Bedford chief offers behind-the-scenes look at investigation of brutal Quesada attack
It was one dark alley after the next; one brick wall after the next. As the weeks passed without any "actionable information," Bryfonski was feeling the frustration expressed by the residents of the town he took an oath to protect.
"Believe me when I tell you, we had nothing to go on," Bryfonski said. "We had scant information from Mrs. Quesada, and Dr. Quesada was not in any medical condition to help. It was weeks before he could give us anything at all."
The couple's million-dollar home at 7 Proclamation Court "was a complex crime scene," but it was a scene that was not yielding any immediate clues.
"In the first 24 hours of a case like this, if you can get any kind of information, you're more likely to solve the case," said Bryfonski. "We had nothing like that. Without any sort of compass or weather vane, this thing was spinning around in circles."
The attacks on Dr. Quesada, 52, and his wife occurred on Nov. 24. The doctor and his wife had returned home about 10 p.m. when they interrupted a burglary in progress. Dr. Quesada, an anesthesiologist at the Pain Management Center of Elliot Hospital, was stabbed in the head multiple times with a screwdriver, causing facial fractures and bleeding in his brain, while his wife was sexually and physically assaulted. Police responded after Mrs. Quesada, 29, ran to a neighbor's house, frantic and pleading for help.
Almost immediately, the state Attorney General's Office and the state police's Major Crime Unit was called in "because we didn't know if Dr. Quesada's condition was going to take a turn for the worse," said Bryfonski. "It was touch and go there for a while."
In the days immediately following the attacks, Bryfonski and a team of investigators, which included Bedford police and members of the state police command staff, began talking possible theories, motives - any kind of scenario that would make sense. In those early days, Bryfonski said 20 to 30 law enforcement officers would meet in the police department's training room.
"We would fill up that training room and have roundtable discussions," the chief said. "Then everybody would go out, interview people, and then come back at the end of the day. We were following every plausible scenario. The problem is we didn't have any leads. We didn't have any tips."
As the frustration grew among law enforcement, so too did that of Bedford residents, who by now were demanding to know whether the Quesadas were specifically targeted or whether this was a random attack. In an effort to address the public's concerns, police held one public information night Dec. 6 at Bedford High School and a smaller, unpublicized and more intimate session at the police station with residents of the Proclamation Court neighborhood.
"Everybody in the town had a right to know if this was targeted, and they were angry and scared and frustrated and I don't blame them," Bryfonski said. "But we just didn't know."
Although police couldn't answer the question of whether the attack was targeted or random, they could do one thing that would give the town a sense of security -- increased patrols.
"We put out extra duty patrols and we even had state police put out some additional patrols," Bryfonski said. "Yes, it was to create a deterrent value, but it was also to show that we were as concerned as everybody else" about the situation.
Sonia Quesada's death
Six weeks after the assaults, residents became even more on edge after Mrs. Quesada was found dead and her husband passed out at a relative's Bedford home. Although prescription drugs were found near Sonia Quesada's body, the state Medical Examiner's Office has not yet determined the cause of death, but has determined that it was not a homicide.
"What happened to Mrs. Quesada is a horrible tragedy," Bryfonski said. "It haunts me to this day. There's barely a day that goes by that we don't talk about it."
His decision to invite the FBI and the DEA to the investigation only fueled the rumor mill. "A lot of people read into the fact that the FBI and the DEA was involved. There was all this stuff that the doctor deals with prescription drugs, the chief is a former DEA guy - none of this could have been further from the truth," Bryfonski said. He said the reason why those agencies were invited is because "they have unique investigative abilities that other organizations don't have." He said those agencies have software products that Bedford wouldn't otherwise have access to that are able to speed up the collection of data - an important part of an investigation with the size and scope of this one.
Break in the case
The break in the case came at 9 o'clock on a night in January. "We got some information. It looked good, it sounded good. It was particularized enough and contained information that wasn't released to the media that allowed us to think initially it was credible," Bryfonski said.
His police officers worked until 2 a.m. to confirm the validity of the information and begin the arduous task of finding the culprit or culprits.
"Instead of spinning wildly, the weather vane was now pointing in one direction," Bryfonski said. "For the following several weeks after getting that tip, we became confident that we were on the right track."
The new leads eventually led police to Charles Normil, 32, and another man, as yet unnamed, who are in custody, being held by the state of Massachusetts and the federal government, respectively.
In early April, state police dive teams searched bodies of water in Amherst and Milford - searches that had to do with the Quesada investigation, confirmed Hillsborough County Attorney Patricia LaFrance. LaFrance has refused to disclose what, if any, evidence was recovered.
Normil, of Lawrence, Mass., is charged with allegedly attacking a Methuen, Mass., woman when he broke into her apartment three weeks after the Quesada attacks. He has been charged by New Hampshire with two counts of attempted murder, one count of aggravated felonious sexual assault, two counts of first-degree assault and one count of falsifying physical evidence. He is being held in Massachusetts until his extradition to the Granite State.
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