By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By William Breathes
By Jonathan Shikes
By Michael Roberts
By Jonathan Shikes
By Michael Roberts
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.
Previous Westword article|
"Keep a Light On,"
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.
"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."
All of Polly's experiences as a Native American, a single woman and a volunteer with the poor and homeless, plus all of her training in law, banking and insurance seemed to lead her to the three-story yellow-brick building on the scraggly northeastern edge of the old Air Force base. It was there, her friends and family say, that she blossomed.
Polly was born on November 7, 1954, in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, the older of two girls. Her mother is Irish and her father is Muskogee Creek. When she was one, the family moved to Denver under a Bureau of Indian Affairs relocation program.
As a child, Polly was teased relentlessly by schoolmates for being short, chubby and dark-skinned. But as she grew older, that ribbing only made her stronger. She was bookish and brainy but loved the Beatles, high school dances and Camaros. At college, she studied English and literature; after graduation, she worked as a reporter in Oklahoma before returning to Denver and the mountains she loved. She tried insurance and banking for a while, then returned to school, earning a master's degree, a paralegal certificate and finally a law degree from Arizona State University.
When the Denver Indian Center reviewed applications for the Lowry housing project it oversees, Polly was the natural choice. One of her first official duties was to convince corporate executives and government officials that a 43-bed, affordable-housing complex for Native Americans, as well as others who needed help, had a place among the custom homes, business centers, neighborhood parks and school campuses planned for the massive redevelopment. And much to the chagrin of the project's neighbors at Lowry, she did.
Polly dove into her work. She attended planning meetings, waded through zoning regulations, wrote grant proposals, developed legal contracts, hired architects, read blueprints, applied for permits, oversaw construction, screened applicants, recruited tenants and showed up on the weekends in jeans and a sweatshirt to pull weeds and paint the walls. She even named the renovated barracks after a crooked pine in the courtyard.
"She'd come home so dirty, she looked like she'd been playing in a sandlot," Shirley recalls. "She was proud of Crooked Tree. Real proud."
"I'm a registered professional engineer, and I still don't know how she did it," adds Lieurance. "It was just amazing."
By the time Crooked Tree opened in March 1998, Polly had already moved into an apartment on the second floor and proceeded to decorate it like the "nester" she was. Every available space was covered with paintings of outdoor scenes, Raggedy Ann dolls, little collectible items and inspirational signs that read "I'm Just a Raggedy Ann in a Barbie Doll Kind of World" and "Heal the Past. Dream the Future. Live the Present." All along the windowsill at the front of this little dollhouse apartment, Polly placed rows of miniature lighthouses that glowed like tiny beacons.
"To Christians, lighthouses are lights to the world," Shirley says. "I think Polly really liked that."
Although Polly didn't have to live at Crooked Tree, she wanted to: She thought it was important to set the tone from the inside. And from the beginning, she envisioned Crooked Tree as more than just another transitional housing complex for people one step away from homeless shelters, detox programs and prison cells. Polly wanted Crooked Tree to be a community. She wanted neighbors to feel comfortable walking across the hall for a cup of coffee, a video or a hug. She wanted Crooked Tree to be a home.
"She wanted to make it into something they would feel proud of," Shirley says. "She always thought poor people deserved a decent place to live."
Polly appointed a residents' council so tenants could learn to solve their own problems. She distributed information about food stamps, job placement, health care and home ownership. She encouraged tenants to start their own library and food bank. She kept a casserole in the oven for tenants who ran low on groceries at the end of the month. When one man arrived at Crooked Tree fresh from prison with no belongings, Polly gave him a blanket, a pillow and an alarm clock so he could report to a job interview on time.
"She thought that the people at Crooked Tree just needed a helping hand," Shirley recalls. "She always thought people deserved a second chance."
But Polly also had rules. No drugs. No loud music. No overnight guests. No leaving the outside doors open. And she enforced those rules. At four-foot-eleven, with her round face, bobbed hair and shy smile, Polly looked like a pushover. But those who challenged her soon discovered otherwise. She fired off memos, issued warnings and evicted tenants if necessary. When someone scrawled graffiti on a wall a month after Crooked Tree opened, Polly grabbed a paintbrush, rounded up tenants and told them to start repainting. And they did.
