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.

In fact, Rother had bigger worries than the theft case. He apparently hadn't filed income tax returns for years, and he was certain that the IRS was going to wind up with the money that the police had seized, along with anything else he owned. And there were other horrors, too, worse even than the taxman--including the prospect that he would never be a picker again, that he'd lost his way in a world where a man was only as good as his word.

"He told me his reputation was shot in Denver," Razor says. "He said he couldn't go picking anymore, and people wouldn't buy stuff from him any more. He thought everyone in line at an estate sale would have heard that he'd been arrested."

Rother bought a bottle of Scotch on Saturday and was hitting it hard when he stayed at Andrew Barron's place that night. "He kept saying, 'I'm not going to jail,'" says Barron, an art collector who'd known Rother for years before they became neighbors. "I was thinking of dragging him to the hospital on Sunday and getting him committed. He was that far gone."

But when Barron awoke Sunday morning, Rother had already left. No one knows how he spent his last day, although the post-mortem toxicology tests indicate that he'd been drinking and gobbling his brother's pills. No one can say why he headed to Randy Roberts's empty apartment at the Bank Lofts that evening. No one knows how long he stood there, smoking and contemplating his doom, before he climbed the rail and jumped.

Someone from the Denver coroner's office phoned Melnick on Monday morning.
"They said they had his body, and they thought he fell," Melnick says. "I said, 'I think he committed suicide.'"

The service was at Fairmount Cemetery. Tom Rother played a Jimi Hendrix tape and gave a brief eulogy. Two of the deceased's oldest friends also spoke. They put his ashes in a box and put the box in the ground and threw dirt on it. Then they held a wake at the Mackey Gallery, with music by one of the deceased's favorite bands.

Richard Rother didn't get the last word, because he wasn't around. The words now belong to other people--the pickers who thought he might be guiding them from the spirit world, the dealers who appreciated his talent and those who put up with him because he made them money, his friends and enemies. They still talk about him.

Randy Roberts, friend: "Richard didn't trust people. He was cordial enough, but he didn't let people get close to him. I miss the dumb bastard, but I'm also really angry with him."

Richard Mumford, detective: "It really puzzles me that he committed suicide over a fencing case. I've never seen someone go to jail on a first or second offense."

Daniel Smith, attorney: "It struck everyone as odd. It didn't make sense that this type of case would trigger that type of reaction."

Tom Rother, brother: "Richard wasn't dishonest. But cops, when they're undercover, can be very aggressive. They coerced and badgered him. That's what they do. It ticks me off. There's a hell of a lot more they could be doing instead of going after people like my brother."

Jay Razor, friend: "You hear the craziest stuff about Richard. One guy told me he wasn't dead, he just got out of the country. Can you imagine? But there was always something mysterious about Richard. The first time I went to his apartment, I couldn't find his name in the building directory. It was some other name."

Gisela Boderke, friend: "He had a conscience. He got anxieties over anything that didn't feel right. Once, someone accused him of stealing a watch, and he took that very hard because he didn't do it. This was so much worse, and no one could make him feel better about it. I'd tell him, 'Look at all the friends you have.' And he'd say, 'What friends?'"

Myron Melnick, friend: "He was cheap. If the thrift stores started raising their prices, he'd complain. He'd get really bitter about that or about people who ran around doing what he did. If I got something good, he'd be real jealous: 'You shouldn't be doing this, you're an artist. It should have been me.'

"I miss Richard. I haven't gone into the stores since he died. I don't feel like going into those smelly places right now.

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