THE name flickering on Rebekah Heath’s screen in the dimly lit archive room was a gut punch.
Wide-eyed, she mouthed the name: “Rasmussen”.
It was October 10, 2018, and the 34-year-old research librarian from Connecticut, USA, had finally found the clue that would help end her obsessive quest to identify the four female murder victims found dumped in oil barrels in Bear Brook state park, New Hampshire.
The decomposed remains belonged to a young woman and three girls, believed to have died between 1980 and 1981 of blunt force head injuries. They were discovered at an abandoned burned-out general store with two bodies in each barrel.
The woman and eldest child were discovered in 1985, when police seemingly missed a second barrel that contained the two other girls just yards away. It was eventually found in 2000.
DNA tests on the bodies revealed that the woman, thought to be in her 20s, was the mother of the eldest and youngest child victims, who would have been around 10 and a year old.
But, oddly, none of them were related to the third child, who was thought to have been aged four or five at the time she died. Despite tireless investigations spanning almost two decades, police could not uncover their identities.
When Rebekah came across the case by chance a decade ago, she hoped her research skills might finally give the victims some peace, especially as she spent much of her spare time tracing the real identities of missing girls and women.
“I grew up in a cult that was a bit like a modern Amish community. I left when I was 19. I walked away from my family and everything I knew to start over. I realised that I could have been like [these] victims,” Rebekah tells Fabulous.
“I was estranged. No one would have known if I’d disappeared. I could be in a morgue, or in a police file, nameless. I first heard about the Bear Brook case in 2010 when I saw reports about it in online archives, and it shook me.”
This sense of empathy drove Rebekah to keep returning to the case over the next few years and by 2016 she was searching for the victims’ identities in earnest.
Rebekah, who is single, spent hundreds of hours across evenings and weekends scanning genealogy site messageboards dating back decades, looking for posts from people searching for long-lost relatives who fitted the profiles of the four Bear Brook victims.
From these posts she created a list of names who could possibly be connected to the case and worked through them, checking public records to determine whether the missing people had resurfaced or been registered as dead in the years since the message-board posts.
Then, in 2018, the killings became the subject of hit podcast The Bear Brook Murders and, thanks to her fascination with the case, Rebekah began to listen, even keeping notes on the details that were revealed in each episode.
The podcast explained that in October 2016, DNA tests proved that a man who had been imprisoned for the murder and dismemberment of his partner and died behind bars in 2010, was the father of the middle girl from the Bear Brook victims.
He had used an alias at his sentencing, but in July 2017 his real name was revealed to be Terry Peder Rasmussen.
The show also told of the geographic areas of the US that the victims had lived in and that the three related victims had lived on the West Coast for a time.
While listening to the podcast, Rebekah ramped up her efforts to find the identities of the woman and girls, spending all her free time searching for clues. “I kept returning to a listing I’d found on an archived 1999 Ancestry.com messageboard. It was from a woman looking for her half-sister. After a year of research, I still hadn’t been able to rule it out as being connected to the case,” says Rebekah.
“The woman explained that her sister had last been seen with her mother and older half-sister in California in 1978 when she was around a year old.”
The post went on to say the one year old’s name was Sarah McWaters, born in 1977.
Her older sister, Marie Vaughn – who had a different father – was born in 1971 and the mother of both girls was Marlyse Elizabeth Honeychurch. No one from Sarah’s family had seen her since her mum Marlyse left California in 1978 with both of her daughters after an argument at a family Thanksgiving meal.
With all the details she had gleaned from the podcast, Rebekah began to seriously consider whether Marlyse, Marie and Sarah could be three of the four Bear Brook victims.
The email address from the 1999 message-board was inactive, but in October 2018 Rebekah was able to trace the original poster.
“I used Facebook to track the writer of the message down,” continues Rebekah. “She posted back within minutes and confirmed she was still looking for Sarah. She sent more details, including that Marlyse left town in 1978 with a guy – and that his last name was Rasmussen.”
Rebekah pauses. “When I heard her say that name, I just stopped. That feeling will stay with me for a long time. There they were. Finally, I’d found the identities of the Bear Brook victims.”
Rebekah immediately went to the police with her findings.
“By that point, I was in touch with several members of the family and we were all talking, just waiting it out,” she says.
“The police needed to do DNA checks with the family to confirm that three of the victims were Marlyse and her daughters, which took several agonising months. Then the family wanted answers: how did he do it, why did he do it? Who was this Rasmussen?”
The police, led by detective Peter Headley, were able to piece together a narrative – although some details will never be known.
Terry Rasmussen was born in Colorado in 1943. He married in 1968 and had four children with his wife, living in Arizona and California. But in 1975, his wife left him and took their children after Rasmussen was arrested for aggravated assault.
Following Rasmussen’s unmasking as the Bear Brook killer, his son Eric, a former soldier, told how he remembered being burned with cigarettes by his father – who had a “dead-man” look in his eyes.
Rasmussen’s daughter Andrea also revealed a family history of addiction and mental health problems.
It’s not known how Rasmussen met Marlyse Honeychurch and her two daughters, but in 1978 after Marlyse had an argument with her mother, the four of them left California and travelled to New Hampshire, where he lived under the alias Bob Evans.
He worked as an electrician at the general store in Allenstown – where the bodies in the barrels were found – near a trailer park called Bear Brook Gardens.
It’s not known how his biological daughter fits into this time frame or when she died, but it is assumed Marlyse, Sarah and Marie died after May 1980.
By 1981, Rasmussen, still using his Bob Evans pseudonym, had started dating 23-year-old Denise Beaudin, who had a six-month-old daughter called Dawn.
