How missing child case uncovered a serial killer, changed DNA forensics use forever

Former California homicide detective Roxane Gruenheid had helped put a murderer behind bars, and yet, there was something about the suspect that nagged at her -- something in his murky past that told her this wasn't the end of his story.

It was 2003. The killer, who by then was known to authorities as "Curtis Kimball," stunned the court when he suddenly stood up at a pre-trial hearing and announced he wanted to plead guilty to murdering Eunsoon Jun.

Jun was a 44-year-old California chemist he had been dating before she disappeared and her dismembered body was found in her Richmond, California, home. Kimball had originally pleaded no contest to a second-degree murder charge. He had also first told police his name was "Larry Vanner," and they knew he had also used the name "Gordon Jenson."

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Gruenheid, a former captain for the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office who is now retired, had helped uncover the body. She couldn't stop thinking about how this man -- a proven liar -- had already served time on child abandonment charges for deserting a little girl he called his 5-year-old daughter Lisa, 15 years prior.

"I was really centered on the little girl, on Lisa," she said. "Like, was this really his daughter? ... If it's not his daughter, where did he get her? Who did he get her from?"

She believed Kimball's sudden decision to plead guilty was because he had overheard her telling another investigator in court that she was requesting a paternity test for Lisa, who by 2003 was in her early 20s.

"I think ... he believed if he pled guilty ... I would stop investigating that aspect of his past," Gruenheid said.

She refused to stop pushing for answers. Although she and her fellow investigators knew Kimball had a lengthy criminal record, they wouldn't know the full scope until years later.

Eventually, Gruenheid's efforts to uncover Lisa's past helped launch new investigations that eventually led police to believe that Kimball, whose real name was Terry Peder Rasmussen, was in fact a prolific serial killer who used multiple aliases for years as he murdered women and children on both coasts.

Investigators referred to him as "The Chameleon."

The Rasmussen case helped change forensic investigations forever with the introduction of the use of genetic genealogy -- a technique that has helped point to suspects in other major cases, including the Golden State Killer case.

Chasing a 'ghost'

In 2003, as far as Gruenheid and her team knew, Rasmussen's criminal record had started in 1985.

He had been arrested in '85 as "Curtis Kimball" after he was involved in a car accident in Cypress, California, with Lisa in the car with him. He was charged with driving under the influence and endangering the welfare of a child. He failed to appear in court for these charges, and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

By January 1986, authorities said Rasmussen was living with Lisa in an RV park in Scotts Valley, California, where he worked as a handyman under the name "Gordon Jenson."

Richard and Katherine Decker, an older couple also living in the park, helped care for Lisa and had concerns about her well-being - so much so that they tried helping their daughter, who lived in San Bernardino, California, adopt the little girl. Authorities believe Lisa was 4 or 5 years old at the time.

The Deckers brought Lisa to Southern California to meet their daughter, but called police after they say Lisa said things that seemed to indicate she had been abused. Eager to finalize the adoption so that she would not be returned to him, the family discovered that Gordon Jenson had fled the RV park in June 1986. When police realized "Gordon Jenson" was a false identity and fingerprint records from the previous DUI arrest matched him to "Curtis Kimball," they issued an arrest warrant.

Rasmussen was captured and charged with child abandonment as "Curtis Kimball" in March 1989. Two months later, he pleaded guilty to child abandonment and received three years in prison. He served less than two and was paroled in October 1990.

Then he disappeared again.

Authorities said Rasmussen resurfaced in California as Eunsoon Jun's new boyfriend -- she introduced him to her family in December 1999, and he told them his name was "Larry Vanner," according to authorities.

When Jun disappeared in 2002, police questioned the man who said his name was "Larry Vanner," but his fingerprints records returned a match for "Curtis Kimball."

By 2003, California authorities knew Kimball, Vanner and Jenson were all aliases for the same man. But it would be another decade before they knew his real name was Terry Rasmussen.

A few weeks after Rasmussen pleaded guilty to Jun's murder under the name of Kimball, Gruenheid learned the results of Lisa's paternity test.

"I got the call that he was not biologically related to Lisa, and ... that confirmed a lot of what my suspicions were," she said. "This guy's a ghost. He doesn't exist prior to his arrest in Cypress."

