Souhegan Forensics Students Investigate Bear Brook Murder Case
By Jeanne Sturges
Inspired by the award-winning NHPR “Bear Brook” podcast students investigated the Bear Brook State Park cold case murders as part of their Forensic Science class at Souhegan High School, The 7-part series chronicles the “decades-long mystery that led to a serial killer” and changes in how “murders will be investigated forever,” according to the podcast’s website.
As part of their investigation, students explored forensic science concepts and skills such as hair and fiber analysis; how DNA is used in solving murders; the ground-breaking use of genetic genealogy in solving crimes; analyzing and evaluating hypotheses, claims and evidence; and timeline development.
Forensic Science teacher, Viet Pham, talking to students at Bear Brook State Park, the site of murders.
Students placing flowers at the site of the original unmarked graves of the victims.
Understanding the significance of this case and how it changed the way in which some forensics cases are solved was central to students’ experience, according to Souhegan Science teacher Anne Clifton-Waite.
In addition to the forensic science learning goals, students visited Bear Brook State Park and the cemeteries where the victims were initially buried. The goal of the field trip was to foster a sense of empathy and understanding -- among the student scientists -- of the human tragedy. “I get chills down my back [remembering when] Viet and I stepped away from where the students were by the gravesite,” said Clifton-Waite. “Those students stood there and touched the mementos that had been left by the graves. They just stood there, and stood there, and stood there. It was as long as 25 minutes. They all wanted to be there. No one wanted to leave. Their reaction is such a powerful testament to the enormity of the tragedy,” said Clifton-Waite.
Ronda Randall, the "amateur investigator" and genealogist featured in the podcast, joined
Ronda Randall, researcher extraordinaire, presenting to SHS Forensic Science classes and who was instrumental in helping determine the identities of the victims of the Bear Brook Murderer, “the Chameleon.”
the classes as a guest speaker to discuss her passion for and expertise with genealogical DNA. Students also had the opportunity to talk with one of the police officers who worked the case. Jason Moon, NHPR Senior Reporter/Producer, who produced the Bear Brook podcast, along with Ronda Randall, her brother, Scott Maxwell, and members of Allenstown Police and NH State Police all contributed to the classes’ Forensic Science exploration. “Students seemed to really understand the humanity expressed by those in the community and by those who developed a concern for the victims,” said Clifton-Waite.
Students reflecting on the Bear Brook murder case at the site of the original unmarked graves.