Zero to Life

Lisl Auman had met Matthaeus Jaehnig only that morning. By day's end, he and a cop were dead--and her life was over.

Freeze this image in your mind.
It's the afternoon of November 12, 1997. Lisl Auman, 21 years old, is standing in front of a boxy condominium, part of a sprawling complex on Monaco Parkway in southeast Denver. Behind her is the hulking form of Matthaeus Jaehnig, struggling frantically with the lock on the condominium door. In front of Lisl are first two, then three police officers. She has her hands up. She is taking one, two hesitant steps forward.

In seconds she will be on the ground, hands behind her for the handcuffs, an officer's knee in her back, his voice in her ear, yelling, calling her a bitch. She will be bundled into a police car and driven a short way off in the condo parking lot.

Jaehnig, meanwhile, will have veered from the door, around a set of stairs--coming within a few feet of the officers--and into an alcove. The alcove is roughly fifteen feet long and blind. There is no exit from it other than the stairs he has just passed or the locked doorway to a second condo.

Unaware of this, the two cops who first grabbed Auman run around the building in opposite directions, hoping to cut Jaehnig off.

Officer Bruce VanderJagt arrives with his partner, Sergeant Dean Jones. VanderJagt is a courageous and much-admired eleven-year veteran of the Denver Police Department. He has twice received a Distinguished Service Cross--once for disarming a gunman terrorizing the employees of Porter Memorial Hospital, once for running into a burning building to help save the occupants. While Jones maneuvers for a cautious look into the alcove, VanderJagt peers around the corner. There's a fusillade of shots. More quickly than the mind can grasp, a bullet rips away the right side of VanderJagt's head. For long seconds he remains standing. Then he falls.

By now, dozens of police officers are on the scene. Bullets are flying in every direction: twenty or thirty of them from Jaehnig's SKS semi-automatic assault rifle; hundreds from police guns. Wood splinters into dust. Glass flies. Nine more bullets hit Officer VanderJagt's prone body; some 200 penetrate the walls of the condo, many boring their way through and out the other side of the building. On the floor, Lisl's brown-and-white dog, Gene--named for a recently deceased grandfather--cowers in terror.

An officer approaches the car where Auman is sitting. "You're going down for murder," he tells her, according to her later testimony. "You're gonna go down."

Three hours later, Matthaeus Jaehnig, too, is dead, of a single bullet that entered under his chin and ricocheted around his skull. Having run out of bullets, he had inched forward to steal Bruce VanderJagt's revolver and then shot himself.

Lisl Auman is being questioned by DPD sergeant Jon Priest. Chief Deputy District Attorney Lamar Sims of the Denver District Attorney's Office is present; the interview is videotaped. Face hidden by her hands, slumped forward on the table, Auman sobs violently.

She's asked if her testimony has been coerced. Well, she says, the cop at the scene did threaten her...

Does she feel coerced at the moment?
"No," she responds.
Is she talking to them because of what the cop said to her?
"No."

The interview proceeds. She is inert, passive, a stubborn hulk of a girl droning on endlessly, tonelessly. Her basic story is that she went up to Buffalo Creek with Matthaeus Jaehnig and another carload of his friends because she was breaking up with her boyfriend and wanted to retrieve her belongings from the lodge where both of them lived.

What actually happened at the lodge is unclear. But as she and Jaehnig--whom she inexplicably calls Sardine--drove away, police began following and Jaehnig accelerated, weaving around cars, sometimes crossing the median, reaching speeds of up to 120 miles an hour. When they came to the city limits, Denver police took up the chase, finally cornering Auman and Jaehnig at the Monaco Place apartments.

Lisl is evasive, vague about the names of her companions. She says that Jaehnig's red Trans Am was green. She spouts nonsense about a mystery man named Dave who responds to her page whenever she needs help; she implies that Dave and Sardine belong to some menacing and shadowy group whose purpose she cannot define. The more she's pressed about this group, the fuzzier her answers become: "These people don't let a lot known about them, and I probably wouldn't want to know a lot about them," she says. "I've seen movies like Reservoir Dogs. Kind of like that."

She is doubtless describing Jaehnig and his friends, known Denver skinheads. One of these friends, Dion Gerze, will testify at Lisl's trial wearing a "Support Your Local Sons of Silence" baseball cap.

During the course of the interview, two things become clear: Lisl is afraid to identify Jaehnig and his friends (unaware at this point that Jaehnig is dead, she describes herself as "a walking dead person"), and she's desperately anxious to appease the police. "I could beat myself in the head trying to come up with something that would satisfy you," she says at one point.

Still, her performance is infuriating. Periodically she bites at a fingernail or pulls at a strand of hair. "I'm going bald," she jokes mirthlessly. "Lisl," says Priest, "do you really understand how important this is? This is murder. We need to know every bit of the truth." Lisl nods and promptly returns to her fabricated story.

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1 comments
aerien27
aerien27

hahaha....Denver skins... what shit, they laughed at the skins and the skins only wished to be like Matthaeus

 
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