Unsolved: Inside Colorado's cold cases

There are 1,700 active cold cases in Colorado right now. 9NEWS took a look at four of them. 

There are 1,700 active cold cases in Colorado. We revisit four of the biggest unsolved cases in the state's history, from the disappearance of a young teen to a seemingly random shooting spree that spanned an entire summer.

There are 1,700 active cold cases in Colorado.

We revisited some of the biggest unsolved cases in the state's history, from the disappearance of a young teen to a seemingly random shooting spree that spanned an entire summer.

The family members of the victims are still holding out hope that justice will be served as law enforcement works to solve these cases decades later. 

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The Bennett Family Murders

The Bennett family murders is a case that goes back more than three decades.

It begins with a woman killed with a hammer in Lakewood and, a week later, a family killed the same way in Aurora.

The killer was never brought to justice.

But new technology is getting detectives closer and closer to solving the brutal mystery.

The Bennett family had just moved into their Aurora home around Thanksgiving.

It was a quiet cul-de-sac and most of the homes were still empty.

Their daughter Melissa about to celebrate her eighth birthday, but never would.

On the night of Jan. 16, 1984 a man entered the Bennett’s home.

The man fatally stabbed and bludgeoned 27-year-old Bruce Bennett and sexually assaulted and bludgeoned his wife Debra, 26.

He then sexually assaulted and fatally beat 7-year-old Melissa Bennett and shattered the face of 3-year-old Vanessa Bennett. She survived.

“That’s a shock to your life because I am the one who found the kids,” says Constance Bennett, Bruce’s mother.

Constance remembers the house was too quiet, then finding her family brutally murdered inside. 

“It’s the worst moment of my life. So it’s just something I certainly can’t forget,” she said.

To make the case even more complicated, a week prior to the Bennett family murders, DNA evidence would later find, the same man murdered Patricia Smith, 50, in her Lakewood home with a hammer.

The murder weapon never found, but the killer left DNA behind at both crime scenes.

“I think this type of case is going to be a forensic breakthrough that’s going to solve it,” said Det. Stephen Conner with Aurora PD’s Cold Case Department.

Conner has been investigating the case for nearly a decade, and a few years ago, they had a break in the case.

“We have an idea that the suspect’s possibly a white male,” Conner said.

Now they know for sure, thanks to newly developed technology that uses DNA like a blueprint to make predictions about a person’s appearance.

“…this confirmed that as well as hair and eye color,” he said.

They came up with a composite of the killer. One, of what he may have looked like then and another, what he may look like now.

“We know we’re looking at someone of western northern decent as opposed to Hispanic male or black male. It’s narrowed to that,” Conner said.

Detectives were hoping someone would know who this person is or remember seeing someone that night but since the composite has been released, every tip has come up empty.

“We’ve probably had, I don’t know, 40 or 50 calls on that,” Conner said. “We’ve eliminated suspects through obtaining their DNA.”

He says this case is like chasing a ghost.

“As least that’s what I refer to it as. My personal opinion is based upon the evidence and a whole bunch of things that come into play that the guy is probably deceased,” Conner said.  

RELATED: New technology leads to sketch of triple homicide suspect

And says he believes the murders were not a crime of passion but rather opportunity.

“I think it was ‘I came here to do something whether it was to rob the place or kill the family, I will not come out empty-handed,’” Conner said.

Even though leads grew cold and storylines faded detectives continue to work in hopes of bringing justice to the entire Bennett family.

“I hope they find who murdered my kids for no reason and that they’re punished in some way,” Constance Bennet said. “It just changes how you feel about everything that a person can do that and go day by day.”

There was no forcible entry into the home.

Debra Bennett’s purse was found in front of the house, the contents spilled in the snow.

Detectives recovered the knife that was used in the murders in the front yard, but the hammer was never found.

Connor says there’s other DNA technology out there they’re looking into that could narrow the field even more.

9NEWS at 6 a.m. 2/6/17.

The disappearance of Beth Miller

Beth Miller had just turned 14 the day she went jogging in the small mountain town west of Denver.

She usually jogged with her sister, but not on this day. It was Aug. 16, 1983. Beth never came home, and hasn’t been seen since.

Some witnesses saw her talking to a man in a red pickup truck, but police never found the right truck. In the days and weeks that followed, hundreds of volunteers on foot and horseback searched for her. Her dad was on TV pleading for information.

It didn’t help.

To this day, no one knows what happened to Beth Miller, even though there have been a ton of tips, theories, suspects and sightings.  None has panned out.  But investigators are not giving up.

Details of the case are stored in dozens of case files at the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. They include several men arrested over the years for murder or attacks on teens. One of the men's girlfriend was overheard by a witness talking about disposing of Beth’s body.

Investigators followed the leads, but nothing turned out. The police were so desperate at the beginning, they contacted psychics, who though she was being held against her will somewhere nearby. They couldn’t find her. Theories from people around the country poured in as the story gained traction, but again nothing could be proven.

