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Fighting for Justice

As a New Hampshire Cold Case Unit volunteer, Verne Green Cracks open decades-old murder files

Twice a week for the past six years, Verne Greene has made the 50-mile trip from her home in Keene, N.H., to Concord—the state capital and headquarters for the New Hampshire Cold Case Unit. As a volunteer, she spends approximately 12 hours a week meticulously indexing case files for unsolved homicides, suspicious deaths and missing person cases in which foul play is suspected. Some of the case files are 400 pages long; others include 15,000 pages of information that Ms. Greene and one other volunteer have to review and index. 

“I work on one case at a time,” says the member of Reprisal Chapter, Newport, N.H. “I go through the box, take out any duplicates and arrange everything in chronological order. Then, I take one page at a time and index whatever is on that page, including the name, how they’re related to the victim, and what they said at the time of the investigation. Sometimes that’s when you catch a criminal—when you realize they told their story a little differently each time.”

wice a week for the past six years, Verne Greene has made the 50-mile trip from her home in Keene, N.H., to Concord—the state capital and headquarters for the New Hampshire Cold Case Unit. As a volunteer, she spends approximately 12 hours a week meticulously indexing case files for unsolved homicides, suspicious deaths and missing person cases in which foul play is suspected. Some of the case files are 400 pages long; others include 15,000 pages of information that Ms. Greene and one other volunteer have to review and index.

Her work, although slow going, has resulted in breakthroughs in a number of cases, many of them decades old. Since the unit opened in 2009, the Cold Case Unit has prosecuted seven cases; she says there are still 125 cold cases waiting to be solved.

When Ms. Greene joined the Cold Case Unit, her first assignment was the “Autopsy Project,” which involved locating medical examiners’ autopsy reports from the first half of the 20th century. “We found many of these reports stashed away in their homes or the homes of their descendants,” she said. “So we went to their houses and picked them up. We found a lot of information that we needed for the Cold Case Unit, including photos.”

Ms. Greene also volunteers on the Dean Murder Project, organized by the Jaffrey (N.H.) Historical Society to help explain the still-unsolved murder of
Dr. William Dean on August 13, 1918. Dean went out to milk his cows that evening, but didn’t return home. Police later found him tied up and lifeless at the bottom of a nearby cistern. His wife was suspected, as were German spies.

As new information linked to the case is found, the group discusses where to go next. “It’s a very intriguing case, and it’s the first one that I know of that has gone to a historical society before it was solved,” she said. “The historical society owns all of the investigation files, as well as the ropes used to tie him up.”

Before she worked on criminal files, Ms. Greene was cataloging and preserving court records from 1774 to 1900 in the Cheshire County Superior Court. “They were all there,” she said. “But they were in terrible condition, just dumped in boxes and thrown in the basement.”

It took a team of five volunteers three years to organize the files, which are now wrapped in acid-free paper and stored in the state archives in Concord.

Ms. Greene also has extensive experience with genealogical research. She currently serves as her chapter’s registrar, helping current and prospective members with new and supplemental applications. Her own interest in genealogy stemmed from something her grandmother said to her years ago. “We have an ancestor named Samuel Wilson, and she always wanted to know if he was the same man who inspired the name Uncle Sam,” she said. “I found out he’s not the same Samuel Wilson, but the search did spark my passion for genealogy.”

She wants to pass down that passion to her descendants. Since joining DAR in 2001, she has prepared DAR application papers for her daughter-in-law, two granddaughters and two cousins.

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