Alongside all of its majestic beauty the Centennial State is also a bastion of brutality. Its criminal annals are full of some of the most heinous acts of human depravity in American history. From very early on it was a place where natives and pioneers viciously massacred each other to decide the destiny of this magnificent place. It was home to one of the nation’s first spree killers, later became the hunting grounds of serial killers like Ted Bundy and Scott Lee Kimball, and saw approximately six other career killers culling its population in the last three decades of the 20th century. The Columbine school shooting and Aurora theater killings are more recent reminders of its capacity for cruelty. Its urban centers are no stranger to gang violence, either. If there is a way that human beings are able to destroy one another, Colorado has seen more than its fair share of it.
The state’s website hosts approximately 1,700 cold cases dating back to the mid 1900s. Among them you will find the most outrageous and commonplace killings humanity has dreamed up. In sifting through that list I have found enough material for five articles of unbelievable unsolved murders that barely even touch the tip, and omitted many more mind-blowing entries than I have included. Here is the first of five lists of Colorado killings that will keep you up at night.
Part 1: Welcome to Killerful Colorado
1. Randy Wilson
On the 14th of June, 2010, the popular Kiowa High School teacher was found asphyxiated in his vehicle on a country road. His hands were bound behind his back, while a belt was tightened around his neck securing a plastic bag over his head. The inexplicable murder shocked his community and provided almost no clues pointing directly to his killer. The investigation seemed like it had reached a dead end until a bizarre confession led to an arrest in December 2017.
Dan Pesch teased authorities for months with strange suggestions before full on claiming his own guilt in the murder of Wilson. He left numerous texts which slowly escalated his complicity in criminal acts leading up to killing, while also leaving letters of confession at a local mall, and scrawling statements of guilt on windows of an apartment he was evicted from. Pesch really wanted cops and the public to know that he did it. The only problem is that the evidence says otherwise.
DNA collected at the scene and from the materials used in the killing, almost entirely from Wilson himself, contain no trace of Pesch’s presence. He was unable to give any details which had not been released to the public, and was outright wrong in several of the facts he disclosed. Testimony from his family, as well as stable logs which indicate participation in equestrian activities, place him five hours away at the time; neither of which are entirely reliable as an alibi, but seem fairly convincing to investigators. There is also the strange nature of the confessions themselves, which along with his crumbling personal life, seem to suggest a deteriorating mental state. When he was finally being jailed to await trial for the murder, Pesch began to realize the “enormity” of what he had done and tried to escape. He has since recanted, but still awaits a day in court. Depression and a desire for attention, he said, were behind his admissions. His personal history illustrate both his ongoing mental health issues, as well as a propensity for false confessions. His trial was scheduled to begin earlier this week on October 15th, 2018 after many delays, but there is no news to indicate an outcome or whether it has even taken place.
Colorado has a long history of false confessions, including last minute deathrow testimony from Ted Bundy, most of which has been discredited, as well as from the murderous duo of Henry Lee Lucas and Otis Toole.
Meanwhile, one investigator believes the tragic death of Wilson may have been a desperate attempt to escape debt through insurance fraud, by killing himself and making it look like a murder. Late journal entries seem to indicate such a possibility, even though the mechanics of how his lifeless body was found would require some Houdini level skills to pull off.
2. Mile High Hammer Killings
Another cold case which has recently seen some action concerns the appalling yet infamous murders which took place back in the year of our lord Orwell, 1984. For a month the citizens of Aurora lived in a fog of mystery and terror, as a hammer wielding maniac wandered the mile high streets among them. In those chilly days of the first half of January four attacks claimed eight victims, five of which did not survive the senseless bludgeonings. The three who did were too injured, traumatized and/or young to be of much help to investigators, and gave inconsistent accounts. Meanwhile the killer continued to elude officials. Denizens of the mostly white upper middle class Denver suburb, generally isolated from urban and rural violence alike, shuddered in horror at what was yet to come.
After he attacked a family of four on January 16th, his rampage of rape and murder came to a sudden, unexpected end. While the community came to terms with the icy onslaught in the wake of its events, officials scrambled to understand how such a frightening thing could end just as suddenly as it began. Twenty four years later they may have finally solved the puzzle.
