A photo of two detectives or forensic specialists dressed in clean suits collecting evidence at a crime scene in a forest.
Reenactment of detectives/forensic specialists collecting evidence in a crime scene; photo by Maksim Shmeljov, via stock.adobe.com.
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Top Left Corner #170: Investigating cold cases of murder? Time can be your friend.



Reenactment of detectives/forensic specialists collecting evidence in a crime scene; photo by Maksim Shmeljov, via stock.adobe.com.

And this is Episode #170 of the Top Left Corner, right here on The Greylock Glass, greylockglass.com, The Berkshires’ mightiest independent alternative newsthing. Today is Sunday, September 4. 2022, I’m your host, J. Velázquez, and, as always, I thank you for tuning in. 

CONTENT WARNING

Before we begin, though, listeners are cautioned that this episode comes with a content warning. My guests and I talk discuss themes of murder, rape, serial killers, the discovery of corpses, and the investigation of extremely violent crimes. I myself was disturbed listening to the conversations during the editing process, and determined that this advisory was required. Please consider whether or not your own psyche can absorb the distressing details of this subect matter and make your own judgement about listening. End of warning.

This episode has been in the making for some time now, and while I was planning on releasing it this weekend, I am deeply saddened that it’s publication comes so close on the heels of the presumed identification of the corpse of Megan Marohn.

The subject of today’s show is that of murder and missing persons cases that have gone cold. Detectives either haven’t been able to find enough clues to point them in the direction of a suspect or have insufficient hard evidence that would be ground for an indictment. We hear first from Bershire District Attorney Andrea Harrington about how her office has made pursuing cases such as that of Kim Benoit a priority. 

In the second portion of our show, we speak with Dr. Sarah Stein, an expert on cold cases whose insights are sought by police departments nationwide. Dr. Stein describes how the use of suspectology and victimology are critical to recreating a picture of the components of a crime. She explains why time, the enemy of a fresh investigation, can be an investigator’s friend when working cold cases.

Although the case of Meghan Marohn wouldn’t be considered cold by any measure yet, many of the same techniques of discussed both by Harrington and Stein will, no doubt, come into play.

Ms. Marohn, a poet, and activist, and a beloved high school English teacher at Chatham High School in Chatham, NJ and then at Shaker High School in Latham, NY for three years, disappeared the evening of March 29, of this year. 

Her friend, Christopher Hedges, wrote on ScheerPost,

A few days before Meghan Marohn, a 42-year-old English teacher at Shaker High School in Latham, New York, disappeared, she confided to friends that she had gone into hiding to escape from a man who had “brutally harassed and intimidated me because I wouldn’t sleep with him.” She said she was too afraid to stay at home, especially when she saw him drive by her house. She was granted a leave from teaching and camped out at The Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. She was last seen on March 27. It was cold, snowy, and windy.

Over a quarter of a million girls and women go missing in the U.S. every year. Male-perpetrated violence, especially domestic violence, is intimately linked to missing girls and women. The FBI reports more than 80 percent of violent crimes are committed by men. That is 99.1 percent of rapes committed by men and 88.7 percent of murders and manslaughters committed by men.

I strongly encourage you to follow the link in the shownotes to Hedge’s full article. And while I never got the chance to meet Meghan, the more I read about her, the more convinced I am that she’d quickly become one of my favorite people if I had. For this reason, I’m publishing this episode in her memory, and in the sorrowful hope that the details of her demise are learned, and, should detectives determine her death a murder, that her killer be brought to justice.

NTRVW: Berkshire D.A. Andrea Harrington

CLICK: On cold missing persons and murder cases in Berkshire County, including that of Kim Benoit

Top Left Corner: District Attorney Andrea Harrington, welcome to the top left corner.

D.A. Andrea Harrington: Hi, Jay. Thanks for having me.

Top Left Corner: Well, we do try to have you on, it seems, every year or so. And this this is no exception. I have a feeling we’ll probably have you on again before November as well. But we’re talking today about about cold cases and in particular the case of Kim Benoit of North Adams, who who was murdered, abducted and murdered 47 years ago in North Adams, last seen at the Sons of Italy Club for a dance. And that is that is most of what the public knows at this point. You you have been very active in trying to make sure that the public is aware that these cases, while cold, are not dead. They are not you haven’t just shuffled them off to the archive in the basement. But but there are some things that are difficult. For example, the families are still looking for closure. And you’ve talked to those families. What is it like to talk to these families who experienced this when you were? I don’t even think you were born at that time.

D.A. Andrea Harrington: I was not born at that time. No, I was not. So having. Going back and putting resources and revisiting the unresolved cases is a major priority of mine and of my office. And I very much appreciate you helping us with building awareness around Ken Benoit’s murder. So thank you for that. And I thank the public for for paying attention to these cases. We are very confident there are people in the north northern Berkshire community that have information that would be helpful to detective in solving this case. And we’ve met with a number of families in the unresolved cases, and they are the most difficult, wrenching conversations that I’ve had in my lifetime, because families are very much still grieving and traumatized and desperately want and need answers in regards to what happened to their loved ones. And we’re very limited in what kinds of information we can share. And that limitation applies even to the family members. And it’s so difficult to be in those conversations. And the family members too desperately want information and we can’t give it to them because we can’t. In order for us to solve these cases and we would love to ultimately prosecute these cases, we have to have a very strict control on the flow of information.

Top Left Corner: Mm hmm. Yeah, and that makes sense. It makes sense that you don’t want to go contaminating basically the crime scene, you know, retroactively with with with, you know, ideas that may be well-intentioned or things that people heard. That somebody told them. That somebody told them. What what do you recommend that people do? If they I mean, I’m just going to put this out there in the beginning of the podcast rather than the end. What should people do if they’ve heard something?

D.A. Andrea Harrington: Oh, please. If you have any information to share, even if you if it doesn’t seem significant, significant to you, it could still potentially be significant to the case. So please contact the state police detective unit assigned to the district attorney’s office. That’s for 134991112. We ask people, please contact us. And as you said, putting information out into the community about a case that’s not not solved where we still want to interview witnesses. It does contaminate the information that we could potentially get back. And I used to see this on the death penalty cases that I worked on in Florida, where we were working to get our clients off of death row. And we always looked back at what was put out in the media and how could that have impacted the witness statements and how could potentially investigators have gotten lead off track by information that was shared in the media? So it’s very much as a part of a defense in these cases. So it’s a very real issue.

