Can't Buy a Thrill

Aspen's bizarre crime spree sent some of its favorite sons to prison -- and left the town wondering what went wrong.

Those yet to be tried, including alleged Clark's Market gunman Stefan Schutter, continue to deny any involvement in the crimes. But interviews with several convicted defendants, parents and associates, as well as police and court records, offer a troubling insider's view of Aspen's youth problem. The group was not really a gang but a loose-knit confederation of would-be rebels, linked by a common sense of audacity -- audacity that comes from being raised in a place like Aspen, where daredevil stunts and a certain social insularity are taken for granted.

Many of the robbers harbored fierce resentments of their town and what it stood for. But money, it seems, was the least of it; they were juiced on adrenaline, the kind of rush they could get only by ripping off their neighbors. And the bond they formed with each other, however briefly, turned out to be more powerful than anything they had been taught by adults. It gave them a reason to lash out, where others would see no reason at all.

"Here's one thing these kids had in common," says the mother of one of the young men, who asked that her name not be used, fearing reprisals against her son. "They all had people in their lives who loved them a lot. They all knew right from wrong. They all had opportunities to do lots of positive things.

Following her son's arrest, Kim Wille embarked on a quest to bring restorative justice programs to the Roaring Fork Valley.
Brett Amole
Following her son's arrest, Kim Wille embarked on a quest to bring restorative justice programs to the Roaring Fork Valley.
Raoul Wille, Cody's father, was a legendary risk-taker who died in the Himalayas.
Raoul Wille, Cody's father, was a legendary risk-taker who died in the Himalayas.

"All this stuff about bored teenagers -- no way. Not in this town. Walk out the back door, you have a million things to do. These kids did it because they wanted the thrill. And one other thing."

One other thing?

"They were very angry."

If you want to understand what an Aspen teenager might be angry about, if you want to fathom the good-kid-gone-bad thing and how it played out in this Gucci-padded wonderland, you have to start with Cody Wille.

Cody was the youngest of those charged in the crime spree. His active participation consisted of two bad moves in a 24-hour period. Yet he ended up with one of the stiffest sentences, and he and his family have paid severely for his part in the affair -- in public shame and humiliation, private loss and remorse.

In Aspen, most kids are either upvalley or downvalley. Upvalley means you live in town or its immediate environs. You're a princeling ensconced in a palace on a hill, or your parents are "old Aspen" and nailed a modest half-acre back in the BC (Before Cher) era, or they're well-entrenched worker bees fortunate enough to score affordable housing close to the slopes, like Mayor Rachel Richards, who lives in a two-bedroom, one-bath condo she purchased twelve years ago.

Downvalley means you live in Basalt or Carbondale or one of the other commuter enclaves huddled along state highway 82. Your parents may work in Aspen, but they can't hack it there, financially or otherwise, so you shlep on the bus to Aspen High and rub shoulders with princelings and shlep back to your mobile home or whatever and miss out on all the fun and pine for the day you get your own Pathfinder and cell phone and can blow off the old folks entirely.

Because of his family and circumstances, Cody Wille managed to be both upvalley and downvalley. He was a trust-funder who was well off on paper but sometimes strapped for cash. He'd lived in the ski lodge in town that his father managed and in his mother's modest home in El Jebel, thirty miles away. He got along with all kinds of people -- too many, really, for his own good.

Cody's grandfather is Lou Wille, one of a group of artists and entrepreneurs who came to Aspen in the 1950s and transformed the sleepy mining town into a cultural and recreational mecca. Lou Wille's distinctive chrome-bumper sculptures are an indelible part of the Aspen scene; one gleaming eagle hovers over the Tyrolean Lodge on Main Street, part of a complex of buildings owned and operated by the Wille family.

If Lou Wille seemed to embody a certain era in the town's development, his oldest son, Cody's father, was the quintessential figure from a later, more troubled time. Raoul Wille was an exceptional cross-country skier, much admired for his competitive spirit and coaching skills. But he also had a capacity for substance abuse, so characteristic of Aspen in the glitz-pocked 1970s, that blighted his career.

"Raoul was very charismatic," says Kim Wille, Cody's mother. "When he was clean, he'd be out doing the adrenaline thing -- hiking in Nepal, parasailing in France. To the day he died, he could still win any race he was in. But addiction problems and the level of denial in families can be immense. I think that had a lot to do with what happened to Cody."

Raoul had no trouble landing a spot on the U.S. Nordic ski team, but a minor marijuana charge knocked him out of contention for the Winter Olympics. Years later, as part of his rehabilitation efforts, he drew a multicolored chart, chronicling his bouts with cocaine, psychedelics, speed and harder drugs. The chart showed long periods of abstinence during his ten-year marriage to Kim and other stable relationships, followed by relapses.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help