After Mallove left MIT in June 1991, he wasted no time developing a plan for his professional future. He decided to launch a magazine that chronicled cold fusion and other energy developments. That initiative meant scouting for financial backing. To make ends meet in the meantime, Mallove consulted with private cold-fusion research companies in the United States and signed on as a high school science teacher in Bow, a lakeside town of 7,500 people where he lived with his wife and two children, Ethan and Kimberlyn, then 12 and 16, respectively.
Evoking his undergraduate days at MIT, Mallove fashioned his family’s basement into a makeshift lab and opened it to friends and colleagues working on assorted cold-fusion and low-energy experiments. Kimberlyn remembers running down the steps to find her father, motors humming all around him, setting up water tanks for cold-fusion tests. Random amateur scientists came and went as they pleased. “He felt so strongly that people be open-minded about possible energy for the future,” she says. There was the “scruffy guy” who claimed he could pick up energy from “the ether” and the “other guy” who sometimes slept in the basement with some sort of “tracking device,” Kimberlyn says, still confounded today by what these experiments meant.
The months passed without Mallove making headway on his magazine. Perhaps desperate, he wrote a letter to his childhood hero, Arthur C. Clarke, on New Year’s Eve. “Being the open-minded scientist that you are, perhaps it’s not too late to disabuse you of doubts that you might have acquired from the media regarding cold fusion,” he wrote. “Needless to say, if cold fusion is real, as I am convinced it is, the phenomenon may have a dramatic impact on spaceflight.”
Unbeknownst to Mallove, Clarke was not only interested in cold fusion—he too was incensed by “the cold-fusion caper,” as he wrote in Science, calling it “perhaps one of the greatest scandals in the history of science.” In January 1992, Clarke wrote back expressing his support for Mallove. Three years later, in March 1995, when Infinite Energy finally launched, Clarke penned the “Welcome” essay. “[T]hough his title may be criticized on logical grounds,” Clarke wrote, “I really can’t think of a better one.” Clarke went on to provide funding for the magazine before his death in 2008.
Mallove hired Christy Frazier to help him edit the bimonthly publication. The pages of Infinite Energy, according to Frazier, were to include everything from technical articles and patents to related news and events in the energy industry. “I was intrigued about how Gene would leave a major position and pursue this,” she says. Mallove had faith in the power of the written word, believing that it could help reignite U.S. government and industry interest in funding the science.
Foreign nations were more receptive to the potential energy source. In Japan, the Ministry of International Trade and Industry earmarked $25 million for cold-fusion research in 1992. In France, Pons and Fleischmann found a home for their work at the Institute of Minoru Research Advancement, owned by the Aisin Seiki Co., a developer of automotive components. In the United States, by contrast, research had fallen into the hands of about a dozen private labs and DIY facilities, such as Mallove’s bootstrapped basement affair.
Mallove chronicled this fledgling industry in Infinite Energy. With little competition, his publication became cold-fusion believers’ go-to source. By the late 1990s, some deep-pocketed investors began to emerge, sniffing around for potential business opportunities. If cold fusion proved legitimate, they didn’t want to miss the payout. When these investors pounced on promising ideas, they were often anonymous, careful not to tarnish their reputations by investing in fringe science.
In 1998, an issue of Infinite Energy landed in the hands of an anonymous angel donor who decided he wanted to bankroll Mallove’s magazine. Not only that, the retired software engineer gave the editor an additional $50,000 to produce a documentary on cold fusion. He “seemed to have a good science mind,” Frazier recalls.
With these new means, Mallove moved his entire team to a warehouse, where he based Infinite Energy and a laboratory with three full-time technicians. Long folding tables topped with computers, aquariums, buckets, tubing, and other gear filled the otherwise bare concrete office. “It looked like a high school science room,” recalls Jed Rothwell, a software engineer who frequented the lab.
Scientists and researchers streamed in and out day and night, Frazier says. As was Mallove’s style, everyone was welcome to use the space for free, regardless of experience and educational pedigree. Ken Rauen, a chemical engineer who oversaw the lab, recalls “lots of wild goose chases,” but also a few hits. Les Case, a trained chemical engineer, experimented with a process he called catalytic fusion. He filled a steel container, which he dubbed “the football,” with carbon, palladium, and pressurized deuterium. When heated properly, he theorized, it would create a Pons-Fleischmann-style effect.
Case’s experiment caught the attention of Wired. The writer, Charles Platt, reviewed Infinite Energy with a mix of awe and dubiousness. “Buried among the far-fetched claims were rigorous reports from credentialed scientists,” he wrote in 1998. “The result was schizophrenic, like a collision between the American Journal of Physics and Weekly World News.” Mallove took such comparisons with humor. “Some may view me like the Richard Dreyfuss character in the movie ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ (to whom I may bear some superficial physical resemblance), who feverishly shaped Wyoming’s Devils Tower in his living room with hundreds of pounds of mashed potatoes—as he struggled to come to terms with what he had seen,” he wrote in Infinite Energy. “Heaven forfend!”
