The Coldest Case

Eugene Mallove gave up everything to pursue the holy grail of nuclear energy. Did it cost him his life?

Illustrations by Jeffrey Smith

At around 11 p.m. one May night, Demetrese Granger drove up to a white, two-story house in Norwich, Connecticut, that had a “For Rent” sign spiked into the freshly mowed lawn. The Craftsman was among the last residences standing on the leafy road, which was giving way to strip malls and fast-food restaurants.

An hour before, Granger had inquired about leasing the property. She spoke on the phone with the homeowner’s wife, Joanne, who said her husband was still cleaning the house. Go over, Joanne had encouraged the potential tenant.

When Granger stepped out of her van into the cool New England evening, a soft light blanketed the driveway. And there, lying on his back, she found a barefooted man, his beard bushy and black. He wore a white T-shirt and khaki trousers. He was covered in blood.

Granger ran back to her van and dialed 911. “He’s not moving,” she told the operator. “He looks like he’s dead.”

Some two miles away, Detective James Curtis was in the parking lot of the Norwich Police Department, getting ready to go home, when a dispatch call announced the homicide at 119 Salem Turnpike. The former officer for the New York Police Department wasn’t terribly concerned. “It didn’t seem like there was anything outrageous to it,” he says. “Those things happen.”

In short order, he learned three pieces of information about the victim: His name was Eugene Mallove; he was 56 years old; and though he was the landlord of the house, he lived nearly three hours away in Bow, New Hampshire. Judging by the man’s condition—beaten, stabbed, and left with 32 lacerations across his face—Curtis was nearly certain that, whatever the motive, this murder was personal. “His face,” Curtis recalls, “looked like it went through a frickin’ meat grinder.”

That was 2004. Over the next 11 years, the question of who killed Mallove would lead Curtis down a path he never expected. Mallove, the detective discovered, was one of the world’s most outspoken advocates for cold fusion. “It’s science well above my intellect,” Curtis says. Yet cold fusion isn’t just a complicated form of nuclear energy. It’s also highly controversial. Supporters see it as energy’s holy grail, the key to saving the Earth from environmental destruction. Critics maintain it might not even be possible—and that any claims that it’s already been achieved are total fringe-science lunacy. Understanding Mallove, and what his death meant, required delving into a world of knowledge and intrigue where the scientist had once battled and thrived.

Last November, on a rainy, gray afternoon, Curtis, a 48-year-old with graying hair and bright blue eyes, drives to the spot in Norwich where his investigation began. “We had to start right there,” he tells me. “We had to start on the driveway.”

Mallove died where he had spent many youthful nights staring up at the stars. The only child of a plumber and math teacher, he had grown up on Salem Turnpike, devouring Arthur C. Clarke sci-fi novels and launching Estes rockets into the sky. Space exploration wasn’t just an idle curiosity, but the means through which Mallove understood his place in the universe.

When it was time to head to college in the 1960s, Mallove went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which boasted the nation’s first aeronautics program. The academic setting suited him. He became president of the school’s Rocket Team and ran high-powered fuel tests in the basement of the engineering building. (Escaping exhaust inadvertently killed the azalea plants outside.) The closer he could get to science, the better. During a trip with friends to Cape Canaveral, Mallove convinced the guards that he was a friend of famed rocket scientist Wernher von Braun—the architect of Nazi Germany’s V-2 rocket and America’s Saturn V—in order to take photographs indoors. “Gene was a dreamer,” recalls Dean Musgrave, a fellow student and friend.

Mallove later recounted, quite fondly, his days pursuing degrees in aeronautical and astronautical engineering. “There were no future astronauts in our class,” he wrote in an essay included in a commemorative book for his 25-year class reunion, “but many of us worked on the ground to help our expansion into space.” After snagging a doctorate in environmental health sciences at Harvard, Mallove worked at firms exploring alternative spacecraft propulsion methods, in order to blast humans to the stars. Yet lab life proved too isolating. Mallove realized that his calling wasn’t to engineer science, but to translate the latest trends, technologies, and discoveries for a mass audience.

After contributing to publications such as the Washington Post and MIT Technology Review, Mallove landed his first full-time journalism job at Voice of America. “I came to my career in science writing at no small sacrifice in compensation, simply because I enjoy writing more,” he later recalled, “and I believed that it would give me greater reach.” In 1987, his professional life came full circle when he signed on as chief science writer for the MIT News Office, just a 70-mile commute from his New Hampshire home.

