AG hoping for tipster, confession: Time a ‘double-edged sword’ in 1-year-old Denise Robert murder case

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A memorial vigil is planned for Sept. 1, 2016, at 6:30 p.m., beginning at the Brookside Congregational Church in Manchester. ⇒Click here for details.

MANCHESTER, NH – In the year since Denise Robert, 62, was gunned down during a routine Sunday night stroll in a quiet, North End neighborhood, there have been no official answers to the two most troubling questions: Who would do such a thing, and why?

Her family continues to hold out hope that an arrest will be made sooner than later, and the closure they long for will come. At the very least, Robert’s death has inspired the community to come together to advocate for safe, walkable streets with the formation of the North of Webster Community Group.

Neighbors and friends gather at the place on Ray Street where Denise Robert was shot and killed five days earlier, on Aug. 29, 2015.
Friends, neighbors and family gather Sept. 3, 2015, at the place on Ray Street where Denise Robert was shot and killed five days earlier.

The group has a Facebook page, which is normally populated with upbeat activities and general news to keep neighbors involved in what’s happening in the city. And that includes the organizing of a one-year anniversary memorial vigil for Robert, set for Sept. 1 at 6:30 p.m. Attendees will gather around a memorial tree planted in Robert’s memory at the Brookside Congregational Church.

Following a brief ceremony, those gathered will walk with candles and an escort from the Manchester Police Mounted Patrol, along the route Robert took on Aug. 29, 2015, from the church parking lot to the place on Ray Street where she was shot dead.

It means a lot to Robert’s family that she is not forgotten.

“The community has been very good to us. We’re so grateful to those who arranged this memorial, and who have contributed to the reward for information leading to the killer,” says Tom Robert, 61, one of the 11 surviving Robert siblings.

“I grew up in Manchester, and have been aware of what’s been going on in the city for all these years. Although I’ve never experienced anything like this first-hand before, the turnout and expressions of sympathy have just been, in my view, unprecedented,” Robert said.

Liza Robert, left, niece of Denise Robert, gets contact information from Daniel Bérubé during the Sept. 3, 2015 vigil for her aunt. Bérubé now serves as Captain of North of Webster Community Group.
Liza Robert, left, niece of Denise Robert, gets contact information from Daniel Bérubé during the Sept. 3, 2015 vigil for her aunt. Bérubé now serves as Captain of North of Webster Community Group.

As painful as it is to have no answers  one year later, the family balances the frustration with hope, and faith in the process.

“There are twelve of us, including our mother, and while I’m not sure what all twelve of us are thinking, we all understand that the investigators on the case are the best people to have handling this. It’s their job and their profession, and we have to give them room to do what they do,” says Robert.

“To be quite honest, I think most of the frustration comes about from what we don’t really know – such as what is happening now. If it’s an open case, does that mean someone is actually working on it every day, or is it a file sitting on somebody’s desk waiting for a reason to open it?,” Robert says.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Jane Young says she’s sympathetic to the family’s frustrations, and their need for closure.

“It’s difficult, I know. Not having experienced what they’re going through myself, I can’t begin to understand how it feels. But I do know that what you want to do, as a human being, is find answers.  As investigators, we know the general ups and downs that come with these types of cases – you get a good lead and you follow it through, and at the end of the day, that lead does not pan out, and it becomes a roller coaster for those of us who do this work,” says Young. “I can’t imagine bringing a family through that experience.”

Protecting the integrity of the investigation includes sparing family members from that process. Young acknowledges it can feel to a family like they are being left out of the loop.

“There are a limited number of individuals who actually know the details of the investigation, and what happened,” says Young. “That may seem cruel to family members who just want to know the details, but if we put it all out there, people may be making false confessions based on some of that information.”

Time becomes “a double-edged sword” in a murder investigation, says Young.

“We have had a number of leads that have been vigorously investigated. Some of those leads we have run to an end, and they didn’t result in actionable information, while there are other leads we continue to work on,” Young says.

Remaining vigilant – as a community, as a family and as a team of investigators – is key.

“There are a number of cases we’ve worked on for a number of years before we make arrests, so we know that time is a double-edged sword – as time goes on, people feel freer to confess what they know. Sometimes friendships and allegiances wane over time, and the cold cruel reality of how this works is that people with information who get into additional trouble want to come forward with information about a murder or other crime, to get themselves out of a jam.”

Young cited resolutions to long-open murder investigations as cases in point: The arrest in June 2016 of Wendell Noyes, stepfather of 11-year-old Celina Cass, charged with the 2011 murder of Cass in Stewartstown; and the arrest in 2008 of Roscoe White, convicted in 2010 of the 2007 murder of Aaron Kar.

“In the Celina Cass case, it took several years to put all the pieces together that we knew, and in the Aaron Kar case, it was a similar process, in connecting all the individuals involved,” Young said.

Tom Robert says the family will continue to be patient. They would rather wait and have the investigation result in a solid conviction of his sister’s murderer, than to see someone get off due to a lapse in evidence, or legal loophole.

“If you want to bring this case to a successful conclusion, you have to take the necessary precautions. We all get that. We would hate to see someone get off in court based on the way something was handled. No, it’s not easy on us, but it’s the way it’s got to be,” says Robert.  “We know we can’t ride out in a posse and grab the first person who looks guilty and hang them from a tree, it just doesn’t work that way.”

And while contact with the AG’s appointed family advocates has been helpful, he for one would appreciate more frequent updates directly from investigators.

“It’s hard not knowing the day-to-day process of an open case. That’s never been explained to me,” says Robert.

Denise Robert
Denise Robert

The unanswered questions are ever-present. There hasn’t been one day in the past 365 that Robert hasn’t thought about his sister. In the absence of answers, he has come to some conclusions of his own.

“I’m not sure what the person who did this to Denise was thinking. In my own mind, I kind of think it had to do with a robbery and heroin – we all know Manchester’s been in the grip of a heroin epidemic,” Robert says.

“Basically what it boils down to is once an addict gets their fix, their next thought is where’s the next one coming from, and they do what they have to do to get their next fix. Why this person chose my sister, I don’t know. But that’s what’s in my head. That’s the only rhyme or reason I have. Other than that, it’s all speculative,” Robert says. “For me, the biggest question is whether they’ll ever find this guy. Yes, I’m hoping for an explanation – not that it’s going to matter, but I suppose it will help us with our grieving process.”

Young says marking the one-year anniversary of Denise Robert’s unsolved murder is a milestone that girds investigators with the resolve they need to press on.

“I can’t tell you if this was a random act, but I can say there is at least one – if not more than one – person out there who knows what happened. We are looking for them to come forward. For whatever reason they have held back, perhaps now they have the strength and ability to come forward. That is what we hope, for the family, for the neighborhood, for the city and most of all, for Denise.”

A $40,000 reward has been offered for anyone with fruitful information in the Denise Robert murder investigation. You can leave an anonymous tip via Manchester Crimeline at 624-4040 or use the online tip form.


About this Author


Carol Robidoux

PublisherManchester Ink Link

Longtime NH journalist and publisher of Loves R&B, German beer, and the Queen City!