Sunday, March 4, 2012

Another Unsolved New Hampshire Murder

Luella Marie Blakeslee
Who murdered the pretty schoolmarm?
by Robert A. Waters

Luella Blakeslee disappeared in 1969.

Her bones were discovered in 1998.

As of 2012, her killer remains unknown.

Blakeslee graduated from the University of New Hampshire, then studied at the Sorbonne in Paris. She'd been employed as a French teacher in Derry, New Hampshire, and Harvard, Massachusetts before moving back home after the death of her mother.

At the time she went missing, Blakeslee lived in Hooksett, New Hampshire and taught at Derryfield, a private school in Manchester.

Reporter David J. Duffy wrote in the Lowell Sun that on July 4, 1969, George Blakeslee, her father, "returned home at about 11:30 p.m. When Luella did not come home that evening, he thought she may have spent the night at the home of friends. Her 1963 red Volkswagen sedan was still parked outside the house." When she didn't return the next morning, George reported his daughter missing.

A week after she went missing, police arrested Blakeslee's boyfriend on charges that he assaulted a teenage girl who was visiting the area. Investigators questioned him extensively about Blakeslee's disappearance and also attempted to link him to the still-unsolved murder of eleven-year-old Debra Horn.

Cops later focused their attention on another of Blakeslee's acquaintances, Robert G. Breest, after he was arrested for the murder of a local teenager. According to the Boston Herald, eighteen-year-old Susan Randall “had been living in Manchester and working two jobs, trying to save money to fulfill her dream of becoming a fashion designer. She was murdered on Feb. 28, 1971, and her body was discovered several days later—half-naked and hurled from a bridge in the icy waters of the Merrimack River in Concord, N. H.” Circumstantial evidence pointed to Breest as her killer. A jury convicted him and he received life in prison for the murder.

On May 9, 1998, two joggers found the skeletal remains of Luella Blakeslee in Hopkinton, NH. At the scene, investigators recovered a weather-beaten handbag, wallet, and comb that belonged to the missing woman.

Breest had long been a suspect in Blakeslee's disappearance. Now he became a suspect in her murder.

For decades, while serving his time, Breest continued to claim that he was innocent of the Randall murder. Eventually, he succeeded in getting the prestigious Innocence Project to investigate his case. On March 27, 2008, the New Hampshire Department of Justice released the following memo:

State v. Robert Breest: DNA test results in 1971 Concord homicide. New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly A. Ayotte announces that recent DNA test results have provided additional confirmation that Robert Breest is guilty of the 1971 homicide of Susan Randall. Susan Randall's badly beaten and partially naked body was found on the ice of the Merrimack River in 1971. Robert Breest was eventually arrested for the murder and brought to trial. The evidence at trial included substantial forensic evidence that tied Breest to the murder including hairs and paint chips. He was convicted by a jury of First Degree Murder and sentenced as a [psycho-sexual] murderer in 1973. Breest was sentenced to life in prison. Under the laws in place at the time of his sentencing, he was not eligible for parole for 40 years.

“In the 35 years since his conviction, Breest has repeatedly challenged his conviction and sentence. In 2000 and 2002, he requested and was granted DNA testing of blood underneath Susan Randall's fingernails. Those test results did not exclude Breest as the source of the DNA under the fingernails.

“In 2007, Breest filed a federal lawsuit seeking yet another round of DNA testing on the blood under the victim's fingernails. The State objected to more testing on the grounds that the jury's verdict already established beyond a reasonable doubt that Breest was guilty of the murder. The State argued that new testing would only further traumatize the victim's family. The federal court ordered additional testing, reasoning that further DNA testing might exonerate Breest.

“On March 25, 2008, Reliagene Technologies completed the DNA testing on the blood under the victim's fingernails and concluded that the blood was consistent with Robert Breest's DNA. This latest test result confirms the jury's original verdict that Robert Breest is guilty of the brutal murder and attempted sexual assault of Susan Randall. The newest DNA tests add to the already overwhelming evidence of Breest's guilt. The State is hopeful that these test results will end Breest's relentless litigation and finally provide the victim's family closure on this long ordeal.”

Did Breest also murder Luella Blakeslee? Certainly the fact that he knew Blakeslee and murdered another young woman places him high on the suspect list.

Blakeslee lay for decades in a cold forest, her mysteries lying frozen in time. Those mysteries still exist. Will they ever be brought to light?

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