Clear Creek County Undersheriff Bruce Snelling says they don’t think Beth is still alive, but they don’t know for sure. Without a sighting or a body, finding the person responsible will be difficult. 

In 2007, a grand jury issued a scathing report, accusing law enforcement of a “clear lack of professionalism” in the case.

"We are not perfect in what we do," Snelling said. "We still to this day make some mistakes, some errors. They’re certainly not done intentionally, they’re just errors that occur. So with that being said, I’ll just tell you at the time they did the best they could."

Eleven years after Beth Miller disappeared, her family went to court to get a judge to declare her legally dead. Her parents are split up, her siblings have moved on. But they would love to know who is responsible for what happened to Beth.

“I can just tell you that really in by heart of hearts what I have to believe is that if we just keep after it, eventually we’ll find that missing piece of the puzzle, that can put the rest of it together for us," Snelling said. 

9NEWS at 6 a.m. 2/7/17.

The murder of 15-year-old Marilee Burt

Only two miles separated 15-year-old Marilee Burt from her home.

It was a walk that she had made plenty of times before on nights like Feb. 26, 1970. This time, though, she would never come.

She was expecting her mother, Sherry Burt, to pick her up that night after a basketball game.  Somewhere along the way there was a mix-up and Marilee, still in her cheerleader’s uniform, set out on foot from Goddard Middle School to her home in Columbine Valley.

After briefly stopping at a friend’s home, she headed out on Middlefield Road.  That’s where her older brother Ramone, who was driving home from high school, saw a girl walking by.  He also noticed a vehicle going in the opposite direction with a man inside.

“And then I looked in my rearview mirror as I was going by,” Ramone Burt said.  “I saw him stop and she turned and was talking to somebody.”

9NEWS at 6 a.m. 2/8/17.

“He was the last person, except for the killer, to see her alive,” Arapahoe County investigator Marvin Brandt said.

When Marilee didn’t come home that night, the family began searching for her.

“I went back to see if she was there and she wasn’t there,” Ramone said.

Marilee’s naked body was found the next day under a bridge in Deer Creek Canyon 15 miles from her home.  She’d been raped and strangled.

Her clothes, books and purse were all gone.  To this day they’ve never been found.

Marilee was the daughter of one of Colorado’s most successful car dealers, and her death sent shockwaves through her tiny community.

“We didn’t even know what crime was,” Ramone said.  “And then all of a sudden here’s this horrible thing that happens.”

Police found DNA on Marilee’s body, but a crime lab analysis still hasn’t come up with a match to anyone in local or federal databases.

Ramone was able to offer police a vague description of the man that Marilee stopped to talk to.  He described him as a 30 to 40-year-old white man.  He had dark brown hair with a receding hairline and long square sideburns.

Sherry Burt spent decades trying to help find her daughter’s killer.  She died in 2013 without ever learning the truth.

“She was just tormented her whole life,” Ramone said. “I think she’s the one who really felt guilty.”

The Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office still gets tips on Marilee’s death.  The most recent one came at the end of 2016.

So far, none of them have panned out.

“I want the family … to be satisfied,” Brandt said.  “I want them to know who did this.”

9NEWS at 6 a.m. 2/8/17.

The Northern Colorado shootings

For months, Northern Colorado felt a chill.

The series of shootings began April 22, 2015 when someone fired through Cori Romero's car window as she tried merging onto Interstate 25 near Fort Collins. The bullet pierced Romero's neck. Her life was saved by millimeters.

"I was shocked -it took me a while, and sometimes it still doesn't even register what happens," Romero told 9NEWS in 2016.

On the morning of May 18, the shooter's aim was deadly. John Jacoby was gunned down in Windsor. Police believe his case is linked to Romero’s.

Then, on June 3, there were two more shootings -- both in Loveland. One claimed the life of William Connole. Appearing in both cases? A beat-up orange truck.

In September, there was another set of gunfire in Fort Collins. One incident happened at Banner Health, another at Cottonwood Elementary.

"These shootings took place in the public eye if you will," said FBI Supervisory Special Agent Todd Sandstedt.   He and Larimer County Sheriff's Office Captain Bob Coleman have spent two years trying to find the person who pulled the trigger.

"There have been person of interest leads popped up," Coleman said. "And to date we've been able to clear all of those persons of interest that came to our attention."

What's making it tough is that each shooting is connected to another, but nothing links all of them.

"I've been in Larimer County since 1988 and this is the first time we've had these characteristics," Coleman said. 

Coleman and Sandstedt wonder if the answer lies somewhere in Colorado, or, beyond.

"We have been in contact with authorities from Arizona," Coleman said.  "We've been in contact with authorities in California. We've been in contact with authorities in Massachusetts, Michigan."

Dead ends are common. The work is exhausting.

"I think any frustration that comes about during the course of an investigation like this, it's quickly overwhelmed by the sense that we have victims out there and we have families," Sandstedt said.

For now, several agencies are working as a team, and hoping someone out there knows something.

Tips in this case are eligible for up to a $50,000 reward from Metro Denver Crimestoppers. 

9NEWS at 6 a.m. 2/9/17.

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