"If she thought she was in the right, she stood her ground," her mother remembers. "If anyone threw a candy wrapper or a paper cup out there, she made them pick it up. She thought that people ought to care about the place where they lived, and that if people lived in a dump, pretty soon they'd start acting like it."
Before long, Crooked Tree and the determined little woman who made it possible had developed a solid reputation.
"Anyone who was trying to place homeless or low-income people had her on their list," Shirley says. "She'd get calls all the time."
But Polly was growing weary. She worked seven-day weeks and never got the clerical help she had requested from the Denver Indian Center. And although Crooked Tree had its success stories, she was becoming worn down by tenants, many of whom were ex-cons who dabbled in drugs, bickered with neighbors, trashed the building, paid rent late, left the building doors open and constantly had unauthorized family, friends and lovers living in their apartments. One time, a guest had her purse stolen while visiting Crooked Tree. Another time, a minister's car was burglarized. As a result, Polly decided not to accept any more referrals from the Department of Corrections and was on the verge of evicting all ex-cons if they didn't shape up. By the end of the year, she also planned to evict a half-dozen other problem tenants who acted like "little children."
Come February, Polly had plans to leave herself. She had a standing job offer with the Navajo Nation in Arizona, where she hoped to work as a children's advocate. She would have left earlier, she told her parents, but she had given her word to the Indian Center that she'd stay at Crooked Tree at least one year.
"She had become embattled and embittered," says one Crooked Tree resident. "Polly was the quintessential idealist, more book smart than street smart. She truly saw the good in people and wanted them to rise to the occasion. I really don't think it occurred to her in the beginning that there are people who do not seek betterment or personal growth. But toward the end, she could see that."
Polly was also lonely. She was 44 years old and had never been married. She had no children, few close friends and spent much of her free time with her parents or on the Internet, where she escaped for hours in chat rooms. She also passed time devouring any book she could get her hands on, watching The X-Files, crocheting, buying costume jewelry, doting over her nephew and niece and following the Broncos. She was a good-spirited woman, her friends say, but she also could be solitary and moody. She longed for a family of her own, they add, and as a result, she befriended people at Crooked Tree who took advantage of her.
"It was hard for her not to have a heart," one tenant says. "Polly did what her conscience told her and bent the rules if she thought it was in the general interest of the person, but at times, those friendships clouded her judgment."
But if Polly was troubled on Christmas Day when she arrived at her parent's house for lunch, she didn't show it. She was wearing a big smile and the Mickey Mouse jacket and T-shirt her father had given her the night before, and settled down to her favorite lunch of cube steak and Jell-O salad with strawberries and walnuts. And as they had so many times before, she and her parents sat at the dining-room table and chatted about the holiday.
"I told my husband I had never seen her so happy," Shirley recalls. "It was just nice to see her like that."
At about 1:15 p.m., Polly got up to leave. She had invited six women from Crooked Tree to her apartment for a quiet dinner of Southwestern chicken casserole, salsa and chips, and Mexican beer. Afterward, she planned to give them little gifts of Sleepytime tea. Although she was tired and told her parents she would rather have attended her usual holiday movie, Polly wanted the women to have a nice Christmas. They had nowhere else to go. Polly knew her apartment was something of an oasis for them, since the women would stop by at all hours of the day or night for a cup of coffee, a video, a chance to forget about things.
Later, it would be these women who would knock on Polly's door over and over but get no answer. It would be these women who would call her apartment again and again. And it would be these women who would finally telephone police the next morning after they'd found her unopened newspaper and parked car, then watch in horror as firefighters climbed through Polly's apartment window to find her body next to the bed.
