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Unrecovered remains
How state investigators search for missing homicide victims

11/09/17
By Ryan Lessard news@hippopress.com



 In January, authorities searched the former home of Denise Beaudin, who was believed to have been killed by serial killer Terry Peder Rasmussen, known then as Bob Evans. Investigators only learned recently of Beaudin’s disappearance 35 years ago. And since they’ve linked Rasmussen to several other killings, including the woman and three children buried in barrels in Allenstown near Bear Brook State Park, it’s thought he killed Beaudin as well.

But they did not find a body at the old Manchester home.
October marked the five-year anniversary of the murder of UNH student Lizzi Marriott. Her killer, Seth Mazzaglia, dropped her body into the water at Peirce Island, where the Piscataqua River meets the Atlantic Ocean. Investigators searched the water by surveying the surface, using underwater cameras, side-scanning sonar and a dive team.
“There was a variety of those techniques used and, unfortunately, we were not able to recover her,” said Senior New Hampshire Attorney General Jeff Strelzin.
For most homicides in the state, there’s usually a body. But in a few rare cases, investigators can’t find the remains. The state’s diverse terrain and colder climate can make searches difficult, but authorities have a wide range of tools and techniques at their disposal.
 
Prosecution
Strelzin said it’s a common misconception that if there’s no body, murderers can’t be tried and convicted of their crime.
“The office has had homicide cases ... where we don’t have victims’ bodies, but the cases are prosecuted. But those are rare cases,” Strelzin said.
The conviction of Mazzaglia for Marriott’s murder is a recent example. In that case, they had key witness testimony and Mazzaglia’s admission that Marriott died and he hid the body, though he maintained it was an accident.
Though it may not be necessary to get a conviction, finding a body can provide additional clues about the victim’s final hours, and it can give families a much-needed peace.
“Having spoken to families in those circumstances, for them it’s finality and a way to say goodbye to their loved one in a respectful fashion,” Strelzin said. “Depending on the case, there may always been that glimmer of doubt or hope that their loved one isn’t dead. And that can be really difficult for a family.” 
Another example was the murder of two children on July 4, 2003, Philip, 11, and Sarah Gehring, 14, by their father Manuel Gehring. Manuel Gehring confessed to the crime but said he had hidden the bodies in another state. Strelzin remembers the media constantly asking him if they could prosecute the case without the bodies, which he answered with a resounding yes. Aside from the confession, there was also significant physical evidence, such as blood and bullet fragments. The case didn’t end in a conviction because Gehring ended his own life in a prison cell while awaiting trial.
The bodies of the children were eventually found in Ohio. The details of that discovery, which involves an amateur sleuth, were recently told in an episode of the popular Criminal podcast.
Rasmussen died in a California prison in 2010 under another alias for a murder conviction unrelated to the New Hampshire cases.
 
Challenges
In New Hampshire, finding missing bodies is a task most often conducted by New Hampshire Fish and Game, though these are rarely homicides. More likely, they will be looking for a hiker or swimmer who went missing or died. 
Still, the techniques are essentially the same. Strelzin said detectives will start by searching the area around a known crime scene. But when the area is large, they’ll involve other agencies like Fish and Game, local police and sometimes the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“Often, what’s called a line search is done. It’s a group of people cover the area, typically in a grid pattern, looking for evidence,” Strelzin said.
The state can usually turn to other regional or federal agencies to help add to our resources, but the geographical characteristics of the state can prove challenging.
“What makes it challenging in New Hampshire is I think we’ve [got] 84 percent forests, woods,” Strelzin said.
Doing searches in water bodies can also be difficult.
“Divers can only stay down so long, and depending on the environmental conditions, they may not be able to stay down very long at all,” Strelzin said.
Sergeant Tom Dakai, the head of the state dive team with Fish and Game, said that’s because the water in New Hampshire’s lakes, rivers and seacoast is very cold, even in the summer.
“Visibility in a lot of our lakes is very, very limited,” Dakai said.
The dive team consists of 14 officers, and their work is divided between criminal evidence searches and looking for drowning victims. But they rarely work in ocean waters. The search for Lizzi Marriott was an exception.
“Normally the Coast Guard is the one who does search and rescue on coastal waters. But this was something that we were capable of doing in that spot. So we were asked to do it and we did,” Dakai said.
They weren’t able to find any evidence related to the case. The tidal currents were too strong, and it had been several days since the body was put in the water.
“I mean that’s emptying out the whole Great Bay,” Dakai said. “Her body would be moved around quite a bit.”
After a bit of active searching, investigators pivoted to passive searching, in which they accepted leads from the public if they found anything they thought to be related to the case. Strelzin said there were some bones found by locals, but they ultimately turned out not to be human.
 
Public help
Strelzin believes the body of Denise Beaudin is likely hidden out of state, as he thinks she was probably not murdered here. In 1981 Rasmussen is thought to have absconded with her and her daughter, whom he later abandoned at a campsite out west. 
So as investigators learn more about Rasmussen and the timeline of events, they may be able to narrow down the search area. Updates in the case are happening regularly, thanks to the work of investigators. But Strelzin hopes more tips from the public may fill in some of the key gaps in the case. On Nov. 2, investigators found an arrest record in 1973 in Phoenix, Arizona, that helped improve their understanding of his whereabouts during that period and update the timeline they had for him.
In all cases, help from the public is still crucial. If Marriott’s remains are ever found, it could possibly be with a tip from a hiker on the coast. 
The location of the Gehring children might have remained a mystery were it not for the dogged determination of one Ohio woman who used her free time to search the areas that best fit the killer’s description of where he buried the kids.
According to Strelzin, a forensic analysis of soil and pollen found on the shovel used to bury the children narrowed the search field down to Ohio and half of Indiana, which was far too big an area for authorities to rake through.





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