When Robert Honsch woke up Tuesday morning, he was 70-year-old Robert Tyree, a married father living under an assumed name in Dalton, Ohio, a community of about 1,833 people in the northeast part of the state.
By the end of the day, authorities say, his dark past caught up with him as investigators from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York descended on his home to ask about the 19-year-old killings of the woman who was then his wife and their teenage daughter. One of the victims’ relatives had finally reached out to police.
Officials say Honsch’s arrest solved a mystery that began Sept. 28, 1995, when a New Britain, Conn., police officer found the body of a teenage girl with a gunshot wound to her head wrapped in trash and sleeping bags at the back door of a music store at a shopping plaza.
The mystery deepened a week later when a hiker found a woman’s body near the entrance of Tolland State Forest in Massachusetts, about 40 miles from where the teenager’s body was discovered, police said. No one came forward to claim the bodies as missing loved ones or to file a missing person report, police said.
Honsch appeared Thursday in Wayne County Municipal Court in Wooster, Ohio, where he is charged with being a fugitive from justice, said Nathan R. Shaker, an assistant prosecuting attorney for Wayne County Prosecuting Attorney Daniel R. Lutz.
A warrant has been issued in Westfield District Court charging Honsch with killing his wife, 53-year-old Marcia Honsch, according to a statement from Hampden District Attorney James C. Orenstein. Another warrant from New Britain Superior Court charges Honsch in the death of his daughter, Elizabeth, said New Britain Police Chief James P. Wardwell.
“The case was never put on the shelf,” Wardwell said. “We pulled out all the stops.”
The break investigators needed to crack this cold case came last month when a relative from Virginia Beach, Va., called New York State Police and reported the mother and daughter missing from Brewster, N.Y., near the western Connecticut border, police said.
The relative suspected that Robert Honsch may have been responsible for the disappearance and now lived in Ohio, said Trooper Melissa D. McMorris, a New York State Police spokeswoman.
Wardwell said he could not comment on why the relative came forward now.
Investigator Peter Ciacci searched the Internet and came across a YouTube video of a news story about police efforts to identify bodies found in Tolland and New Britain, said McMorris.
The story featured an image authorities had created of Elizabeth Honsch, which closely matched a picture of the teenager provided by the family from the Brewster High School yearbook, McMorris said.
New York authorities contacted police in New Britain. Wardwell said he was sitting in his office when Captain Thomas Steck presented him with a printout of the picture six weeks ago.
“I said, ‘Oh, my God, that’s her,’ ” Wardwell said. “My heart stopped. I recognized her immediately. There was just no question in my mind. I’ve seen her [photo] so many times.”
Stephen Griffin, a retired Massachusetts State Police lieutenant who worked on the Tolland case, said he got the news after arriving home from a cruise to Bermuda.
“You feel good for the family,” he said. “At least now, they’ll get some justice.”
Griffin described the investigation as frustrating. On the one hand, forensic testing established the tie between the victims as mother and daughter and gave clues that the Tolland victim had been in the Albany, N.Y., area, police said. Physical evidence such as a sweatshirt the Tolland victim was wearing and the tax stamp on a pack of cigarettes found near her body also connected her to upstate New York, Griffin said.
Investigator Gloria Coppola of the New York State Police pitched in, tracking down leads in the Albany area and checking computer databases for clues, Griffin said.
“She was unbelievable,” he said.
But when investigators made public pleas, giving a press conference in Albany and conducting interviews with the news organizations, the trail did not heat up, he said.
Griffin said investigators kept wondering: “Why isn’t someone reporting these people missing?”
“That was very puzzling to us,” Griffin said.
Wardwell said the family tried to find their loved ones.
“They never gave up,” he said. “They went to the right place and made this report.” Family members did not respond to telephone messages Thursday.
Robert Honsch is being held without bail at the Wayne County’s sheriff’s office, Baker said. He did not enter a plea at his arraignment, he said.
A message left with the public defender office in Wayne County was not returned.
Honsch was living in Ohio with his current wife and their children, police said.
Kristel Buller, who lives across the street, said that three boys live in the home and that she would sometimes see Honsch mowing the lawn.
She said Honsch seemed to be home a lot, but did not become a close neighbor. Buller said she was shocked by his arrest.
“We always thought something wasn’t quite right, but we didn’t know there was anything fishy going on,” she said.
Wardell said he could not discuss theories investigators have developed about possible motives for the crimes or whether the weapon used has been recovered.
He said police are just grateful the mother and daughter are no longer nameless victims.
“We’re so pleased not to call them ‘Jane Does,’ ” he said. “They deserve the dignity of having their names.”