Top Left Corner: Yeah, the the and I should say many people most people, I’m sure have just the best of intentions because North Adams, you know, those people who are left in North Adams, which was a much more populated town back in in was in 1974 and much more populated. I think the I think it was probably around 45,000 people or so back then. So almost triple the population. And and those people who are left today are truly the sort of the legacy families, many of them who do remember. And they do have long memories and they have connections and they they don’t forget. And for better or for worse, they don’t forget things. And that is going to be the case for this murder and for others. What other cold cases are we looking at right now from from the Berkshires?

D.A. Andrea Harrington: Well, we have a number of cases that we’ve highlighted recently. And just because we’re not necessarily talking about a case in the public, we have a number of investigations that are open. We never, ever forget about victims of unresolved homicide. So I just want to reiterate that so recently we’ve been able to highlight the case of Lynn Burdick, who’s another North brochure case. Josh Racette, who is another North Berkshire case. We have our playing card project that we did with the Massachusetts State Police. So there’s a deck of playing cards now that are all pictures and information of victims of unresolved homicides. These cards were created by the state police. It will be in the dock facilities. There will be the only cars that are used in state prison facilities. And we have four individuals from Berkshire County featured on those cards. So we have, as I mentioned, Lynn Burdick, we have Nick Calello, we have Busy Brown from Pittsfield and we have Mr. Dominguez, also another Pittsfield unresolved case. So we’re always working on these cases. There’s the Jan Stackhouse case from South County. And the playing cards have been very helpful. You’ve gotten a number of tips. I actually hired a detective who’s retired from our state police detective unit, and he was a detective lieutenant. He is hired by my office specifically to work on these unresolved cases, because I’m sure you can imagine, as we have we have a lot of ongoing issues. We have things that have to be responded to in the immediate by our detectives. So this is a way to bring more resources to the unresolved cases.

Top Left Corner: Now, you say that there’s there’s somebody out there or maybe a couple of somebodies out there who have some bit of information. And this is this is not just your hunch. This is a pattern that plays out across the across the world when it comes to investigating cold cases, that there are people who who have either the complete story or parts of the story. What would prevent somebody at this late date from coming forward and saying, you know, I know this this bit of information or actually, this person before they died, for example, told me this. What would prevent people from coming forward?

D.A. Andrea Harrington: Well, I think you put it really well in terms of the fact that what I’ve seen in particularly from working on death penalty cases, which can last for decades, people have motivations to come forward, as with the passage of time. And like you said, if somebody passes away, potentially that could help somebody feel freer to come forward and to share information. And now we also have a $15,000 reward that is being offered. 10,000 of that is coming from my office, another 5000 from the family to help motivate somebody who just needs a little push to be helpful in this case, to share information that can lead to the arrest and a conviction of somebody for this homicide. So we’ll prevent people, I would imagine, that just can weigh on your conscience if you have information that maybe you could have shared before and you didn’t, then I would imagine there’s a lot of conflicting feelings around that. And I just want people to know that we’re we understand that. And this is not a time for people to be worried about being judged. We just want to know the information that you have to share with us.

Top Left Corner: Hmm. Now, of course, there’s also the fear that people probably have that if they knew something 45 years ago, that they are in some way complicit after the fact. Are you going to be weighing that with the types of information that people have and their motives for for withholding that all these years? I mean, should you know, should people feel you said you’re not going to judge, but that, I think, would be a main reason for me not coming forward. I would feel that perhaps there’s some liability.

D.A. Andrea Harrington: Well, there’s no criminal liability for not sharing information with law enforcement about a homicide or any case, you know, criminal liability only attaches for aiding and abetting somebody. So having information to share is not something that people need to be concerned about, that they’re going to be prosecuted for not sharing the information earlier.

Top Left Corner: Hmm. Let me ask this. The I brought up the hypothetical because this was almost 50 years ago. Her murderer, Kim Benoit’s murderer, could possibly be dead by this of natural causes. And after all this time, this reward. Would you consider adjusting the the. Terms of the reward to information that brings about closure in this case rather than an arrest?

D.A. Andrea Harrington: Well, we’ve reached out to a number of other jurisdictions that have offered rewards around the best practices and how we can utilize it to our advantage. And we’ve determined that these are the appropriate terms, which is, you know, information leading to an arrest and conviction. So those are those are the terms. And that’s going to be what we’re sticking to. Hmm.

Top Left Corner: I mean, I can understand that certainly in a case that’s a little bit fresher, it seems to me that the families at this point I mean, I would guess that, yes, they would like justice if the person is still alive. But I think they’d probably like closure. And I think that that would excuse me that there’d be a hefty value on that alone. But, you know, that’s that’s your call. Perhaps the family would be willing to. To adjust their terms if closures is what’s important to them. The the question that I have about. The shorts. And I know that you are you know, you’re not an investigator on the day to day. Exactly. But perhaps tell me what you can about the sorts of things that are different when investigating. The case this old than a case that’s, say, five weeks old or five months old?

D.A. Andrea Harrington: Well, the biggest difference is the technology piece. Now, the investigations are very much driven by technology. Electronic evidence is a huge piece of our investigation. We have tremendous resources. When there’s a crime, we have crime scene services come out and we have chemists that come. We’re able to take DNA, we’re able to take fingerprints, ballistics. We have all of these science forensic tools that are a lot more sophisticated now than they were in 1974. And a crime scene from 1974 was not processed in any way near the same way that a crime scene is processed now. So we’re at a we’re at a big disadvantage. And when we go back and investigate unresolved cases, because we lack a lot of that data, that those are the things that we really rely on to solve cases.

Top Left Corner: We spoke with a cold case expert who comes at it, not from an investigator like law enforcement angle, but from the psychology angle. We spoke with Dr. Sara Stein, who’s actually written extensively on this subject. She’s been involved in many cold cases and consults police forces all over the country. She said a few things that I think are fascinating. One of them is that most of the most of the. Cases that end up being cold. They’ve discovered that the police had the person, the actual perpetrator’s name in connection with the case within the first month, sometimes within the first week of the discovery of a homicide that the the police had interviewed them, had been told that they should interview them. I had some reason to know, to have knowledge about the person who ended up being the perpetrator of the crime. Have you any experience with that?

D.A. Andrea Harrington: Yeah, I can absolutely see based on my experience, why that would be the case. And it’s consistent in terms of the cases that we are looking at. I’ll just say generally that that there are particular individuals that were interested in. Absolutely.

