The Heart of Nashua with Joan Stylianos: DNA profiling can work miracles, as 1988 cold case proves

Look around you — we live in amazing times. Science and technology are advancing at lightning speed.

Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is fascinating to study and has created a huge impact on the world and society in the last few years alone.

I touched upon the issue briefly in a column last spring when I was gifted with an Ancestry DNA kit. All it took was a quarter teaspoon saliva sample to find the general location of my ethnic roots. For me, that was northern Greece. I was stunned to discover that my family wasn’t “totally Greek” as we had been brought up to believe. The results showed that I was basically 57-percent Greek-Turkish-Albanian.

“DNA research is a fast-paced, cutting-edge field, and you can expect us to make more advancements as DNA science evolves,” Ancestry DNA wrote.

Back on a crisp autumn day on Oct. 3, 1988, the headlines rang out across the Gate City. A double murder had occurred in the downtown; two women were found bound and repeatedly stabbed to death in their upstairs apartment, number 7D. I never forgot the names of Brenda Warner, 32, and Charlene Ranstrom, 48, and the brutality of the haunting crime.

Anthony Barnaby and David Caplin, both from Quebec’s Restigouche Indian Reserve, were working here and living in the apartment below the victims at 7 Mason St. The pair were later arrested for the twin homicides.

In the late 1980s, Barnaby was tried three times, and each trial ended in a hung jury.

Charges were filed against Caplin in 1988 but were eventually dropped due to insufficient evidence. Both men returned to their native Canada.

Just imagine: A single hair recovered at the time of the autopsy almost 30 years ago has recently put the two behind bars where justice says they belong, and we can thank the pinpoint brilliance of DNA advancements for that conclusion.

And thank you to the Nashua Police Department and former Detective Frank Bourgeois, who reopened the case in 2010.

“The analysis of that hair showed that was a hair that belonged to Mr. Caplin, and that specific hair was proven through nuclear DNA, which is the best type of DNA of all of them that are available,” Bourgeois was quoted as saying in 2015.

David Caplin, 56, is now serving 15 to 40 years in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of murder earlier this year.

In late August, Anthony Barnaby, 51, was sentenced to 10 to 20 years behind bars for each of the murder charges. Barnaby made an Alford plea, which is a guilty plea, but the defendant does not admit to the criminal act.

DNA technology has finally concluded a 30-year tragedy in Nashua, and hopefully, those who knew and loved Brenda Warner and Charlene Ranstrom can heal and find closure.

Ms. Stylianos is a Nashua native. Her column is published weekly. She can be reached at jtania512@gmail.com.