For 44 years, Kenneth Blakeslee has waited for justice for his sister Luella, a 29-year-old French teacher at The Derryfield School in Manchester who disappeared on the Fourth of July in 1969.
Her partial remains were found 29 years later by two people hiking in the Hopkinton woods. The medical examiner ruled her death a homicide, but it was never determined how she died.
The man Blakeslee believes murdered his sister, her boyfriend Robert "Bob" Breest, now 75, may know soon if he will win his freedom after being imprisoned for 41 years for the murder of another young woman, a Manchester teenager killed about 19 months after Luella disappeared.
A Merrimack County Superior Court judge is reviewing motions relative to new DNA and other evidence in that case.
There is little that Blakeslee, living in England, can do. His long wait for justice is slipping away for his accomplished sister, the valedictorian of her class at Pembroke Academy, a Tufts University graduate and a student at the Sorbonne in Paris.
"They don't have the evidence to charge or convict him (Breest) in Luellas's death," Blakeslee says. "They never did. There is no smoking gun."
Before she disappeared that Fourth of July, her father talked to Luella as she stood in the kitchen of their modest Hooksett home ironing an outfit. She said she was going on a date with Breest, her boyfriend of three years, according to Blakeslee and then deputy and later Merrimack County Sheriff Ronald "Dana" Daniels. Her father headed out the door to visit friends. He never saw her alive again.
Investigators theorized she was smothered in her bedroom or was taken from the home, killed somewhere else and then buried in Hopkinton, about a mile from a farm owned by Breest's aunts and where he stayed for weeks in the summers as a boy.
New York City attorney Ian Dumain, representing Breest in his quest for a new trial, notes Breest was not charged with Luella's murder, that he never saw Luella that night and that there was another suspect. Daniels said Luella had gone out with another man during that time, but investigators cleared him. According to Daniels and Blakeslee, Breest was the one in the picture, pressuring Luella to continue their relationship.
"Breest wasn't the only suspect to stand out, but he was a key suspect," Daniels said.
Daniels said state police investigators focused on Breest because of the statement Luella's father gave them. Daniels, who now lives in Las Vegas, became involved after Luella's father asked him to investigate. He knew Breest and had arrested him earlier for burglary. Breest was in prison for a short time for that incident. Blakeslee said his father brought him some books to read, but Luella never visited him.
Luella's remains were found in 1998. The entire skeleton was never found, and not much of her skull was left. Months would pass before she was positively identified.
Two months after Luella disappeared, Breest was arrested for allegedly assaulting a young woman from France, said Daniels and Blakeslee. Breest allegedly picked up the young French woman and a companion as they were hitchhiking, He told them he had to stop by his house in Hooksett to check on his mother and took them there, recalled Blakeslee who attended one of Breest's court hearings. Breest's mother was not home, and when one of the young women went to use the bathroom, Breest allegedly assaulted the other. One of the women ran out of the house to a neighbor's home, and soon police were on the scene and arrested Breest.
At one point, as he was awaiting trial, Breest ended up in the New Hampshire State Hospital. Ultimately, the charge against him was dropped when the women refused to return to New Hampshire to testify.
Blakeslee is speaking out now because he believes there is a perception that Breest is an innocent man unjustly imprisoned for a crime he did not commit - the murder of Susan Randall, 18, of Manchester in 1971.
Randall, an aspiring fashion designer, was last seen hitchhiking in Granite Square when she was picked up by a driver in a white car. Her frozen body would be found about three days later on March 2, 1971, on the ice-covered Merrimack River in Concord. Someone had tossed her from an Interstate 93 bridge.
Her liver was torn in two from being beaten and kicked, and from the 25- to 50-foot fall from the bridge. Breest, who had been in Manchester that night on the West Side and drove a white Ford, was arrested and convicted based on witness testimony, paint chips and a single hair from Randall's antique horsehair coat found in his car.
In the area
Police honed in on Breest when they learned he had been at a Kidder Street residence on Manchester's West Side that night, not far from Granite Square. He was tried, convicted and sentenced to 40 years to life. Breest always maintained his innocence, even when he was up for parole. All he had to do was admit to the murder, complete a sexual offender program and admit to any other crimes, convicted or not.
"My intention is to try and get the whole story out so that he's not loosed," Blakeslee said. "Bob was very clever, very much so. Look, he's considered to be the prison lawyer and helping all the other people there." Breest is imprisoned at the Massachusetts Correctional Institute in Shirley.
Daniels doesn't believe Breest will ever be released. "I don't think there's a chance in the world that Breest will be released or they will retry the case," he said. "Witnesses are dead."
No DNA testing
He said while there was no DNA testing at the time of the trial, there was other evidence that convicted him.
Breest, in an interview with the New Hampshire Sunday News in 1998, blamed Daniels for being wrongly convicted.
Daniels, he said, had a vendetta against him and one time stuck his finger in his face and said, "I know you killed Luella, and I'm going to get you for something if it's the last thing I do."
Daniels maintains it was Breest's mother who testified at a hearing that Daniels said he would get him. He doesn't recall ever saying that.
He had been an old-fashioned investigator, one who did a lot of snooping into Luella's disappearance because her father, George, asked him to do it, he said.
When Breest obtained an attorney and investigators were told they could not talk with him anymore, Daniels instead would stop by his mother's house and sit and chat with her.
"They didn't say I couldn't talk to his mother," he said.
Daniels became very close to the Blakeslees, and when George Blakeslee moved to Florida a couple of years after Luella's disappearance and Kenneth Blakeslee moved overseas, Daniels took Luella's dog to live with him and his family.
"I was hoping he'd learn to talk, but he never did," Daniels said.