Foreign Policy Magazine

The Coldest Case

Hoping to find answers to the world’s energy woes, Eugene Mallove left a career in science’s mainstream for one on its fringes. He sacrificed many things along the way. Was his life one of them?

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.

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