Tracking down Lisa's real identity

Lisa's adoption to the Deckers' daughter had fallen through in the '80s because the adoption papers were never signed. Rasmussen fled before signing them and he claimed her biological mother was deceased. Lisa was placed in child protective services in San Bernardino. She was eventually adopted but she grew up believing "Gordon Jenson" was her father.

Gruenheid said she contacted San Bernardino authorities to let them know they had a living Jane Doe child case, meaning a missing child that was still alive.

About a week later, Gruenheid said San Bernardino authorities called her back, telling her, "Holy moly, we had no idea that this case had even existed."

After years of dead ends, Det. Peter Headley of the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Office got Lisa's case in 2013.

"I had taken a look at using ancestry sites for Lisa's identity. At the time, the database was very small," Headley said. "Later on, at the end of 2014, Lisa brought it up to me. I said, 'Let me look at it again.' The databases had grown tremendously."

Headley said he had Lisa sign up for Ancestry.com first and received two hits on fourth and fifth cousins, which were very distant relatives. Headley said he then reached out to DNAAdoption, a website that helps adoptees identify birth families through their DNA matches, and genetic genealogist Dr. Barbara Rae-Venter responded.

"The Lisa ... case was actually kind of difficult, because, normally when you're working with adoptees, you have some information," Rae-Venter said. "You know where they're born, you have a birth date."

"In Lisa's case, we had no idea where she was from," she continued. "All we had was her DNA."

Authorities had estimated Lisa was born around 1981 based on her dental development at the time she was recovered in 1986, Rae-Venter said. So when Rae-Venter started working on the case in 2015, she assumed Lisa was about 35 years old. She also had Lisa do a 23andMe test to narrow down her region of origin, which turned out to be the U.S. and Canada.

Meanwhile, Headley reached out to the cousins who matched with Lisa to ask them to submit DNA samples and one of them agreed.

Rae-Venter said she also uploaded Lisa's DNA profile to two other genealogy databases, FamilyTreeDNA and GEDMatch.com, and asked the cousins Lisa had already matched with to do the same. From there, Rae-Venter said she sculpted various family trees to try to find possible parent or grandparent matches for Lisa.

As more cousin matches revealed themselves and more agreed to submit their DNA, Lisa's family tree began coming into focus.

"Lisa's cousins became very, very involved," Rae-Venter said. "We ended up with over 200 of Lisa's genetic cousins in this project."

After thousands and thousands of hours working on "the Lisa Project," Rae-Venter said her search ultimately pinpointed a man in New Hampshire named Armand Beaudin.

"I was contacted one day by my nephew, and he was working with the sheriff's department out in California," Armand Beaudin said. "They requested for me to do a DNA [test] ... and they discovered that I was the actual grandfather."

Turns out Beaudin's daughter, Denise Beaudin, had been missing for decades. Rae-Venter had figured out Beaudin was Lisa's mother.

Once they had confirmed a DNA match from the grandfather that showed Lisa was related to him on her mother's side, Headley called Lisa to give her the news.

"I called Lisa up to let her know that ... we knew who she was. She got very quiet," Headley said. "I asked her, 'Do you want to know your name?' Then she just very quietly said, 'Yes.'"

Lisa's birth name was Dawn Beaudin.

The last time Armand Beaudin said he saw his daughter and granddaughter was around Thanksgiving 1981, when Denise was with her then-boyfriend -- a man named "Bob Evans."

"Dawn was born in 1981," Armand Beaudin said. "She was only 5 months old ... when they left Manchester, [New Hampshire]."

Beaudin said Evans announced they were leaving town because they owed people money.

"I went over [to their house] to invite them here for Christmas, and found out that they were already gone," Beaudin said. "The neighbors told me that they had packed ... and just left and I never saw her [again]."

When Headley got that information from Armand Beaudin, he said he sent photos to the Manchester police of the man they knew in California as "Curtis Kimball/Larry Vanner/Gordon Jenson."

Authorities in New Hampshire went to Beaudin to show him Kimball's mugshot. He identified him as Bob Evans.

