We Are Capitol Hill

When Stephen Elliott was murdered in an Alfalfa's parking lot last year, it shocked neighbors right down to the bone. Down to the bone, that is, for about 72 hours.

Other witnesses, like Bob, had heard nothing. The difference was important to officers -- were they engaged in a foot search or a car chase? Where should they focus their efforts? They decided to divide up their efforts and began knocking on doors and patrolling streets.

Then the ambulances came. One took Elliott, another took Isabel.

When E.J. answered her telephone, she heard a female voice ask her, "Are you Isabel Elliott's mother?"

The victim's family: Stephen Elliott's daughter, Isabel, with her mother, E.J. Yodder.
The victim's family: Stephen Elliott's daughter, Isabel, with her mother, E.J. Yodder.
Someone to talk to: Elliott and Isabel having high tea at the Plaza Hotel in New York City.
Someone to talk to: Elliott and Isabel having high tea at the Plaza Hotel in New York City.

"What's wrong?" E.J. asked.

"She's fine," said the voice. The woman told her to stay where she was and a police officer would come to pick her up.

E.J. asked if Elliott was dead. The voice said she wasn't allowed to release that information. E.J. envisioned a car accident. "Look," E.J. pleaded, "I need to know if he's dead so I can know what to do with my daughter."

"He's dead. She's alive."

E.J. still assumed it was a car accident. A clarity came over her. She hung up and called their friend Mani Powers, who arrived at the condo at the same time as the police did.

The cops didn't allow Powers and E.J. to stand alone in the same room. They also didn't allow the two to ride together to the police station. "After only a few minutes, it became very clear as to what they were thinking," Powers says of the officers.

When E.J. was led into the homicide division at police headquarters, her escort pointed a finger over her head and announced, "Here's Mom." An investigator led her to an interrogation room, where she spent the next four and a half hours.

Downstairs, Powers was being questioned by another investigator. Was Elliott involved in any illicit deals? Did he do drugs? Did he and E.J. have a tumultuous relationship? Was Elliott gay? Was he having an affair that E.J. had learned about?

At the same time, investigators were rifling Elliott's home at York Street, confiscating his computer and business papers.

Detectives continued their interrogation of E.J. They offered her something to drink: coffee, tea, a soda?

E.J. responded, "What I'd really like is a glass of good champagne."

Her questioners took interest. One said, "You know, champagne is a celebratory drink. Could you be...celebrating something?"

"You don't understand," she said. "This is the business I'm in. If Elliott were here, that's what he'd ask for."

When the police were through asking questions, at about 10:30 p.m., Powers and Isabel were allowed to visit E.J. upstairs. They hugged, let themselves cry. Two officers had questioned Isabel and taken her out for pizza. They told E.J. she was charming and smart.

When Isabel crawled into her mother's arms, some five hours after crawling out of her father's car, she told E.J., "You know, Mommy, Daddy's gone."

"Yeah, he is," E.J. said.

"No, Mommy. Daddy's dead."

As E.J. held her, she saw blood spots on her daughter's socks.

On the way out of the police station, Detective Don Vecchi stopped E.J. and said, "You know, you're going to have the media bothering you."

"The media? Why?"

Capitol Hill residents who opened their newspapers on Sunday morning, April 18, and read the 305-word blurb that announced Stephen Elliott's death were taken aback. Thousands of people who lived in the area crossed through that intersection at least once a day by foot, car or bicycle. It seemed incomprehensible that a man had been shot in the Alfalfa's parking lot -- unless he was involved in something.

That same morning, E.J. received 46 messages on the answering machine at her condominium, about a third of them from reporters. They had blanketed her neighborhood. One female television reporter had contacted one of E.J.'s college buddies in Buffalo, New York, then knocked on E.J.'s door and engaged her with "I think we have a mutual friend." She offered her sympathy, then identified herself as a reporter.

"You certainly are industrious, but goodbye," E.J. said, and closed the door.

Uncertain reporters left stammering phone messages that conveyed sympathy (for E.J. and Isabel), desire (to get the story) and guilt (for themselves). One Rocky Mountain News scribe was confused by E.J. and Elliott's non-marital status. The reporter left a rambling message hoping to confirm the estrangement, ending with, "We're calling about the murder of Stephen Elliott. We think you might be an acquaintance of his."

The messages and the attention gave family members who were gathering at E.J.'s home a therapeutic laugh. "They didn't know what to do with us," E.J. says of the media. "We weren't giving them anything; that's why they were getting things wrong."

The first blurb that appeared in the Sunday Denver Post reported that a man had been shot in the neck, that his daughter, who had been with him, was safe, and that residents were doused in fear. By April 19, the facts had changed: Elliott had been "shot in the head," and "witnesses thought the girl also was dead after seeing her covered in her father's blood."

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help