ALLENSTOWN, N.H. — Relatives in Mississippi could hold the key to identifying a little girl who was among four serial killer victims found stuffed into two 55-gallon drums in the New Hampshire wilderness decades ago.
The girl, whose body was recovered in 2000 from the woods near Bear Brook State Park in Allenstown, is the biological daughter of Terry Peder Rasmussen, who is suspected of killing at least six people across the U.S.
Rasmussen, who became known to authorities as the “Chameleon Killer” because of his multiple aliases, died in a California prison in December 2010. He was 67.
His daughter’s name is unknown, as is the identity of her mother, who authorities believe is likely another of Rasmussen’s victims.
Louisiana State Police investigators reached out Thursday to the public, asking for help finding the girl’s remaining family in the hopes of being able to finally give her a name. The troopers’ counterparts in New Hampshire are working with genetic genealogist Dr. Barbara Rae-Venter on the case.
“Examination of the genetic composition of the child and genealogy research suggest the mother of the child has relatives in Pearl River County, Mississippi,” officials said in a news release. “Plausibly, the child and her mother could be descendants from Thomas ‘Deadhorse’ Mitchell, born in 1836, or William Livings, born in 1826.
“The unidentified child would be the 5X or 6X great-grandchild of one of these men.”
Authorities believe Rasmussen’s daughter was between 2 and 4 years old when she was killed, putting her date of birth somewhere between 1975 and 1977. She was most likely slain between 1979 and 1981, police officials said Thursday.
“She had slightly wavy brown hair and stood approximately 3 feet, 3 inches to 3 feet, 9 inches tall. She had a slight overbite that may have been noticeable,” the news release said. “An analysis of her bones suggests that she may have had anemia in life but this cannot be confirmed.
“DNA testing has also revealed she is primarily Caucasian with a small amount of Asian, Black and American Indian ancestry.”
The other victims found in the drums were identified in 2019 as Marlyse Elizabeth Honeychurch and her daughters, Marie Elizabeth Vaughn and Sarah Lynn McWaters, according to WFXT in Boston. The same DNA analysis that showed the girl was Rasmussen’s daughter showed that she was not related to Honeychurch or her girls, who were all last seen alive in November 1978 in La Puenta, California.
Honeychurch, then 24, visited her family for Thanksgiving at her mother’s house, where she introduced them to Rasmussen. She, Rasmussen and the girls, who were then 6 years old and 11 months old, left after Honeychurch and her mother got into an argument.
Her family never saw her or her daughters again.
“It tore my mom up. She took the blame for her leaving,” Honeychurch’s brother, David Salamon, told ABC’s 20/20 in a segment on the case last year. “(It) just hurts that she doesn’t know that it wasn’t her fault, that she left with somebody that was gonna be horrible.”
The program about the case was aired again Friday night.
Honeychurch and her family have no ties to Mississippi, and they had no connection to New Hampshire before the murders, authorities said. Salamon told the network that he and his family never stopped searching for his sister or his nieces.
“It was just a situation where, every time we searched, (we) came to a dead end,” he said.
A hunter walking on private, wooded land just north of Bear Brook State Park on Nov. 10, 1985, stumbled upon a rusty metal 55-gallon drum. Inside, wrapped in plastic, were the badly decomposed bodies of Honeychurch and her 6-year-old daughter, Marie Vaughn.
Authorities said at the time that the pair appeared to have died of blunt force trauma.
With no missing persons reports in the area matching the victims, the case went cold until 2000, when a New Hampshire trooper investigating the 15-year-old mystery went back to the area to take some measurements.
The trooper found another metal drum about 100 yards from where the first had been discovered. Inside were the bodies of the two youngest victims, wrapped in plastic as the first two victims were.
The children were later identified as Rasmussen’s daughter and Sarah McWaters.
The medical examiner could not determine for sure how the younger girls died but determined they had been murdered. All four killings are believed to have been committed around the same time.
Rasmussen became a suspect in the Bear Brook killings thanks to dogged police work and a California woman’s search for her biological family. According to 20/20, former Contra Costa County homicide detective Roxane Gruenheid harbored nagging suspicions about Rasmussen, who she had helped put in prison in 2003 for the brutal murder of his common-law wife, Eunsoon Jun, 44, of Richmond.