Mallove “believed in the technology coming down the pike,” Musgrave recalls. “We didn’t grasp that the world was a messy place until he got involved in cold fusion.”

If there was one day that changed the course of Mallove’s life it was likely March 23, 1989, when electrochemists Martin Fleischmann and B. Stanley Pons convened a roomful of reporters at the University of Utah. The bespectacled scientists in dark suits described how, by using what amounted to a car battery, they had been able to run an electrical current through a cathode made of palladium, a rare metal, in a jar of heavy water. The water temperature had risen from 30 to 50 degrees Celsius, remaining there for nearly four days.

That the electrochemists had released heat by squeezing atoms together wasn’t a new concept. For decades, scientists had been toiling away in government and university labs with nuclear fusion—using costly equipment to create a temperature of millions of degrees—in order to mimic the process that powers the sun and stars. Fleischmann and Pons, however, had achieved a nuclear reaction at room temperature on a tabletop.

Mallove, like other scientists and researchers the world over, was stunned by what he heard: The team had discovered cold fusion.

The potential of this inexpensive “star in a jar,” as it became known, was immense. If replicated on a commercial scale, the unlimited, carbon-free energy source could release the planet from the yoke of fossil fuels. (Twelve hours after Fleischmann and Pons’s announcement, ironically, the Exxon Valdez spilled millions of gallons of oil off the coast of Alaska.) The New York Times called cold fusion “the greatest discovery since fire.” Time and Newsweek referred to the two electrochemists as “the thermodynamic duo.”

While the press heralded the discovery, some scientists urged caution. “Suppose you were designing jet airplanes and then you suddenly heard on CBS News that somebody had invented an anti-gravity machine,” Ian Hutchinson, a fusion researcher at MIT, told the Philadelphia Inquirer shortly after the announcement. “That’s the way I feel … highly skeptical.” Others suggested that if Fleischmann and Pons had truly succeeded, they wouldn’t be alive. The trillions of reactions required to achieve cold fusion, says Robert McCrory, a professor of physics at the University of Rochester, would have doused the electrochemists, and anyone else in the room, with deadly radiation.

Nevertheless, nuclear scientists from as near as MIT and Stanford—and as far as Hungary’s Kossuth Lajos University and England’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory—raced to replicate the experiment. Mallove’s job was to report on this flurry of activity. “Everybody in hot fusion had a little basement experiment going … to see if anything was there,” says Ron Parker, who directed MIT’s Plasma Fusion Center from 1988 to 1993. (Today, it is known as the Plasma Science and Fusion Center.)

At Texas A&M and Brookhaven National Laboratory, researchers confirmed the observations from Utah—but they couldn’t find evidence of radiation. Without this, they weren’t certain what, exactly, caused the excess heat. This challenged Fleischmann and Pons’s claim that their experiment could “only be attributed to a nuclear process.” Yet the labs’ criticisms didn’t seem to affect funding possibilities that were already in motion. The Utah Legislature created a Fusion Energy Advisory Council and allocated $5 million for cold-fusion research at the University of Utah. The school turned to Congress for an additional $25 million.

At MIT, a group of scientists wasn’t optimistic about cold fusion’s future. In fact, they weren’t even certain it ever existed. In the two months after Utah made its claims, MIT chased Fleischmann and Pons’s experiment, trying in vain to replicate it. Concerned, MIT offered an exclusive interview to the Boston Herald. “MIT Bombshell Knocks Fusion Breakthrough Cold,” read the headline. The article quoted Parker dismissing the work as “scientific schlock” and saying Fleischmann and Pons had misrepresented the results. “Everything I’ve tracked down has been bogus,” Parker told the newspaper, “and I think we owe it to the community of scientists to begin to smoke these guys out.” The basis of their findings was published two months later in a 67-page report by MIT’s fusion center.

U.S. government institutions subsequently echoed the university’s sentiments. That November, the Department of Energy announced that it had found no evidence cold fusion would lead to useful sources of energy despite acknowledging that “there remain unresolved issues which may have interesting implications.” The department said it would not establish programs or research centers devoted to the field. “It’s dead,” Nature editor John Maddox reported, “and it will remain dead for a long, long time.”

Mallove, though, was unwilling to bury it.

