Blog 1: The Bear Brook Case

The first post in a series of blogs regarding the genealogy used in the Bear Brook Case for Arianna Jeanbaptiste’s senior project

Blog 1: The Bear Brook Case

Hello and welcome to my first blog. My name is Arianna Jeanbaptiste and for my senior project, I chose to focus on the genetic aspect of the Bear Brook case. I chose this because when I go off to college, I will be studying criminology. It’s a topic I’ve always found to be interesting and am excited to learn more about. In my first blog post, I will be talking about genetic genealogy and how it was used in the Bear Brook case. In this case, I was able to interview a police officer, Sergeant Matthew Koehler, who is a part of a cold case unit and familiar with the Bear Brook case. Enjoy!

Before jumping into the genetic aspect, here’s a brief summary of the case. In 1985, a barrel was found in Bear Brook State park according to the NHPR podcast, Bear Brook. Investigators went to the scene and found two girls wrapped in plastic in the barrel. Fifteen years later another barrel was found which contained two more victims. Until this day, one is an unidentified child, known to be related to the killer, and the other is known to be related to the other victims found in the first barrel, according to the podcast.  Overall, this case was ultimately a challenge because of how long it took to find both the barrels containing the victims, as well as their identities. It was also a challenging case because of the process needed to find the killer.

Genetic genealogy was an important aspect in this case because using this new process, investigators were able to identify both the victims and killer. FamilyTreeDNA states that genetic genealogy uses DNA testing to find people all over the world by finding the genealogical connections or genetic links between people. DNA testing can be used to find lost family members; it is also used to identify bodies as well as evidence for court cases.    

As of today, there are many genealogy websites such as FamilyTreeDna, AncestryDNA and many more. According to a family history magazine, WhoDoYouThinkYouAre, these websites were designed to find family members and today, they are being used in many cold case units to find victims. Before these websites were designed, cold case units and investigators did not always have the resources to identify both victims and suspects. Genealogists had the expertise to research in their genealogy systems to solve crimes and to not just find family heritage.

A cold case unit is a criminal investigation that is unsolved. The Bear Brook case was identified as a cold case unit because of how long it took to be solved, the Bear Brook podcast explains. The Bear Brook case specifically used genetic genealogy to find the victims and the killer.  The cold case investigators interviewed many of the killer’s close family members. Terry Rasmussen was the killer in this case. He killed the four girls and dumped them in two different barrels. After many years, as a cold case investigators were able to identify the killer using forensic genealogy.

Forensic scientists conducted DNA testing to see if the killer’s relatives were in a DNA database. According to ScienceDirect, there is DNA that is collected from the crime scene as well as DNA collected from the victims. Typically, investigators would test DNA from crime scenes and victims to see if their DNA matches to criminal DNA databases. However, in the Bear Brook case, investigators took a new approach. Not only did they connect the DNA from databases that they would typically use, but they connected it to genealogical databases as well to try and get a match. 

I was able to interview a NH state trooper, Sergeant Matthew Koehler, and he was able to give me insight on the case. According to Matthew Koehler, the killer was identified first using genetic genealogy. The genealogist in the case, Barbara Rae-Venter, identified who the killer’s family members were through her access to genealogical databases by finding a match between evidence from the crime scene and people in the database.

Investigators began interviewing many people that were from the database that may be connected to the suspect in some way. NHPR’s podcast explains that using genetic genealogy on the victims and the suspect was a long and difficult process, but with this new source of technology, investigators were able to help identify the victims and the suspect. Even though the process took over 15 years, it was still quicker than it might have been if genetic genealogy had not been used.

 In my next blog post, I will be talking about the technology that is used! Stay tuned!

This blog is part of my Senior Project for Souhegan High School, which I conducted over the last two months. I was able to learn a lot of new information about forensic genetic genealogy and I am glad to be able to share it with all of you! I’d love to hear your thoughts on my project. Contact me!