Fifty-seven year old Carson City, Nevada prisoner Alex Christopher Ewing is currently serving a 8–40 year sentence for a similar slaughter that took place in that state later in the year. Investigators have strong reason to believe this may be the same individual who committed the Aurora atrocities and are currently building a case against him in hopes of finally shedding light on that dark, distant January.
Meanwhile for 38 year old Vanessa Bennett, who was 3 when she barely survived the attack against her family, the terror has never ended. Her life has been overshadowed by these early events and she has struggled with mental health issues, substance abuse and legal problems ever since.
“I have a metal plate in my forehead. I have frontal — I guess frontal lobe issues because I was hit in the head with a hammer. My skull kind of breaks right here. My jaw is shattered, which is why it’s kind — I need a facelift — I had a tracheotomy here. I have scars on my ankles, stomach, everywhere pretty much. I have a shattered pelvis, but I guess I healed pretty well. I was made fun of in school because my parents were killed. I was made fun of because the hammer man or whatever you want to call it was going to come to my house and hurt everybody when I had slumber parties and stuff. I was made fun of for a long time. My parents dying is the main reason I started using. I had issues with my grandmother growing up because of my anger issues and I kind of turned to drugs. I’m not saying just because of her, but I was hurt growing up, she was hurt, and I just chose a different path of trying to make things go away.”
3. Harold ‘Murph’ Cohen
While the above unsolved homicides have heated up, some cases seem bound to continue cooling until they reach absolute zero of historical entropy. Such is the case for Cohen, a boxing promoter who had rather predictably attained enormous gambling debts involving organized crime in this cold case cliche.
On November 7th, 1949 his body was found in Blue Lake near the Coors bottling plant, swimming with the fishes, ya see? Two boys discovered his badly decomposed corpse, which officials surmised had been sunk using clothesline and steel cord attached to heavy iron and stone weights. It was concluded that he was still alive when associates of restaurateurs and alleged gangsters Eugene “Checkers” Smaldone and Clyde “Flip Flop” Smaldone tossed him in.
There are no new leads in the case. The Smaldone’s restaurant, Gaetano’s: Italian to Die For, continues to operate; having even boasted on its website in recent years of the brothers’ involvement in several murder inquiries throughout the past.
4. Nora ‘Lois’ Coursey
Another death that is unlikely to ever be solved involves a nymphomaniac housewife from the suburb of Englewood, who left a birthday party to retrieve some special napkins and was never seen alive by friends or family again.
Mr. Coursey blamed himself for his wife’s many infidelities, admonishing his own masculinity and sexual prowess in her defense. Her extramarital affairs had caused the family to relocate regularly to avoid any larger repercussions related to her many escapades. Although ‘Lois’ was an otherwise excellent wife and mother, she seemed unable to satisfy her libido within the confines of monogamy. During the 1950s some of the seminal modern work on human sexuality was just getting underway, but it was still too early to diagnose and treat sexual addiction, which Mrs. Coursey may have been experiencing.
The mother of four had taken her children to a birthday party on June 19th, 1957, only to leave fifteen minutes later alone to allegedly pick up some birthday napkins she was supposed to have brought along. In hindsight this was almost certainly a ruse intended to buy her some time for a little non-spousal hanky panky with an unknown partner.
Her car was found on Thursday the 27th and her deceased body was recovered from a shallow grave fifty yards from where she had been killed on the following Tuesday. Evidence suggested that she had been sexually active just prior to her death, and according to evidence gained at the crime scene, the act was most likely consensual. Her killer, it appeared, had bludgeoned her with a large rock as she lie recovering from her carnal ecstasy and its following fatigue in the warm early summer sun.
Her husband and ex-husband were reliably cleared in the case, and many of her lovers were discovered and investigated in due course. Other suspects were also considered, although no conclusive evidence was ever able to link any single individual with any amount of certainty. In recent years cold case investigators have shared a photo they believe could be a person of interest in Lois’ death.