"So our suspect started in 1984 ... as Curtis Kimball," Headley said. "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," he added.

At this point, investigators had connected three mysteries back to the same person. The man who killed Eunsoon Jun also had "Lisa," now identified as Dawn Beaudin, with him for a time and he had been with her biological mother, Denise Beaudin, who hadn't been seen since 1981.

So in 2016, more than 30 years after Denise Beaudin went missing, New Hampshire authorities opened a missing persons case for the first. She had not been reported missing before then because her father said, "we had no idea what to do, or where to go, or which way to turn."

And unbeknownst to Gruenheid, Headley and other California authorities at the time, investigators in New Hampshire had been baffled for decades by a complete different, yet strange, cold case: Two barrels each containing two bodies had been found 15 years apart in Bear Brook State Park in Allenstown, New Hampshire.

That case was soon going to get its biggest break in three decades.

The Bear Brook murders: Two barrels, four bodies found 15 years apart

In 1985, while "Curtis Kimball" was in California with "Lisa," New Hampshire police said a large, rusted blue barrel was found containing the remains of an adult woman about 23 to 33 years old and a female child they believed at that time to be 5 to 11 years old.

A second, similar rusted blue barrel was discovered about 100 yards away in 2000. Police said it contained the remains of two female children, one believed to be 2 to 4 years old and the other between 1 to 3 years old.

By 2016, none of the four victims nor their killer had been identified, but after the discovery of Lisa's real identity, police wondered if the adult victim was Denise Beaudin.

New Hampshire authorities knew a man named "Bob Evans" had been in the state as far back as the late '70s, working as an electrician and handyman.

"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" in Bear Brook State Park, said Carol Schweitzer, a supervisor of the Forensic Services Unit at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

In 2017, New Hampshire authorities held a press conference announcing that Lisa's DNA did not match the adult victim, meaning she was not Denise Beaudin. But authorities said they had decided to test Bob Evans' DNA with the four bodies found in the barrel, and it had led them to a huge discovery.

"They know Bob Evans is Gordon Jenson/Larry Vanner. They have his DNA from California," said Billy Jensen, an investigative journalist and the author of the book "Chase Darkness With Me." "So they test the DNA from the bodies in the barrels in New Hampshire against the DNA that he left in California, and they realize that he's actually related to one of the little girls in the barrel."

The child, dubbed by authorities as the "middle child" because of her age, was "Bob Evans'" biological daughter. She became the key for investigators to tie him to the barrel victims.

"It's extremely rare to know who the killer is, but not know who the victims are. Usually when that happens, that's serial killer territory," Billy Jensen added.

It turned out that the middle child was not related to the other three victims found in the barrels. However, DNA testing had determined that the adult victim was the mother of the other two children.

At that point, authorities still didn't know who the barrel victims were, and they wanted to know if "Bob Evans" was yet another false name or a real name for the same killer.

Rae-Venter said she was called upon again, this time to help identify the mystery killer. After a tremendous amount of work, using the same DNA profile mapping techniques -- building out family trees from matches to the killer's DNA profile -- she eventually was able to crack it.

"Law enforcement suspected that there were probably other victims. And so, they really wanted to know who this guy really was and where he was from," she said. "[I] determined that he in fact was Terry Rasmussen from Colorado."

Rae-Venter said it was the first time that genetic genealogy had been used to help law enforcement solve a criminal case.

Terry Rasmussen's daughter: 'He's a serial killer'

Rasmussen had died in a California prison of natural causes in 2010, but now that authorities knew his real identity, Headley said they could retrace his whereabouts, piece together a timeline of his life and try to find more victims.

"What we learn about this guy is that he had what seems to be a pretty conventional life up to a point. He was born out in Colorado, he got married, had four kids," said Jason Moon, a New Hampshire Public Radio reporter and host of the popular "Bear Brook" podcast, who has been following the case developments for years.

"In identifying Terry Rasmussen, Barbara Rae-Venter has also, of course, identified his whole family," Moon continued. "And his immediate family ... doesn't have any idea what kind of news they're about to get."

In June 2017, Diane Kloepfer, formerly Diane Rasmussen, was working as a records clerk at a police station in Illinois when she got a call from her mother saying the New Hampshire State Police Cold Case Unit wanted to talk to them.

