Unsolved: Inside Colorado's cold cases

There are 1,700 active cold cases in Colorado right now. 9NEWS took a look at eight 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. None

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. 

RELATED: How decks of cards might solve Colorado cold cases

Murder of CSP Trooper still unsolved

December 27, 1973. A day a young family and entire law enforcement agency will never forget.

It’s been more than 40 years since Colorado State Patrol Trooper Thomas Carpenter was murdered.

“He wore a uniform, he had a badge, he was the good guy” Clay Carpenter, Thomas’ son who was 9-years-old when his father was murdered said. "He loved to help people. It’s what he lived for.”

Carpenter was a former marine, a husband and father to three young kids.

On December 27, Trooper Carpenter stopped near the on-ramp of the Boulder Turnpike to help what looked to be a broken down car with two men inside.

No one knows exactly what transpired next, but the two men somehow got ahold of his gun, forced him back in his patrol car and made him drive around at gunpoint finally ending at an apartment complex in Montebello.

Trooper Carpenter was found in his patrol car with four bullets in the back of his head.

Retired CSP Captain Larry Tolar was in the same academy as Carpenter, class of 1968.

“Tom’s the only one I know that was actually executed. We had officers shot but nobody just executed like they did to Tom and that made us very mad,” Tolar said. 

They had a pretty good description of the two men. Both young, one white with shaggy hair, the other black.

Detectives searched and searched in the snow for days and months on end for clues, his gun, and the murderers with the case never to be solved.

“I think the family was cheated the day of the event and they’ve been cheated ever since then,” Tolar said.

But Clay looks at it a little differently all thanks to his hero.

“One thing my dad taught me is to never lower myself to their level. So it was easy to forgive the people who did that. I did not concentrate on them, I concentrated on my father. How my Dad’s life ended was not going to be my focus,” Clay said.

And although the case was never closed, Tolar believes the murderers paid for their crimes.

“I’m pretty sure justice was served one way or another,” Tolar said. “I guess we will never know what happened. All we know is that a very good friend, an officer and colleague, classmate was murdered in the line of duty. We try to remember him every chance we get.”

Clay Carpenter also went into law enforcement.

He has a blog about his dad, the day of the murder and how he handled the grieving process. He hopes he can help others who are going through something similar.

Here’s a link to his blog: https://survivingdecember.wordpress.com/

Murder of two teens in Subway restaurant still unsolved

Less than a year after the attack on Columbine High School, the school was in mourning again when two sophomores were mysteriously gunned down in a sandwich shop.

That was more than 17 years ago. The case is still unsolved, and it’s now at a dead end.

Nick Kunselman and Stephanie Hart-Grizzell loved each other more than their families thought kids could.

Drawn together by arts and music, they were inseparable.

Nick worked at a Subway close to school. Stephanie hung out while he closed-up shop.

“Someone or some people came in and killed them,” Jefferson County Cold Case Detective Elias Alberti said.

Early on Feb. 14, 2000, one of Nick’s coworker’s spotted the sandwich shop’s lights on after midnight, and saw someone leave out the back: a man who was about 5’8,” white and blonde.

The coworker found Nick and Stephanie shot dead behind the counter.

For parents and friends still healing from the infamous school shooting the year before, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office described it as salt in the wound.

Pastor Gino Geraci of Calvary Church nearby said at the time, “They’re understandably shocked, they’re understandably in pain. They want to know exactly what you want to know. Who did this? Why did they do this?”

His church would host Nick and Stephanie’s joint funeral.

They were buried together near Morrison.

Years went by.

“It’s hard to make that phone call and find out nothing’s happened,” said Kelly Grizzell, Stephanie’s mom around Valentine’s Day, 2011.

Family and friends have marked each Valentine’s Day wondering who shot Nick and Steph.
That particular year, they marked it at the Red Rocks Café.

“That’s the thing that’s unfair about this whole thing. [The person who shot them] is still out there,” Theresa Kunselman said.

“It is surprising to me 17 years later that it isn’t solved,” said Alberti in a recent interview.
That’s despite dozens of binders Alberti has, chronicling hundreds of leads they’ve chased and rabbit holes they’ve run down.

Despite the volume of evidence they’ve had problems with it over the years.

“In cold case homicides, missing people. You kind of have to back up and think, what did we have in 2000?” Alberti asked.

A lot of places didn’t have surveillance video.

In this case, it didn’t show anything helpful.

And you can imagine how many fingerprints are in a sandwich shop.

DNA, fingerprints and other evidence have been tested and sent out to other labs to be retested with new technology.

“Even around the world. And all that evidence still has led us back to no killer or killers,” Alberti said.

Thousands of pages of testimony, boxes of evidence, still won’t give up even a motive.

“Were they after Stephanie or were they after Nick? Were they not after any, either one of them?”

More questions for which Alberti doesn’t have an answer.

The sheriff’s office thought they were close to solving it at times.

They’ve even had people cop to it— more than once.

But detectives have kept some details private to ask specific questions.

“And these people haven’t been able to answer those correctly. And we know based on those responses that they weren’t involved,” Alberti said.

Seventeen years later, they’re still following new leads, but the case is still as stubborn as it was then.

“There are some cases that dead ends come up, and this is one of them,” Alberti said.

Alberti thinks the puzzle is solvable, though there’s only one way he thinks he can get answers for family and friends who are stuck with the same questions.