5. Michael Martinez
In his cold case blog series, an invaluable resource for researchers and macabre curiosity seekers, Denver Post journalist Kirk Mitchell declares that Martinez “wasn’t a sympathetic murder victim”. An icy assessment, to be sure, but one I am confident that hardly anybody in possession of the facts would disagree with.
On September 7th, 1998 Martinez and a friend went on a killing spree, extinguishing with complete abandon the lives of five associates he believed had recently snitched on him for possession of an illegal firearm. Presumably not necessarily to illustrate how much he deserved to have guns. One of the victims was his own romantic partner, and others were those he had previously called friends. The attacks were vicious, personal and extraordinarily undeserved overkill, and would not be the last death to mark the day’s events.
That night Martinez’ body was discovered modeling lethal lead on the runway of street justice. At first his co-murderous partner was suspected, but after he denied doing the deed, it was then discovered that the weapon used to kill Martinez was not one used in the killing spree. Since then nobody has been publicly accused or charged in his murder, and it appears that law enforcement and the community are just fine leaving the act unpunished, which I doubt will draw any objection or alarm far into the foreseeable future.
6. Albert Trevino
While our next victim is not exactly undeserving of sympathy, he does seem to have willfully broken some of the most sacred laws of not getting yourself killed. Whether born of the naive, optimistic ignorance of unconditional trust in your fellow human beings, or because he had forgotten himself in the celebration of his circumstances and the inebriation that followed, it is hard to avoid feeling like Mr. Trevino just walked right into his own robbery and murder.
On April 5th, 1972, after a worker’s compensation claim of a substantial sum of cash was paid to the injured Denver area pipefitter, the father of six set out on a taste testing tour of the local ale establishments. Along the way he seemed to make it a point to flash around his wad of cash, whilst recklessly careening towards the shores of utter intoxication in the presence of iniquitous plunderers. In his two appearances at the Newport Lounge he encountered an especially unscrupulous criminal, whose reputation appeared known to everyone but Trevino, who seemed drawn to him like a flame which extinguishes the moth.
Shortly after Trevino left the bar he was followed by the fire and subsequently burnt. His unanimated form was found next to a nearby road in the early morning hours by a school bus driver, relieved of its money in exchange for several deposits of ammunition. Plenty of evidence soon piled up which pointed right at the killer, but before an arrest was made he was extradited to another county and convicted on unrelated burglary charges. No charges have ever been filed, and so as absurdly and incompetently as the whole misfortune began, it also ended.
7. Crazy Jim
Even when achieved through sheer, dogged deservedness, or immaculate ineptitude, as we explored in the last few tragedies listed above, death always comes as a surprise. There can be no expression for the finality of mortal liberation as common as incredulity, regardless of the reasons or means. However on some occasions, like when a guy known as Crazy Jim shows up dead in a septic tank years after disappearing, the shock is understandably mitigated.
The death of James William Murray is as much a mystery today as it was in Jefferson County in 1988 when the body was accidentally discovered in Deer Creek Canyon. Few details survive to illuminate the events which led to Crazy Jim’s killing, let alone about his life and how he earned the nickname. Nonetheless a lesson emerges. If you ever acquire a moniker that includes the term ‘crazy’ and you don’t own a car lot or furniture warehouse that makes low budget commercials for local television, it is time to reconsider the path you are on, and whether it will lead you to a remote sewage container as your final legacy.
As I am finally and confidently relieved (for the time being) of my compulsive need to fall back on snarky witticisms in the face of existential horror, I shall relate the final tragedies below with the solemnity and reverence that each and every human loss deserves. And I hope you, dear reader, will not mistake my playful intent as a storyteller as callous disregard for the victims of violence and their survivors.
8. Karen Lynn Pineda Nelson
It is perhaps one of the greatest hardships of the survivors of murder that they must endure the atrocities imposed by the predator’s attempts to protect their identity. Not only must they live with the loss of a loved one, but will forever be haunted by images of the machinations and mutilations employed in the course of these crimes against their dearest by the psychopaths who intend to cover up their complicity at any cost. And while no amount of defacement of the deceased is easy hide from the mind’s eye, there can certainly be extremes which push the agony up to horror times terror, squared.