But on Christmas afternoon, Polly was all smiles. She hugged her mom and thanked her for lunch. "That was so good -- it was real food," she told her. Lieurance helped her carry extra helpings of pie, cookies and cake to her car. He kissed her on the cheek, and she said, "Bye, Pop." Then he stood in the driveway and watched her maroon Buick slowly pull away from the house, turn the corner and disappear. And at this last moment he would ever see her alive, he thought, "Polly never looked so beautiful."
They were naive. Lieurance and Shirley can see it now. They had never known anyone who was arrested, let alone anyone who was murdered, so they had no idea what to expect. After Polly's death, they thought Denver authorities would gather evidence, identify the killer, arrest the killer, prosecute the killer and give the killer what was coming to him. They knew that the police detectives were overworked, that the prosecutors were swamped, that the court dockets were overloaded and that some murders don't get solved. But never in a million years did they dream that Polly's killing might join that list.
On another cold, crisp morning, Lieurance and Shirley sit in their modest home at a dining-room table covered with an old-fashioned red-and-white-checked tablecloth. At one end of the table lies a packet of information about Polly's case, at the other a plate of pastries, a stack of napkins and a cup of coffee in a "Magic of Santa" mug. A painting of dancing bears hangs above the living-room sofa; in the hallway are portraits of Illinois Indian chiefs Black Hawk and Rolling Thunder. All around are reminders of Polly. Miniature lighthouses. Indian pottery. The "Best Practices" award given to Polly by HUD after her death. Baby pictures.
"We wanted to keep the things she loved," Lieurance says.
"It makes it feel like she is still here with us," Shirley adds.
He is balding, serious and somber, a retired civil engineer who spent 42 years behind a desk designing intersections, off-ramps and traffic lanes for the state highway department. She is silver-haired, soft-spoken and chatty, a wife, mother and grandmother who is proud of her home and family. They are both polite, articulate and friendly, a couple that has been married 45 years. Shirley does most of the talking, in a soft Oklahoma twang, while Lieurance (pronounced "Loorance") carefully arranges his piles of documents.
Where to begin?
The notebooks. It's all in the notebooks. Practically every official conversation since Polly's murder, as well as every appointment, lead and development, both major and minor, have been meticulously recorded in these two small notebooks. His is an architectural datebook and hers is a plain maroon spiral, and they seldom leave the couple's sight. Although the Sullivans are both longtime keepers of diaries and datebooks, these logs are more than that. They are records of everything that has gone wrong.
"The case was bungled from day one," Shirley says. "And once they screwed it up, they couldn't straighten it out."
Two weeks after Polly's murder, the Denver Police Department filed an arrest warrant for a 49-year-old construction worker from New York named Willie Clyde Safford in connection with her killing. Safford has a long criminal history that includes everything from hitting his wife to resisting arrest to burglary to beating a man who refused to give him money. He was also a resident of Crooked Tree.
Like so many other tenants, Safford arrived there seeking a new start. And according to some of his former neighbors, he tried to turn over a new leaf. Safford was proud of his first-floor apartment, these tenants say, and kept it immaculate. He listened to religious CDs, tinkered endlessly with his big white sedan, invited his kids to visit and tried to find work, possibly as a concrete finisher. He was quiet, solitary and aloof, but he could also be polite and considerate. In one prison document, Safford listed his interests as chess, cards and spiritual reading.
But Safford had another side. He claimed to have suffered a brain injury in 1987 after someone beat him on the head with a pistol. He also struggled with an appetite for alcohol and crack cocaine.
"When he was clean and sober, he could be an unassuming, nice guy," a former neighbor says. "He was fighting the good fight and trying to hold it together, but when he was using, he could be volatile. He could be perfectly pleasant one minute, then literally screaming the next. I've seen him instantaneously change personalities. I avoided him."
Two weeks before her murder, Polly sent a letter to Crooked Tree administrators and to Safford's parole officer saying he was "totally out of control." Every night that week, he had come to her apartment between 7 and 10 p.m. and "engaged in a thirty-minute ranting session." Safford had confronted her in the hallway, "yelled and screamed" and told tenants he was going to "get them all" and "get even" because they'd reported him. Consequently, Polly planned to evict him.
