CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New scientific testing indicates where four people likely lived before their bodies were found in two steel drums in a state park in 1985 and 2000, investigators said Tuesday, marking a step forward in a case that has perplexed officials for 30 years.
Officials hope the information, combined with new lifelike digital images of the woman and three girls, will spur recognition in someone who knew them. Testing of the hair, teeth and bones shows the woman and two of the children, believed to be her daughters, likely lived in the Northeast. The third child, who is not maternally related, probably lived in the Dakotas or Nebraska.
"We are almost at the final line of what science can do to help us, based upon the remains, to identify where they came from," said Benjamin Agati, a senior assistant attorney general in New Hampshire. "At this point, it really is the public's help that we're looking for."
A hunter discovered the first two bodies, a woman and a girl believed to be 9 to 10, in a plastic bag spilling out of a steel drum in 1985 near a state park in Allenstown, New Hampshire. Fifteen years later, an investigator revisiting the case found a second steel drum containing the two other girls, one believed to be 2 to 3 and the other 3 to 4. Officials said Tuesday that the woman is likely the mother of the oldest and youngest children.
New data has narrowed the time of their killings to 1980 to 1984. The woman and oldest child show signs of blunt-force trauma, and investigators haven't released the cause of death for the two younger children.
Investigators said Tuesday they are nearly certain that all four victims were born in the United States. While testing shows the woman and two related children likely lived in the Northeast, it is possible that they lived in the upper Midwest or somewhere along the southern borders of Arizona, New Mexico and into the West Coast.
The middle child, in contrast, most likely spent her childhood further inland in the region near the Dakotas and western Nebraska. Testing also shows she could have lived in a few small pockets throughout the Northeast or in the Southwest.
Researchers tested the hair and teeth of the victims to determine where they lived based on water and food they consumed. The environmental conditions in different regions of the country can affect the chemical compounds in water.
Investigators believe all four victims were together in the Northeast sometime between the two weeks and three months leading up to their deaths.
Agati said investigators have received frequent tips on the case over the years but none have panned out. They plan to use the new information to better target areas where someone may have known the woman and girls.
"It's been frustrating, but it's not a case that's worth giving up on," Agati said. "We've learned more these last couple of months that have led to these results we're sharing today than we knew before."