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Bodies in barrels

Police turn to technology in latest attempt to solve grisly murders

New Hampshire Union Leader

June 14. 2013 1:49PM

ALLENSTOWN -- The youngest of three girls had a large gap in her front teeth and fine, wavy blonde hair. Another had a noticeable overbite and wavy brown hair. The eldest was a dark blonde with double piercings in both ears — unusual for a 5- to 10-year old girl in 1985.

Despite this detail and more than a quarter-century later, no one knows who the girls and young woman found murdered and stuffed into barrels in the woods near Bear Brook Park in Allenstown are. Until they have names, their killer remains free, investigators and forensic experts say.

The case got a high-tech boost Thursday with the release of updated and remarkably life-like composite images of the four that officials hope will trigger someone's memory and lead to an identification.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's Forensic Imaging Unit developed the composites using sophisticated 3-D cranial face reconstruction. The center, based in Alexandria, Va.,is one of just three places that uses this technique.

The release of the images Thursday sparked widespread media interest that experts hope will generate the public interest needed to finally get a break in the case.

"It's highly unlikely you're going to find out who killed them if you don't know who they are," said Kim Fallon, chief forensic investigator at the New Hampshire Office of Chief Medical Examiner. Fallon has been working on the case since 2005.

"Maybe somebody will recognize them or maybe somebody will hear the story and remember a woman and children who went missing," she added. "The oldest girl was probably in school and suddenly didn't show up one day. Maybe a teacher or a classmate will remember that."

Mitochondrial DNA testing revealed the woman is related to the eldest and youngest child — possibly a mother, sister or aunt. The middle child does not share this match, but could be related paternally, Fallon said. State officials hope nuclear DNA test results will reveal precise relationships.

On Nov. 10, 1985, a hunter found the decomposed bodies of the woman — who was 22 to 33 years old — and the oldest girl inside a plastic bag next to an overturned 55-gallon metal drum. They had been beaten to death. Investigators believe they were killed at least a year and possibly several years before the bodies were found, Fallon said.

In 2000, a state trooper revisited the case and discovered a second, 55-gallon drum about 100 yards from where the first was found. The two younger girls' bodies were inside. They are believed to have been murdered during the same time frame. Their causes of death are undetermined.

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