When Kloepfer met with the officers, she said they laid out a sprawling tale about her father, whom she hadn't seen since she was around 6 years old.

"They had all these other pictures from all the times that he'd been arrested under all these different names," she said. "It was him."

As she listened to the officers describing what her father had been accused of over the years, Kloepfer said she realized a horrible truth about him.

"He's a serial killer," she said. "That's the first time I've said that."

Kloepfer said her father served in the U.S. Navy during the '60s and her parents got married in Hawaii in 1968. The family also moved around when she and her three siblings were young, she said.

"My mother tells me ... my father burned my brother with cigarettes," Kloepfer said. "Normal people don't do that."

Kloepfer's mother left Rasmussen and took the kids with her in 1975, shortly after Rasmussen was arrested for aggravated assault, according to New Hampshire authorities. By then, the family was living in Arizona. Kloepfer's parents' divorce was finalized three years later.

"I don't know if my mother knew his capacity for violence," Kloepfer said. "But I don't believe that she knew about ... his ability to kill women and children."

"If my mother wouldn't have left my father, it could've been me, would have been me," she added.

The last time Kloepfer said she saw her father was in December 1975 or 1976 when he showed up at the family's Arizona home unannounced with an unidentified woman. By the late '70s, authorities say Rasmussen turned up in California. Soon after, he was in New Hampshire.

The long road to identifying the Bear Brook victims

So by 2017, authorities had a much clearer picture of this bicoastal serial killer, but the identities of the four barrel victims in New Hampshire still remained a mystery.

"It was around mid-October [2017] that I received information that we had a credible tip that may be able to identify at least three of the victims of the barrels," said Det. Sgt. Matthew Koehler of the New Hampshire State Major Crime Unit. "One of the interesting dynamics of this case as we went along was ... private citizens taking an intense interest in this one case."

While Rae-Venter was working with law enforcement, other amateur sleuths following the Bear Brook murders case had been trying to dig up new information on their own as well.

One of those people was Rebekah Heath, a research librarian, who said she became obsessed with the Bear Brook case. She said she listened to Moon's "Bear Brook" podcast and spent hours combing through online message boards with posts about lost loved ones.

"It's generally something very simple as, 'I'm looking for my sister. I haven't seen her in 10 years. I'm wondering, this was her last known address,'" Heath said. "But then there are some that are a bit deeper than that, where they haven't seen a loved one for 25 years. 'I'm really concerned.'... You get a variety."

As she looked, Heath said she tried to find posts that matched the information law enforcement had announced about the Bear Brook victims at the 2017 press conference. She said she would get a hunch and chase down a lead, then discard it when the details didn't match up. But one day, she found something that caught her eye.

"One post in particular was a half-brother looking for his half-sister, Sarah McWaters, and the locations were [in] California, the time frame was around the '70s. She was born [in] '77," she said.

"Then I noticed that there were other family members of Sarah's mother, who was [named] Marlyse, who were looking for another sister, and I was like, 'Wait a second, so there's two sisters, it's not just one,'" Heath continued. "That's when I saw [another post about] Marie Vaughn, Sarah's half sister."

Heath also looked for Marlyse's death certificate, but couldn't find one, meaning she could still be alive or unidentified.

"There were a bunch of different family members that were all looking for ... this woman and her two children," Heath said. "The ages fitting and then the locations also fitting. I'm like, 'Oh my goodness, you know what, this seems like something ... I think that this could be them.'"

Heath said she connected with one of the family members posting onto the message board through Facebook and started asking her questions about the girls.

"And then she just throws in, 'Oh, and by the way, she married a guy with the last name Rasmussen,'" Heath said. "I was like, 'Oh my God, it's them. It's them, it's them. This is it. This is it. This is real."

Meanwhile, during the time Heath was pouring over online posts, Rae-Venter had come across an article about a new forensic technique that extracted autosomal DNA from rootless hair.

Dr. Ed Green, an associate professor of biomolecular engineering at the University of California-Santa Cruz, worked on DNA technology development and his lab had developed the new hair technique.

