FACING THE MONSTER

It was Richardson who escorted Luther from West Virginia to Colorado last April 23.

The next day, Denver's daily newspapers ran Cher Elder's obituary. It said simply that she was a twenty-year-old waitress at the Holiday Inn, a graduate of Purdy High School in Missouri who "enjoyed cross-stitch, reading, art, photography and writing poetry." Her parents, stepbrothers and stepsisters grieved for her.

So did the Lakewood detective.

If Luther did not kill Cher Elder, as his attorney maintains, or anyone else, he is simply a self-professed, brutal sexual predator dogged by the unfortunate coincidence that wherever he goes, young women disappear...and die.

But even if Luther beats the rap in Jefferson County, he will not be a free man. He still must serve 15 to 35 years in West Virginia. And he may have to answer allegations about other murders...in Colorado and elsewhere.

At a meeting in Jeffco attended by detectives from several law-enforcement agencies, investigators disclosed that an informant had claimed Luther and another man killed and raped a woman in a Denver apartment and left the body covered with an American flag. A Denver detective present at the meeting said his department had an unsolved homicide fitting that description. Further investigation discovered that human hair found on the victim was microscopically similar to Luther's hair, according to police documents.

In Pennsylvania, Corporal Freehling has been keeping track of Luther. He still hasn't been able to identify the woman found in December 1993. And there's something else nagging at him: another girl reported missing in April 1994. She was a twenty-year-old model on her way from Oklahoma to a car show in New Jersey. She got as far as Newport, Pennsylvania, off I-81, where she called a friend from McDonald's. That was the last anyone ever heard from her.

Her clothes were discovered in a Newport motel; her car five miles as the crow flies from where that other girl's body was found six months earlier.

"She vanished into thin air," Freehling said. "I wonder...was Tom Luther in the area at that time?"

In Summit County, they believe they're closing in on the killer of Bobby Jo Oberholtzer and Annette Schnee. Morales and Eaton have met with the district attorney to discuss the possibility of bringing charges against Luther; the DA told them to keep working on it.

Eaton has tracked down most of the inmates who pointed the finger at Luther. Like Martin, they're still telling the same stories. But Laurie Wagner has grown uncooperative and will no longer meet face to face with investigators.

Eaton is working on other evidence, too, but he won't reveal what it is.
Last April, Eaton attended a seminar on sexual predators. The speaker was Robert Pennel, the Washington prosecutor who followed and then wrote the book on serial killer Ted Bundy. Cops, good cops, can't help but stay after the monsters who hunt women, Pennel said. No matter how many hours, how many years it takes, no matter what the personal toll, they hang on until they get their man.

The words reminded Eaton of Detective Richardson, a man he'd once considered "arrogant." Now he thought of him as one of the best homicide detectives he'd ever met--in large part because he cared about the victim and wouldn't let go until he caught the man who'd killed her.

But Eaton also saw himself in Pennel's words. Someday soon he hopes to make that journey to the top of Hoosier Pass and then down the other side to Sacramento Creek, to let the spirits of Bobby Jo and Annette know that he kept his promise.

His boss, Sheriff Morales, also looks forward to that day. In the meantime, he takes pride in the fact that Tom Luther hates him. "I'd be offended if he liked me," he says. "No matter what else happens, he is the enemy. Thirteen years ago, he raped and brutally beat a woman up here, and still there is no closure.

"There never will be...until the day, after he is convicted in a court of law, they execute him."

Rebecca Hascall thinks the healing process is somewhat akin to piecing together a broken vase. From a distance it might look the same, but up close the cracks still show, and it will never be as strong as it once was.

It had taken more than two years and a frightening hallucination for Rebecca to put the pieces of her life back together. Over a year after the attack, she had been driving home when she looked down to see her shirt was bright red with blood. In her mind she knew it wasn't real, and when she looked down again it was gone. Still, she was shaken. Pulling up in front of her house, she was too terrified to get out of the car. She sat and cried for an hour before she worked up the nerve to make a mad dash for her house. Checking to make sure her gun was tucked safely under her pillow, she cried herself to sleep.

The next day, she went to work and the same thing happened: She looked down to see her chest covered with blood. She was cracking up--and she knew it. Fortunately, Rebecca had been going with Heather to the Victims Assistance Service Center, where the counselor explained that Rebecca was also a victim.

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