They were standing knee deep at the site of an old pig pen in Marlow, New Hampshire. It was March of 1988 and the beginning of New England’s fifth season – mud season. This was a particularly thick kind of mud, too, the stuff that would pull your Bean boots straight off your foot if you didn’t step just right. But a credible tip told them this was the exact spot they needed to dig.
It had been 10 years since anyone had seen Russell Bean. He was reported missing in 1978 and an investigation followed, but foul play wasn’t suspected. Not until a deathbed confession and shocking accusation sent investigators to this very spot, a muddy pig pen in small town Marlow, New Hampshire. A muddy pig pen on the property of Marlow, New Hampshire’s chief of police.
Death Bed Confession
A deathbed confession; the unburdening of secrets kept for a lifetime as that life comes to an end. They hold a prominent place in religion and spirituality as well as the legal arena – in the right circumstances, this end of life testimony is admissible evidence in a criminal trial.
Deathbed confessions have given us answers to questions left lingering for years, reigniting cold investigations, closing out some high profile and lesser known cases, and giving closure to families, however long overdue it may be.
In early March of 1988, as Clifton Chambers neared his final days on this earth, his family was by his side. I don’t know the specific circumstances of the conversation, the way Clifton may have waited for a private moment with his daughter, asking her to come closer and speaking in a whispered voice so as to prevent any eavesdropping on the information he was about to share, the secret he’d been keeping for a better part of a decade. But thanks to court records, I do know this – Clifton Chambers uttered his deathbed confession with one last request: Melissa was not to say a word to anybody about the secret until he died.
One week later on March 9, 1988, Clifton Chambers suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, passing away at 61-years old. That same day, Melissa Chambers went to the police in Keene, New Hampshire, and what she told them began an investigation and discovery that no one in the town of Marlow, New Hampshire saw coming.
Acting on information from Clifton Chambers’ end of life testimony, New Hampshire State Police obtained search warrants for a plot of land once owned by Clifton Chambers. On the same day Clifton was laid to rest in a carefully dug plot, another dig for answers began.
The information indicated a portion of the land that was once a pig pen, and this wasn’t going to be a job for just manpower and shovels. The Brattleboro Reformer reported that mounds of dirt towering at least 8 feet high surrounded the dig site as backhoes and other heavy equipment dug deeper into the earth. A late season snowfall blanketed the area, but by the end of a three day dig, the hole was about 30 feet wide and 20 feet deep. As investigators reached that considerable depth, they found exactly what Clifton said would be there. Skeletal remains.
Investigators began the tedious process of collecting each bone and fragment that had likely spent a decade encased in mud, silt, and dirt. This was going to be a difficult investigation, and it was only just beginning.
News of the discovery almost immediately permeated the conversations of Marlow residents. With just about 600 people calling the small town home, news traveled fast. Though police declined to comment on why they decided to dig in that spot, whose remains they were, how they came to be in that location, or whether charges would be filed, they couldn’t keep one of the biggest details from Marlow locals. Everyone knew who now owned the land and lived on the property where the remains were found. It belonged to Clifton Chambers’ son who was also the Chief of Police in Marlow and nearby Gilsum, New Hampshire. His name was Robert Chambers.
Local newspaper reporters were quick to do some figurative digging of their own, trying to suss out what police weren’t saying about the unbelievable discovery. Reporters from the Keene Sentinel approached the police chief at his home, prying for answers. He told them, “I’d like to comment but I can’t right now.”
With the discovery of the skeletal remains in his yard, 36-year old Bob Chambers asked for an indefinite leave of absence from the Marlow police force. He was suspended with pay pending the results of the State Police investigation.
Medical examiners performed an extensive autopsy on the skeletal remains, which had clearly been in the ground for several years. The bones were coated in mud, making the autopsy and collection of any usable date or material from the bones themselves extremely difficult.
Multiple medical examiners and forensic experts partnered on the autopsy, and portions of the remains were even flown to Maine for advanced study. The Brattleboro Reformer reported that, for the first time, a computerized X-ray machine was used to determine if damage to the bones was from injury just prior to death, or the result of 10 years under 20 feet of dirt and mud. The skeletal remains were processed with a CAT-scan, allowing forensic experts to see deep injuries and fractures to the bone that would otherwise be missed by normal x-rays.
