The New Hampshire Union Leader

December 8, 2010

Year-old unit seeks to bring closure to state's cold cases

By Lorna Colquhoun

WELLS RIVER, Vt. -- More than five years have passed since the horrible September night when Betty Conrad's son Tom was shot and killed in the driveway of the home they shared in Pike, N.H.

In all the years since, no arrest has been made, but on Monday, Betty Conrad and more than 30 people got an assurance from the head of New Hampshire's Cold Case Unit.

"We are actively working on this case, and there are developments we are actively pursuing," said Assistant Attorney General Will Delker. "This has a good chance of being resolved. I don't want to give the impression that an arrest is imminent, but there are some positive developments."

Delker was the guest speaker at the monthly meeting of the Good Ole Boys, a decades-old social organization in Haverhill, N.H. Betty Conrad and her son Mike were among the guests, and an officer of the club said the meeting turnout was high because there is interest in the case of Tom Conrad.

Delker's talk came just days after the cold case unit issued its first status report on Dec. 1.

The unit, established when Gov. John Lynch signed HB 690 in to law in July 2009, includes Delker and three other detectives who are dedicated to solving cases that were not solved by initial investigations. Some of the unit's cases date back to the 1960s.

"It's the first effort in New Hampshire history to have a dedicated unit of investigators and prosecutors to work on unsolved homicide cases," Delker said.

In the past, when a case was left unresolved and went "cold," Delker said, newer cases got priority over them. But the 2009 law, funded through stimulus money for three years, ensures that manpower won't "get pulled off for the next active effort."

When the unit first came together, its first task was to inventory all the unsolved cases that were not collected in one place, but rather within the institutional knowledge of local police departments and the state Attorney General's Office.

In all, "there are 119 victims of homicide that didn't result in prosecution," Delker said, noting that after the creation of a website, four additional cases were added due to public response.

The first success for the unit came last summer with the arrest of David B. McLeod, who is now charged with four counts of second-degree murder in the 1989 deaths of the Hina family of Keene, N.H., including Carl Hina, his wife Lori and daughters Sara, 12, and infant Lillian.

They perished in a house fire.

Once established, the cold case unit set about establishing protocols, implementing a case management system for keeping track of the cases and tips, and taking up cases like the Conrad murder with "high solvability factors," according to the status report.

In the year since the cold case website was established, investigators have received more than 300 tips relating to 74 of the cases.

In addition to the Conrad case, Delker noted two other high-profile cases in Grafton County that the cold case unit is investigating.

"The case of Maura Murray has not been ruled a homicide and still a missing persons case, but circumstance lead us to believe that she is missing because of foul play," he said of the 2004 case of the Massachusetts woman who disappeared without a trace between a minor accident on Route 112 in Swiftwater, N.H., and the response of a Haverhill police officer a few minutes later.

The other case he noted was the 1991 stabbing death of Plymouth State College assistant registrar Tess Reed.

"That case has definite potential -- we have leads that can be followed," Delker said.

According to the status report, the cold case unit is "currently actively investigating approximately five cases," and has worked on 25 cases in the past 12 months.

According to the report, "These efforts vary from the review of the case file to determine the validity of a tip, working with local law enforcement agencies which are investigating cold cases, and responding to inquiries from family members of victims."

The report also states that, "Because of the sensitive nature of these investigative efforts, it is not appropriate to discuss the particulars of those investigations in more details."

For families like the Conrads, the cold case unit gives them hope for resolution and justice.

"I don't think you get full closure," Betty Conrad said, "but it would be helpful to know."

"I have a lot of faith in them," she said of the investigators who keep in touch with her.

Looking ahead, the unit intends to continue its work over the next 18 months.

According to the status report, "While there are no guarantees that the Unit will be able to develop sufficient evidence to charge anyone over that time, the members of the unit are cautiously optimistic that its current investigative efforts will result in the resolution of additional cases within that time."