"I'm afraid of his behavior toward me and the neighbors," she wrote. "He has warned me that he has a violent temper and was sent to prison for assault, and the only thing that protects me is my status as a female. Willie is only a single thread away from serious problems out here."
Other tenants were frightened, too. Safford often roamed the hallways and rattled doorknobs to see if they were unlocked, they said. And more than once, they had seen him rage at Polly.
"I told her to be careful," one woman says. "But she said, 'I'm not afraid of him.' Then I told her, 'Let me be afraid for you. Let me be afraid for both of us.'"
By the time he was identified as a suspect in Polly's murder, Safford was already in the Adams County Jail for allegedly breaking into his ex-girlfriend's apartment in Aurora on December 26. In its warrant, the DPD detailed the evidence against him.
Safford's ex-girlfriend (they'd broken up four days earlier) told police he'd phoned her around 9 p.m. on Christmas and told her, among other things, that "someone in the building had hurt Polly real bad." If that was true, police noted, Safford would have known about the attack twelve hours before Polly's body was discovered. The woman also said she'd found Safford's jacket hanging in her apartment laundry room, as if it had just been washed.
Police searched the woman's apartment and found a bloody paper towel in an upstairs bathroom. The woman said she did not know where it came from. Investigators said they also found a spot of blood in the stairwell at Crooked Tree on the way to Safford's apartment.
Safford told Denver police that he had not murdered Polly. They got along fine, he said, although he might have raised his voice during one of their conversations. He'd heard about Polly's attack from two strangers at Lowry and found out she had been killed only after police told him during his December 26 burglary arrest.
He wasn't even at Crooked Tree on Christmas Day when Polly was murdered, Safford explained. He had left the building that morning and did not return to his apartment until shortly before he was arrested the next day for the Aurora break-in. And as for that, Safford said, his ex-girlfriend knew he was at her apartment. He even had a key, which he put on the refrigerator before he left. And despite what she'd told police, Safford said, he had not washed his jacket there. (Safford was later found not guilty of the Aurora burglary.)
Although they had no eyewitnesses -- if there were eyewitnesses -- and they had not found the knife used to kill Polly, Denver investigators felt they had enough evidence to keep Safford in jail for Polly's murder. Time and again, detectives told Lieurance and Shirley they were "99 percent sure" they had their man.
But in May, five months after Polly's slaying, the Denver DA's office dropped the murder charges. There wasn't enough evidence to proceed, prosecutors told the Sullivans. There were other suspects and other leads, they added, so the case was sent back to the homicide unit.
"After speaking to prosecutors, we believed that it was our ethical duty not to go forward," District Attorney Bill Ritter says. "It's not whether we believe someone is guilty or not, it's whether we believe we can convince a jury of that. I know how hard the family has worked on this, and I wish at this point that something different could have happened with the case. These are really good people who are on the short end of a really tragic situation." Ritter adds, however, that the investigation "is not over."
Detective David Neil, who took over Polly's case at that point, puts it this way: "We only get one bite at the apple. If we went to trial and lost, we could never try him again."
The decision to drop the charges devastated Polly's family. They got the bad news at a meeting with DA Bill Ritter himself. And as he walked out of that meeting, Lieurance read Ritter a passage from the Bible and asked, "What are you going to say when God asks you about the Polly Sullivan murder case?"
Looking back, though, Lieurance and Shirley saw it coming. A few weeks before the charges were dropped, a victim's advocate had given them a 25-page packet detailing unsolved murders.
"It was just terrible," Shirley says. "It was all about how people had been chopped up and maimed and killed and how nothing was ever done. I still can't believe they did that. I can't imagine how anyone could possibly think that would help you with your grief. Lieurance couldn't even read it."
There were other signs, too, the couple says. The crime scene was opened only six hours after Polly's body was found, causing Lieurance and Shirley to wonder if vital clues were overlooked. Investigators also let weeks pass before interviewing Crooked Tree residents who might have provided important details. More than once, the couple also forwarded possible leads and contacts to investigators that were never pursued.