The autopsy took several days to complete, but when the medical examiner filed his report the conclusion set an even deeper investigation in motion. Dental records confirmed what authorities already believed to be true as well as the rumors around town – the remains belonged to Russell Bean, who had disappeared in 1978. Russell Bean’s cause of death was listed as traumatic injuries to the head and chest, with the manner of death ruled a homicide.
Russell Bean’s story continues on Dark Downeast. Listen now wherever you get your podcasts or press play above.
Episode Source Material
- Skeleton unearthed in Marlow by Mike Recht, Brattleboro Reformer, 15 Mar 1988
- Autopsy continues on body found in Marlow, Brattleboro Reformer, 17 Mar 1988
- Bean’s death a homicide, police search for weapon, Brattleboro Reformer, 18 Mar 1988
- Bean’s death is ruled to be homicide, Rutland Daily Herald, 18 Mar 1988
- Lawyer: N.H. chief didn’t kill man buried in yard, Rutland Daily Herald, 20 Mar 1988
- Bones found in police chief’s yard intrigue small town, Brattleboro Reformer, 21 Mar 1988
- Investigation continues into N.H. whodunit, Bennington Banner, 21 Mar 1988
- Marlow homicide affidavits to be released to public today, Brattleboro Reformer, 25 Mar 1988
- Court papers reveal Bean’s demise by Mike Recht, Rutland Daily Herald, 26 Mar 1988, page 2
- Wife-Swapping ended in death, affidavits say, Washington Post, 26 March 1988
- Court papers reveal wife-swapping in Marlow case by Mike Recht, Brattleboro Reformer, 26 Mar 1988
- Former chief had friends and enemies in his town by Mike Recht, Rutland Daily Herald, 29 Mar 1988
- Chamber’s son tells of family’s turmoil, Rutland Daily Herald, 30 Mar 1988
- Marlow victim’s ex-wife says she did not kill him, Brattleboro Reformer, 02 Apr 1988
- Wife says she knew nothing, Rutland Daily Herald, 04 Apr 1988
- Widow pondered disappearance of husband through the years, Rutland Daily Herald, 14 Apr 1988
- Police chief denies murder by Adolphe V. Bernotas, Rutland Daily Herald, 16 Apr 1988
- Fight on hearsay evidence pivotal in Chambers case, Brattleboro Reformer, 18 Apr 1988
- Russell Bean funeral held, Brattleboro Reformer, 26 Apr 1988
- New Hampshire judge reduces chief’s bail, Rutland Daily Herald, 30 Apr 1988
- Chambers not indicted by Wendy Mitman, Brattleboro Reformer, 07 May 1988
- Lawyer puzzled by Chambers result, Brattleboro Reformer, 10 May 1988
- Bean homicide case open, Brattleboro Reformer, 13 May 1988
- Chambers quits as police chief, Brattleboro Reformer, 04 Jun 1988
- Police to pump pond, seek murder weapon, Brattleboro Reformer, 10 Jun 1988
- Investigation of decade-old murder will continue, Burlington Free Press, 15 Jun 1988
- Murder weapon not found, Brattleboro Reformer, 14 Jul 1988
- Ex-wife says Chambers killed Bean, Brattleboro Reformer, 06 Oct 1988
- Son contests his mother’s version of Marlow murder, Rutland Daily Herald, 08 Oct 1988
- Woman recants Marlow murder witness story, Rutland Daily Herald, 21 Oct 1988
- Former Marlow police chief is charged in an assault, Brattleboro Reformer, 04 Nov 1988
- Chambers admits to assault, Brattleboro Reformer, 20 Dec 1988
- Marlow murder still unsolved one year after remains unearthed, Brattleboro Reformer, 14 Mar 1989
- Family of murder victim offers reward for arrest and conviction, Brattleboro Reformer, 08 Sep 1992
- Former police chief and murder suspect charged with child sexual assault by Isaac Stein, Keene Sentinel, 27 Jul 2016
- Chambers takes the stand in his sex assault trial By Ethan DeWitt, Keene Sentinel, 17 Jun 2017
- Former police chief convicted on four charges of sexual assault By Sentinel Staff, Keene Sentinel, 11 May 2017
- Chambers sentenced to minimum of 25 years in prison By Xander Landen, Keene Sentinel, 07 Jul 2017
- Former chief accused of sex assault asks to loosen conditions of house arrest By Xander Landen, Keene Sentinel, 07 Dec 2016
- 36 years after man disappears, family wants answers by Andy Hershberger, WCVB, 13 Mar 2014