Families ache for answers on New Hampshire killings, cold cases

  • Tom Robert is still looking for answers from the New Hampshire Department of Justice in the death of his 62-year-old sister Denise Robert. Concord Monitor — GEOFF FORESTER

  • Tom Robert is still looking for answers from the New Hampshire Department of Justice in the death of his 62-year-old sister Denise Robert.

  • The most recent photo of the Robert family together. Denise Robert is on the second row on the left. Tom Robert—Courtesy

  • Denise Robert was killed in Manchester 2015. Her family is still waiting for her murder to be solved. Tom Robert—Courtesy

  • Denise Robert was killed in Manchester 2015. Her family is still waiting for her murder to be solved. Tom Robert—Courtesy

  • An early family photo of the Robert family from the 1960s. Denise Robert is in the back row on the right. Tom Robert—Courtesy

Concord Monitor
Published: 5/7/2022 9:57:59 PM
Modified: 5/7/2022 9:57:57 PM

Tom Robert still remembers waking up at 3 a.m. on an August morning seven years ago to a loud knocking on his front door. A Manchester police officer and a prosecutor from the New Hampshire Department of Justice had come to tell him that his 62-year-old sister, Denise, had been murdered.

Denise, an avid hiker, was out for her regular Sunday evening walk in 2015 when she was shot to death. She was found on Ray Street in Manchester’s North End.

The mystery of Denise Robert’s death still hasn’t been solved, leaving the family in limbo. While the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office said the investigation is still active, no arrests were ever made. Police never found the bullet that killed his older sister, Tom Robert said.

“It’s like there’s no closure,” Tom Robert said. “Denise has been pronounced dead, and she’s been buried. We’re still waiting.”

The family of Steve and Wendy Reid, the retired Concord couple found shot to death near the Broken Ground trails on April 21, are waiting for police to solve that nearly three-week-old case. Concord Police and the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office continue to investigate the double homicide. This week, authorities began offering a $5,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest in the Reids’ killing.

Tom Robert grew up as the third-oldest of 12 children in a French-Canadian Manchester family. The oldest kids, including the eldest Denise, were expected to keep the younger kids in line, getting them dressed for school in the morning and into their pajamas at night.

Denise was an energetic and artistic woman with a gift for building relationships, convincing even the most reluctant small business owners to buy advertising in the New Hampshire Union Leader. Her family described her as fitness-loving, chronically late, and a loving older sister who shepherded her younger siblings through life.

She began her advertising career at The Neighborhood News, which was later purchased by the Union Leader. At the time of her death on Aug. 30, 2015, she was living with her mother in a North End condo. Denise was buried in a family plot in Mount Calvary Cemetery in Manchester, now shared with one of her brothers.

After his sister’s death, Tom became the family’s de facto spokesman, talking to journalists, investigators and even a mystic in hopes of drumming up anything that could lead to a breakthrough in the case. An early interview with a Union Leader reporter illustrated that Tom could keep a cool head when his mother or other siblings became overwhelmed with emotion.

Tom remembers police following every available lead in the early days and weeks after the murder, trying to determine who fired the single gunshot that killed his big sister. As in the Reid case, the FBI assisted local police and the Attorney General’s Office in the homicide investigation.

“To the best of my knowledge, they didn’t come away with much. They didn’t have a lot to go on,” Robert said. Investigators mainly focused their efforts on a man in a truck who was reported driving away from the scene, he said.

Since then, Tom has kept in touch with investigators, who still take his phone calls. He understands better than most how disappointing it can be for a family to wait for answers but hear little about a case.

“It’s been frustrating for us. They don’t tell you much,” he said.

Publicizing too much information before an arrest can jeopardize an investigation by allowing evidence to be destroyed or witnesses to be tampered with, Associate Attorney General Jeff Strelzin said last week about the Reids’ case. That could make it harder to prosecute a case when it goes to court.

“It’s really not about ‘does the public get information,’ it’s about timing,” Strelzin said on April 29.

Police have told Tom Robert that the more public attention his sister’s case receives, the more likely it is that someone with knowledge of Denise’s murder could develop a guilty conscience, lose loyalty to the killer or just talk too candidly in a crowded bar.

The Robert family has never lost hope. Tom points out that some New Hampshire cold cases have been solved, including the murders of four people whose bodies were found in Bear Brook State Park.

“The system does work. But between now and then, we just have to bide our time,” he said.

In the absence of concrete answers, speculation about who killed Robert and why has run wild. Just as in the Reids’ case, some theories have a conspiratorial bent.

Tom said he has tried to keep an open mind to any possibility, even ones that might be hard to consider — like the chance that his upstanding big sister was living a double life.

“We think it’s out of character, but who knows?” he said. “Maybe we have to accept that she wasn’t the person we thought she was.”

He has one piece of advice for the Reid family: Cultivate personal relationships with people involved with investigating the case.

“Reach out to whoever offers to talk,” Robert said. Police and Department of Justice staff have kept him in the loop as much as possible without compromising the investigation, he said.

Tom Robert said his family is not out for revenge, but wants justice and to prevent other murders.

“We’re not looking for retribution, we’re not looking for blood or money or anything like that,” he said. “But just to set things as right as we can. And closure on a personal level would be nice too.”

“My sister’s gone, but my family and all of us have to live in the world after she’s gone,” Robert said.

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