By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
Colorado was all the rage in 1997.
We had road rage. We had Ramsey rage. We had ragin' Caucasians. We raged against the injustice of it all when John Denver splashed into one more drink off the California coast.
We were frazzled, irked, incensed, piqued, miffed and generally ticked off. Let's face it: We were pissed. And who could blame us?
This, after all, was the year that an escaped ax murderer was actually loose on Halloween night, when professional body-slammer "Vader" of the World Wrestling Foundation signed autographs on the steps of City Hall as part of Denver's "Safe City Initiative" for children, when suburbanites in Cherry Hills Village headed home to "Swastika Acres" and local kiddie pageants reported a fourfold increase in contestants following the death of JonBenet Ramsey. Fort Collins flooded, Denver was buried in a blizzard, and Santa Claus himself got dragged into a murder investigation.
In June, scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder did their part to fend off the chaos, adding a leap second to the calendar to keep the world's atomic clocks synchronized to the rotation of the earth. But it was no use. No amount of tinkering could keep Colorado's portion of the planet from spinning out of control.
The view looked rosy enough from afar. In December, even as the cops in Denver were stacking empty school buses in front of the University Boulevard substation to fend off a potential attack by skinheads, Bridal Guide magazine named Denver one of the nation's top ten cities for newlyweds. In April, just before stampeding college students rampaged through the streets fighting for their right to party, the scribes at Parenting magazine named Boulder the "best place in America to raise children." Only days before a shotgun-toting postal worker in a black beret and combat boots took hostages at the Denver mail-sorting facility on Christmas Eve, P.O.V. magazine listed Denver as one of the nation's Top 20 cities because of its "laid-back lifestyle--like Boise or Cheyenne."
Well, Boise-breath, things were just a little more tense up close. The state's militia-loving patriots took a hit when radio station KHNC in Johnstown burned to the ground, but they received new inspiration when KWHD-TV talk-show host Bob Enyart, convicted of spanking his seven-year-old stepson, announced that the whipping had left the boy's behind "lit up like the stars and stripes." Down in Colorado Springs, the populace continued to seethe, urged on by the "Dragon Man," who thrived as the state's most prominent dealer of fully automatic weapons. Mel Bernstein tooled around on a three-wheel Harley, complete with a dragon's tail that spewed fire on command, and peddled "destructive devices of 20mm and up plus dynamite and cannons" to anyone in the mood for a little excitement. He even provided silencers--"for people who have a hearing problem or don't want to bother their neighbors"--and did a booming business charging people $6 a head to watch him blow up old cars.
The Dragon Man wasn't the only one having a blast. In late June, a bolt of lightning came out of the blue and struck the bell tower of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on Colfax Avenue, sending chunks of concrete raining onto the sidewalk and prompting one eyewitness to observe, "It was like a message from God--or someone else." In October, a freak windstorm hit the Routt National Forest, blowing down more than five million trees like matchsticks and leading to fears that voracious hordes of pine beetles would invade the state to slurp up the rotting timber. By then, however, Boulder had already gone buggy, overrun by swarms of tabloid reporters who skittered into town to provide readers with the real story of the Ramsey murder: "JonBenet Killed Because She Wet the Bed!"
It didn't take long for crack reporters to sniff out the rest of the state's dirty little secrets, either. The Weekly World News scooped all comers with its exclusive report from the mountain town of Eagle: "Man Blows His Nose--and His Eye Pops Out!" Down in Durango, chicken rancher Arnella Purdy reported that one of her laying hens--either Curly, Gigi, Gloria or Big Red, she wasn't sure which--had delivered a completely intact egg inside a larger egg. Her neighbor, Lela Metzger, reported never having heard of such a thing but said, "Once in a while we get a double yolker. When you get one of those, you feel like you've hit the jackpot."
The chickens, though, had no lock on strange behavior. In Colorado Springs, a woman gave birth to her third child born on the same day of the year, beating odds calculated at 133,000 to 1. Officials at Denver Social Services puzzled over the supernatural forces that allowed a form letter mailed to more than 150 foster parents to somehow include the salutation "When you receive this fucking letter." Not long after, a local adoption agency scratched its head over an attack of the "wazoo virus," which infiltrated its computer system and randomly sprinkled the word "wazoo" throughout letters sent to prospective parents.
As things continued to go hell in a handbasket, it was obvious that somebody--anybody--was needed to maintain order. Maybe someone like Adams County District Attorney Bob Grant, who, after watching convicted murderer Gary Davis get the big sleep from lethal injection, turned to the man sitting next to him and said, "Put 'er there, pal!" Or the equally strict disciplinarian who police said "held himself hostage" with a pistol for several hours in an area west of Canon City known as "Prison Gardens."