Top Left Corner: Hmm. Now, the guests are really the last component of this is, I know, one that’s sort of near and hard to say, dear, but it’s near to your heart, though. There are some men who are sort of scattered in this list of of victims. In cold cases, they’re predominantly women. One of the hallmarks of your term as district attorney has been to put an increased focus on justice for women. How does this fit into that? How does this, you know, going back and revisiting these cases, how does that sort of fit into your personal sort of mission?

D.A. Andrea Harrington: Well, I’ve been very. Lucky and privileged and honored to have the opportunity to be the first female district attorney in Berkshire County. And to me, that in and of itself is not it’s not remarkable. It’s only an important component if I use the position that I have in order to benefit the rest of my community. And I’m particularly interested in benefiting women and girls in this community who don’t have the same privileges that I do. So in my office, we have a lot of amazing women, very powerful women that work here. The office looks very different now than it did four years ago. We have a my first assistant is female. The chiefs of all of my units are female. We have a lot of women prosecutors. We have a lot of women leaders in this office. And, you know, when you look at who’s I feel very safe in this community. I think a lot of the people, my family, my friends, I feel like they are safe. But the reality is that there are people in this community who are not safe. And our work is all about how do we expand safety to those people? And the people that are not safe are the people that are living in homes where there’s domestic violence, child abuse, women who are being subjected to sexual assault. And they tend to be people that are vulnerable, people that are struggling with mental illness, substance use disorder, poverty. So we very much see it as our mission in this office to make sure that those people that are more vulnerable than ourselves are just as safe in this community as the rest of us. And I mean, certainly women like Benoit, who were never given the opportunity to grow and to grow into themselves and to be empowered because their lives were taken through violence is a that’s totally fits in with the mission and accountability for violence against women. We have a culture of violence against women in Berkshire County and across the state and across the country and across the world. And I think in order to address that, accountability is absolutely critical.

Top Left Corner: I was going to let you go after that. And that’s that would be a perfectly good place to wrap up. But something you just said brought up another topic that Dr. Stein brought up. So I want to ask this question. Dr. Stein also brought up the notion of the the white woman victim. There has been so much said, so much written about this, this I mean, I’m sure people have heard about it for the tendency of the especially the news media, my brothers and sisters in the trade, to focus an inordinate amount of attention on victims who are white, who are often of a of an upper class, you know, upper middle class, upper class. The disappearance, say, of Molly Bish would be a certainly a you know, which case was was horrible at the time. And I was, in fact, a journalist in that area when Molly Bice disappeared. And it always ticks me off that I was never able to to turn up anything that would be helpful. There were reporters from all over that side of the state who were all putting in overtime, trying to trying to be of assistance in any way we could. But, you know, Molly Bish, she was blond, she was pretty. She was, you know, from a fairly, you know, well-to-do family. What what is this white woman victim? Issue and who who bears the the brunt of responsibility for it. Is it the media? Is it. Is it law enforcement? What’s what’s your take on that?

D.A. Andrea Harrington: Well, I thank you for raising that issue. And it’s it’s an issue it’s a very real issue. And you can see how certain victims maybe are discounted in comparison to other victims. And you can see that even in the case law. So there was a case, a famous study called The Baldness Study that was done. I mean, this is an old study that showed that the people who got the death penalty, the number one driver of who got the death penalty, wasn’t even the race of the defendant. It was the race of the victim. People who killed white victims were more likely to get the death penalty than people who killed black victims.

Top Left Corner: Oh, wow.

D.A. Andrea Harrington: So you can see it in different contexts. And that was why when we did our playing card, when we selected our case, our unresolved cases to feature on our playing cards, know we are featuring two black male victims that were victims here from Pittsfield because we’re very conscious about that fact. And in our work, our big goal right now with our victim witness program is to really work to ensure that we are treating victims equitably. And so I’ve worked hard to diversify the office and diversify our victim witness advocates in particular. And we have a very diverse group of advocates, because I think representation is important. And when we are, they are the face of the office with our victims. And I want victims to recognize that there are people in this office who look like them, who know their experience and who are advocating for them.

Top Left Corner: Mm hmm. Yeah, that makes that makes a lot of sense. And certainly the the the issue of race cannot be overstated. It’s it’s it is the case that there are so many faces that we’re not we’ve never seen before, so many names we don’t know who are victims, just the same as as a Molly Bish or Kim Benoit. Although I would say that class is is a component, too, because, you know, Kim, she was not from a wealthy family. And I have to wonder how many Kims out there didn’t get the best investigators or the best investigative procedures put in place because they just weren’t. They weren’t valued in the community anyway due to poverty. Poverty is it’s a quicksand that can really manifest itself in a lot of ways, and I think justice is certainly one of them. Do you do you find that there has been any improvement in justice for the poor in this regard?

D.A. Andrea Harrington: Well, in terms of how we address violent crime here in Berkshire County, we have definitely, you know, in the cases that we’re working on, I mean, we we provide services to all of the victims of crime. We really work to make sure that we are have tools to communicate with people who speak different languages. We’re working on making sure that when we have like a first interaction with a family, with a victim, that they immediately feel like they’re being supported. And I have advocates that are on call, like we make contact with the families of victims in homicides and suicides in fatal overdoses as soon as these events are occurring and we are becoming aware of them. So that building trust, there’s a lot of crime that does not even go reported. Because what you’re talking about, there’s there’s segments of our society who don’t feel like they are being protected by law enforcement. They feel unsafe. They’re worried, especially among the immigrant population. There’s a lot of fear of law enforcement. So we have a lot of work in law enforcement to build those relationships among the law enforcement section of the U.S. Attorney Civil Rights Task Force. And I specifically thought that out because I have an interest in making sure that prosecutors and police officers are well trained and sensitive to these issues, because we’ve got to build those relationships and we got to build those relationships in order to solve our cases.

D.A. Andrea Harrington: You will find cases in North Adams. Usually people are willing to come forward and to talk to the police and to share information, and that’s how we solve a lot of our North Adams cases. And I find it’s a little more difficult in Pittsfield and it’s a little bit more difficult when we have crimes that are happening in the black community. And for me, the the problem of addressing racial disparities in the criminal legal system and appropriately responding to violent crime and supporting victims of violent crime, those things are very intertwined. I have information that black women who are victims of domestic violence are less likely to come to law enforcement for help because they’re afraid that law enforcement is going to overreact and that their abuser is going to be overly punished, whereas white women have a different concern. And these are generalizations, but white women are more concerned that law enforcement is not going to react enough. So to me, that is the job of law enforcement, is to address these racial disparities, to build relationships so that we can work to solve these violent crimes.

