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A series examining nearly 100 unsolved murders in the region

One that got away

Amanda Arthur
The Daily Times-Call
2001 Times-Call Publishing Co.

   BOULDER They had him in custody 18 years ago, but let him go. Now, they're looking for him again.

    Boulder police say they have compelling evidence that links 41-year-old Thayne Smika to the 1983 shooting death of his  22-year-old onetime roommate, Sid Wells.

      Wells was found dead Aug. 1, 1983, from a point-blank range 20-gauge shotgun blast to the head, in the Boulder apartment he once shared with his brother Sam and Smika.

      The murder gained national attention because Wells was dating Shauna Redford, the daughter of actor Robert Redford; Wells had been living with her at the time of his death.

      The couple were students at the University of Colorado. At the time of his death, Wells was also working as an intern at KMGH Channel 7 in Denver.

     Smika was arrested two months after Wells' death, after police searched his mother's home in Akron, Colo., and found a shotgun, boots and clothing Smika had washed the afternoon of the shooting, reports said.

      He was held on $100,000 bond but later released by the district attorney's office following a grand jury investigation, which was called to review evidence collected by police.

      Prosecutor Pete Maguire said in court it would have been premature to charge Smika. Then-District Attorney Alex Hunter was confident Smika could be arrested again later if new evidence came to light.

      That assessment proved to be overly confident.

      Wells' mother, June Menger of Longmont, said she believes Smika killed her son because he knew too much.

      "We've known since day one who did it and why," she said. "Sid found out who all of the top drug dealers were in Boulder, and I think Smika worked for one of them. He just knew too much for a kid his age."

      She said the fact that Sid was an intern at Channel 7 in Denver may have been an additional reason he was killed.

       "Sid had the information, and they (the drug dealers) knew he was going to expose them," she said.

      She said she was contacted by an internship coordinator for the television station following her son's death.

      "She called me and told me she had some information I would like to know. Apparently Sid was working on a story called 'Cocaine in the Rockies' and had information about some big drug dealers," she said.

       Evidence of Sid's work on the story, she said, was never recovered from the apartment.

      She said she believes Smika was also angry with her son because he planned to kick him out of the house he shared with Shauna Redford.

      "Sid found out he (Smika) was involved in drugs, and Sid wanted to get him out of there," she said.

       She said she was not aware of how heated the situation between Sid and Smika had become concerning payment of rent.

      "Sid was pretty pushy about getting the money, and Smika got upset with Sid about getting the rent paid," Menger said.

      She said Deputy Chief David Hayes who, as a detective, extensively worked on the case told her he believed Smika was also under pressure from drug dealers to get paid.

      "He told me he thinks Smika just blew (up) because of all of the pressure from people to get paid," she said.

      Smika never became part of the group of friends Sid spent his time with; he became acquainted with Sid through answering an ad for a roommate, Menger said.

     Sam Wells, Sid's brother, briefly lived in the apartment with Smika, and discovered Sid's body on the floor of the apartment.

     Sam Wells said he "knew" Smika had killed his brother, seconds after he discovered Sid's body, because of where it lay.

      "I mean, it was right in front of his (Smika's) door," he said. "Believe me, after I found Sid's body, I combed that apartment looking for him (Smika), but he wasn't there."

     Sam Wells said he believes the crime scene was tampered with following the discovery of his brother's body.

      "I know how I found Sid. That's not an image you can just forget," he said. "When I saw the crime-scene photos, they looked so different than how it was when I got there. I was just blown away."

      He said some furniture in the room had been moved, and items appeared in the crime scene photos differently than when he arrived at the scene.

     Boulder police Detective Melissa Kampf said police arrived on the scene quickly after they were called by Sam, so there was little chance the scene could have been tampered with.

     "We didn't find any evidence to suggest the scene had been tampered with at all," Kampf said.

      Sam Wells said he was investigated by police after they arrived on the scene.

        "They did a test to see if I had shot a gun, and I hadn't. They also questioned me for something like nine hours," he said.

      He said police cleared him of any involvement with this brother's death.

     The case was put on the back burner two years after Wells was murdered. Hunter said there was insufficient evidence to file any charges.