An increasing number of Mallove’s peers, however, weren’t laughing. They thought his passions were getting the better of his credibility. Among those who tried to reason with Mallove, telling him to distance himself from other cold-fusion supporters, was Edmund Storms, then a nuclear chemist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. ‘I would tell him that these people had no idea what they were talking about,” Storms recalls, “and clearly were not very rational.”
Mallove’s old friends weren’t the only ones who had begun to lose patience with the editor. His angel investors had grown antsy as well. In 2002, after just four years of support, Mallove’s major anonymous donor pulled his funding from Infinite Energy. Mallove retained the editorial staff but shuttered the lab, laying off its employees. Finding new revenue streams was challenging. With cold fusion still yet to be realized, people were losing hope in its likelihood. “It was hard on Gene,” Rauen recalls. “We were working so hard to try to convince the world that cold fusion would work, but naysayers would just say, ‘I’ll believe it when you can heat my cup of coffee.’”
Worried about his future prospects, Mallove talked to his son, Ethan, about needing a “backup plan.” Mallove’s childhood home in Norwich had been sitting vacant, and his family urged him to put it on the market to generate income. He wouldn’t budge, saying that he wanted to rent it until he could fetch a selling price he thought was worthy. “He grew up [there] thinking about the future,” Ethan says. “He had a sentimental attachment to that house.”
In May 2003, Mallove rented the home to Patricia and Roy Anderson and their son, Chad Schaffer, for $1,000 a month. This income helped with personal expenses, but it didn’t do much for the magazine Mallove was trying to save. After besieging his colleagues with requests for financing, a new benefactor—a wealthy retiree whose son-in-law had an interest in cold fusion—stepped up, giving roughly $100,000 a year to keep the publication afloat. The donor, who also desired anonymity, insisted that Mallove create a nonprofit venture, the New Energy Foundation, to provide grants to researchers.
Mallove reasoned that the more he was in the public eye, the greater the potential he might cross paths with other funders. He began appearing on “Coast to Coast,” an AM radio show that deals with the paranormal, to champion what he described as a “truly remarkable infinite energy source.”
Additional money didn’t arrive in kind, though, and in early 2004, Mallove began having problems with his Norwich tenants. The Andersons had missed rent that January and February. Around this time, he posted an open letter on Infinite Energy’s website asking for financial support. “If by chance you are one of those who believe that ‘all is well in the house of science’ and that ‘official science’ can be counted on to behave itself and always seek the truth—even in matters of central, overarching importance to the well-being of humankind—you are sorely mistaken,” he wrote, “and I could prove that to you with compendious documentation.” He went on, “But as a first step, you should reflect on the broader history of science, which is so fraught with revolutionary leaps and paradigm shifts.”
In March 2004, the Andersons neglected their rent again. They’d also begun parking their cars on the lawn. The house, Mallove feared, was falling into disrepair, which wouldn’t help his money troubles. Working with a lawyer, he moved to evict the family. (The attorney did not respond to multiple interview requests.)
That month, Mallove got a piece of news he’d wanted during all his years of professional sacrifice. The Department of Energy announced it would review the latest findings in cold-fusion research. “There should never have been a war against cold fusion, but there was one,” Mallove told the Deseret News. “And it’s coming to an end, a screeching halt…. [T]his is a breakthrough.”
By all accounts, Curtis says, Mallove seemed in good spirits during the early spring of 2004. On May 14, the editor climbed into his green minivan, with “INFNRG” emblazoned on its plates and Infinite Energy stickers smacked to its bumper, and drove from Bow to Norwich. “He went down there,” Frazier says, “to clean up the mess.”
Once McAvoy and Reilly were out of the picture in 2008, Curtis dug back into the case. He drove from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania, stopping along the way to interview people with whom Mallove had come into contact over the years: former magazine employees, nuclear scientists, intellectual foes. But the detective wasn’t having much luck getting leads.
In May 2009, Curtis was working an evening shift when Jill Sebastian, a young mother of three from Norwich, came to the police station. She wanted to talk about her partner’s friend Chad Schaffer, who’d been one of Mallove’s tenants. Schaffer had recently visited her home with his girlfriend, Candace Foster. Making conversation with the couple, Sebastian had mentioned a billboard advertising a $50,000 reward for information about the scientist slain nearby. Clearly upset, Schaffer had left the room with Foster. “They don’t know anything,” Sebastian had overheard Foster say. “There’s nothing to worry about.” That wasn’t all. Sebastian told Curtis that she remembered seeing bloody clothes at Schaffer’s house in May 2004, around the time Mallove was killed.