Top Left Corner: Hmm. Yeah. I think that those sorts of priorities are probably what really got voters enthusiastic when you were running. Just those sorts of concerns that not every prosecutor has that not every but every district attorney has. So we’ll have to come back and talk a little bit more, because I know that you’ve got a race coming up and we’ll get you on again, hopefully. And until then, Andrew, I want to say thank you so much for really kind of putting some meat on the bones of this this issue, because it’s it’s it’s confusing. It’s it’s definitely frustrating. But I know that there are a lot of people who want to see justice done. And it’s it’s great to see that these victims aren’t forgotten. So thanks for for coming on and talking about this.

D.A. Andrea Harrington: Thanks for having me. It’s been a really interesting conversation and I look forward to coming back and talking to you more.

Top Left Corner: All right. Take care. Have a good weekend.

D.A. Andrea Harrington: Thanks, And you, too.

NTRVW: Dr. Sarah Stein

CLICK: On victimology, suspectology, and why time can be the friend of investigators working cold cases

Top Left Corner: My guest on the show is Dr. Sarah Stein. Dr. Stein is an award winning authority in unresolved cases who serves as a national consultant for law enforcement with graduate degrees in both forensic science and criminal justice. Dr. Stein has taught academia for universities as well as law enforcement academies. She’s an expert in victimology, suspect ology, crime scene analysis, behavioral analysis and missing white woman syndrome. Serving as consultant for numerous high profile cases, her skill for investigative preciseness is recognized around the globe. Dr. Stein, welcome to the show.

Dr. Sarah Stein: Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate the opportunity.

Top Left Corner: Well, let’s let’s I guess just get started with the question of how did you find yourself in this line of work?

Dr. Sarah Stein: Well, I actually began pursuing this field when I was an undergraduate in Washington, D.C. and we were asked to in a criminal justice course, we were asked to research an unsolved case that was interesting to us. And I selected a case from across the country in Oregon and unfortunately wound up speaking to a murderer of two young girls, the 12 year old girl and a 13 year old girl for the period of on and off, probably about five months. And when they arrested this man, I was so. Horrified that an individual could commit an act like that and and function perfectly well in society. And I found it so horrifying that I thought, I’m going to try and do everything I can to make sure that no case like this ever happens again. So that’s where it started.

Top Left Corner: Yes, I can I can certainly understand how you would be heavily affected by that, as would most people, I think. The seventies especially seemed to be an era that saw a lot of. A lot of high profile cases. Is there a particular reason that you’ve ever come to or at least a theory as to why that was such a densely packed time with with these these cases, the Son of Sam and the Zodiac, all of these all of these serial killers. What was going on then?

Dr. Sarah Stein: Well, we have a number of factors contributing to the increase in these types of homicides. In the late sixties and seventies, particularly, there was the civil rights movement. There was a significant amount of unrest in the country with that issue alone and coupled with Vietnam, the political era that was happening. And one other thing that is very interesting in the etiology of cold cases is that up until the late fifties and probably mid-sixties, we had a very high solve rate for homicides across the country. But the country began to be more mobile. You know, people were traveling across state lines much more frequently. Our interstate system was developed very heavily and people got more mobile. So we started to see an increase in these types of serial killings and instances where people were committing these crimes in different jurisdictions and with serial offenses. That’s one of the biggest difficulties that the beginning of a serial investigation is that these offenders will experiment and find their preferred modus operandi. And so law enforcement has difficulty linking early serial cases because the modus operandi may be different. One victim may be strangled, one victim may be shot, and so on. So there were a lot of different factors contributing to that increase in those types of cases.

Top Left Corner: Well, these are a lot of aspects that I hadn’t considered. The idea that that they’re practicing they’re they’re looking for what turns them on. I guess so, unfortunately.

Dr. Sarah Stein: That’s correct.

Top Left Corner: Yeah, I think I think it we don’t get quite as many of these cases that we know about these cold cases. How many of them are open from from this time period?

Dr. Sarah Stein: Still a significant number since let’s see, they haven’t I don’t know of a national effort to quantify how many of these cases still exist from before the 1980s. But since the 1980s, we have over. 200,000 unsolved homicides.

Top Left Corner: That’s amazing.

Dr. Sarah Stein: It’s a pretty daunting number. And in addition to that, there are also over 40,000 unidentified bodies and victims and morgues.

Top Left Corner: Across the country. That was going to be my next question. How many of these cases still have missing persons and how many of them are the the opposite? They have the remains, but no, no actual identification to put with them. What are some of the reasons why remains would be found and never identified?

Dr. Sarah Stein: A few different things could be at play. Number one, the individual could not have been reported missing. Unfortunately, again, returning to serial offenders, they often prey on what we call high risk victims, meaning individuals whose lifestyle may make them more vulnerable to being a victim of a violent crime. So, for example, with the Green River killer, Gary Ridgway, he exclusively preyed on sex workers. And part of the reason he was able to murder at least 48 of them is, unfortunately, these women are what we refer to as devalued victim. So meaning they might not get the same level of community attention resources dedicated to their investigation as they would if they were a suburban mom that went missing.

Top Left Corner: Sure. Sure.

Dr. Sarah Stein: So that’s one reason. Another is a. That they might have gone missing from one jurisdiction and there remains turned up in another. There’s there’s just a lot of different factors that can affect that identification. But fortunately, the name of the program has really helped make an effort and a dent in those IDs. So there are programs out there to help investigators.

Top Left Corner: Hmm. And lastly, you sort of allude alluded to this, but you you discuss the missing white woman syndrome syndrome. And you mentioned, you know, if it’s a suburban, you know, sort of middle class mom, she’s going to get a lot of attention or a white high school, you know, student who goes missing. What what progress has been made in combating that bias?

Dr. Sarah Stein: Well.

Top Left Corner: Maybe not enough.

