Legislation would add staffers to state’s cold case unit

  • Janet Gloddy Young stands by a sign of her younger sister, Kathy, who was murdered in Franklin in 1971.

Monitor staff
Published: 1/29/2019 6:23:02 PM

A few things begin to happen before a homicide investigation goes cold.

First, says Lisa Post, there’s hope. Witnesses are interviewed; evidence is collected. That feeling carries on for the first year or two.

Then comes the slowdown. The police answer fewer questions. The leads run dry. Finally, the family is updated: The case has gone cold.

Post knows the process first-hand. In 2010, her sister, Lynne Melk Brennan, was found dead in her Manchester home, at 53. In 2016, Post was told by the state Attorney General’s Office that the primary investigation was on hold.

In 2019, the Posts are still waiting to hear more.

“The joy and hope and possibility of it being solved, it’s like going up in a balloon,” Post said. “You really feel elated when it seems that something is going to happen. And then for it to be thrown away – it’s devastating.”

New Hampshire has a destination for investigations like these: the cold case unit. First established in 2010, the unit was meant to give new life to vexing cases.

But the unit has only one staff attorney, according to Attorney General Gordon MacDonald, a position that surviving families say has created an aggravating log jam where potential resolutions sit in purgatory.

And the list of unsolved homicides in New Hampshire is presently 128 cases long.

On Tuesday, the Posts and other surviving families of homicide victims gathered at the State House to press for a bill to expand the attorneys in the state’s cold case unit from one to three.

The bipartisan legislation has the full support of the Attorney General’s Office, which says the positions are necessary to make a serious dent in New Hampshire’s unsolved murder cases.

“Our victims deserve justice,” MacDonald told lawmakers Tuesday. “Our 128 families deserve answers. And there is no statute of limitations for the crime of murder.”

For the families, the extra manpower offers the chance for something more: closure. Many seeking updates on their cases have endured twists and turns.

Janet Gloddy Young last saw her sister in November 1971. Kathy Gloddy, 13, was found in Franklin, Young told the committee. She had been raped, run over and killed.

Through the years, Young kept after the investigation even when her faith in state and local police dimmed. She told her story in 2009 to push to get the cold case unit opened in the first place, and then kept an open mind as she waited for new leads that didn’t come.

Ten years later, Young said a more robust investigative team could make the difference.

“Her case has never been solved, but I know in my heart that it still can be,” she told the committee.

For law enforcement, pinning down a cold case homicide is an aggravating exercise of scheduling and priorities. Even when there are new leads, one full-time attorney is hardly enough to bring a prosecution to conclusion, according to Jeffrey Strelzin, Associate Attorney General. And the churn in workforce can mean that any new developments move along haltingly.

Mainline prosecutors are brought in to assist, but any new homicides can instantly force the department to drop everything.

“You picture a firefighter: The firefighter has got to go to the current fire, and can’t always go back later on,” Strelzin said.

Concord police Lt. Sean Ford agreed.

“There’s nothing more frustrating than when you were making good progress on a cold case and the prosecutor says ‘Oh we have a couple leads,’ and all of a sudden another homicide happens and that prosecutor gets pulled away,” he said.

It’s an experience many surviving family members say they’ve shared. Post last was in touch with the cold case unit in November. “They’re a great group of people, gave us lots of hope to move forward,” she said. “Then all of a sudden another case comes along that needs attention, and now, it’s over. They have to take their time to work on that case.”

The shifting personnel creates its own havoc.

“I can’t tell you how disheartening it is to get that phone call that the lead detective is moving on,” said Ken Dionne, whose sister, Roberta “Bobbie” Miller was murdered in October 2010. “I can’t tell you the devastation when they call you up and say ‘Oh, John took a promotion; he’s moving on.’ ”

These days, Post jumps at any homicide that makes the headline, scouring for clues that push her case along.

“You’re just looking for any kind of similarities,” she said. “Could it be a possibility? Could this be a possibility? And if there’s no one there to look, it’s never going to get solved.”

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