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FACING THE MONSTER

part 2 of 3
When the call went out at a little after 4 a.m.--female brutally raped and assaulted in Silverthorne by white male driving green or dark-colored pickup truck--police officers from across Summit County began to converge on the scene. Among them was deputy Joe Morales, who was asked to patrol the area of Frisco where the victim had been picked up by her assailant.

Morales and another officer were passing a trailer park when they spotted a dark blue pickup. Trucks in the mountains are about as common as trees, but this one had the lawmen doing a double-take. There was a bloody handprint on the vehicle's back window.

Parking their police car down the block, the officers crept back to the suspect truck. It wasn't the right color, but there was the wood in the back that the victim had remembered. As if they needed that proof: The passenger window was smeared with blood. Shining his flashlight through the driver's window, Morales could see that blood had run down the passenger door in a sheet. Tools...a wooden-handled hammer...lay scattered about.

The officers ran a check on the truck's license plate. It was registered to a Thomas Edward Luther. They called for backup. Then, with the trailer surrounded and their guns drawn, Morales and a Silverthorne detective approached the door of the trailer. Morales knocked.

A sleepy woman answered. Morales was surprised to recognize her as former Frisco reserve officer Laurie Wagner.

"Tom here?" he asked.
"Yes," she answered, looking doubtfully at the early-morning visitor with the gun in his hand. "Come in."

Morales entered, ready for action, unsure of what he'd find. He made his way to the bedroom where Wagner indicated her boyfriend was sleeping. Flicking on the hallway light, he could see a naked man sitting on the bed. He ordered him out.

"Yeah, I know why you're here," Tom Luther said, pulling a blanket around him. As he passed Morales, he said under his breath, "Please don't say anything to her," indicating his girlfriend. But Morales hardly noticed; he was too busy staring at Luther's face. Luther looked like he had been in a fight with a mountain lion. Long scratches ran down his cheeks, and he was covered in blood.

Morales sat Luther down in a chair and read him his rights as he cuffed his hands behind his back. Laurie stared at her boyfriend.

"Where are your clothes?" Morales asked.
"In the bedroom." Leaving his charge with the other officer, Morale returned to the bedroom and turned on the light. There, where Luther had stepped out of them and right into bed, was a pile of blood-stained clothes. Morales took them as evidence; they found other clothes for Luther.

Luther was placed in Morales's car for transport to the Summit County jail in Breckenridge. As the car wound along Lake Dillon, Luther began fidgeting and breathing hard. Morales had just looked in the rearview mirror when his captive blurted out, "Why don't you just kill me...just pull over and shoot me...I don't know why I do these things...I don't know why I did this."

Morales, careful not to say anything that a defense attorney might later try to use, replied as evenly as he could, "I'm not going to shoot you."

Thirteen years later, Morales now says, "If I knew then what I know now, I might have been tempted to oblige him."

At the Breckenridge jail, Luther was a model of cooperation. Asked if he would consent to having hair and blood samples taken, he replied, "Yes, I want to. I'm really sorry about all this...How's the girl?"

The girl had been transported to the Summit County Medical Center and then taken by ambulance to Rose Medical Center in Denver. Examination showed her head, swollen to the size of a basketball, was fractured; she had a concussion and was bleeding from her ears; a heavy blow from behind had broken her neck at the C7 vertebra; a finger had been dislocated and broken. And then there was the trauma of the rapes.

When he got a chance, Morales called his superior and told him about the Silverthorne assault because, as his report later noted, "of other pending assault and homicide cases under investigation" in Summit County. There didn't seem much similarity to the Schnee and Oberholtzer cases. Oberholtzer had been shot and left to die; there was no evidence of rape. Mary, on the other hand, had been tortured for more than an hour, raped with a hammer, strangled and nearly beaten to death. She had survived only because she had refused to die.

But considering the proximity of the crimes, both in time and distance, Morales thought it was worth checking out any connections. Certainly all three crimes had been committed by someone who didn't like women and wanted them dead. A gun. A hammer. In the end, what was the difference? And he was troubled by Luther's question: "Why do I do these things?"

Luther was interviewed briefly by a Summit County detective, who left with no useful information about the two Breckenridge cases. "But I got the distinct impression that he had a strong dislike for women," the detective noted.

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