And so, as they had vowed in those first days after Polly's death, the couple again promised to do everything they could to help find her killer. "We thought, 'If we don't do it, no one else is going to,'" Shirley says. "If it had been one of us who was murdered, Polly wouldn't have given up."
They'd embarked on their quest for justice in February, when Lieurance, Shirley, their family and their friends spent a full month scouring the vast weedy lots surrounding Crooked Tree, looking for the murder weapon. They had also monitored pawnshops along Colfax Avenue for items that might have been stolen from Polly's apartment. They pored over Polly's personal files. They assembled information packets on Polly's murder and mailed them to Colorado's senators and representatives, as well as city officials and Indian leaders. They talked to the FBI and the Department of Justice. They tracked down names, birthdates, addresses and telephone numbers of people who they thought might be able to help police. They verified the whereabouts of tenants Polly had evicted. They even tracked down a psychic in Florida who was so accurate in her description of Polly and the details of her murder that one investigator said, "It was like she read my file."
"I hate to say it, but it seemed like practically every lead they had, we gave to them," Shirley says. "Some days, all I did was sit on the phone and talk to people. I really believe we could open an investigation agency now. I really know how to track people down."
Yet two days before the anniversary of her murder, Polly's killer (or killers) has not been brought to justice.
Safford remains a suspect, the family has been told. He's currently a resident of Denver County Jail, where he's been since he was arrested in September for holding a knife to a woman's face. (He declined to speak with Westword.)
Meanwhile, Detective Neil insists he's doing everything he can. Although Polly's case has not made it to court, he's not ready to toss it into the "unsolved" pile. "It's still an open investigation," he says. "I work on it, if not every week, then every other week. We still have leads that point toward one or two individuals, but they aren't quite enough to file a case. We're looking for a tiny piece of evidence that's missing."
Although the Sullivans might not believe it, Neil also says he appreciates their efforts and does what he can to keep them informed. "I feel I'm closer today than we were last year."
Lieurance doesn't want to hear it. He's tired of being patronized, treated "like an idiot" and being told one thing one day and another thing the next. Now he's planning to hire one of those airplanes that circles Coors Field during baseball games and fly it over the police station on Christmas Eve with a banner that reads "Justice for Polly."
"We work on it every day of every week," he says. "But trying to get the police to do something about it is another story. You can never get a straight answer. It's always, 'I'm going to do this' and 'I'm going to do that.' These guys are experts at stringing you along. And all the stuff we do, they don't seem to care about. My impression of the homicide unit and the DA's office cannot be put in print."
Shirley tries to be more patient. She doesn't want to alienate the people who are supposed to be helping them. She understands that they deal with cases like Polly's every day and can't become emotionally involved. But at times, even she gets frustrated.
"I know they're better than that," she says. "They do solve cases. I just don't think they're serious about this. It's not a high-profile case. But I think if they would just bear down, put two or three people on this full-time, they could get it done. I know they could. They can sit there and tell me all day long that some cases never get solved, but I want my daughter's murderer put away. Because he will kill again."
Waiting for that to happen has only intensified the pain, anger and depression that have clouded their lives like a dense fog.
"A lot of days, I feel like I just can't take this anymore," Shirley says. "After it happened, I had to say out loud to myself every day that my daughter was murdered so I could tell that to someone without crying. It just destroys you to have someone who would do this to your daughter still out there enjoying himself. I pray every day that he is miserable. I try to think of good things about Polly, good times and funny things, but I'll never be all right again -- that's just the way it is. Sometimes I don't care about anything else but catching this killer."
And Lieurance, she says, has reached his breaking point.
"He was always the mildest-mannered person in the world," Shirley says. "He didn't have any fusses with anyone, and he never got into any arguments. But now he snaps at me and he's impatient. And of course he doesn't get a decent night's sleep, so he's always on edge. He always apologizes afterward, but he's done a complete, 180-degree turn. This has changed his whole life."
"Sometimes," Lieurance says after a while, "you just go ahead and cry."
