New HampshireDepartment of JusticeOffice of the Attorney General

News Release

For Immediate Release
July 20, 2023

Michael S. Garrity, Director of Communications | (603) 931-9375

Scott D. Chase, Senior Assistant Attorney General
Chief, Cold Case Unit | (603) 271-3671

Rachel C. Harrington, Assistant Attorney General
Cold Case Unit | (603) 271-1404

Resolution and Closure of the 1981 Murder of Laura Kempton in Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Concord, NH – New Hampshire Attorney General John M. Formella and Chief Mark Newport of the Portsmouth Police Department announce that a cold case homicide from September of 1981 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire has been solved. No arrest will be made, and no prosecution commenced, however, because the perpetrator died in 2005.

During the morning hours of September 28, 1981, the body of Laura Kempton (age 23) was discovered in her residence in Portsmouth, by a police officer attempting to serve a court summons. Investigators learned that Ms. Kempton had last been seen alive in the early morning hours of September 28, 1981, entering her apartment alone after a night out socializing with a friend. An autopsy later concluded that she died as a result of massive trauma to the left side of her head. The autopsy also revealed that Ms. Kempton was killed in the early morning hours of September 28, 1981. Physical evidence was collected from the scene that, years later, revealed a male DNA profile.

Over the next four decades, investigators pursued hundreds of leads and potential suspects, but were unable to identify the perpetrator. In 2022, the Portsmouth Police Department, working in conjunction with the New Hampshire State Police Forensic Laboratory, the Maine State Police Forensic Laboratory, the Attorney General's Cold Case Unit, and Identifinders International, used forensic genetic genealogy technology to identify the perpetrator through analysis of numerous DNA samples recovered from the scene in 1981. That forensic genetic genealogy analysis, combined with additional evidence which includes additional analysis completed in 2023, identifies the individual responsible for Ms. Kempton's death as Ronney James Lee. Mr. Lee died of acute cocaine intoxication at the age of 45 on February 9, 2005. He was 21 years old at the time of Ms. Kempton's homicide.

Based upon all of the evidence gathered during the investigation into the September 28, 1981 homicide of Laura Kempton in Portsmouth, the Attorney General has concluded that if Mr. Lee were still alive, the Attorney General's Cold Case Unit and the Portsmouth Police Department would seek alternative charges of first degree murder for knowingly causing the death of Laura Kempton before, after, or while engaged in the commission of, or while attempting to commit aggravated felonious sexual assault; and alternatively, for purposely causing Ms. Kempton's death by striking her with a blunt object.

"It is my hope that this conclusion and announcement will be the long-awaited first step in providing what closure the criminal justice system can provide for Laura Kempton's family and community," said Attorney General Formella. "The Portsmouth Police Department should be commended for its commitment and perseverance in seeking justice for Ms. Kempton and her family. I would also like to express my sincere thanks to the members of our Office's Cold Case Unit and all of our law enforcement partners that were involved in investigating and finally resolving this case."

As there is sufficient evidence to seek criminal charges, but no ability to resolve those charges because Mr. Lee is deceased, this case will be closed and identified as "solved," but without an arrest and prosecution.

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New Hampshire Department of Justice
1 Granite Place South | Concord, NH | 03301
Telephone: 603-271-3658