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A series examining nearly 100 unsolved murders in the region

Lasting Legacy

B.J. Plasket
The Daily Times-Call
2001 Times-Call Publishing Co.

   LONGMONT In 1996 Boulder County came under a national spotlight that was neither welcome nor flattering.

    The murder of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey brought talk-show ridicule to Boulder police, who admitted moving the child's body and who allowed dozens of people to taint the crime scene.

   It also put the heat on longtime district attorney Alex Hunter, whose feud with lead detective  John Eller included Hunter allegedly feeding negative information about Eller to the media in a flap that ended with police sending a wired informant into Hunter's office.

   But Boulder County's legacy of unsolved homicides was well established before the world had ever heard of JonBenet Ramsey.

   Boulder County's list of unsolved homicides stretches from one century to another.

   It also crosses economic, geographical and racial lines.

   The list with more than 30 victims contains the names of both privileged community leaders and unknowns who lived on  Longmont's east side.

   Some of the cases are too old to ever be solved, with both witnesses and suspects long deceased. As time goes on, other unsolved cases will join that list.

   The list stretches from the 1915 shooting death of Longmont community leader W. H. Dickens to a series of murders in the 1990s.

   The deaths of JonBenet Ramsey and Susannah Chase remain unsolved in spite of unprecedented publicity.

   The 1990s also saw the less-publicized slaying of  Boulder's Marty Grisham.

   Even less publicized were the 1999 strangulation death of Bernadine Frost, as well as the 1998 beating death of Gerald Trostle in his home.

   No one has been arrested in either case.

    While suspects have been hard to come by in Boulder County's murders, the circumstances of many of them are predictable.

    "I'd say at least half of them involve alcohol or drugs," said Longmont Police Detective Tom Fixmer.

   In the case of Frost, domestic violence is also suspected. Police believe someone she knew well killed her, dragged her body around the corner and left it in the street.

   If domestic violence played a role in Frost's death, she was one of 7,302 people in Colorado who, according to state crime statistics,  became domestic-violence victims in 1999.

   The  county's unsolved murders have produced suspects who are domestic partners, roommates, friends and strangers.

   They have produced victims who were rich, poor, male and female.

   Those victims have been found in their beds, in the streets and in the scenic mountain canyons that pour into the western end of the county.

  The perception of an upscale, idyllic Boulder County, however, has remained. 

   Hunter, on his last day in office, called Boulder County "statistically, one of the safest places to live."

   Longmont Police Chief Mike Butler, when asked recently if it is safe to live in Longmont, gave a different answer, saying it "depends who you live with."

    District Attorney Mary Keenan said she, too believes the streets are safe, although your home may not be.

   "My impression is that the majority of our homicides are committed by acquaintances, usually crimes of passion, domestic violence," she said.

   "In Boulder County, you are more likely to be killed in your home by someone you know than by just someone out on the street."

   June Menger, the mother of 1983 murder victim Sid Wells, offers another perspective on a crime that has eluded justice for 17 years.

   Wells was 22 when he was killed by a shotgun blast in his Boulder apartment. Police later arrested his roommate, Thayne Smika, but Smika was released when Hunter declined to file charges against him.

   In an interview for this series, Menger said police have told her little over the years about her son's case and that most of her information has come from the media.

   Keenan, however, defended the official silence.

   "We do try and stay in contact with victims and their families when we have something to tell them. We don't keep in contact when we don't have anything to tell them." 

    In the Wells case, police may soon have something to tell June Menger.

  Police are once again looking for Smika and are reportedly close to seeking another arrest warrant for him.

   In the coming days this series will examine the cases of Wells, Ramsey, Chase, Grisham, Frost and many of the other 30 unsolved homicides in Boulder County.

Those stories will feature interviews with family members who still harbor pain and bitterness over their losses and will shed some new light on both the Ramsey and the Wells slayings.

If you have information about these cases or want to talk to the lead reporter of this series, call B.J. Plasket at 303-776-2244, Ext. 451, or e-mail him at bplasket@times-call.com