Falling From Grace

Richard Rother lived by his good name. When the cops took that away from him, he walked off a ten-story building.

He flew to California at the end of October to spend a few days with his brother and sister-in-law. Tom Rother tried to persuade him that the case was not as dire as he thought it was and that he should fight it in court, but Richard seemed to be on a downward spiral, almost unreachable.

"My brother had some other things that were bothering him, and this just tipped him over the edge," Tom Rother says. "He was just not attached. My energy is very abrupt sometimes; I see things for what they are, and I sometimes pound to get my point across. I'm very hurt by the way I treated him. I was not kind."

After driving his brother to the airport, Tom returned home to discover that Richard had raided some forgotten pill bottles, taking with him a supply of muscle relaxants. "They weren't real powerful, but if you took enough of them, they'd put you to sleep," Tom says. "He made remarks to me about suicide that last visit, but I didn't take it seriously."

Back in Denver, Rother's drinking increased--and so did his paranoia. He was now convinced that he hadn't been a random target at all. He told several people that he suspected Randy Roberts had set him up. Roberts knew where he kept his money, he said, and the cops had found it right away when they "searched" his apartment. And when he called Roberts after getting out of jail, Roberts said his lawyer had advised him not to talk to Rother.

"That just made him more paranoid," one friend says. "Why was this guy getting a lawyer?"

Roberts, who was out of town during Rother's final days and didn't return until weeks after his death, says he's heard a ton of rumors about his supposed involvement in the picker's death--a gossip mill fueled not only by the comments Rother made before he died, but by his decision to leap from right outside Roberts's apartment in the Bank Lofts.

"You wouldn't believe all the stupid crap I've heard," Roberts says. "The whole deal has cost me nothing but grief--and sadness that Richard would kill himself."

Roberts denies he was involved in Rother's arrest in any way. Police records confirm this, and Mumford says his unit had no information about the wad of cash in Rother's apartment prior to the search. Roberts adds that Rother was calling him in the middle of the night about his problems and that he came up with the comment about the lawyer "to get him off my back."

"I felt for him," Roberts says. "He was almost fifty years old, and I don't think he'd ever been in trouble before. But his case didn't strike me as such a big deal, and I didn't want to get sucked into this Peyton Place he was going through."

On Thursday, November 4, Rother dropped in on Myron Melnick at the artist's studio, seething with accusations against Roberts.

"He was quite upset," Melnick recalls. "He said, 'I'm going to prison, and look at me. I'm just a nickel-and-dime guy.'

"The whole thing didn't make sense to me. He was a small-time picker. He lived in a little apartment and drank cheap beer and smoked cheap cigarettes and got free drinks at art openings and bought his clothes from thrift stores. Why would anyone set him up?"

Rother insisted that the artist come back to his place to pick up a chair he wanted to give him. He said that it was time to "check out" and vowed that Denver wouldn't forget him. When Boderke dropped by to see Rother, Melnick told her that Richard was talking about killing himself.

"After Myron left, I talked to Richard," she recalls. "I told him that he should wait, that next week was going to be better. Just at the thought of it, I started crying. He said, 'Oh, well--I wouldn't know how to kill myself anyway.' But I think he said that to shut me up."

Too anxious to sleep in his own apartment after the police raided it, Rother spent Thursday night at Jay Razor's place, Friday at Boderke's, and Saturday at the apartment of his neighbor, Andrew Barron. All of them say that his mood fluctuated wildly over those three days. On Friday he was in better spirits; at his friends' urging, he'd hired an attorney, Daniel Smith, who advised him that the probable outcome of a first offense like his would be probation and a fine. That evening he went to two art openings. At one of them he chatted briefly with the artist Peter Max, whom he'd met years ago when he worked in a clothing store in New York.

But he was also drinking steadily and eating almost nothing. Jay Razor met him at a coffee shop for breakfast that weekend but couldn't persuade him to order any food. "I'm convinced that he'd made up his mind that it was over," Razor says. "I offered to bet him a hundred bucks that he wouldn't go to jail. He said he'd bet me one dollar. I was getting pissed off. He wasn't listening to reason from anybody."

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