PLATTEVILLE — The apparently random homicide of a 78-year-old woman has residents of this tight-knit rural community on edge, as investigators say they have no leads and no suspects.
As neighbors of Mary Jane Meining mourn the death of their beloved long-time friend, rumors are flying about what may have motivated a ruthless killer to slay her.
Some believe Meining surprised a burglar who was raiding her home in the 19000 block of Weld County Road 251/2 on Friday. Others are scared that Meining’s throat was cut by methamphetamine addicts.
Many question why Meining was violently killed and not simply tied up or knocked out.
“The ruthlessness of the attack makes my heart mourn,” said one of Meining’s neighbors who asked that she not be named. “What kind of person can live with that?”
Weld County sheriff’s investigators have said the killing is probably connected with a Friday burglary about a mile and a half away from the Meining’s farm — $9,000 in jewelry and loose change was taken from the high-end home. The residents were at a doctor’s appointment during the day Friday.
Sheriff’s deputies don’t believe there were any other burglaries in the area that were related, though some residents speculate there were.
Investigators do acknowledge that one of the thousands of meth addicts who live in Weld County could be responsible, but they don’t have any evidence to support that theory.
In fact, four days after Meining was killed, sheriff’s deputies have little evidence in the case.
“We have a dangerous person out there,” Weld County sheriff’s spokeswoman Margie Martinez said Monday. “We have no idea if it’s a local person, if it’s a transient person, if they were passing through, if they’re still here. There’s nothing left at the scene to give us any idea.”
She said the sheriff’s office has sent DNA evidence to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation for analysis, a process that normally could take months.
“We’re calling in all of our favors, our markers (to expedite the analysis),” Martinez said, noting it could be days before CBI has any information for investigators. “We need something to go on. We need a direction.”
Scott Meining of Platteville found his mother dead in the kitchen of her home Friday afternoon. He said Sunday that one of her friends from a bridge club called him in the late afternoon when she didn’t come to a 1:30 p.m. gathering as planned. He lives nearby and said he was at her home within minutes and noticed the backdoor was open.
South Weld Victim Services workers counseled the shaken family Friday and said Monday that the office’s doors are open to others who have been affected by Meining’s death.
“It’s a tragedy that has a ripple effect through the whole community,” victim services director Patti Vissat said. “It leaves a vulnerability that this can happen.”
Investigators estimate that Meining was killed between 8 a.m., the time her husband left home for the day, and 1:30 p.m., when she was due at her bridge club.
The Weld County Coroner’s office completed an autopsy Saturday and officials said there’s little doubt this is a homicide. Formal results of that autopsy may not be ready for several weeks.
Weld County Sheriff’s officials said Sunday night that local authorities are looking for an older model white hatchback that was reportedly seen near the home at the estimated time of the crime. Martinez said witnesses described the vehicle as having rust spots on the bottom and flaking paint.
Eight investigators and a crime-scene analyst are working on the case for the sheriff’s office, she said.
Many neighbors said those investigators were good about notifying them that there had been a homicide in the community and said they are comforted that investigators are working tirelessly to find Meining’s killer.
People who live near Meining’s home are concerned, however, that so many “rubberneckers” are prowling about their rural roads. Even as heavy snow fell Sunday, unfamiliar cars passed back and forth in front of the Meining’s home and the nearby home that was burglarized, a neighbor who asked not to be identified said.
Funeral services for Meining are scheduled for Wednesday.
Anyone with information about the slaying is asked to call the sheriff’s office at 970-356-4015, Ext. 2853.
Jenn Ooton can be reached at 303-684-5295, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.