On December 9th, 1989, a pair of farmers in Morgan County saw a fire burning in a nearby field and went to investigate. Expecting to find a brush fire or something similarly commonplace, they instead encountered the smell of diesel and the charred but still burning remains of a woman missing her hands and head. As anticipated by the killer, this made identification difficult. But what he did not anticipate with his wanton cruelty was the fresh science of forensic genetics. For the first time the State of Colorado was able to use DNA to identify an unknown homicide victim.
Nelson was last seen November 29th, 1989. She was reported missing by her family the following February, rather than immediately by her own husband, who later claimed his reluctance was a result of his wife’s habit of disappearing for weeks at a time in the past. In May an early connection was made between the Morgan County Jane Doe and the Arapahoe County missing persons report, and by August DNA evidence cleared up any possible doubt.
As you would expect, almost all of the evidence gathered up to the present points directly at the husband, but prosecutors guard their budgets against expensive murder trials in favor of profiting from petty and victimless crimes, unless there is a smoking gun to guide their fiscal and political concerns towards an undeniable social menace, and away from the expenditure margins their future wage increases grow within. There have been no new leads, theories or suspects, and the likely perpetrator has moved away with the victim’s children to start a new life. The whereabouts of the victim’s hands and head remain unknown.
9. Sherry Boyd
If the last case was one of the kick-’em-while-they’re-down variety, the next subject of senseless violence had previously been put down and kicked before she managed to scrape her way up again, and then finally sunk to the bottom of a lake.
On October 16th, 1987, Colorado Springs Police were called to Prospect Lake to investigate floating human remains. There they discovered Boyd, 44, who had been wheelchair bound as a result of an earlier assault against her. The cause of death was eventually determined to be asphyxiation, and was ruled a homicide. The case has remained dormant ever since.
It seems that sometimes the expanse of one’s personal tragedy can have boundless limits for further indignity. And with that in mind…
10. Lorraine Pacheco
One would be incredibly hard-pressed to find a life as confounded with tragedy as the victim of our final entry. At the same time it is a testament to her humanity and resilience that Lorraine picked up the pieces each time and carried on with a such a strong desire for the companionship and affection of others no matter how much people had hurt her.
As a child Pacheco experienced the pain of divorce, which split her family between two states. When she was 16 years old her mother was struck and killed by an automobile while being chased by unknown attackers. A few years later a boyfriend shot Lorraine in the head. She awoke from her coma blind and with severe mental impairments. At 20 she was married and gave birth to a daughter who died two days later, having never left the hospital.
Her mental impairments became somewhat of a blessing, as she was unable to directly recall her previous tragedies with much clarity, although she loved to be reminded of her daughter. She attended a school for the impaired which taught her how to be relatively independent. Then in late 1988 tragedy struck again when her sister Karen Lynn Pindeda Nelson went missing.
(see #8 above)
On May 14th neighbors noticed a fire in Pacheco’s apartment, and attempted to rescue her, pulling her from the flames before they consumed her — but it was too late. Investigators immediately noticed strangulation marks, and an autopsy later revealed she had stopped breathing before smoke had a chance to enter her lungs. More evidence revealed the crime scene had been staged to look like an accidental fire caused by the victim falling asleep with a cigarette in bed. It was also noted that she had been sexually assaulted, and that it was likely she knew her killer and had invited him into her home, hospitable and welcoming right up to the end.
The investigation does not appear to have netted any strong leads or suspects at the time it happened or since. Like her mother and sister before her, Lorraine’s legacy and hope for justice sit dormant in a Colorado cold case file that gathers more dust than attention, while prosecutors chase political careers and law enforcement fishes for financially feasible offenses in the realm of victimless crimes.
Crime and justice are mirror image reflections of how lopsided and contrived our society has become in its blind pursuit of profits and power at the expense of our safety, humanity, dignity and liberties. Surely tragedy will befall the most vulnerable among us for as long as we ignore, or outright blame the weak, and worship strength above all else. Our measure of success is a proven strategy for attaining strife, and the cycle of depravity is fueled from the top down. As above, so below — but hopefully for you and I, not below a foot of Rocky Mountain soil.