Dr. Sarah Stein: Not? Yeah, unfortunately, in my opinion, I don’t think enough. Excuse me. Has been done to combat that. I originally did research on this for my dissertation back in 2012 and then when Gabbie Potato’s case happened just recently, that was a classic example of missing white woman syndrome. You know, blond hair, blue eyed, beautiful Caucasian female. And the media just devoured that case. Right. And the last time I can remember something like that happening was probably Natalee Holloway’s case back in 2005. So it’s been a long time.

Top Left Corner: Yeah.

Dr. Sarah Stein: But it does seem to have kind of a similar effect, which is very interesting that that’s remained consistent over the years.

Top Left Corner: Mm hmm. Mm hmm. Well, in this particular case that I’m looking at here locally in the Northern Berkshires, which turns out was was the hotspot for missing persons and and attacks, murders. The story of Kim Benoit is one that has really vexed this community for the most since 1974, I guess it was. She was 18. She was not, I don’t think, necessarily what you’d call high risk. But she had had a falling out with her folks, from what I understand what I was told anyway, and was living with with a friend. And so that’s a little bit, you know, out of the ordinary for an 18 year old in 1974, but maybe not that much. She was at a dance at the Sons of Italy in a club in North Adams, and she had spilled something on her coke, I guess, on her blouse, and was going to go home and change and come back. And she was never heard from again. Now, I have been told that she was dating a fellow whose name I’m not going to use on the show here and who has since passed away.

Top Left Corner: But she was dating a fellow who was quite a bit older. I guess he was about 30 years old while she was 18. And he had been, according to witnesses, had been known to be abusive to her publicly and was the one who drove her away from the Sons of Italy in ostensibly to to go home, change and bring her back. And was and as I said, she was never seen again. She was found at the bottom of a sort of a ravine, I guess, off Route two in Florida, which is at the top of that sort of mountain area. And that’s really all we know. There’s nothing there’s been no, as far as I know, no real break in the case, except that just a couple of months ago, the Berkshire district attorney’s office issued a press release saying that they were slapping a $10,000 reward on top of the $5,000 reward the family had issued had offered for information that would result in an arrest in this case. So that is that’s all we know. Is this a typical scenario of an unsolved case?

Dr. Sarah Stein: In. In what manner do you mean?

Top Left Corner: The fact that there’s just. Well. Well, it’s certainly the reward. But in the idea that there’s just no evidence, I mean, she was there and then she was gone and no one knows anything.

Dr. Sarah Stein: Mm hmm. Well, you know, one thing that’s often found with these types of cold cases where there just seems to be no information available at all, is that time in cold cases, time is typically an enemy of criminal investigation. The more time that elapses, the less likely it is to be resolved. However, in cold case investigation, time is actually an asset because as time goes on, those people who initially might have claimed there was no information, they didn’t see anything might start to reflect on those statements. Their relationships with individuals who might have been involved may have changed dynamic. They might not be friends any longer or confidantes. So those things could bring information forward. But I have seen cases that, you know, one case that I worked on, I was actually given it was in a shoe box. That was all the evidence. Hmm. That they had. And unfortunately, there are a fair number of these types of cases.

Top Left Corner: Well, so you I know it’s been said I don’t know if it was you or someone else said that very often. There. The person the perpetrator has is actually known to the police and may have even been interviewed by the police. But for whatever reason, they’re dismissed as as a suspect. What what what do we know about that phenomenon?

Dr. Sarah Stein: Well, this phenomenon came to light. It was very fascinating from a gentleman named Dr. Robert Keppel. And he was instrumental in apprehending both Ted Bundy, as well as Gary Ridgway. And in fact, Ted Bundy actually assisted Dr. Keppel when he was in custody to help Keppel. Quote unquote, profile or the term that’s used now is develop a behavioral analysis of Gary Ridgway that led to his capture. And what was found by Dr. Keppel is that in 95%, which is a huge percentage of these cold cases, the perpetrator’s name will be in the police file within the first 30 days of the investigation.

Top Left Corner: That’s a remarkably high proportion.

Dr. Sarah Stein: It is. It is. And what what’s very interesting to see in going back and looking at cold case files is there’s generally a point in the investigation where you can see and again, this is what’s not the best part about my job is seeing this point where an investigation might have gone off track in the police file because cold case analysts come in like a monday morning quarterback, you know, and the goal of the analysis is not to find fault with law enforcement. It’s not to blame anybody because they were working as hard as they could with the resources and the technology that they had available at the time. But rather, it’s to go back and say, okay, maybe this is where we got a little off track, because in the heat of an active investigation, law enforcement isn’t necessarily going to be able to distinguish between a solid lead and maybe a not so solid lead. There’s a lot of chaos going on in those initial investigations, so sometimes it’s easier in hindsight to see that in the file.

Top Left Corner: Yeah, you’re not as moved by a lot of the emotional realities. When things are fresh, when people are there, there’s a lot of tension. The family is is distraught, friends are distraught. And obviously, some people have very strong motivations for not being truthful.

Dr. Sarah Stein: Exactly. And also, you know, law enforcement is just. Inundated in investigations like this. And there’s also a lot of political pressure that comes with these cases from, you know, from the media, from the community. And it can be very stressful. So it is sometimes easier down the road coming back and looking at cases in hindsight. So it’s not at all to demean the efforts of law enforcement?

Top Left Corner: No, of course not. Of course not. And it’s possible, too, that personal relationships, I’m guessing, could have something to do with it. Like you said, a lot of the folks that have a lot of the the murders that we know of, you know, they have these persona that are so believable. They’re they’re they’re social they’re very social people. They’re charming in some cases, or at least they’re not you know, they don’t have the outward appearance of antisocial, you know, behaviors. And I wonder how many times. A police officer will have gone to high school with somebody or have have a brother who works with him somewhere. And I say him, of course, because the typically men and just doesn’t think that it’s possible because of what they because of their own personal association. And so dismissing a suspect just because they think they know them, does that does that? Well, I mean, I guess we can’t know. But does that sound like a likely. Possibly in some cases.

Dr. Sarah Stein: It certainly could be a possibility, as you said. And this is what truly fascinated me about these offenders, that the first case that I ever quote unquote, looked at, I was a college student. And I was just shocked that this man who murdered sexually assaulted a murdered a 12 year old girl and then a 13 year old girl who was the first girl’s best friend. And he would speak to me on the phone. Just as the kindest, empathic claims he wanted to help. Very charming, very genuine. And he was a monster. But the persona was so well established. That it was almost impossible to see through. And until. What I’ve found is just personally, as I’ve gone through my career, is until you’ve actually look the devil in the face. And you know how these people operate. You. You can’t recognize it. Hmm. You can’t recognize it. And that’s a very, very dangerous thing.

