Bear Brook is a true crime podcast that tells the story of how a decades-old cold case was finally cracked open with the help of several audacious female investigators.
The reason why the podcast Serial was such a hit when it was first released back in 2014 is that investigative journalist Sarah Koenig drew listeners into her narrative.
Thousands of fans were right by Koenig’s side as she tested the evidence against Adnan Syed, a high school student who is currently serving time for killing his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee.
Listeners puzzled out a series of conflicting interviews, testimony and physical clues at the same time as Koenig, and in doing so, they felt like they were right inside the mystery as it unravelled.
In a similar way, Bear Brook, a locally-produced podcast by New Hampshire Public Radio, takes listeners along for the journey to get to the heart of a decades-old crime discovered in Bear Brook National Park.
Like Serial, Bear Brook avoids being sensationalist or gratuitous; even though both podcasts deal with gritty and sometimes graphic episodes of violence against women.
Instead, it steers more towards the use of groundbreaking investigative methods, and some incredible characters who eventually help to crack a case that left entire police forces stumped.
Bear Brook centres around two barrels containing the remains of a woman and three children that were dumped in Bear Brook National Park, New Hampshire, in the 1980s.
For many years, police officers were unable to identity who the victims were; and any hope of catching their killer became more remote as the decades passed by.
But then, investigative reporter Jason Moon skillfully traces how genetic genealogy – where DNA testing is used in combination with genealogical and historical databases – was used to create a huge breakthrough in the case.
Using genealogical records people generally draw on to trace their ancestors, investigators were able to connect the bodies in New Hampshire to an entirely different murder on the other side of America; and the man who linked both cases.
Bear Brook details the first time that genealogy was ever used in a cold case, signalling the birth of a cutting-edge new technique that would be instrumental in providing leads for a string of other historical crimes.
More remarkably, it sheds light on the stories of a series of determined women whose efforts – generally unpaid and for a long while, unnoticed – were key to finally identifying the family found at Bear Brook, and doing justice to their memories.
These include librarian turned websleuth Rebekah Heath, who spent many evenings trawling family message boards online, and Ronda Randall, a social worker and amateur investigator who painstakingly combed the evidence and traced people who lived in the trailer park near where the crime was discovered back in the 1980s.
Meanwhile, genetic genealogist Barbara Rae-Venter and a small team of volunteers spent thousands of hours meticulously sifting through family trees and chasing down long-lost relatives in an exhaustive pursuit of justice.
It was Rae-Venter’s research efforts that brought about the first breakthrough in the Bear Brook case, leading not only to answers for those victims, but also a whole new procedure that would revolutionize the world of criminal justice.
These women, and many others, were committed to putting the emphasis of the Bear Brook crime back on the victims. It was their dedication that eventually led to the women and girls at the centre of the case having their stories heard.
Tune into the Bear Brooks podcast here – you won’t be disappointed.
Images: Sebastian Unrau on Unsplash, Twitter
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