By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
At a press conference announcing the indictment, DA Thomas praised Richardson for his "dogged determination." The detective, weary and emotionally drained, said, "You come to know your victim very well. She was more like a friend. There is a feeling of victory but a sad ending."
Cher's mother told the press she was glad the search was over. "Even though it may not be what you wanted to find, at least you can start dealing with something. You can't start a grieving process until you know for sure."
The next day, Heather was sitting in her psychiatrist's office when the doctor handed her a newspaper. "Did you see this?" Reading the article on Cher Elder, the doctor had noted the date of her disappearance and wondered if there might be a connection.
People were always handing Heather newspaper clippings, wondering if she had noted the latest violent episode, wondering how she was doing. Physically she was much better, except for a pain in her neck. On good days she felt emotionally strong, more like her old self. She'd begun to come out of her shell, re-establishing contact with her friends.
And a year after the attack she'd begun to date Dr. Bob Read. That hadn't been easy, either: He was married at the time, though he assured her that it was over, and there were questions as to the appropriateness of a doctor dating a former patient. But Read had fallen in love with the courageous young woman, and she had found a man with whom she felt safe.
Wanting to do something with her life that made a statement, Heather started working at the Belle Bonfils Blood Center--the facility that had supplied the 87 units of blood, several times the amount found in a normal adult, needed to keep Heather alive--first as a part-time receptionist, then as a blood-drive coordinator. And she volunteered once a week at the Denver Victims Service Center, to help others work their way to recovery from violent crime.
Heather had her bad days, too. And nights...since the attack, her dreams had been filled with images of being chased. Recently she'd dreamed that she was walking down a sidewalk when she saw the man in the green jacket waiting behind a wall. "If I can just get past him," she told herself in the dream, "I'll be okay." She kept walking as he watched her. Just as she thought she had made it to safety, she looked down. Her chest was covered with blood. She woke in tears.
In her psychiatrist's office, Heather now read the story headlined, "Dogged Work Nets Body, Key Suspect." She turned the page and saw a photograph of Luther. It was the face of her monster. "It's him," she said softly. "It's him."
Heather called Detective Scott and told him about the picture. "Okay," he said. "Let's get this thing solved."
It had been almost two years since Scott had looked at Heather's file. When he opened it and found the composite that the sketch artist had drawn from Heather's description, he was shocked: The artist's rendition looked like he had drawn it with Luther in the room.
Still, Scott wasn't satisfied. He arranged to get a more recent photograph of Luther. In this picture the beard was gone, as were Luther's glasses, and he wasn't wearing a hat.
Scott mixed this photograph in with some others of similar-looking men. When Heather looked through the photo lineup, she picked Luther out immediately.On March 10, Scott presented Heather's case to detectives Eaton and Richardson in Lakewood.
Eaton returned to Summit County from that meeting more determined than ever to solve the Oberholtzer and Schnee murders. The Idaho man remained a suspect, but his instincts told him to pursue all the leads concerning Luther.
"Go for it," said Morales, now the sheriff of Summit County.
In May an agent for the Colorado Bureau of Investigation found Laurie Wagner living out of state with her husband. She told him she didn't want to get involved; she said she was still afraid of Luther.
A few days later an investigator contacted the detective who'd submitted Wagner's gun for testing more than a decade before. Yes, he remembered, the test had come back negative. After that, he said, they hadn't kept after Luther about the Oberholtzer and Schnee cases, he said, "because we could not determine he was here at the time of the murders."
Eaton also located John Martin, a former Summit County inmate who was now in a New Jersey prison for embezzlement and writing bad checks. Thirteen years before, Martin had told the then-undersheriff of Summit County that he'd heard Luther brag about murdering two girls. The undersheriff had taken notes but said "there wasn't time" to pursue the matter back then.
Eaton went to New Jersey to interview Martin in July. The 55-year-old convict wanted to know what had taken so long.
When Martin met Luther in jail, "I told him I was in for assaulting a cop," Martin said. Impressed, the younger man had talked. Luther was full of brag. He told Martin that he had "beat and fucked" the girl with a hammer, but she was afraid for her life and wouldn't testify.