Rae-Venter asked New Hampshire authorities to send hair samples from the Bear Brook victims to Green, who was able to extract autosomal DNA from the victims' hair shafts.

"It turns out that hair is a very, very good capsule for storing DNA. It's insoluble, it doesn't dissolve in water," Green said. "The Bear Brook case was the first time anyone had asked us to do anything with law enforcement."

After she received the DNA profiles from Green's results, Rae-Venter put DNA profiles for the four victims into genealogy databases and started building family trees for them, just as she had done before for Lisa and Rasmussen.

"All of a sudden you have two people [Heath and Rae-Venter] ... solving the Bear Brook case at almost the exact same moment. It's unbelievable, but that's what happened," Moon said.

Rae-Venter and Heath's hundreds of hours of research paid off. In June 2019, New Hampshire authorities announced they had identified three of the four Bear Brook victims.

The adult victim was identified as Marlyse Honeychurch. The oldest child, who was found in the first barrel with her in 1985, was identified as her daughter, Marie Vaughn. The youngest child, who was found in the second barrel in 2000, was identified as her daughter, Sarah McWaters.

To this day, the identity of the middle child, who was determined to be Rasmussen's biological daughter, remains unidentified.

"Marlyse was born in Stamford, Connecticut, in 1954... She later married, and gave birth to her daughter, Marie, in 1971," said Det. Sgt. Koehler. "After Marlyse married her second husband, she gave birth to her daughter Sarah in 1977... Marlyse and her second husband separated in 1978 and ultimately divorced."

By the time Sarah was born, police said Honeychurch and her girls had settled in California.

The last time Honeychurch's family saw her was Thanksgiving 1978, when she introduced them to her boyfriend, Terry Rasmussen, at a family gathering in La Puente, California, according to New Hampshire authorities. Honeychurch's siblings said she got into a disagreement with their mother that day and they never saw her or the girls again after that.

"It tore my mom up... She took the blame for her leaving," said Honeychurch's brother, David Salamon. "Just hurts that she doesn't know ... that it wasn't her fault ... that she left with somebody that was gonna be horrible."

Salamon said the family tried to find Honeychurch and her daughters for years, but were unsuccessful.

"It was just a situation where, every time we searched, [we] came to a dead end. Came to a dead end. Came to a dead end," Salamon said. "We have looked and searched for over 30 years for them, with no luck. We have never stopped looking."

Authorities said they now know Honeychurch and the girls left California at some point and made their way to New Hampshire but were never heard from again.

In 1981, Denise Beaudin introduced her family to her boyfriend, "Bob Evans," at a family gathering in Manchester, New Hampshire -- about 25 minutes away from the property in Bear Brook State Park where the two barrels were found.

Beaudin is still missing to this day.

"[Rasmussen] was able to insert himself into families, tear those families apart, kill the members that came with him, and then do it all over again in a couple years with a different name and a different family," Moon said. "Rasmussen's victims were intimately known to him, and he spent months or years with them at times before murdering them."

Honoring Rasmussen's victims

In November 2019, Honeychurch's family members held a funeral for her and her two daughters. Diane Kloepfer, Rasmussen's daughter who helped authorities piece together his past, was invited to attend. While there, she met Honeychurch's family for the first time.

"I don't know that I ever could make up for my father's sins... How do you ever make up for something like that?" Kloepfer said. "They all said the same thing, that it wasn't my fault... but because of my father they lost their sister and their nieces."

"The thing that binds us together is this horrible thing that has happened here, but they treated me just like I was their sister," she added.

As for the middle child, Rae-Venter said she's hopeful she will be identified soon.

Honeychurch's family said they still keep that child in their hearts.

"We call that other little child, we named her 'Angel,'" said Honeychurch's brother David Salamon. "And the focus from this day forward should be to find the family of that little girl."

If you have any information about these missing cases or others, please call the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678) or visit its website at www.missingkids.org.

For any tips concerning Terry Rasmussen and any unknown victims, please contact please contact Deputy Peter Headley with San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department at pheadley@sbcsd.org or the New Hampshire State Police Cold Case Unit (603)223-3648, ColdCaseUnit@dos.nh.gov
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