By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Neal didn't have a job in July 1998, Tingle now tells the panel. Yet he hung out at neighborhood bars and strip joints and threw money around "like it was going out of style. He'd buy a ten-dollar lunch and leave a 150 percent tip," he says. "The problem was, it was not his money." By then, he had bilked Rebecca Holberton out of as much as $70,000 and Candace Walters out of another $6,000.
But "the walls were caving in." Holberton, a 44-year-old blonde who worked at US West, had told a friend she was ready to get Neal, who had been living with her since July 1996, out of her life. But first she wanted her money back.
And Walters was trying to find out more about her secretive lover Cody, who said he had homes in Las Vegas and Denver but wouldn't tell her where he lived. She had made him sign a promissory note for the money he owed her and was threatening to expose him to Holberton and, perhaps, the police.
"Rather than risk being exposed for who he really was," Tingle says, Neal came up with a plan.
Early on June 30, 1998, Neal drove to Builder's Square for a little shopping. He bought Lava soap, four eyebolts, nylon rope, duct tape -- Tingle goes over to the jury box in front of the prosecution table to grab some evidence -- and "a seven-and-a-half-pound splitting maul."
Half ax, half sledgehammer, the maul has a wooden handle the length of a baseball bat. Even some of the spectators who know how the murders were done groan at the sight of the tool. But it is not the murder weapon, just an identical match. The actual murder weapon waits in a clear plastic bag, still stained with blood, although the Colorado Bureau of Investigation has removed most of the gore for testing.
At the time, Neal was living with Holberton at her townhome on West Chenango Drive in Lakewood. Apparently they were doing some renovations to the place -- the carpeting had been removed from the hallways leading into the living room, and butcher paper covered the windows and the glass sliding door at the back of the townhouse.
When Neal returned home from his early-morning shopping trip, he placed a chair in the middle of the living room and invited Holberton, still wearing her bathrobe, to take a seat. He had talked about a surprise he had for her, which she thought meant he was going to repay her from the "millions" he'd come into as the result of a settlement. In fact, earlier that morning he'd had her write out checks for more than $56,000 to pay back her creditors. In Neal's own words, Tingle says, she was "filled with joy and happiness."
Neal opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate Holberton's impending financial solvency, then put his briefcase on her lap and told her to place her hands on it, intimating that it contained the cash to cover her debts. He covered her with a blanket so that she couldn't see, and there she waited for her surprise.
It came quickly. Neal fetched his splitting maul and "ambushed Rebecca from behind, unleashing a violent and ferocious attack using the hammer side of the maul," Tingle told the court. He brought the weapon down "with such force that it completely caved in the back of her skull," sending skull fragments into her brain and gouging out a two-inch piece of skull that went flying across the room.
Holberton fell to the ground, "never to rise again." Neal wrapped her head in clear plastic to catch the blood, and then, after binding her limbs and body with nylon rope, wrapped her in black plastic like a mummy and placed her against a wall of the apartment.
From his seat at the defense table, Neal looks quickly behind him, then just as quickly ducks his head beneath the hard stares. He returns his attention to Tingle and continues to scribble notes on a yellow legal pad.
The day after killing Holberton, Neal told 48-year-old Candace Walters, a woman he'd met in December 1997 when she was working as a bartender at the Sheraton Hotel off Sixth Avenue and Union, that he was about to receive $52 million. He told her that in the old days, when he was "a hitman for the mob," he'd warned one of his assigned targets, and the man, who lived in Las Vegas, had been so eternally grateful that he'd left his estate to Neal. Now that his benefactor had died, Neal told Walters, he'd be able to pay off his former wife, a stripper, and get custody of his daughter.
Neal's heartwarming battle for his daughter was one of the things that had endeared him to Walters. She was told that she would now be "paid handsomely for maintaining her silence" about his former occupations. Just how handsomely had changed radically that final week. First she was to get $100,000, many times what she was owed, and they would fly to Las Vegas to get the money. Then it was $1 million and a new Toyota 4-Runner, which they would drive to Las Vegas to get the money and attend a wild party with "the family" for which he had once worked. Finally the amount reached $2.5 million -- one million in cash and the rest to be wired into a bank account. There would also be a new home -- a mansion, really -- down the street from Neal's own place in Las Vegas. He showed her pictures of both that he kept in a white photo album. They were beautiful.