Gruenheid knew that Rasmussen, who was arrested in Jun’s killing while using the name Curtis Kimball, had also used other aliases, including Larry Vanner and Gordon Jenson.
As Jenson, he had abandoned a 5-year-old girl, who he claimed was his daughter, Lisa Jenson, while they were living together in 1986 at an RV park in Cypress, California. Jenson worked as a handyman and electrician at the park, authorities said.
According to CNN, Rasmussen left the girl with neighbors, who later had to put her up for adoption. Fingerprints taken from inside his trailer came back as belonging to Kimball, the name under which he had been arrested in 1985 for drunken driving.
Lisa was in the car with him at the time of his arrest, according to police.
“I was really centered on the little girl, on Lisa,” Gruenheid told 20/20 last year. “Like, was this really his daughter? If it’s not his daughter, where did he get her? Who did he get her from?”
The detective suspected that Rasmussen had pleaded guilty because he overheard her telling another detective she planned to request a paternity test to determine if Lisa was really the killer’s child. She surmised that he was afraid she would look too closely at his past.
Rasmussen, who was arrested for child abandonment in 1988 and served less than two years in prison as Kimball, was released on parole in October 1990 and disappeared. When he resurfaced as Jun’s boyfriend in 1999, he was going by the Vanner alias.
Jun vanished in June 2002, according to police. When friends reported her missing, Vanner was taken in for questioning, at which point he was fingerprinted.
The prints came back as belonging to Kimball, a California parolee who had disappeared after being released on the child endangerment charge.
Detectives who went to the couple’s home looking for Jun found her mummified body buried under 10 bags worth of cat litter in their basement.
Rasmussen, whose true name was not discovered until after his death, was sentenced to serve 15 years in prison as Curtis Kimball. Gruenheid learned a few weeks after the guilty plea that he was not Lisa Jenson’s father.
“I got the call that he was not biologically related to Lisa, and that confirmed a lot of what my suspicions were,” the former detective said. “This guy’s a ghost. He doesn’t exist prior to his (DUI) arrest in Cypress.”
San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office detectives opened an investigation into Lisa’s true identity.
Long before genetic genealogy was used in 2018 to crack the infamous Golden State Killer serial murders, California authorities were using ancestry websites to search for Lisa Jenson’s real identity.
Detective Peter Headley, who was part of the San Bernardino County investigation, told 20/20 that when he got the case in 2013, genealogy databases were fairly small. By the next year, when Lisa reached out to him for an update, the amount of available data had exploded.
As he helped Lisa, now grown with her own family, look for her parents, he began working with Rae-Venter, the same genealogist now trying to identify Rasmussen’s slain daughter.
Rae-Venter helped Lisa narrow down her region of origin while Headley reached out to a distant cousin Lisa had matched with through Ancestry.com. As time went on, investigators located hundreds of her genetic cousins.
The case, eventually called “The Lisa Project,” ended up containing more than 200 of the woman’s relatives — including a first cousin, authorities said.
Rae-Venter told 20/20 the search led her to a man named Armand Beaudin in Manchester, New Hampshire, about 15 miles from Allenstown and Bear Brook State Park. That first cousin, Beaudin’s nephew, had asked his uncle to take a DNA test for California authorities.
The test revealed that Beaudin was Lisa’s maternal grandfather. San Bernardino County detectives, and Rae-Venter, soon learned something shocking.
Beaudin’s daughter, Denise Beaudin, had been missing since November 1981.
When Beaudin last saw his daughter, she introduced her family to her boyfriend, who she knew as Bob Evans. At that time, Denise Beaudin also had a 5-month-old daughter.
Lisa Jenson was really Dawn Beaudin.
When his daughter and granddaughter left Manchester with Evans, Beaudin said, Evans told him they were leaving town because they owed people money, 20/20 reported.
“I went over (to their house) to invite them here for Christmas and found out that they were already gone,” Beaudin said.
He never saw his daughter again but got to experience an emotional reunion with the granddaughter who had been missing for 35 years.
