Metro

N.H. authorities identify mysterious serial killer

Terry Peder Rasmussen with his daughter in 1969.
Terry Peder Rasmussen with his daughter in 1969.

For years, he rambled across the country under a slew of aliases, leaving a trail of victims while masking his true identity. In the late 1970s, he was Bob Evans of New Hampshire, where authorities say he killed a woman and three girls — including his own daughter — and dumped them in steel barrels in the woods of Allenstown.

In the 1980s, he was Gordon Jenson, a widowed father who abandoned a 5-year-old girl at a California trailer park after presumably killing her mother. In 2002, when he murdered his new wife and buried her body in the basement, he was someone else still.

On Friday, New Hampshire authorities announced they had identified the serial killer, a major breakthrough in a sprawling investigation into at least six slayings.

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His name was Terry Peder Rasmussen, who was born in Denver in 1943. He disappeared in 1974, leaving a former wife and four children in Arizona wondering what had happened to him. Some of those children had spent years searching on genealogy websites for the father they barely knew, according to several online postings. Police homed in on Rasmussen, who died in prison in 2010, through a combination of DNA testing and investigative work.

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As investigators began piecing Rasmussen’s life together, they were stunned to discover that he had a former wife, son, and three daughters who were all “alive and well,” said Michael Kokoski, a sergeant for the New Hampshire State Police who recently broke the news to the family about Rasmussen’s crimes.

“Obviously it was very jarring news to hear about a relative you lost touch with” many years ago, Kokoski said. “They are taking the news in. It’s difficult for them.”

The family cooperated with authorities, and Rasmussen’s son provided a DNA sample. The results came back last month, proving that the man presumed to have killed at least three women and three children — including the Allenstown victims — was his father, authorities said.

Rasmussen’s relatives could not be reached for comment Friday.

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The discovery marks the latest twist in a New Hampshire murder mystery that baffled authorities for decades, until a woman’s search for her parents helped unravel the case over the past year. Authorities said they hope that discovering the killer’s true identity will help uncover new details about his many crimes.

“The idea is that putting out who this guy really is will open up the door to many other people who dealt with the real Terry Rasmussen,” said New Hampshire Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeffery Strelzin. “We’re hoping that his identity gets us to the identity of his victims.”

In 1985, hunters stumbled upon a barrel containing the decomposing bodies of a woman, believed to be in her mid-20s, and a girl, believed to be about 10 or 11 years old, in Allenstown. Fifteen years later, a State Police sergeant newly assigned to the case discovered a second barrel, containing the remains of two more girls, believed to be about 3 and 4.

Authorities believed they were killed between the late 1970s and early 1980s. DNA tests revealed that the woman and two of the girls were related.

In January, New Hampshire authorities announced that they believed the killer of the four victims was a man who arrived in New Hampshire in the late 1970s under the name Bob Evans. They said DNA tests had revealed that he was the father of one of the slain girls; the middle child was not related to the others.

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Evans, now identified as Rasmussen, had been living in Manchester, N.H., with his girlfriend, Denise Beaudin, and her 6-month-old daughter, when all three vanished after Thanksgiving in 1981, investigators said.

Beaudin’s family never reported her missing because the couple was having financial difficulties and they believed she had left voluntarily, according to police. Authorities have said they believe Rasmussen also killed Beaudin.

On Friday, authorities provided details of Rasmussen’s life and called on the public for help filling in the gaps.

Rasmussen enlisted in the Navy in 1961, when he was 17, and was assigned to bases in the western part of the country and in Japan until his discharge in 1967.

He married a woman in Hawaii in 1968 and the following year they moved to Phoenix, where she gave birth to twin daughters. In 1970, the couple moved to Redwood City, Calif., and had a son. Two years later they had another daughter.

Rasmussen’s wife left him in 1973, taking their children with her. The last time she saw him was around Christmas 1974, when he showed up unexpectedly at her home in Payson, Ariz., to see the children, authorities said. During that meeting, Rasmussen said he was living in Ingleside, Texas.

He was accompanied by an unidentified woman, and authorities hope the disclosure of his name will help determine who she is.

Authorities are trying to determine Rasmussen’s whereabouts after he left Arizona in 1974 until he surfaced in New Hampshire. Investigators believe he spent some of that time in New Hampshire, Texas, Arizona, California, Oregon, and Virginia.

The break in the Allenstown investigation came after Beaudin’s daughter, Lisa, launched a search for her birth parents. She was 5 when Rasmussen abandoned her at a California trailer park in 1986.

In 2002, Rasmussen killed Eunsoon Jun, a woman he married a year earlier in an unofficial backyard ceremony, and buried her body in the basement of their Richmond, Calif., home. He was serving a sentence for that slaying when he died.

When he had been questioned earlier concerning Jun, police ran his fingerprints and they discovered he was the same man who abandoned Lisa years earlier. A DNA test revealed he was not her father.

Peter Headley, a deputy for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department who worked with genealogists to help Lisa discover last year that she was Beaudin’s daughter, believes that Rasmussen killed other women and children while living in California from the 1980s to the early 2000s. He is trying to identify two women whose bodies were found in the mid-1990s, one stuffed in a refrigerator and the other dumped alongside a highway.

“There are so many layers still to be peeled back,” said Headley. “We’ve got to identify more victims, that’s the bottom line.”

Headley said he remains hopeful that investigators will one day find the remains of Denise Beaudin.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the New Hampshire State Police Cold Case Unit at 603-223-3856 or Manchester police detectives.

John R. Ellement of the Globe Staff contributed to this report. Shelley Murphy can be reached at shelley.murphy@globe.com.