March 9, 2009
Troubled histories - State is considering unit for unsolved police cases - Bill calls for two state police detectives to look into unsolved cases
By Karen Lovett
Merrimack - Pete Hinkle never knew Diane Compagna or her friend, Anne Psaradelis.
But now he knows their story.
In the summer of 1973, the two Merrimack teens went missing. They were later found dead in a wooded area in Candia.
The now 35-year-old unsolved murder of the two Merrimack teens was shoved back into the spotlight two years ago, when former Merrimack police Detective Joseph Horak published two books about the case,which he has continued investigating long into his retirement.
Through news reports of Horak’s work, Hinkle learned about Compagna and Psaradelis. Hinkle said he then listened to Horak speak at a local book signing in 2007. The two met personally some time ago.
“Everything he said - the dates, times, places, information - was very consistent,” Hinkle said. “I thought there must be something to this.”
They talked about the whole case, Hinkle said, which drove him to connect with a state police detective about the case’s status, and to set up a meeting with the attorney general. “If they were to take the case to the grand jury, they’d need good evidence for it to be worthwhile, and they alerted me to this,” Hinkle said. “It just seemed a matter of the state not having resources to devote to cold cases.”
It was last summer’s break in a decades-old Maine killing that spurred Hinkle to further action. Police tracked down Roger Bernier at his Manchester apartment, connecting him to a 22-year old strangulation of a Portland woman.
It occurred lo Hinkle: maybe, after all this time, something will have changed to bring the Compagna/Psaradelis case closer to being solved.
“We may have some people who have knowledge of the murder,” Hinkle said. “Or people who’ve felt threatened, but now feel safe, (who) might testify or provide information.” Hinkle also learned of the dozens of other cold cases in New Hampshire, which motivated him to investigate establishing a cold case unit.
“It is in the state’s interest for our good image to do see that we do something about these cases,” Hinkle said, adding that he felt for the families of the deceased. “This is the shame of it: They just don’t get any answers.”
Hinkle filed the bill last fall. It calls for hiring two state police detectives and a paralegal in the Department of Safety, plus an attorney and assistant in the justice department.
All told, the bill would require just over $280,000 in the first year, with costs going up slightly in 2011.
Rep. Dick Hindi, R-Merrimack, said while the economy is difficult, he would support the bill and some kind of funding. “I believe this comes right up there and should have a high priority to it,” Hinch said.
Hinkle said his understanding is that New Hampshire may get $10 million in stimulus money for law enforcement purposes, something the state could tap into for a cold case unit.
Grants m ay also be available, Hinkle said, and there may be a way to cobble together a solution with help from Lynch’s proposed belt-tightening measures, such as closing prisons.
Since filing the legislation, Hinkle said he’s fielded several calls from families who support a cold case unit, including 21-year-old Maura Murray, a Bay State resident who went missing in 2004 after a minor car crash in Haverhill, N.H.; Kathy Lynn Gloddy, who at 13 was raped, beaten, run over by a car in Franklin in 1971; and Molly Bish, a 16-year-old Massachusetts girl who was abducted while on duty as a lifeguard in 2000. He thinks there could be a strong showing from some of those folks and more at hearing on the bill, scheduled in Concord for Tuesday.
“I think it’s important that we provide the resources to bring closure to all of these cases,” Hinch said. In the meantime, the New Hampshire Department of Safety has taken no official position on the bill, but several investigators in the State Police Major Crimes Unit, which handles murders, said they are all for it.
“We would love to be able to have enough personnel and the resources to have a cold case unit,” Sgt. Steven Rowland said. “It’s something we feel is essentially needed.”
The state’s Attorney General’s office also has taken no position on the bill, and the head of that agency’s homicide unit, Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeff Strelzin, declined to opine on it himself.
“We’ll obviously follow whatever the law is,” he said. People often assume New Hampshire has a cold case unit, Strelzin said, but in reality very few law enforcement agencies do, and very many would say they could use one, he said.
“I think a lot of those agencies would tell you they don’t have enough resources to keep up with their current cases, never mind going backwards,” Strelzin said.
New Hampshire law enforcement never lets cases go entirely cold, however, Strelzin said.
“We always work on unsolved cases,” Strelzin said, though he added, “They (police) are probably right that the vast majority of their time is spent on current cases.”
Karen Lovett can be reached at 594-6402 or email@example.com. Andrew Wolfe contributed to this report.