Five years before, at the top of his investigation, Curtis had interviewed Schaffer, who said he wasn’t in Norwich on the night of the murder. He’d been in Mystic, Connecticut, a scenic beach town, and had shown Curtis a receipt from his road trip to prove his whereabouts. Nothing Curtis heard suggested that the former tenant was involved in the killing, so he didn’t investigate him further. “People are evicted every single day,” Curtis says, “and they don’t kill their landlord.”
After Sebastian’s visit, Curtis spent two months scrutinizing all the physical evidence he had, staring for hours at one crime scene photo after another. He searched for any clue he and his colleagues might have missed. He returned to a picture of the dumpster that Mallove was using to empty the house of the Andersons’ belongings. On the grass, Curtis spotted a key chain in the shape of a tiny sun with the name “Brittany” written across it. It had been filed as evidence long ago, but investigators had never identified the owner.
Curtis noticed something odd: Grass clippings covered a bike tire, trash, everything in the yard—except for the keys. “Those keys were placed there after the grass was all cut,” Curtis thought. In other words, they’d probably fallen there after Mallove had died.
Curtis brought Foster, Schaffer’s girlfriend, in for questioning in June 2009. He showed her the key chain. “Those are Chad’s keys,” she said. Brittany, she explained, was the name of a baby he’d had with a previous girlfriend.
When Curtis and a colleague later questioned Schaffer, he stuck to part of the story he had told six years before. He’d been in Mystic, he repeated. Except this time, he told Curtis a very different version of events. He had returned to Norwich the afternoon before Mallove’s murder. Earlier that day, Schaffer told the officers, his cousin had noticed Mallove outside the rental house trashing the evicted tenants’ belongings. She had called Patricia Anderson, who immediately phoned her son. “I’ve been telling you for weeks to get over there and clean out your shit out of that house,” she scolded Schaffer. “You got to go over there and take care of it and fix it.” Schaffer had invited along his 30-year-old cousin, Mozelle Brown, to help.
Schaffer insisted to Curtis that he and Brown had gone to the home only to collect his belongings. When the two arrived, Schaffer alleged, Mallove had called them “a bunch of niggers.” Curtis pressed harder in his questions, and Schaffer finally admitted to punching Mallove once, while Brown beat him severely. Schaffer said his cousin lost his temper, crushing Mallove’s trachea, which is what ultimately caused his death. The two gathered Foster from her home—a deliberate move, Curtis speculates, in a failed effort to make her complicit in the crime and unable to testify against them—and returned to the house to steal Mallove’s vehicle. They had hoped to stage the scene as a robbery.
On April 20, 2012, Schaffer pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter and accessory to third-degree robbery for a sentence of 25 years in prison. (Mallove’s son, Ethan, calls this “an insanely short sentence for the horrific manner in which this crime was carried out.”) In January 2015, Brown was found guilty of murder and conspiracy to commit murder and sentenced to 58 years. Foster, who had already served nearly five years in prison while awaiting trial, pleaded guilty to hindering prosecution and tampering with evidence. She is now on five years’ probation.
These days, cold fusion is known as Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR). It continues to fight for legitimacy—and to generate scientific drama. In April, LENR was in the news when Italian engineer Andrea Rossi filed a claim against Industrial Heat, an investing and research company. Rossi, creator of the Energy Catalyser, or E-Cat, a small device that produces excess energy beyond its consumption, claims Industrial Heat agreed to pay him $100 million—$11.5 million of which was due after the first 24-hour trial—to pursue a secret long-term test of the technology. The company never ponied up the cash. Rossi claimed Industrial Heat stole his intellectual property. Industrial Heat said in a news release that it “worked for over three years to substantiate the results claimed by Mr. Rossi from the E-Cat technology—all without success.”
Other developments in the field haven’t been quite so theatrical. In November 2014, Bill Gates visited Italy’s leading hub for LENR research, the Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy, and Sustainable Economic Development, where he was briefed on the latest cold-fusion activities. Per the usual pattern, nothing substantial was announced after the meeting. The year prior, in September 2013, the Department of Energy called for LENR proposals as part of a $10 million funding project under its Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. To date, not a penny has been spent on a venture.
Although these recent developments might seem to elongate the list of LENR’s historical failures, Mallove very well might have valued them as industry gains. To him, the ultimate success for scientists was to “heed the eternal challenge of science not to follow where the worn path may lead, but to go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
His contributions continue. Infinite Energy, which weathered the 2008 financial storm that many other publications did not, still lands in mailboxes in 21 countries around the world. The New Energy Foundation funds research in the field, and it has received more than $1 million in donor funds since its launch.
Today, only brush and trees remain on the piece of land that once held Mallove’s childhood home on Salem Turnpike, which was torn down four years after his death. Cars come and go from a nearby McDonald’s.
Curtis still passes Mallove’s old place from time to time. To him, the property is more than the site of a solved murder. Curtis wonders what Mallove’s legacy in global energy might have been if he hadn’t died. “We’ll never know,” he says.
A version of this article originally appeared in the July/August issue of FP magazine.