Silent Night

For Lieurance and Shirley Sullivan, the lights went out last Christmas, when Polly died.

It's consuming him, the murder of his daughter. He knows this, feels himself becoming overwhelmed, but he can't stop. "I think about it before I go to bed. I think about it when I wake up in the middle of the night. I think about it when I get up in the morning," he says. "To tell you the truth, it's all I think about."

Lieurance Sullivan attends church regularly. He plays golf. He watches Broncos games. He finds comfort in his wife, younger daughter and two grandchildren. He takes tranquilizers once or twice a day. And still, it is there: Polly was killed in her apartment on Christmas Day 1998. Polly was stabbed fourteen times as she stumbled toward the phone. Polly was a good person, special, and now she is gone -- taken by a killer who has not been punished.

These thoughts, he says, drive him to the streets.

Lieurance and Shirley Sullivan outside of Crooked Tree, where their daughter Polly was killed last Christmas.
David Rehor
Lieurance and Shirley Sullivan outside of Crooked Tree, where their daughter Polly was killed last Christmas.
Polly Sullivan.
Polly Sullivan.


Friday morning, nine o'clock.

Lieurance stands in front of a methadone clinic on Bannock Street, holding an armful of fliers that have Polly's picture on them along with the words "$5,000 Reward." Although it's cold, bitterly cold, he doesn't seem to notice. While his wife, Shirley, and daughter Linda Gruno huddle on the sidewalk in gloves and wool coats, breathing out little white puffs, Lieurance, in his baseball cap and Avalanche jacket, crunches through the ice and snow. He's determined to find someone who has heard something, anything, about Polly.

A thin blond man emerges from the clinic, and Lieurance stops him just as he hits the sidewalk.

"We're getting desperate," Lieurance says.

He is 65 and Shirley is 64, and in their bright coats, they stick out on this gritty street like a couple of tourists who have taken a wrong turn. Shirley is quite aware of this. "When we're out at night in some of these places, it gets kind of hairy," she says. "We have to keep one eye on what we're doing and another on the street."

But she and her husband don't see any alternative -- not if they want their daughter's killer to come to justice. They believe investigators have stuck Polly's almost-year-old case in their bottom drawer and just left it there. So they've taken it upon themselves to visit clinics like this -- as well as back alleys, bars, bus stops and street corners throughout Denver -- in order to scrape up clues. They're here now because they heard a rumor that the man who murdered Polly -- or the man they believe to have murdered Polly -- has bragged about the killing to the people who share his crack pipe and liquor bottle. This man is in jail now on an unrelated charge, and the family hopes that Polly's smile and the promise of a reward will entice his drug buddies to call the detectives and tell them what they know.

"Let's put one here," Lieurance says, holding a flier up to a telephone pole. "What do you think?"

Linda reaches into a grocery sack, pulls out a tape gun and peels off several long, thick strips of packing tape. Then her dad plasters the handbill in place.

"How's that?"

"Fine."

"I guess we'll see how long it lasts this time," Shirley says.

Over the past several months, the family has either posted or handed out at least 200 of these fliers, targeting places they think their suspect's friends might visit. But so far, they haven't heard so much as a whisper in response. In fact, most of the fliers have been ripped down. That doesn't deter them, though. They just drive to Kinko's, run off more copies and return to the streets.

"Okay," Lieurance says, collecting his things from the sidewalk. "One more."

When they are finished here, the family will stand outside a dilapidated apartment building on Cherokee Street that their suspect once frequented. They will stop by another clinic at 17th and Vine, only to discover that it has closed. They will stop by the housing complex at Lowry where Polly was murdered. Finally, they will drive to their home in Aurora and place another phone call to investigators. And then they will wait.


Polly loved Christmas. Since she was a kid, she'd looked forward to the hymns and the lights and the food and the wrapping paper and the smiles and laughter. She planned for it all year, her mother recalls, and was usually the first on her block to decorate her tree and hit the shopping malls. "Christmas was magical for her," Shirley says. "It was her favorite day. She loved everything about it. Her birthday wasn't nearly as important. And each year, she wanted to start celebrating a little earlier."

Her last Christmas was particularly special. It was her first holiday season at an affordable housing project at Lowry called Crooked Tree. She worked and lived there as vice president and resident manager, but those who knew her say she was much more than that. She was the den mother, the voice of reason, the heart and soul.

"Polly was Crooked Tree," says one tenant. "If it weren't for her, this place probably wouldn't be here."

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