Confident that hot fusion would someday power propulsion systems for limited travel to space, Mallove couldn’t dismiss cold fusion’s energy potential on Earth. After the Plasma Fusion Center released its dismissive report, he got his hands on some of the lab notes that had informed its research. Two tests in particular caught his attention. To his understanding, MIT researchers had found excess heat on July 10, 1989, successfully replicating important elements of the Utah experiment. Three days later, that data, he claimed, had been altered. In the school’s final report, which happened to have been funded by the Department of Energy, the Plasma Fusion Center had perpetrated “scientific fraud as far as I’m concerned,” Mallove later said. To his colleagues, Mallove speculated that the lab intentionally misreported its findings to safeguard its own funding, suggesting that cold-fusion research would divert money already allocated for hot fusion.

“He became more and more convinced that not only was so-called cold fusion working,” Parker says, “but that I and my colleagues were falsifying the data to show that it didn’t work.” In 1991, Mallove filed a formal complaint with MIT President Charles Vest asking for an investigation. Convinced that cold fusion shouldn’t be written off so quickly, and certainly not for scientists’ personal gain, Mallove began closely documenting the battle over the topic. It would become fodder for his book, Fire from Ice: Searching for the Truth Behind the Cold Fusion Furor.

Ultimately, Vest supported the findings of Parker’s team and declined to investigate Mallove’s claims. Yet to some outside MIT, Mallove’s concerns didn’t appear so unreasonable. When his book was published in 1991, notable allies stood out among early readers, including Nobel laureate Julian Schwinger, MacArthur Fellow Frank Sulloway, and physicist Henry Kolm, co-founder of MIT’s Francis Bitter National Magnet Laboratory, who called the work “a masterpiece of science documentation.”

Mallove’s employer did not issue an official response. But the damage was done. On June 7, 1991, Mallove wrote a resignation letter to the directors of the news office, criticizing the institution. “I am proud to be an alumnus of MIT, but I am outraged, embarrassed, and amazed at what has happened here,” he wrote. “The most visible MIT response to cold fusion so far … has been an appalling arrogance and intolerance, combined with actions that have significantly hindered understanding of the phenomenon here and elsewhere.” The skeptics would eventually fall, he insisted. “It is only a matter of time … and it may be sooner than many believe.”

With that, Mallove packed up his belongings and left the campus for good.

Detective Curtis discovered that Mallove never really cut the emotional ties he had to his alma matter. In fact, following his murder, Mallove’s wife was certain that his bulky gold MIT class ring had been torn from his finger on that gruesome May evening. Gone too was his 1993 Dodge minivan. But just as quickly as these belongings were reported stolen, they were found. Within 24 hours of the homicide, one of Curtis’s colleagues spotted Mallove’s van parked outside the Foxwoods Resort Casino, about 15 miles from the Norwich rental property. As for the ring, Mallove’s family discovered it in their New Hampshire home.

Seeking more clues, police canvassed the public for details. Two days after the murder, an eyewitness came forward, claiming to have seen a white man sporting a bandana driving Mallove’s vehicle outside the Mohegan Sun, another casino near Foxwoods. The witness later picked 39-year-old Joseph Reilly out of a police line-up.

Reilly and his friend, Gary McAvoy, were arrested two days after Mallove’s murder for stealing a vehicle in nearby Groton, Connecticut. According to police, when they found the men, Reilly had scratches on his hands and what appeared to be blood on his shirt. These details raised suspicions among investigators when a hair sample gathered from Mallove’s van led them to 42-year-old McAvoy. That was all investigators needed: McAvoy and Reilly were charged with murder in June and July 2005, respectively.

As the case dragged through court, Curtis couldn’t shake the suspicion that “something wasn’t right,” he recalls. There wasn’t enough concrete evidence connecting Reilly or McAvoy to Mallove. In November 2008, his hunch proved correct, when defense attorneys discovered that the state forensics lab had made a mistake. While the hair sample belonged to McAvoy, it had never been in Mallove’s van. Rather, it was snatched from the car McAvoy was in when he was arrested. The charges against McAvoy and Reilly were dropped. Mallove’s widow, Joanne, told a local paper that the family was “heartsick” over the news. (Due to health issues, Joanne was unable to comment for this article.)

Nearly five years after Mallove’s grisly murder, Curtis was back to square one.

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.

David Kushner is author of Masters of Doom and Alligator Candy, and a Ferris professor of journalism at Princeton University. (@davidkushner)