At Crooked Tree, tenants have strung Christmas lights and ornaments in the lobby. Along one window in front hangs a strand of sparkling green garland. They've tried to brighten the building for the holidays, and the decorations help, but there's no hiding what the place has become.
Fast-food bags and napkins blow through the parking lot. Cigarette butts litter the ground. A broken couch and gutted refrigerator lie beside a full dumpster. In the hallway, a Miller Lite can lies in a drinking fountain.
Lieurance and Shirley stand at the front door and tape a flier to the glass. Nearby, an ashtray overflows onto the carpet, which is stained with grime. "Polly would never have stood for this," Shirley says.
She and her husband don't visit much anymore, although they still chat with tenants now and then. But with Christmas just around the corner, they had to stop by.
"We want everyone to know it's not over yet," Shirley says.
The tenants who knew Polly don't need a reminder. They feel her absence every day.
"Crooked Tree has just spun out of control," one woman says.
Drug and alcohol use have become routine, tenants claim. There have been burglaries and vandalism. The single-occupancy rule has become "a bad joke," one tenant says. The residents' council was disbanded. The library was looted, trashed and closed. The food bank was discontinued. And aside from the addition of peepholes and deadbolts, the security improvements requested after Polly's death, such as surveillance cameras and watchmen, have never materialized. In fact, screens have been removed from several windows that stand agape in the December air, and the handles have been busted on the back doors, which are often propped open with stones, so that anyone -- dope dealers and vagabonds included -- can wander in at any time.
"I walked outside my apartment once and found a man sleeping in the hallway," one woman says. "It scared me to death."
"There's even prostitution," another tenant adds. "I was in someone's apartment once when they were getting ready to do a trick for drugs!"
Tenants complain about neighbors who keep cats and ferrets in their apartments despite rules against pets; a sink that's been backed up since April; a broken window repaired with duct tape; and cigarette burns and graffiti on the hallway walls. One woman even does her laundry in her shower.
"It's not just a mess -- it's a hurricane," says a tenant who, like most of the other residents, requests that her name not be used because she fears reprisals. "You're uncomfortable when you come home now. There's fights. Vandalism. Everything. It's worse than ever before."
Since Polly's death, Crooked Tree managers (there have been two) no longer live in the building. In fact, tenants say, the only time they see the manager "is when he comes over to pick up the rent check."
"Those of us who remember Polly are trying to keep ourselves progressing," says one woman. "But we feel like we're under siege. Every day, there's a new outrage."
Time and again, tenants have written letters, sent faxes and telephoned Crooked Tree administrators, city leaders and federal housing officials to ask for help. They have never received a reply.
"I have made a career trying to get people out here to conform to even the most basic [housing] laws, and I have failed to find even a flicker of interest," the woman says. "The people who acted like they were so concerned about us after Polly's death have turned their backs on us now. They've vanished. We're voiceless. And without Polly, there's no one to empower us. It's sad. Sad, and possibly dangerous."
Kaeiko Broken Leg, who chairs the Denver Indian Center board, says these problems are news to her. "I'm totally unaware of this litany of complaints," she says. "None of the tenants have really come forward to say anything. But, yes, we will look into it."
At Crooked Tree, Lieurance and Shirley move to the back of the building, where they post another flier on the back door. Then they stand in the courtyard where a honey locust tree was planted in Polly's memory last summer. The sapling stands alone in the scruffy yellow grass, wrapped in a faded Native American prayer cloth.
At this time of year, Shirley and Lieurance are usually out shopping for gifts, mailing off holiday cards and stringing bright lights in their yard. But now, it's all they can do to hang a single wreath on the door. Still, their granddaughter is coming to town for the holidays, so Shirley will bake a few pies. The family will exchange gifts as always, and they will sit around the table for the traditional holiday meal. And when the time is right, they will say a quiet prayer for Polly and flick on the switches to her little lighthouses.
"It will be a quiet Christmas," Shirley says. "It will never be the same again. As long as we live, it will never be the same."