“We’re really at a point with this case where we’re going to need a lead,” he said. “Two teenagers in a Subway down in Littleton, Colorado in 2000 do not get murdered, and nobody has any knowledge or information about it.”

Anyone with any information should call the Jefferson County tip line at (303) 271-5195 or e-mail Alberti at coldcase@jeffco.us.

Who killed Connie Paris?

Diane Riechert can’t help but smile as she thinks about her friend Connie Paris.

“She was a true-blue friend,” she said. “You could always depend on her.”

The two did everything together: from sharing clothes to making prank phone calls. They even attended the legendary Beatles concert at Red Rocks in 1964.

“We got the best seats in the house,” Riechert recalls of sitting next to Paris in the sixth row.

Little did she know that just four years later, her friendship with Connie would be abruptly cut short.

“It was the first person that close to me that I’d ever lost,” Riechert said.

At 18 years old, Connie Paris was murdered. She disappeared shortly after getting off at a bus stop at Broadway and Girard Avenue in Englewood, just five blocks from where she lived.

Paris had boarded the 10 p.m. bus in front of the downtown Denver library after doing research for a term paper. She would normally walk the few blocks home from the bus stop at Girard or call her parents for a ride home.

“She was seen getting off the bus,” Reichert said.

The day after the Englewood High School senior disappeared, her books and clothing were found along Dry Creek behind Broadway.

“They found her clothing folded neatly,” Reichert said.

After four more days of searching, police found Connie Paris’s body on the northern edge of Fort Logan National Cemetery.

“It was kind of in a ravine, that they found her. Which is heartbreaking that somebody would throw her away like trash,” Reichert said.

Connie Paris’ loved ones say there was a suspect in the case who was a security guard along Broadway.
But he was cleared about six years ago. Police found DNA, but it has never matched up with any DNA in the Colorado Department of Correction’s database. The Englewood Police Department hasn’t received any new clues recently in this case.

Reichert is hoping that reminding people of the case may also jog someone’s memory of March 26, 1968—the day Connie Paris disappeared.

“I’m hoping that somebody will come forward. Somebody knows something,” she said. “The reality is, there’s a perpetrator out there. If he’s still alive. He’s probably out there.”

Englewood Police Department still has an open investigation in this case. If you have any information, call the department’s cold case unit at 303-761-7410.

Family wants answers 10 years after single mom's disappearance

It has been more than a decade since Candice Doyle saw her daughter.

“It affects you to your core,” she said. “It affects you to your soul. It changes you as a person. You lose part of your heart … and you never get it back.”

Nonnie Dotson, a nurse with the U.S. Air Force, hasn’t been seen since Nov. 19, 2006. She was visiting from San Antonio, and staying at her brother Tony Dotson’s house in Littleton.

He was the last person to see her. She was last seen leaving Tony’s house to do some shopping.

Nonnie never came home that Saturday, or Sunday. On Monday afternoon, the family filed a missing person’s report.

“When we do realize the person is missing, or there may be some other circumstances to it, usually we’re hours or days behind the last time that person was seen,” Det. Elias Alberti with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office said.

That’s one issue detectives face in missing person’s cases. The other? There’s no crime scene.

“There’s not a body,” Alberti said. “There’s nothing to go off of and that really helps us and homicide cases – and even general evidence. Physical evidence or a crime scene leads up to clues, leads us to other people and you don’t have that in missing person’s cases.”

Investigators typically look at if someone has a reason to go missing. In Nonnie’s case, that was eliminated fairly quickly.

She was a single mother to a 16-month-old girl named Savannah.

Nonnie was also three months away from being discharged from the Air Force, and was getting ready to move back to Colorado.

“I know absolutely that she would not have walked off,” Doyle said. “I know that to my soul. Something happened to her.”

The day after Nonnie disappeared, police did get a ping from her cell phone not far from the area she was last seen. Dogs traced her scent there, but no evidence was found.

Investigators believe she was taken against her will, but Alberti says at this point, there’s only one thing that can solve the case.

“It’s going to take that person coming forward after all these years to say ‘this is what I know happened,’” Alberti said. “In these kinds of cases, it just takes something really small.”

The thought of Nonnie brings up a lot of emotions.

“Of not loving them enough, not telling them enough how much you love them,” Doyle said. “Not going out and looking for her, not asking for help. More help. It changes everything about you.”

oyle says she hopes someone will hear Nonnie’s story and feel touched enough to do the right thing and come forward with that they know.

Until then, all her family can do is wait.

“There is no justice for Nonnie,” Doyle said. “Nonnie is gone now. I can’t bring her back. I don’t even care that the person who did this gets caught or punished. I don’t even care anyone. All I want to do is bury my daughter. I know there’s something left of her.”

Nonnie’s brother Tony was the last person to see her alive. He was found guilty of sexual assault with a deadly weapon in 2014, and was sentenced to 48 years to life in prison.

While serving his sentence, he was convicted of criminal solicitation to commit murder. He has never been named a suspect in Nonnie’s disappearance.

9NEWS tried to contact him for comment on this story, but he has been transferred to an out-of-state, undisclosed prison.

Anyone with information about Nonnie’s disappearance is asked to call the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office tip line at 303-277-0211. A detective has been assigned to the case.

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. None

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. None

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. None

“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. None

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. None


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