Top Left Corner: No, I believe you. I believe you. There is a case that is. Some people have wondered if if it’s related. You had not been you were not familiar with the Kim Benoit case. I think you may have heard about the the Lynn Burdick case, though.

Dr. Sarah Stein: Yes.

Top Left Corner: Now, that was just a couple of years before afterward. I think it was. Afterward. I’ll check I’ll check in a minute. But there was a situation where there was a a student who was on the Williams College campus who was assaulted, and it was a failed abduction attempt. And then just not even an hour later, Lynn Burdick, who had been working at the Barefoot Peddler General Store, goes missing, which led some people to believe that it was the same person. I mean, certainly that you’d think so. Do we know anything about the psychological state of these individuals wherein once that switch is on, they’re just not going to stop until they get that victim? Because that’s what that sounds like.

Dr. Sarah Stein: Yeah. What’s one thing that’s been found with these type of offenders is that typically in the early days of their offenses, a lot of them will feel the need to either be inebriated or use drugs prior to going out and trying to acquire a victim, for lack of a better term, because they need to lower their own inhibitions because they’re so nervous and keyed up, if you will, about committing this crime. And someone who is in the early stages of their criminal career could certainly you know, there’s certainly room for error in acquiring said victim, and there’s a potential that they could go through a couple attempts before they actually do indeed get someone. So it is possible.

Top Left Corner: Hmm. The case with Lynn Burdick. She was working at a cousin’s store and she’d answered the phone about an hour before closing time or so. And the last thing and it was her cousin calling to check on her, make sure everything’s okay. And she said, hey, I’ve got to go. I’ve got a customer. And that was the last anyone had heard of her. Her body has never been found, but of course, the fact that she disappeared from Florida Mountain and Kim Benoit’s body was found on Florida mountain leads some people to wonder if there was, you know, a connection there. And oddly, there is a question as to whether or not the co Hogue killer from Boston who was guilty of about, I guess, at least a half a dozen murders. Apparently there are photos of him. At a motel. He was a big hunter and at the G of the Red Rose Motel at the top of Florida Mountain, which was there at the time. It’s been closed for a long time. And he would stay at that motel when he went hunting in northern Berkshires forests. So people have wondered if there’s a connection there, although some have dismissed it because it’s it’s just sort of the timeline sort of fits, but not. There’s no other evidence. What do you know about Lynn Burdick? Do you know anything about that case that is worth thinking about when we talk about the Benoit Benoit case?

Dr. Sarah Stein: When when relating it to Ms.. Benoit homicide, one of the biggest discrepancies behaviorally, at least to me that pops out, is that Lynn Burdick was taken from her place of work, ostensibly, whereas Ms.. Benoit left, left a party, supposedly with this individual who had known who was known to be violent towards her. And so I would think that just behaviorally, it does not seem to be the same offender. But with Len Verdict’s case, I’m just looking at it right now on the Charlie Project, which is a great website for missing persons cases. And it says normally her best friend worked alongside her, but on this evening, April 17th, 1982, she was working alone. And that’s interesting in the sense that. Any time there’s a first in an investigation like it was her first time being alone at work like this example. Might indicate that it perhaps might not be a stranger, but I don’t know.

Top Left Corner: Sure. Sure. I mean, that’s the difficulty of being in the middle of nowhere.

Dr. Sarah Stein: Exactly.

Top Left Corner: Is that.

Dr. Sarah Stein: Exactly.

Top Left Corner: Well, and it’s so odd because North Adams is a very especially at the time when you look at North Adams today, you see a mill town, a former mill town that’s been ravaged by unemployment, by jobs being shipped overseas. And then, of course, the the the successive waves of things going out of business because because of the exodus. I mean, there used to be 65,000 people living in North Adams. Now there’s. Yeah, I know. Right now there’s 15,000 people. Or 17 million maybe. So we’re talking about a town that was just gutted. But at the time, in 1974, North Adams was happening. I mean, it was prosperous. They they had enough money to to kind of completely mess up the downtown with urban renewal. But that’s another story. But it was a very tight community. Families who had been there for a long, long time, everybody knew. Everybody knew everybody. And so that’s that’s sort of the setting for Kim Benoit’s life. But just up the mountain in Florida, which was had you know, those were better days, too, because you can see as you drive through, there’s an abandoned ice cream stand, there’s an abandoned motel, there’s an abandoned restaurant, but still very, very rural, middle of nowhere kind of place. And it would be very easy for somebody like this. This can’t remember his name. Quahog was his nickname. For him to just come through and and snatch and grab. I mean, of.

Dr. Sarah Stein: Course, you can see that a lot of these you know, these towns that, like you said once, were thriving and had, you know, tourism industries and things of that nature. Those towns are ideal for serial offenders because people do have their guard down because everybody does know everybody. And so it’s very easy for someone like that to come into a rural, trusting community and exploit that sense of safety because nothing like that ever happens there.

Top Left Corner: Right. Right. Yeah, it’s. Well, I have a short story to tell a little bit later, but but I first want to ask. You mentioned early stage career and that’s what I think that might be the most chilling phrase that is part of this kind of conversation. I obviously understand what you mean by that, but that suggests that there are those in a more advanced stage of their killing careers. What what typically describes that stage?

Dr. Sarah Stein: Well, I’m trying to think of a good example for you, but in the absence of an example, what a person will be like in that phase, obviously they’re much more dangerous than they were in the beginning because now they have not only successfully acquired a victim, they’ve successfully killed the victim. And once a killing occurs, particularly obviously with serial offenders, it is not going to stop until they’re either apprehended or they’re dead. And so by this time in their, quote unquote, criminal career, in their killing career, they will be like a very well oiled machine. They’ll no longer have to dull their senses in order to commit the crimes. So in all likelihood, they’re fully sober and aware when they’re acting out. And what’s really frightening with two types of offenders, they’re known as anger retaliatory and anger excitation killers. These are the really charming individuals and who are able to use a ruse to obtain their victims. So to trick a young woman into going with them willingly as opposed to out and out abducting them, and they’ll also have most likely establish themselves in their community. They’ll have a family, they’ll have a job. I mean, if you look at a good example would be the BTK killer, which stood for bind, torture and kill. And he was he was married. He had children. He was the deacon of his church, highly respected in his community. And again, nobody sees it coming.

