shared 113 of them, a pretty close match indicating a common female ancestor. “This was exciting,” said Rae-Venter.
Then, a second lucky break. Within the database of 23andMe, the searches turned up a man who had been adopted, who was another second or third cousin. The California man agreed to transfer his information to GEDMatch, too, and his centiMorgans were twice the match with Lisa’s of the first man. After further detective work, Headley and Rae-Venter were able to get a court order for the man's original birth certificate - and therefore track down the adopted man’s father.
Knowing the adoptee’s father, plus the two Ancestry matches, allowed a triangulation of the ancestry—straight back to the first man’s grandmother as the common ancestor.
“It gave us the name of who was the common ancestor, and where the matching segment of the X chromosome came from,” said Rae-Venter.
But there was still detective work to do. The grandmother had 18 children. Using a family tree, and numerous cross country phone calls, Headley persuaded a group of strangers who were descendants of each of the grandmother’s children to assist in the investigation by providing genetic reference samples.
After about a year, they had their name—and an identity.
Lisa was really Dawn Beaudin, last seen in 1981 at the age of six months in New Hampshire.
So how did she end up in California?
CHILDREN, MISSING AND EXPLOITED
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has thousands of stories of the vanished, the abused and the unidentified. Thousands of faces in databases, and thousands of names to remember and look up. Not all of them can be committed to memory.
But some cases no one can forget.
As Carol Schweitzer and other NCMEC investigators plotted the last known appearance of Beaudin and her mother Denise on a map last year, they noticed a close connection to a huge unsolved case nearby.
Immediately it was clear—Dawn Beaudin had last been seen in Manchester. That town in southern New Hampshire was just 15 miles down the road from Allenstown, site of one of the most notorious cold cases in American history.
“The team was looking at the map to see where Manchester was,” Schweitzer recalls. “When they’re pulling up the map to see where Lisa originally came from, we noticed that’s right there. Right near the New Hampshire case.”
They’re known as the Bear Brook Murders, after the nearby state park. In 1985, hunters came upon a 55-gallon drum in the woods, which they opened to find two bodies stuffed inside: a woman and a girl, both decomposed. A full investigation turned up no leads, other than the fact that they had been dumped there a few years earlier.
In 2000, as state police detectives continued to investigate the two homicides, they came upon the unthinkable: a second barrel, with two more bodies stuffed inside. This time, both were little girls. DNA eventually determined that two of the girls were related to the adult woman, but the fourth victim was a girl unrelated to the others.
Schweitzer and the NCMEC team almost immediately made the connection. The center had been looking at Lisa’s case since 2004, once DNA had ruled out that the man in a California prison who had abandoned her was not her biological father. But they had never had a case open from the other end, on Dawn Beaudin from New Hampshire, before. She and her mother Denise and her mother’s boyfriend Robert Evans had simply disappeared from the area following a family Thanksgiving dinner in 1981, amid financial problems. Dawn was only officially reported missing in 2016, amid these new revelations.
NCMEC had never had a point of interest on the map quite that close to the Bear Brook Murders. But now they did—and they had pictures and descriptions of the man named Curtis Kimball who had abandoned Lisa in California.
Everything was lining up.
“Everyone in the unit here is familiar with the large cases, one of them being Allenstown,” Schweitzer recalled. “We started to hear the information that came in on Lisa’s case. She went missing in 1981 … The timeline is consistent, location is consistent, you have a mother and daughter that go missing at the same time.
“This was too similar; we needed to track down if there were any links to the New Hampshire case,” she added.
FOUR FEMALES AND A KILLER UNKNOWN
NCMEC contacted Headley, and Headley contacted the New Hampshire State Police.
We have found Dawn Beaudin, he told them. And there could potentially be a link to that big cold case of yours, he added.
Fingerprints and jail records indicated that the same man in California had gone by the names Gordon Jenson, Curtis Kimball, Gerald Mockerman and Lawrence Vanner. Under these various names, he had been arrested for a DUI with Lisa in the car, abandoned the girl, been convicted of abusing her and ultimately put away for life for murdering and dismembering a woman named Eunsoon Jun in 2002. He died in prison in 2010 as Curtis Kimball.
Sgt. Michael Kokoski of the New Hampshire State Police and other detectives on its Cold Case Unit started looking at the “new” disappearance of Beaudin. (It was never reported in 1981, because Evans manipulated the rest of the Beaudin family into thinking it was a planned move.)
Using thorough police work and interviews with surviving family, they matched the Curtis Kimball in California who had killed Jun and abandoned Dawn Beaudin in 1986 to the Robert Evans of New Hampshire who had disappeared with the girl and her mother Denise Beaudin in 1981.
A half dozen detectives started completely reworking the case in mid-2016, led by Kokoski and Jeffrey Strelzin, the chief of the homicide unit for the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office.
The state police put together a timeline and a history that matched with the dead killer out in California, too. He had worked at Waumbec Mills in Manchester as an electrician under a supervisor. That supervisor owned the property where the four bodies were found in the barrels.
According to interviews, Evans was also known to have dumped other items on the property. Some of the barrels on the property were known to have come from the mill. And some of the bodies were even bound with the same kinds of electrical supplies the killer worked with at the mill.
They ran down the DNA—none of the females in the barrels were from the Beaudin family.
But after further, intensive DNA work by Bode Cellmark Forensics, they had their “Eureka” moment.
The middle child, found in the second barrel, was not related to the other females.
But she was the biological daughter of Evans/Jenson/Kimball/Mockerman/Vanner.
Strelzin told Forensic Magazine that—despite the connection between the mill and the property—Evans only appeared on their radar in 2014. And it was only the results of the DNA tests in late 2016 that narrowed the focus on the drifter and electrician who vanished from the East Coast in 1981.
“We are confident we have our killer, now we want to ID these victims,” said Strelzin.
The four females remain unidentified. Though oxygen isotopes in the bones indicate most of them were from the Northeast, no one has come forward to identify them.
Most chillingly, Evans/Jenson/Kimball/Mockerman/Vanner himself remains unidentified today.
“Frankly, we do not know the true identity of the subject right now,” said Kokoski, during a press conference.
Entire decades of this “chameleon’s” whereabouts remain unknown. Prior to 1977, between 1981 and 1986, and between 1989 and 2002, he was like a phantom. He himself claimed to have spent significant time in about half the country, perhaps under more aliases. More victims are potentially unaccounted for—perhaps never to be found.
Leads remain, and the work continues. A woman going by the name of Elizabeth Evans lived with Robert Evans in Manchester, so there could be a missing Elizabeth from somewhere in the Northeast, or beyond. The DNA of the killer’s daughter, stuffed like garbage into that steel drum, may still yet yield clues, especially when genealogy is superimposed over the geography of the isotopes. And there are multiple geographic leads into the “chameleon” killer known as Evans in New Hampshire and Kimball in California, including one possibility that he grew up in sparsely populated Wyoming. He may have been military, perhaps Navy, according to information unearthed during countless police interviews.
Headley said a separate law enforcement agency found a witness who saw an unknown 6-month-old child with the chameleon killer in the mid-1980s.
“We’re far from done,” said Headley.
Unfortunately, the advanced DNA techniques that linked an abandoned girl in California with horrific murders on the opposite coast, and broke open one of the biggest American cold cases, can’t be used to establish who Evans was. Upon entering prison for Jun’s murder in 2002, he provided a sample that contained the 13 CODIS loci of his DNA. But digging up his body to get more genetic clues from his full genome isn’t an option.
“He was cremated,” said Schweitzer.