       "There was a lot of controversy surrounding the decision not to proceed with this case at the time," Hunter said.

       He added, "In reflecting on the matter, Deputy Chief (David) Hayes has repeatedly said the decision not to file (charges) was appropriate at the time."

      The case was reopened in 1999 after testing of shotgun shell evidence found at the crime scene linked Smika to the crime, Boulder police Cmdr. Joe Pelle said.

      "New science has been applied to the old evidence," Pelle said.

       He said shotgun shells and shell fragments found with Wells' body, along with blood evidence, have been tested in the last two years.

      "The blood information is not as significant as the shotgun shells," he said.

       Police have been looking for Smika for a year and a half.

       "We have no idea where he is, or if he's even alive," he said.

       Police have already searched for Smika in California and Mexico, reports said.

      Old reports indicate police did not question Smika until the evidence retrieved from Smika's mother's home was tested by the FBI.

      Police suspicions were fueled when they found a note he left for the brothers that read: "SidSam, I've gone home to visit my folks for a couple of days and I'll be back Tuesday or Wednesday. Thayne."

      Police found the note on a coffee table near Wells' body.

      Investigators found blood splatters all over the table, but the note, they said, had no blood on it, leading them to believe it was left after the shooting.

     In addition, when Smika was questioned by police, he told them Wells might have been killed in retaliation.

       In a police interview, Smika said he stole money and cocaine from the apartment of one of Wells' friends in retaliation after that friend had stolen cocaine from Wells.

       Police said the man Smika fingered took and passed polygraph tests.

     Reports also indicate that Smika referred to himself as a suspect when talking to the press even before he was officially a suspect.

       Smika's mother also told police that her son "may have had some involvement in the homicide of Sidney Wells" and that he suffered from "some type of blackouts or seizures where he could not control his actions but could remember what had taken place."

      Sam Wells said he witnessed some of Smika's blackouts.

      "I've never seen anybody do anything like that," he said. "He would have convulsion-like activity and kind of go blind for a while."

      Menger said Shauna Redford also witnessed the blackouts.

      Shauna "told me he would stare into space for a while. She said when he would feel a spell coming on, he would usually go into his room and shut the door," she said.

       After being released by the Boulder County District Attorney's Office, Smika moved to Denver, where he was arrested three years later on suspicion of embezzling more than $60,000 from his employer, Western Empire Constructors.

      Menger said Smika's employer pressed charges only after she pressured him to do so.

      "I went to him and I told him that if we could get him behind bars, maybe we could get him to talk. I told him otherwise, we didn't have a prayer," she said.

       A warrant for Smika's arrest on suspicion of those charges is still active, she said.

      Smika has since disappeared, Pelle said, and he may have been tipped off to recent police investigations by his family or friends.

      For now, he said, the district attorney's office will "carry the case into the future."

      With a new district attorney on board, "the DA's office is in a real state of transition, so I have no idea" when they will begin working on the case, Pelle said.

       Menger said it's tragic the case has gone unsolved for 17 years.

      "The police got all the information back from the FBI six months ago, and the FBI told them they wondered why the Boulder police never issued an arrest warrant," she said.

      She said she does not blame the police for the lack of an arrest made in this case.

      "I don't blame the police," she said. "They did everything they could to get this case closed."

       She said the police have kept her closely informed of their investigations into the homicide of her son.

      She said she hopes that with Mary Keenan taking over as district attorney, the case will gain some attention and a solution.

     "Hopefully Keenan will be willing to work on our case. What's upsetting is to know the facts are there and no one has been willing to pursue this case," Menger said.

      She and her son, Sam, have taken to trying to locate Smika themselves.

      "We've tracked him (Smika) down twice," she said. "We just called Colorado information and they gave us his phone number."

       She said she informed the police each time they located Smika.

        She said she has little hope that the police will ever find Smika again; she believes he disappeared after "20/20" televised the story about the case.

      "I'm not holding my breath," she said. "I don't think they'll ever find Smika alive."

If you have information about this case or any part of the series, call Amanda Arthur at 303-776-2244, Ext. 215, or e-mail her at aarthur@times-call.com.