ALLENSTOWN, N.H. — These woods in Allenstown, New Hampshire have been holding a deadly secret for more than thirty years.
Along a remote trail near Bear Brook State Park, in November, 1985, a hunter found this barrel - and when he looked inside, he made an unspeakable discovery:
Two bodies wrapped inside a garbage bag.
"We find an adult female and a child clearly homicide victims, clearly had been out there for a period of time. And by period of time the estimates range from late 70's to the 80's. Fifteen years later, May 2000, a New Hampshire state trooper working the case returned to these woods, and made another shocking discovery when he found another barrel, in the same area, but some distance away, discovered a second barrel, two more bodies, two more children," Assistant District Attorney Jeff Strelzin said.
"Based on the decomposition and all the forensic evidence we've done in this case, it is believed all the victims were killed at the same time, and deposited at the same time," Detective Sgt., Michael Kokofsky said.
Investigators say they found the skeletal remains of four victims inside two barrels: An adult female, and three female children.
Who are they?
From the woods of New Hampshire, all four of those skulls were brought to Alexandria, Virginia. The headquarters of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
"It's just horrific. Is the best way to describe what it's like going through. Sifting through those remains and holding the skull of a two year old that has just been smashed in the back," forensic imaging specialist Joe Mullins said.
The Center for Missing and Exploited Children also produced this life like image of Boston's Baby Doe, later identified as Bella Bond.
"This is the adult female's skull, and it reveals horrific violence. Everything is still intact here. As you come around the back you see the trauma, the blunt force trauma. The back of skull was just obliterated. You can't help but get personally attached to it. And just feel a sense of horror that these victim, you know, had to endure the last, their final moments on this planet," Mullins said.
It is the skull itself that guides Mullins, and it leads him to say this, "How do I know when to stop? I stop when I see someone's looking back at me."
This is how the four Allenstown victims appeared in life.
But this is just part of the picture.
Forensic science, the study of isotopes, DNA evidence is telling investigators more, and the results are heartbreaking.
"We assume that maybe what we have is a mother and two children and then another child, a cousin or another relative," retired FBI agent Mark Hilts said.
I asked him, "Is this a family annihilation?"
"We don’t know what it was, this part of the family was annihilated. They were killed and disposed of. We don’t know what other family members there might be or who the offender is at this point," he said.
DNA reveals the adult female is related to the oldest and youngest child - but intriguingly, not the middle child.
"She may not have been living with them at the time. That may have been a situation where she was just there for a short period of time and then the family simply went missing and her actual parents never knew what happened to her. And now, they've just been living with the grief all these years," Retired FBI profiler Mary Ellen O'Toole said.
For more than 30 years, the killer who stuffed these bodies into two barrels, and then dumped them in Allenstown has escaped justice.
"Someone must know how these people were. I don't understand how essentially a family could just disappear and somebody has to miss them," Mullins said.
Authorities believe, according to forensic science, all four victims were together, possibly in New Hampshire, in the months before they were murdered. They could have disappeared in the late 1970's.
Please look again at those faces and try to remember a family unexpectedly moving away, or a story someone told explaining why a woman and three kids disappeared.
Call New Hampshire Cold Case Unit at (603) 271-2663.
Or email them at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cox Media Group