Top Left Corner: Hmm. So somebody like that could conceivably go on for a number of years without being apprehended?

Dr. Sarah Stein: Absolutely. Absolutely. And again, btc’s actually a great example for this question. He he really when he was apprehended, law enforcement drastically changed the behavioral analysis methodologies and especially the FBI, because he was, to their knowledge, one of the only serial offenders who took about a 20 year hiatus from killing. And then a trigger happened in his life. I don’t know what that was, but something pushed him to become deviant and to kill again. And he made a mistake. And that’s how he was caught. But he didn’t commit a single murder for about 20 years. That’s completely under the radar.

Top Left Corner: That’s terrifying. Now, here’s here’s the thing. There’s a question that I’m sure a lot of people have have asked. And maybe this is maybe this is a one on one level question. But when you talk about finding. Cadavers. When you talk about where they’re found, it’s so often. The same place you would find a McDonald’s box. You know a beer. Can the side of the road. Refuse thrown away. Not I mean they’re not going and going out into the middle of the woods and digging a hole that’s deep enough that they’re never going to. You’re never going to find the body. We find these bodies and they seem to be discarded quickly, you know, as if like I said, like like a fast food bag. Is that because they’re nervous? Is it because they just don’t care? I mean, what what why are we. Why do we find these bodies so easily? When. When we find them on the side of the road?

Dr. Sarah Stein: Right. That’s a very good question. One part of that answer is it depends on the typology of killer that you’re dealing with there. And this, again, could be a whole nother conversation. But Dr. Keppel and Richard Walter, who was a co-founder of the Vidocq Society in Philadelphia, they’re a they’re a group of 87 experts in forensics, behavioral analysis. And they pay for law enforcement once a month to come to Philly and present a cold case to the group. And they have an extremely high success rate for these cases. But Dr. Keppel and Richard Walter came up with four different typologies of murderers, and two are power based in terms of their motivation for killing, and two are anger based. And so it depends on the individual psychology of the perpetrator. But there are some consistencies with the anger categories. For example, they have no feeling towards that victim except rage and resentment. And so they have no value to them as a human being, which is just unfathomable, but they have no value. And then with the power based offenders was the power based killers. Murder is not their initial motivation. They’ll wind up killing a victim when they feel that they’re losing control of the situation. So in that instance, they’re going to leave the victim in a place where they feel they might have control. So a spot where they can go back and check and see if the body has been recovered. And that can’t be a spot that’s too difficult to access. Right. They have to go back and check. So maybe on the side of the road may be a little bit into the woods. But regardless of the typology of killer, terror for the victim is never part. They’re thinking.

Top Left Corner: That’s. Unfortunately. Kind of what I suspected you might say the. The question.

Dr. Sarah Stein: I do a quick follow up to that.

Top Left Corner: Yeah, of course.

Dr. Sarah Stein: I was just thinking the only exception that you might see is in homicides where a parent has killed their child or someone in the family has committed the murder. So, for example, with Casey Anthony’s case with Caylee Anthony, she was acquitted of killing her daughter. But Caylee was found only a quarter mile from the family’s home and she was placed in a laundry bag and wrapped up. And in JonBenet’s case, long, long time ago from 96. Right. She was found with a blanket over her body. And in those instances, the parent or who? And again, Casey Anthony was acquitted. But if it is the family member, the child might be shrouded in something. And that does indicate remorse. But in these types of Benoit’s murder. No.

Top Left Corner: Hmm. Well, I guess. I guess there’s not. Well, I mean, I have a million other questions, but none that are that are really germane to to this particular case. Is it worth re researching this case, interviewing family again, cousins, friends to see if they remember anything that that didn’t turn up the last time? I mean.

Dr. Sarah Stein: Absolutely.

Top Left Corner: Yeah.

Dr. Sarah Stein: Absolutely. It’s worth it again. Time is time. As your friend in a cold case investigation and going back and re-interviewing family members, friends, intimate partners, employers, all of that is relevant information, certainly. And. Yeah. I think it’s absolutely worth it.

Top Left Corner: Hmm. I guess I ask because this raised a few eyebrows when the DA’s office offered a $10,000 reward. There is the question, though, if. If they’ve done that, do they have new information? Or do they think that there’s somebody out there who may have information who will come forward? And then the second part of that is. If they are. You know, as I said, this this boyfriend who was alleged to have been the last person to see her alive when he drove her away from the sons and sons of Italy, now he’s passed away. If it should turn out that that somebody, for example, could confirm, like maybe he confessed to somebody, to a friend who’s who’s still alive, then there’s not going to be any arrest. There’s not going to be any conviction. I mean, the $10,000 might help reveal some answers, but it’s not actually going to get paid out. You know what I mean?

Dr. Sarah Stein: So I understand what you’re saying with that. And it could be that they’ve gotten some new information that’s pointing them in a certain direction, and they’re hoping that this increased reward will bring confirmatory information that they need. It could have been, you know, requests or repeated requests from the families of Miss Benoit to keep pursuing this investigation. The more vocal these families are, the more likely it is that these cases will really be given another look. But it’s difficult to speculate why now they would be increasing that reward. It is very interesting, and especially given the fact that it says in the press release that you sent me, thank you for that, that it marked the Tuesday, November 16th was the 47th anniversary. So it’s not I mean, 47 years is horrible, obviously, but it’s not a quote unquote big media anniversary. It’s not 50 years. It’s not. Yeah, 45 years. The timing is interesting, I will say that. But it’s difficult to speculate why they might have done that at this juncture.

Top Left Corner: Well, that’s that’s that has been my question. But I guess there’s no way to know what they know. I just hope that the as you said, that the interviews are are reinterviewed if need be. Because I know myself, if you ask me three days from now what I did this morning, I might remember something that I’d forgotten. You know, it’s. Oh, yes, that’s right. I did actually stop at that store and pick up a, you know, a gallon of milk. But but I forgot that the first time you asked me, what did you do on Friday? I might not have remembered that the first time. So.

Dr. Sarah Stein: Right. And people like you said, it was a community that everyone knew everyone. And it must have just been a horrific shock to the community, to her family, to law enforcement. And so when anyone goes through that type of trauma, memory is certainly going to be affected. And so approaching these people, again, once a significant amount of time has passed, that shock has obviously been absorbed or at least mitigated is very advantageous.

