Evidence missing in two Nashua cold cases

Nashua native Madlyn Crouse, who graduated from Nashua High School in 1920, was known for her "peculiar little sneeze" and her involvement in various school activites, according to a brief bio with her photo in the NHS yearbook. She went on to be a teacher; she was found dead in her apartment in 1976, in a case that remains open.

NASHUA – Two open Nashua homicide investigations are missing all, or nearly all, physical evidence in these cases after the items were destroyed by the Nashua Police Department in the 1980s, according to documents obtained by The Telegraph.

“It’s certainly a black eye for the department,” current Police Chief Andrew Lavoie said. “We let these families down.”

The families to whom he is referring would be those of the female victims whose deaths remain open and unsolved. One case is Kathleen Randall, an 18-year-old Boston University freshman who had gone missing in September 1972. Her body was found on the Yudicky Farm property on Route 111-A a month later. The other case is that of Madlyn Crouse, the 74-year-old retired school teacher who was found dead in her Main Street apartment in February 1976.

The status of evidence in these cases was investigated twice: first by the Nashua Police Department in 2001 and then by the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office in 2015. Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Strelzin said, while crimes may have been committed in the destruction of the evidence, it is nearly impossible now to pursue charges.

State police photo This photo of Massachusetts resident Kathleen Randall, whose body was found in Nashua in 1972, appears on the State Police Cold Case website with basic information on the circumstances of her death. The case has yet to be solved, but most evidence was destroyed at least 30 years ago.

“Nothing was ever determined on how it was done or who did it,” Strelzin said of the missing evidence. “It’s just unclear how it happened.”

It is believed the evidence was destroyed by Nashua police officers sometime in 1986, more than 30 years ago. Strelzin said even if there was enough to support a criminal charge related to the destruction of evidence, any prosecution is unlikely.

“My guess is the statute of limitations ran out for any potential crimes,” Strelzin said.

The first investigation into the destroyed evidence came in 2001, when Frank Paisson, then a detective with the Nashua Police Department, looked into the matter. According to Paisson’s reports, when the items associated with the cases were destroyed in 1986, all of the department’s evidence was supervised by then-Capt. Robert Barry.

Paisson interviewed retired Nashua Detective William Hill, whose signature was on the department evidence logs for the cases, marked “DESTROYED.” Hill stated he did not remember specifically destroying the evidence for these two cases.

The story of the apparent murder of Kathleen Randall, the Massachusetts woman whose body was found in the woods in southwest Nashua, topped the front page of the Oct. 3, 1972 Nashua Telegraph. Most evidence in the case has been destroyed, although nobody was ever charged in her death.

“I asked him who authorized him to destroy this evidence, and he stated to me that the only one who could authorize the destruction of evidence was (Barry), who was the Bureau Captain during this time period,” Paisson wrote in his report.

Paisson has since passed away.

“Mr. Hill does recall that toward the end of his career, that being the last year, Captain Barry had him destroy a great deal of evidence that had been in the evidence room and that he was trying to organize it in a more organized fashion,” Paisson wrote.

Records indicate Hill told Paisson he had been given specific orders to destroy this evidence and again that these orders had to have come from Capt. Barry “as no other individuals had authority to order the destruction of evidence and he would not have destroyed the evidence on any other authority,” Paisson wrote.

Though Paisson did not speak to Barry, his investigation concluded the the destruction of the evidence was not accidental.

The front-page story of the March 1, 1976 Nashua Telegraph details the investigation into the strangulation death of retired schoolteacher Madlyn Crouse. Most evidence in the case has been destroyed, although it was never solved.

“Every piece of evidence has been destroyed in this case and the location of the evidence forms marked “destroyed” across the page,” Paisson wrote. “This indicates to me that this was not an accident or inadvertent, but that these officers were specifically instructed to destroy the evidence in (the) case.”

During the 2015 investigation done by the AG’s office, New Hampshire State Police Investigator Richard Tracy was able to track down Barry, who denied knowing about the destruction of the evidence in the Crouse and Randall cases.

“Barry was firm in his stance that he never would have ordered the destruction of evidence in an open homicide case,” Tracy wrote.

Barry, allegedly at that time, told Tracy evidence officers frequently destroyed evidence in old and closed cases, and he did not always review all of the cases that were being set for destruction. He told Tracy it was possible this evidence was destroyed without his knowledge.

Reached by phone this week, Barry maintained he does not remember what happened to the Crouse and Randall evidence.

“I had no idea that had been destroyed,” Barry said.

Barry sad he never gave any approval for the evidence to be destroyed, and he does not know why that evidence was destroyed.

“It’s been a number of years, I have no memory of it,” he said.

Lavoie, who started with the department in 1987, called the destruction of the this evidence a “huge screwup.”

“It’s serious. Even if it’s a mistake, you can’t make mistakes like that, and you especially can’t make mistakes like that with a homicide,” Lavoie said. “We should have been better than that in the ’80s.”

Lavoie won’t excuse what happened, but he said the department’s current evidence protocols are vastly different from what they were 30 years ago. Everything brought in gets a barcode that is entered into a computerized data system. There are frequent audits of the evidence procedures to make sure nothing goes missing.

Strelzin said the current practice for evidence destruction requires police departments first get an order from the prosecutor, and a court order as well, before anything is destroyed.

Strelzin said while the two investigations found the evidence was destroyed, it still might exist in a forgotten about box in a state archive. He has seen old case files stored in the wrong box for years, only to be discovered when an investigator is looking for something else. That may be the case with the Crouse and Randall evidence, he said.

“It seems like it was destroyed, but I can’t be certain,” Strelzin said.

Damien Fisher can be reached at 594-1245 or fisher@nashuatelegraph.com or @Telegraph_DF.