The mother and daughter disappeared later that year – they were last seen on November 26, 1981, when Denise and Rasmussen went to eat Thanksgiving dinner with her family.
As the couple had been having financial problems, her family assumed they’d fled town and didn’t report them as missing.
Although Denise was never seen again, Rasmussen resurfaced in California four years later – under the alias Curtis Kimball – with Dawn, who he now claimed was his own daughter and called Lisa.
He was arrested for drink driving and child endangerment, but after skipping court, abandoned the child at a trailer park in California where they’d been living.
Lisa – who authorities didn’t yet know was really Dawn Beaudin – was taken into care. It wasn’t until Rasmussen was arrested for driving a stolen vehicle two years later in 1987, that fingerprints linked him back to Dawn.
He received a three-year prison sentence for child abandonment, but when he was paroled the following year he disappeared again. By this time, Lisa had been adopted.
His movements over the next decade are unknown, but in December 1999, Rasmussen resurfaced in California, using the new alias Larry Vanner. He was in a new relationship with chemist Eunsoon Jun, 42.
When Eunsoon then disappeared in June 2001, police took Rasmussen’s fingerprints – which identified him as Curtis Kimball from the child abandonment case. They searched his home and found Eunsoon’s dismembered body hidden under a large pile of cat litter.
Rasmussen was arrested, pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to 15 years to life in jail in 2003 under the name Kimball. Later, police labelled him The Chameleon as he’d assumed so many identities.
Authorities then had his DNA tested to discover if Lisa was actually his biological daughter. But when the tests came back proving she wasn’t, Rasmussen refused to tell detectives who she really was. In 2003, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department opened a case to find her biological family – but without Rasmussen’s cooperation, it proved fruitless.
Detective Peter Headley eventually came up with a new way to solve the puzzle. In 2015 he contacted Barbara Rae-Venter, a retired attorney who worked as a volunteer “adoption angel”, helping children find their birth relatives using genealogy website databases.
Barbara, 72, from Monterrey, California, tells Fabulous: “The detective heard about what we do and sent an email to ask if the technique could be used to ID Lisa’s real identity. I said yes, it was possible. Lisa was a blank slate and lurking in the background was the knowledge that something bad must have happened to her parents.”
In a criminal investigation first, Barbara took DNA from Lisa and then ran it through ancestry websites to try to find matches.
“It’s a pretty straightforward technique,” she says. “You take the person who is unknown and link people who they share DNA with to figure out who they are.”
While the technique sounds easy, the task was mammoth.
At one stage, Barbara identified 94 distant cousins of Lisa, all of whom then had to be researched to find common links.“When we hit a brick wall and couldn’t get any further forward, we had to do target testing, where we asked people we identified to provide a sample that we could then upload and use it as a fresh data point to work forward from again,” she explains.
“We had enormous numbers of descendants. It was quite the puzzle.”
The project evolved to require 20,000 hours of work and more than 100 volunteers. It also became controversial, because civil liberty and privacy campaigners argued that DNA data uploaded freely on ancestry websites should not be used for criminal matters.
But it worked. In 2016 Barbara finally discovered that Lisa was Dawn Beaudin. She traced one of Dawn’s grandfathers in New Hampshire, who told investigators that Denise had left town back in 1981 with a man who called himself Bob Evans.
Then police liaised with their counterparts in New Hampshire who, wondering if there was a possible link to the Bear Brook murders, compared Rasmussen’s DNA to the victims’. It revealed he was the father of the middle child in the barrels.
Meanwhile, in 2018, Barbara used the same ancestry website technique she’d used to identify Dawn to find out that Bob Evans was actually Terry Rasmussen.
It was around this same time that Rebekah passed the information she’d found on Marlyse and her daughters to the police – who shared them with Barbara.
Finally, the puzzle was coming together, and during a press conference in June 2019, police publicly identified the Bear Brook victims.
The previous November, family and friends of Marlyse, Marie and Sarah gathered for a funeral at the graveside where the bodies were buried at St John the Baptist Cemetery in Allenstown.
While we now know Rasmussen murdered Marlyse and her two daughters and the still unidentified middle girl who was his biological daughter, as well as Eunsoon Jun and almost certainly Denise Beaudin, the timeline of his killing spree still remains hazy. It’s likely Marlyse and her daughters were killed sometime during 1980 or early 1981.
He possibly killed his biological daughter at the same time. Denise Beaudin could have been killed any time between November 1981 and 1985, when Rasmussen was in California.
It’s not even known when the bodies were dumped, if they were all dumped at the same time, or whether Rasmussen kept the bodies of the two youngest children found in the second barrel and dumped them at a later date after the first was found in 1985.
So while internet true-crime message-boards still buzz with theories, when Rasmussen died in jail of lung cancer on December 28, 2010, he took his secrets to the grave.
Both Barbara and Rebekah have been changed by their involvement in the case – by finally solving a murder mystery that has gripped podcast listeners across the world. Barbara’s retirement is still on hold and she’s currently helping police with 50 other cases.
Meanwhile, Rebekah is determined to carry on searching for the identities of other nameless victims.
“I didn’t realise how attached I was to the victims,” she says. “They were with me every day. When I did get them identified it was hard to let them go.”
But the answers lead to even more questions.
The identity of the middle Bear Brook child, who Rasmussen fathered, is still a mystery as attempts to discover who she was and what happened to her mother are ongoing.
The fate of Denise Beaudin is still unknown. And Rebekah and Barbara both agree on one chilling fact.
They are sure there are other Chameleon victims buried somewhere, waiting to give up more secrets.
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