Top Left Corner: Yeah. Yeah. Now now for the the the macabre but slightly amusing story of me finding what I think are the remains of a victim on a farm that I own in Franklin County. I hadn’t owned it for very long when I saw some cloth kind of sticking out of the ground. And it was a clothing, some jeans that were disintegrated mostly and and blouse of some kind. And there were several, several other articles of clothing. And they were all like like adolescent girl size and style and. Right. And and I also find a femur with this.

Dr. Sarah Stein: Oh, my.

Top Left Corner: Lord. And I am I’m frankly, I’m pissing my pants because I don’t know what to do now. So I call the state police and and I turn over the femur and it turns out to be a deer femur. Yeah, thankfully. But and it also turns out that there had been a woman who had rented a house and she had lived there with her daughter. And apparently they had. I don’t know. I guess they had. Throwing away some some clothes or I don’t know what happened, but. But there was no foul play. Oh, but it was absolutely. Oh, my gosh. This is. And it’s in the middle of nowhere. So. Right. So I’m thinking, okay, this could be anything turned out to be nothing, but what do you do? If you if you find anything like that, should you touch it at all? I mean, you find some cloth out in the on the side of the road. You you’ve stopped to to make a phone call. You see something? I mean, how how do you handle that?

Dr. Sarah Stein: Well, certainly the the best approach if you are not. In the field you have no training is just to call law enforcement and let them come collect it and hope that it’s hope that it’s a deer bone, right?

Top Left Corner: Yeah, I just that was and of course, they kind of you know, they kidded me more than I. I think that was that was necessary. I thought it was perfectly legitimate, given how far away. But maybe that’s just me.

Dr. Sarah Stein: No, I’m sure it’s terrifying to find something like that out in the middle of nowhere. And by all accounts, you know, you see clothing and you find a bone.

Top Left Corner: Yeah, that’s of.

Dr. Sarah Stein: Course, that’s where your mind is going to go.

Top Left Corner: So, you know, and.

Dr. Sarah Stein: You did the right thing.

Top Left Corner: Thank you. Thank you. I’ve wanted some I wanted somebody to tell me that and not laugh at me for about a decade now.

Dr. Sarah Stein: Oh, believe me. Listen, no laughter at all, you know, of course, that’s where your mind is going to go. And that’s where mine would have gone.

Top Left Corner: Right. And you’re a professional, so there you go. So speaking of that, let me let me just I guess just sum up by asking what first of all, what do you think law enforcement should be doing for Kim Benoit’s case right now? What would you be doing? Just obviously, they’re probably doing as much as they can, but what sorts of things would you be doing if you were in their shoes?

Dr. Sarah Stein: Well, you know, and again, like you said, I’m sure they’re doing everything that they can possibly be doing. But with a cold case investigation and any investigation, but really with cold cases particularly is the most important base that you can build in an investigation starts with victimology, meaning. Ms.. Benoit herself. So learning every single possible thing that you can learn about the victim down to what types of clothes they like to wear, what type of music they like to listen to, what their personality was like, how they were, how would they respond in certain scenarios with threatening individual things of that nature and really getting to know Kim Benoit as a person outside of the homicide and that strong base of victimology. If you know your victim, you’ll know your killer. Meaning. Once they know who Ken Benoit is, inside and out, all her activities, everything, they’ll have a much better sense of who would be likely to target her. And given what you’ve explained to me and just the brief amount that I’ve read and also the forensic evidence at the scene and the way in which she was killed, it was asphyxiation with blunt force trauma to the head. Is that right? Yeah. Do we know if it was manual versus ligature strangulation? That’s a cop question.

Top Left Corner: Yeah, I don’t. I don’t. They haven’t provided that.

Dr. Sarah Stein: Okay. Well, you know, any type of asphyxiation is an inherently personal crime, right? It’s very different than shooting someone, for example. You have to actually put hands on that victim and it takes a significant amount of time. And so with any type of asphyxiation, it is likely that you’re looking for someone who had a preexisting relationship with that victim.

Top Left Corner: So this could be an anger.

Dr. Sarah Stein: It could be domestically related. A fight between her and her significant other. Hmm. But, you know, the reason I had asked the difference between manual and ligature ligature strangulation is a little different in the sense that it might be, again, a serial offender trying different modus operandi in their early phases of experimentation. Or it could be someone with their insecure about their own abilities. So they’re not going to use their hands. They’re using a belt or rope, whatever. But someone who’s in the throes of anger certainly would be capable of using manual asphyxiation.

Top Left Corner: And they’d have to be pretty strong to.

Dr. Sarah Stein: It does take a significant amount of pressure and time. So, yes, they’d have to have some physical ability.

Top Left Corner: Well, interesting. Well, this has been this is hands down my most unique interview. I’ve done hundreds of different topics. And this is definitely number one, most unique. And I Dr. Stein, I want to thank you so much for your generosity with your time and your your knowledge.

Dr. Sarah Stein: I not at all. If people could help.

Top Left Corner: I hope so. Let’s say let’s say that the detectives decide they could use a consultant. How do they find you? Where do they find out about Dr. Stein?

Dr. Sarah Stein: No. Well, from what I’ve read, I believe they already actually have hired someone to look here in the press release. The Berkshire district attorney’s office recently added a contract investigator to analyze case data, which is excellent. But if anyone wants to find out more about me, they can just go to my website, Dr. Sara Stein, or I’m on LinkedIn.

Top Left Corner: Gotcha. Well, it’s it’s a fascinating topic. It is one that I really I would love to see this one. And I know you say that there’s a they don’t sound connected the Lynn Burdick and this this in the Kim Benoit case. But there were a number of really creepy things going on in northern Berkshires in in the seventies and even into the early eighties. So it would be swell if we could start ticking them off and solving them one by one, starting with with Kim. All right. Well, Dr. Stein, thank you so much. Stay well and and I’ll send you a link to this show when it’s live.

Dr. Sarah Stein: All right. Thank you so much again for having me. And be safe and well.

Top Left Corner: Take care. Thank you. Bye bye.

Dr. Sarah Stein: Thank you. You too. Bye bye.

Jason Velázquez

Jason Velázquez has worked in print and digital journalism and publishing for two decades.
Phone: (413) 776-5125

2 Comments

  1. I believe a girl named Rocky Kresak(?sp) who disappeared in Williamstown in this time period. I have often wondered if it was ever solved. I have no information but always wondered about her .

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