In a statement read to the public in January 2017 by Jeffery Strelzin, senior assistant attorney general for New Hampshire, Dawn Beaudin described her story as “incredulous.” She said she was grateful to have been reunited with her grandfather and extended family but sought privacy.
“I have three beautiful children and a loving husband, and would like our presently happy and secure life to remain intact and protected,” she said in the statement, according to CNN.
Headley sent photos of the man California authorities knew as Kimball/Vanner/Jenson to Manchester police, who showed them to Beaudin. He recognized the man as his missing daughter’s boyfriend, Bob Evans.
“So, our suspect started in 1984 as Curtis Kimball,” Headley told 20/20. “Then we had Gordon Jenson, then he was using Larry Vanner. And now it turns out in the early 1980s, back in New Hampshire, he was using Bob Evans. All the same guy.”
New Hampshire authorities opened a missing persons case for Denise Beaudin in 2016. Her father said the family had never reported her missing because they had no idea where to look for her.
State police investigators also began constructing a timeline for the man Strelzin described as a chameleon. As far back as about 1977, Bob Evans was living in Manchester, where he worked as head electrician at the Waumbec Mill.
He had a string of arrests in 1980 for petty crimes, including writing a bad check and stealing electricity. The following November, Evans vanished with Denise Beaudin and her infant daughter.
In 1985, as the man calling himself Gordon Jenson showed up in Cypress with a little girl in tow, authorities in New Hampshire were making their first terrible discovery just outside of Bear Brook State Park.
As it turned out, police officials there were familiar with a man named Bob Evans.
“We knew that Bob Evans actually spent a good amount of time on that property where the barrels were found, because he used to fix up and do some electrical work at a camp store that was right there on the property” at the park, Carol Schweitzer of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children told 20/20 last year.
In 2017, authorities announced that DNA taken from Lisa/Dawn Beaudin did not match the genetic profile of the woman found in the first metal drum. The victim was not Denise Beaudin.
Denise Beaudin’s body has never been found. Authorities believe she may have been killed while still in New Hampshire but say she could have died in California.
It is also unclear when she might have been slain. Headley told 20/20 that when Dawn Beaudin was taken into protective custody after being abandoned in 1986, she was asked if she had siblings.
Her answer was chilling.
“She said that she did, but they died from eating ‘grass mushrooms’ when they were out camping,” Headley said. “Which says, yeah, there’s more victims out there, definitely.”
Although New Hampshire authorities were unable to give the Beaudin family closure, they did make headway in the Bear Brook case. Using DNA taken from Kimball/Vanner/Jenson/Evans in California, they discovered that he was the father of one of the child victims, who over the years had become known as “the middle child” because of her age in relation to the other girls.
Investigators still did not know if Evans was the killer’s real name or just another alias, so they again turned to Rae-Venter, who used her same methods from The Lisa Project to build a family tree that in 2017 identified their murder suspect as Colorado native Rasmussen.
The genealogist told 20/20 that identifying Rasmussen as their serial killer was the first time genetic genealogy was used to help law enforcement investigators solve a case.
Rasmussen was born in 1943 in Denver but grew up in Arizona, according to New Hampshire authorities. He dropped out of high school and enlisted in 1961 in the U.S. Navy.
He was discharged in 1967.
In the late ’60s, he moved to Hawaii, where he worked in his parents’ shoe store and married in 1968, according to the police timeline. The couple, who soon relocated to Phoenix, had twin daughters in 1969.
A son was born in 1970 in Palo Alto, California, followed by a third daughter in 1972.
The couple separated in 1972 and got back together before splitting up for good in 1975, following Rasmussen’s arrest for aggravated assault, authorities said.
One of their daughters, Diane Kloepfer, told 20/20 last year that her mother once told her Rasmussen had burned his young son with a cigarette.
Kloepfer last saw her father in either 1975 or 1976, when she was about 6 years old.
“I don’t know if my mother knew his capacity for violence,” Kloepfer said in her interview. “But I don’t believe that she knew about his ability to kill women and children.”
She mused about what could have happened to her or her siblings.
“If my mother wouldn’t have left my father, it could’ve been me, would have been me,” she said.
© 2021 Cox Media Group